POP Roundtable: What to Make of Detroit’s Start to the Season

The Pistons offense has so far revolved around Jerami Grant (right), a trend that cannot continue if Detroit is to make some progress this season in diversifying the offense. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

The Pistons have had a difficult schedule to start the season, had to weather the storm without their first overall pick for the first few games, and the offense has been stuck in the mud. What can we take away, if anything, from Detroit’s start? I asked some of our writers to give their thoughts on the Pistons early in the 2021-22 campaign:

What has been the biggest takeaway from the Pistons’ season so far?

Jacob Rogers, Staff Writer: My biggest takeaway from the Pistons so far this season is Saddiq Bey has made major improvements to his game this past offseason. During last year’s campaign, Saddiq was much more of a spot-up shooter and did not really put the ball on the floor. This season has been much different. He has shown that he can take guys off the dribble and finish strongly at the rim. We all knew going into this season that Saddiq was a major component of the “Young Core” but I do not think any of us saw this much improvement coming this quickly. Bey has been in a shooting slump as of late, but we all know he will find his way out of it.

Jasper Apollonia, Writer/Palace of Pistons Podcast: Despite some shrewd draft picks and trades, this roster still needs a ton of work. Detroit’s offense through 12 games has been awful, and while some of that can be chalked up to a comically difficult schedule and Cade Cunningham working his way back from injury, there doesn’t seem to be many answers for Dwane Casey. They desperately need a rim running big to complement Cade and Killian Hayes’ pick and roll abilities, as well as at least one more reliable and consistent shooter. Patience is the name of the game until the Pistons have another top 5 pick in the fold to go with their near-max cap space when Blake Griffin’s contract comes off the books this summer. 

Dylan Edenfield, Staff Writer: The Pistons have two glaringly obvious needs before they can rise through the standings with this core: a purely elite scorer from the perimeter and a dominating presence down low. There are some noteworthy positives from these Pistons, as bad as they’ve been, including the elite playmaking and defense we’ve seen from the young backcourt of Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham. Unfortunately, the positives outweigh the negatives this year.. again.. with the Pistons on pace to have one of the worst offenses in league history. It doesn’t help that Detroit has no presence down low outside of Isaiah Stewart, who has seemingly regressed a bit so far. Add a high-volume, high-efficiency scorer and an all-around big man and things will start to get real interesting in Detroit.

Tyler Isaac, Staff Writer: That this is still a rebuild. There’s a lot of hype with the first overall pick coming in but this team is young and is still learning the ins and outs of the NBA. Fans need to realize drafting Cade, while a huge step, does not automatically push this team to the playoffs. Even though coming in with big expectations and NBA ready skill, he’s still a 20 year rookie who will grow along with the rest of the team. So overall I think this team is at where they should be at, for this point in the season.

Which Pistons player has been the biggest bright spot so far this season?

When the Pistons signed Kelly Olynyk to replace Mason Plumlee, the reasoning seemed pretty sound – get a big man who can shoot and space the floor. So far, the results are as advertised. (Raj Mehta/USA Today)

Jacob: For me, the biggest bright spot so far is the bargain signing of Trey Lyles. I know for a lot of Pistons fans, myself included, we were confused about the Lyles signing this offseason. However, Lyles has shown so far that he is a rotational piece that can provide a quick bucket when you need it. He is averaging the third-highest scoring output of his career, and he is playing the fewest minutes per game of his career at 15.6. Lyles is not going to be one of those guys that comes in and gives you 15-20 points off the bench, but he will be able to supply you a bucket when needed.

Jasper: It’s gotta be Cade Cunningham for me. Despite taking a while to work his way back onto the floor, and his initial struggles with scoring the ball, it’s clear that if there is any hope for the Pistons to turn things around this season it’s going to start with Cade. Most of the concerns regarding his athleticism on offense have already been answered, and he’s improved his shooting with every game thats gone by. He’s going to be a star, and that’s something the Pistons desperately need. The only question for me at this point is how high his ceiling goes.

Dylan: Honestly, this was harder than I thought. Kelly Olynyk sticks out to me because I wasn’t initially a fan of swapping out Plumlee for him, but realized quickly how much his outside shooting and high IQ opened up the offense for the young guns and Jerami Grant – who was forced into taking a TON of tough shots last year. You wouldn’t know it without watching, but Olynyk has helped make the Pistons look like a respectable offense at times when he’s on the court; that’s more than you can say more most guys on the team this season. Good thing he’s out through the new year with an MCL sprain! 

Tyler: While the easy answer is Cade Cunningham, I gotta go with Saddiq Bey. Out of his 2020 draft counterparts, he seems to be proving to be the most NBA ready player. He’s improved his game from being a 3&D type player to having an all around skillset. Dazzling opponents with post moves and a good mid range game. He’s the one player I look forward to the most developing with Cade. I believe they could be a lethal combo.

