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In the third year of their rebuild, the Detroit Pistons are a dreadful 15-44 and in last place in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons were not expected to be competitive quite yet and took a huge hit when franchise cornerstone and best player, Cade Cunningham was shut down for the season. Despite the circumstances, it has been a difficult season for the team and fans alike as losing is taking a toll in the third year. Let's give a report card on the team's progress through this season.
Notes: These grades are relative to the player's expectations entering the season. For example Killian Hayes and Bojan Bogdanovic will be graded very differently as Bogdanovic is an established NBA player while Killian Hayes is trying to find his footing in the league.
This year was a make-or-break season for third-year guard, Killian Hayes, as he tries to prove he's a rotational NBA player. There was still reason to believe in Hayes due to his passing and defensive ability as a 6'5 point guard. At the start of the year, it looked like all hope was lost. Hayes could not hit water off a boat and had zero confidence. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Hayes turned a corner.
When he was on, Hayes looked like a solid bench guard. He was shooting the ball well with confidence, and it unlocked the rest of his game. At this level, he was showing he could score the ball at a decent clip, set up his teammates, and play good defense.
For the rest of the year, Hayes needs to focus on proving this strong stretch wasn't a fluke. He's struggled in the last 10 games prior to the break, so hopefully, the All-Star break will be a needed reset for him. If Hayes is consistent for the rest of the year, he can secure his spot as a solid backup point guard in the NBA. If not, he will likely need to prove it on a different NBA team.
Report Card Grade: C+
Rookie, Jaden Ivey has been one of the best rookies in the draft class and continues to improve as the season progresses. To start the year, Ivey was all speed to get to the rim. It worked sometimes, but often, he was out of control leading to turnovers or out-of-control shots. However, it is incredibly promising to see Ivey improve so quickly. Ivey has added different speeds and played much under control. This helps him create advantages and has allowed him to improve as a playmaker.
Ivey has also improved as a shooter. Entering the league, he did not have much of a midrange game and an inconsistent outside shot. He has clearly worked hard on his shooting, and he is looking much better. He now has a midrange game to compliment his drives, and from three, he is becoming a dangerous pull-up shooter.
Next, Ivey will need to work on his defense. Most rookies are bad defenders, so it is not a reason for concern yet, but it is an opportunity for growth. If Ivey learns how to use his athleticism on that end, he can be a high-end starting guard in the league. It's been a very promising rookie year for Ivey as he looks like a nice long-term piece to build around.
Report Card Grade: A-
Bojan Bogdanovic was brought in as a steady veteran both on and off the court. Since being in Detroit, he has been that. On the court, he takes the pressure off Ivey and Hayes as the main scoring option. Offensively, he has taken the number one scoring role without affecting his efficiency at all. He is averaging 21.8 points per game while still shooting 49.1% from the field and 40.1% from three.
Bogdanovic doesn't only provide value in the box score. Every game, Bogdanovic can be seen coaching and mentoring all the young players on the team, and it is apparent that all the young guys respect and listen to him. It is obvious why so many teams wanted to trade for Bogdanovic, but more obvious, why the Pistons value him and want him to return next year when they want to complete.
Report Card Grade: A-
Isaiah Stewart faced a tough challenge this season switching positions from center to power forward. It is still early in the transition, but it is the best move for his career path. At power forward, Stewart's struggles in the dunker spot due to his size and lack of explosiveness are less of a factor. Instead, Stewart's strengths as a rebounder, switchable defender, and secondary rim protector are highlighted.
The key for Stewart will be on the offensive end. His game all starts with his shooting ability. In the first two years of his career, Stewart has shown flashes of shooting in small samples, but now, he is being asked to shoot in volume. So far, it has been inconsistent. He has had stretches shooting nearly 40% and stretches shooting in the teens. Stewart will need to remain confident and keep gaining game reps to be more comfortable.
Also, now as a perimeter big, Stewart has flashed in small quantities of ball handling and even some passing attacking closeouts. As his shooting improves, attacking closeouts will be easier and important to keep the offense rolling. Stewart still needs time to adjust to power forward, but it looks like the right move long term as he has flashed promising ability. The key for him will be turning flashes into sustained success.
Report Card Grade: B-
As the youngest player in the league, Jalen Duren did not have huge expectations entering the year, and it wouldn't have been surprising for him to spend time in the G-League. Duren did not get the memo. Duren immediately forced himself into the rotation and then the starting lineup.
He's done this by playing to his strengths. He is already one of the best offensive rebounders in the league and excels at getting second-chance points. He also works really well in the dunker spot and in the pick-and-roll as a finisher and lob threat for the guards. Duren's offensive game has shown flashes of some higher upside offensively. He is showing good touch in the post on post hooks and turnaround jumpers. He is also a gifted passer who has made some really impressive passes for a center.
Like Ivey, Duren needs to improve on the defensive side of the court. He is far too physically gifted to not become a plus on the end of the court. Currently, Duren's main struggles appear to be mental. Against the pick and roll, Duren can often be slightly out of position which NBA teams are able to exploit. As a rim protector, at times, Duren can be just a half-second late, but when he is there, he is great at effecting shots. These are small flaws that can easily be corrected. Even with the flaws, the team should be very pleased with Duren's current ability and the upside he has already shown.
Report Card Grade: A
Another veteran brought in, Alec Burks, has played well as the Piston's sixth man. Burks was brought in to score, and that's what he has done. He scored 12.9 points a game in on 22 minutes by doing two things, shooting from outside and drawing fouls. Burks is one of the best shooters in the league, torching the nets at 42% on the year. These have not been all easy, open shots. Many of these shots have been self-created, tough shots from deep.
Outside of scoring, Burks does not bring much value. He is a solid passer for an off-guard, but he is not an exceptional defender or rebounder. Burks scoring is still needed on a team that lacks shot-creators. Burks is another player who could have been traded, but the Pistons showed they valued his scoring to take the pressure off the rest of the bench unit.
Report Card Grade: B+
Cory Joseph‘s role has been diminished greatly in 2023. The former backup point guard has been removed from the rotation for the most part. This decision is not hugely surprising since Joseph does not bring much value to the court. His three-point shooting has fallen off a cliff, and without that, he loses much of his value. He still tries to do too much on offense and is not a great passer or defender. Joseph is a good person for the locker, but someone who should be getting minutes on this roster.
Report Card Grade: D
Despite being a second-round pick, Isaiah Livers is viewed as a part of the team long-term. In theory, it is easy to see why. Livers is a long wing who is a good communicator defensively and can shoot the ball from three. However, Livers has not shown those skills consistently. He has struggled with injuries and missed a good chunk of the year with a shoulder strain.
When he is on the floor, the results have not been great. His calling card was supposed to be shooting, but this year, he is only shooting 35.7% from three. Hope is not lost for Isaiah Livers due to the defense and intangibles he possesses. But, he needs to shoot the ball and stay on the floor to be a part of the core.
Report Card Grade: C
Another poor shooter, Hamidou Diallo has found ways around what affects his game. He has found ways to harness his energy and athleticism to maximize his impact. He plays with a controlled chaos that is hard to prepare for and stop. He finds ways to score by cutting, getting offensive rebounds, and getting out in transition. Diallo does not need the ball, but still finds a way to be effective on offense. His lack of shooting does limit his lineup versatility, but Diallo is a low-usage, but effective player the Pistons need.
Report Card Grade: B
Not graded: Marvin Bagley (injury), Cade Cunningham (injury), James Wiseman (recently acquired), Nerlens Noel (lack of minutes), Rodney McGruder (lack of minutes)
All stats via Basketball Reference