The Detroit Pistons arguably had the best off-season of any team, and their much-improved roster will only help their young franchise player, Cade Cunningham. There are big expectations for both the Detroit Pistons and their reigning Rookie of the Year, who was the number one overall pick in the 2021 draft.
Cunningham had a solid, if unspectacular, rookie season for a number one pick, averaging 17.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.2 steals last year. However, the team won just 23 games, and he struggled with his outside shot as well as with injuries. That’s behind them now, and the Pistons are revving up for a speedy turnaround in 2022–23.
The Detroit Pistons are building a roster tailored to their young star’s strengths.
The Pistons’ offseason began with the team drafting Jaden Ivey fifth overall, and he is seen as a value pick considering his vast upside. Ivey has drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City version, and if that’s the case, then the Pistons could soon be back in playoff contention. In addition to Ivey, the team also acquired center Jalen Duren, who was traded to the Pistons after he was selected 13th overall by Charlotte, and he could also be a huge steal.
Duren’s an elite shot blocker and offensive rebounder, but he also has potential as a scorer, serving as the third member of an exciting young core of Cunningham and Ivey. In free agency, the Pistons continued to make smart decisions by trading for Bojan Bogdanovic, a talented scorer who averaged a combined 18.3 points per game and shot 40.3% from three over the last four seasons. He’ll give the Pistons some much-needed shooting after they ranked just 29th in 3-point percentage last season.
Center Nerlens Noel rounds out the notable new additions and is known for his defense and rebounding, two things the Pistons could use more of. Noel and starting center Isaiah Stewart, as well as Duren, give the team a trio of athletic bigs who can swat shots, crash the glass and catch lobs. All of these moves are terrific, but they only work because they have Cunningham as their centerpiece.
The Detroit Pistons could surprise next season.
If Cunningham makes a giant leap in his second year, then the Pistons could double their win total from a year ago. Cunningham, who stands at 6’7, has shown great potential as a playmaker. He has fantastic court vision and is especially skilled at tossing lobs, kicking out to shooters, or finding players who leak out in transition with a hit-ahead pass. Stewart, Noel, Duren, Bogdanovic, and Ivey fit those strengths to a t.
While he’ll have to share the rock with Ivey, they can coexist because Ivey will draw plenty of attention away from Cunningham and keep teams from defending him as if he were in the Bel-Air offense. That alone won’t improve his shooting, but he won’t have to work as hard to get open, and his shooting form is otherwise fine, leading to hopes that it will get better on its own.
If he can, then Cunningham will be more effective in playing off-ball while Ivey or Killian Hayes run the point. Still, the Pistons will be at their best with the ball in Cunningham’s hands since he’s terrific as a passer and a budding scorer. Cunningham isn’t the most explosive player, but it doesn’t really matter since he is skilled at using screens to help create separation. Once in the paint, he’s terrific at maneuvering in traffic, and he likes to use hesitation dribbles to put opposing bigs off-balance.
He’s then able to cross over and finish by using his long arm to shield his shot and lay it up off the glass. He also has a solid midrange jumper, hitting 43% of shots between 10 and 16 feet. Being able to get quality shots inside the arc and connect on them when his shot isn’t falling from outside is key to his development and could pay big dividends next season.
All in all, the Detroit Pistons’ roster has drastically improved, giving them several weapons around their rising superstar. Ultimately, we’ll have to wait until the regular season to see how they fare, but the pieces are there for the Detroit Pistons to have a speedy turnaround in 2022–23.