Expect this to be a quiet offseason for the Detroit Pistons.
General manager Troy Weaver said as much when speaking with local media on the heels of their last game of the season: “I don’t anticipate having too many roster spots available,” said Weaver. “The answers for the Pistons moving forward are all in-house.”
The cornerstone of this attempt to rejuvenate the Pistons is establishing a culture that leads to a winning product on the court and, as ambitious as it may sound, appeals to star players looking for a new home.
Bringing in Dwane Casey, who joined the franchise in the summer of 2018, two years before Weaver came on board, to carry out that vision as head coach has proven a step in the right direction, which is why, earlier this month, Casey signed an extension that will last through the 2023-24 campaign.
When the news of Casey’s extension got announced, a part of the statement from Pistons’ owner Tom Gores included the following message.
“He is fully committed to the restoration of the Pistons where his competitiveness, teaching ability, and developmental acumen can be seen in the growth of our young players.”
That sentiment is a reflection of Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart being candidates for an NBA All-Rookie Team. It stems from Josh Jackson and Frank Jackson having the best campaigns of their NBA careers. And it also speaks to Killian Hayes, who Detroit selected with the seventh pick in the 2020 draft, demonstrating signs of growth on both ends of the floor despite only playing 26 games as a 19-year-old rookie.
After playing two collegiate seasons for Jay Wright at Villanova, Bey came to the NBA as advertised, quickly proving he was ready to contribute at both ends of the floor. That is why Bey ended up starting 53 of the 70 games he played, producing 12.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per contest. He did so while taking 6.6 threes per game and converting them at a 38 percent clip. Defensively, as a mobile, 6-foot-7, 215-pound wing with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Bey showed the coveted versatility to guard threes and fours.
As for Stewart, while he may be an undersized big man at 6-foot-8, he is also 250 pounds and has a 7-foot-4 wingspan. Stewart’s a high-energy player with a motor that never runs cold; like Bey, his style of play meshes perfectly with the culture the Pistons are trying to establish. Furthermore, he has the necessary mobility to defend bigger fours. In his rookie campaign, Stewart averaged 7.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
Hayes came into the NBA as a raw 19-year-old, and he played 26 games, so it is not a surprise he finished the season with a modest stat line of 6.8 points, 5.3 assists and a steal per contest. He has a high ceiling, and his feel for the game and playmaking, two of the top traits that convinced the Pistons to draft him with the seventh pick, were on display during his brief rookie campaign.
While that is encouraging, it also comes as no surprise Hayes has vast room for improvement across the board. Above all else, he needs to capitalize on entering the offseason healthy and work to become a more effective shooter. In those 26 games, Hayes shot just 35.3 percent from the field and 27.8 percent from beyond the arc. His speed and ability to attack off the dribble pressure the defense and make him a threat to score at the rim. In addition to working towards becoming a three-level scorer, Hayes needs to become more comfortable making plays when going to his right. Until he is more effective from both sides of the floor, defenses can minimize his impact.
Of course, it wasn’t just the younger players on the Pistons who took their game to the next level this season. Jerami Grant, the team’s prized offseason acquisition, evolved into a borderline All-Star. After being an integral part of a Western Conference Finals run with the Denver Nuggets, Grant relished his chance to be the primary option. He showed off an improved ability to attack the rim off the dribble, which helped him generate a career-high 22.3 points per game this season.
Grant went from never averaging more than 3.7 threes per game in a single season to taking 6.1 shots from beyond the arc per contest. What makes him producing over 20 points per game this season even more impressive is the rise in three-point attempts saw his three-point shooting percentage drop from nearly 39 to 35 percent, making him league-average from long range.
The next step for Grant, who at 27 is just entering his prime, is to improve as a playmaker. Sure, he’s working alongside a young supporting cast and playing on a team that just registered the second-worst record in the NBA, but their roster figures to be better next season. It seems safe to believe he’s aiming to average more than 2.8 assists per game in the 2021-22 campaign.
And now that the Pistons are on to offseason goals, there’s nothing more important than for them to secure the best pick possible. They’ve done their part finishing with the second-worst record in the league, which means that along with the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic, they’ll have the highest odds of procuring the top pick and a 52.1 percent chance of getting a top-four selection. Detroit has also ensured they’ll pick no lower than sixth. Now, it’s a matter of how good a hand they get dealt at the draft lottery, which takes place June 22.
Whether it’s winning the Cade Cunningham sweepstakes, adding a potential franchise center in Evan Mobley, a pure scorer like Jalen Green, or a polished combo guard in Jalen Suggs, ideally, the Pistons are picking in the top four. This year’s draft is a prime opportunity for them to add a player who can become a top-three player on a championship team, and if anyone from this class lives up to that billing, that’s the range they’re most likely to get selected.
With Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey at the helm, it’s a safe bet the Pistons will continue to progress next season while still in the early stages of their rebuild. But lottery luck bringing one of the top-four prospects to the Motor City would figure to go a long way towards the Pistons’ resurgence.