Roundtable: Previewing the Second Half of the Season

Jerami Grant is making a case for Most Improved Player, but will he be able to keep it up in the second half? (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Well, that was a whirlwind of a first half of the season. The Detroit Pistons have weathered roster changes, injuries, and overall ineffectivness to a 10-26 record. But things are not as they seem. There are a lot of positives to take away from the first half of the season, and Detroit has played better than their record indicates. The second half of the season will bring a lot of questions, namely how the young players look with extended time. Derrick Rose was traded and Blake Griffin bought out, so that moves everyone up the chain of command. I asked our contributors to gather ’round and and help preview, and reminisce a bit, on the season.

Question 1: Which Pistons player has been the biggest surprise so far this season?

Tim Forkin: For me, it’s been Isaiah Stewart. Of the Pistons’ three first round picks this year, I had the least understanding and lowest expectation of the pick. At the time, it seemed like a favor to an agent. Now we know what Troy Weaver and the Pistons’ front office were doing. Stewart is as Detroit as a rookie can possibly be. The frustration he creates in his matchups, his ability to outrun opposing centers for easy dunks, and his overall presence around the rim is not something I saw coming. What I thought was another useless Detroit pick is looking like one of the most important players of the next six years.

Jasper Apollonia: Troy Weaver signing Mason Plumlee to a three year, $25 million deal this offseason was met with plenty of scorn both in and outside of Detroit, but the Plumdawg Millionaire has been quietly outstanding through the All-Star break. Averaging nearly a double-double on 60% shooting has been a plus, and he’s been a key cog defensively, but where Plumlee has really shown his value is as a passer, racking up almost 4 assists per game. With Killian Hayes out for most of the season and Blake Griffin now in Brooklyn, Plumlee has become one of the most important players for the Pistons on both ends of the court. Who saw that coming?

Jacob Rogers: Like Jasper, Mason Plumlee has been the biggest surprise to me this season. When Troy Weaver signed him to a three year, $25 million contract this offseason, I was concerned with Weaver’s direction with him giving that money to a 30 year-old center on a rebuilding team. However, Plumlee has been worth every penny he’s being paid. Statistically, he has had a career year, averaging nearly a double-double, and having two triple-doubles on the year. What has surprised me the most though is how good of a passer he is. He’s averaging a career high 3.8 assists this season, and has had 10 games with five or more assists. With Detroit lacking playmaking depth, he has stepped in and been a nice surprise.

Donovan Collins: The biggest surprise so far this season has been the play of Jerami Grant. A lot of people were skeptical with his deal heading into this season at 3 years $60 million. I was even wondering a bit if he was worth it. I was excited for the signing though as he will have the opportunity to flash what he has in the bag. He has shown his versatility and diverse set of skills both sides of the floor for the Pistons and has shown he is the best player on this team day in and day out. Surpassing his career high multiple times this year, and achieving 40 points for the first time, I believe Pistons’ fans got more than what they wished for.

Dylan Edenfield: After this recent stretch of games, Saben Lee has stuck out as this season’s most surprising player to me. Ever since Delon Wright went down, Lee has stepped up seamlessly as Detroit’s backup point guard, and has looked like he could be a long-term option there. Maybe my expectations were just low on second-round point guards after Jordan Bone flamed out quickly, but Lee’s explosiveness off the bench has been a pleasant sight in the middle of a lost season.

Question 2: Which Pistons player has been the biggest disappointment this season?

Tim Forkin: I’m going to say that it’s been Sekou Doumbouya, fully understanding what my words mean. He is only 20 years old. He’s only been playing basketball for seven years. Still, the pandemic has affected him more than any other player on the team with the absence of the Pistons playing in the G-League bubble. Sekou still has much, much more to go, and the Pistons will continue to be patient with him. His disappointment is of no fault of his own, but we still were hoping for a little bit more out of him.

Jasper Apollonia: There are a few candidates here. Killian Hayes was ineffective, then hurt. Sekou Doumbouya hasn’t shown the growth many wanted to see from him this year, and the recently departed Blake Griffin failed to have anything close to the triumphant return tour many hoped for. But Svi Mykhailiuk has largely flopped in what should have been his role to lose after the offseason departures of Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway and Bruce Brown. He’s shooting 33% from long range with some truly atrocious shot selection, and has been outplayed by every other Pistons wing at one point or another this season. He’ll likely continue to get opportunities, and he’s shown signs of turning things around, but it’s hard to call his season anything other than a huge disappointment so far. 

Jacob Rogers: I feel like I should say that Sekou Doumbouya has been my biggest disappointment, but he has also not been given enough playing time in his second year for me to say that. With that being said, I have to go with Svi Mykhailiuk as my biggest disappointment. After the departures of Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown via trade, I figured Svi would be getting a lot of playing time at the two guard after shooting nearly 41 percent from three in the 2019-20 season. However, he’s been shooting an abysmal 33 percent on his three point attempts this season, on nearly the same amount of attempts. With rumors of teams looking to pry Delon Wright and Wayne Ellington from the Pistons, Svi is more than likely going to get his opportunities. However, he’s been a huge disappointment for me so far. 

Donovan Collins: I think Sekou Doumbouya has been the biggest disappointment for sure this season. I still believe this even with the addition of Jerami Grant stealing his minutes of his that I hoped he would get this year. When Sekou has played, he’s provided glimpses occasionally of what we can do well, like running the floor in transition, hitting threes from the top of the key, and even attacking the basket and finishing with contact. He still has not put it all together and still seems raw and stiff on the floor. I want to see more of it, and I wish I have had the pleasure to at this point of the season. He’s still very young and has much more time to improve. To me, I was expecting more of an improvement from last season, but we’ll see where he is at the end of the season.

Dylan Edenfield: I don’t know what my expectations were for Blake Griffin, but even my most pessimistic opinion would’ve been better than what he gave us in his last half season with Detroit. Pitiful and depressing performances, with none of the heart we saw from him just two years ago. Blake was simply the guy that handed the ball off and sat at the 3-point line for 30 minutes a game. It will be interesting to see if he has anything left in the tank for the Brooklyn Nets, but if he’s a similar product to what we’ve seen this year, he won’t do much more than hold them back.

Question 3: Which Pistons player has the most to prove in the second half?

Tim Forkin: Jerami Grant. He’s hovered above 23 points per game all season long, but a strong second half of the year cements his place as THE guy in Detroit for the remainder of his contract. With Blake gone, he is back to his best position as a four-man. The Pistons are relying on Grant for several things: maintaining the incredible production leap he has made this year, leading a group of young players in the right direction, and being willing to stick around in Detroit during the tough times. Grant has to show that him and his star-level production are here to stay.

Jasper Apollonia: Dennis Smith Jr has been good for Detroit since they acquired him in the Derrick Rose trade, but he’s about to face some stiff competition for playing time with the return of Delon Wright, the potential return of Killian Hayes, and several breakout performances from Saben Lee. Smith isn’t likely to be in the Pistons long term plans and is playing on the last year of his rookie deal, so If he wants to get paid this offseason, he absolutely must solidify himself as a part of the Pistons rotation. Perhaps Delon Wright gets traded, or Hayes fails to return to the court, but if not, DSJ is going to have to show Dwane Casey he’s deserving of playing time beyond the Pistons simply having no better options at the guard spot. That means better, quicker passing, improved finishing, and proving that his shooting numbers and defensive play aren’t a mirage. 

Jacob Rogers: In the same breath that I said Svi Mykhailiuk is my biggest disappointment of the season, I also say that he has the most to prove in the second half of the season. Like I said previously, he’s only converting on 33 percent of his three-point attempts this season, and is shooting less than 40 percent from the floor in general. That is less than ideal for someone who’s main priority on the floor is to shoot the ball. With Josh Jackson emerging as the main wing off the bench, the stellar rookie season of Saddiq Bey so far, a solid guard/wing draft class, and him being a restricted free agent this offseason, Mykhailiuk has a lot to prove to both Weaver and Coach Casey on why he should earn another contract with Detroit. 

Donovan Collins: Dennis Smith Jr has the most to prove the rest of this season. Before the trade he wasn’t sniffing the floor and was asking for minutes in the G-league with the New York Knicks. He was trending downward which I thought was unusual for a 23-year-old with blessed athleticism. The trade is an opportunity not just for the Pistons to see what Smith Jr still has in the tank, and what he can bring to the table if he does. This also benefits Smith Jr’s as he can use this opportunity to show he can be a valuable contributor to not just the Pistons but any franchises in the future. Smith Jr’s play to begin was not too appetizing but has since progressed steadily since after the injury to Delon Wright.

Dylan Edenfield: Considering he is a pending free agent looking to prove to teams he’s worth a roster spot, I’d say Dennis Smith Jr. He barely played on the Knicks after a promising start in Dallas, and has been serviceable and fun to watch as the Pistons’ replacement for the injured Delon Wright. With the emergence of Saben Lee and Killian Hayes returning soon, Detroit will be crowded at point guard. It will be interesting to see if DSJ can hold a spot in the rotation and if he does, will it be enough to warrant bringing him back in the offseason?

Question 4: What one stat defines the Pistons first half and why?

Tim Forkin: 7. The amount of games Killian Hayes has played this year. The Pistons, who look like they have hit on their other three 2020 draft picks, are still relying on 7th overall pick Killian Hayes to come back strong and show he was worth the pick. Several guards picked behind Hayes have looked like they would have been much better selections, such as Tyrese Haliburton or Tyrese Maxey. Hayes being out of the lineup for seven of the team’s first 36 games shows that this team’s future isn’t completely decided. The Pistons could have something really special brewing if Hayes is able to come back and compete at the same level as the rest of the “Core Four.”

Jasper Apollonia: 16.7%. That’s the Pistons winning percentage this year in games with the score within 5 points during the last 5 minutes according to NBA.com, by FAR the worst of any team in the league. The difference between them and the next lowest team (the Minnesota Timberwolves) is the same margin as the difference between the Timberwolves and the 18th worst clutch team in the league. Considering the Pistons have played in 18 such games this season, and emerged with just 3 wins, it’s not surprising that they currently have the second worst record in the entire NBA. The Pistons are a bad, yet competitive team, and I can’t think of another stat that shows their current reality more clearly. 

Jacob Rogers: Like Tim said: seven. Seven represents the amount of games that rookie point guard Killian Hayes has played this year, before suffering a hip injury. Some fans are already writing off Hayes to be a bust, though the 19 year-old has only suited up for Detroit seven times. The other three rookies, Bey, Isaiah Stewart, and Saben Lee, have all had promising rookie campaigns. Why should people writeHayes off after only seven games? I’m a firm believer that once Hayes is healthy, he will show the type of impact he can make on the floor. 

Donovan Collins: I’m going to tag up with Jasper here and go with the winning percentage within 5 points during the last 5 minutes (16.7%). The Pistons season record does not do them any justice with looking how competitive they have been all season. This young team continues to go toe to toe with the rest of the league and even snatching some wins from the teams looking to contend at the end of the year like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. This year’s Pistons team has been basketball that many including myself have been enjoying watching. Though we don’t have many W’s in the win column, you can’t help to think what this team will be like a few years from now.

Dylan Edenfield: The Pistons have six players that are currently averaging double digit scoring (if you round up Saddiq Bey’s 9.9). This obviously doesn’t include Blake Griffin or Derrick Rose, who both also averaged double figures this season before leaving the team. This stat defines the Pistons because, while Jerami Grant is the best player, you never know who is going to go off for an exciting stat line. Josh Jackson, Grant, Bey, Ellington, even Mason Plumlee have all had great games this season – which has made for a fun first half despite having the league’s second-worst record.

(Featured Image Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)

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