Which player has been the most disappointing so far?

Jacob: I have to say that Isaiah Stewart has been my biggest disappointment so far. We all know Stewart will come out and give you a lot of energy, physicality, and play every possession like it’s his last. But he has yet to show any real improvement on the offensive side of things, and some of the fouls he commits hinder the Pistons more than it helps. Not seeing the offensive improvements could also be due in part that the is the fourth or fifth option of the starting five, but he has yet to show me anything this season that has stood out for the good. If there is one thing for certain, the Pistons need a rim running big, and I think Stewart could be that guy, but he has yet to show me anything this season that indicates that.

Jasper: The most difficult part of this question is finding just one player to highlight. Pretty much everyone on the roster has underperformed, but I’d have to say Hamidou Diallo has been the biggest disappointment so far. When Troy Weaver made the move to trade Svi Mikhailuk for Diallo last season, he publicly said he saw him as a long term piece in Detroit. But despite that backing, Diallo has only played in six games so far this season, essentially falling completely out of the rotation. He hit a low point against the Cavs on Friday, being called to sub in at one point, having a short discussion with Dwane Casey, then sitting back down before Troy Weaver came over and took him to the locker room. It’s not quite clear exactly why Diallo is so in the dog house with the Pistons other wings struggling also struggling, but his spot on the team is in serious jeopardy right now.

Dylan: I still don’t understand this one and I’m not sure how much of it is his fault, but for me it’s gotta be Hamidou Diallo. He didn’t show a ton for the Pistons last season, but showed enough flashes to warrant bringing back. On a modest deal and still young enough to fit right in with the rest of the young core, I was excited to see how Diallo would contribute this year. After struggling early on, Dwane Casey went away from Diallo and never looked back, which has resulted in the 23-year-old looking disinterested with the team. With rampant Marvin Bagley trade rumors swirling, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was shipped off after he’s eligible to be on Dec. 15. It’s unfortunate after the lofty expectations for him, but obviously Hami has not turned out to be what the Pistons were expecting after inking him to a new three-year deal. 

Tyler: Frank. Jackson. Dude is a no show. I don’t know if it’s Wayne Ellington moving on to a new team, a departure of a coach, or his new haircut. The promised shooter we had going into this season has been nowhere to be found. With a team like this, having one of these dart throws not work out is inevitable. You can’t hit on all of them. But with Frank not working out, it leaves a hole at shooting beyond the arch. Hopefully Weaver can address this by the addition of a new player or the development of one of the established players because this team desperately needs 3 point shooting. Overall Frank Jackson has to go.

Should Dwane Casey be on the hot seat, considering the team’s major offensive deficiencies?

Head Coach Dwane Casey has had to navigate a rebuild, disgruntled stars, and very young rookies. With the Pistons still seemingly far away from contention, should he be on the hot seat?

Jacob: In short? Yes. I have been one of those guys that have always been high on Dwane Casey, but right now I am on the complete other spectra. The rotations Casey has run out this season have been asinine. The Pistons are one of the youngest and worst teams in the league, and yet we are getting Cory Joseph minutes over Saben Lee, (who is killing it in the G-League right now), and Hamidou Diallo is currently buried on the bench. With a team as young as Detroit, with guys like Saddiq Bey and Cade Cunningham, Detroit needs to let those guys take over. Now I get it, Jerami Grant is coming off a career year and needs to get his shots, but not letting the young guys flourish in the offense is complete idiocy. I hope Casey can turn it around, but if he doesn’t, it might be time for a new coach in the Motor City.

Jasper: Not at this moment. Casey bears a lot of blame for the Pistons 2-9 record so far, his rotations have been extremely poor, the offensive scheme isn’t working, and he hasn’t put players in situations to help them break out of their team-wide funk. Having two pick and roll point guards in your starting lineup, yet running almost zero pick and roll doesn’t really make sense to me, and if I see another molasses-paced handoff on the perimeter that doesn’t result in any sort of an aggressive move towards the basket I might cry. That being said, this is a poor roster, the schedule has been brutal, and almost everyone is underperforming, regardless of coaching. Casey’s management of young players last year, and his relationship with Troy Weaver have bought him job security for at least this season, and likely next season as well. Who are you going to replace him with that is going to turn this roster into a playoff contender? There are a lot of reasons to be frustrated with Dwane Casey, but it’s too soon to realistically put him on the hot seat.

Dylan: I believe there are some aspects of Dwane Casey that make him a good NBA coach. There’s a reason he won Coach of the Year… but there’s also a reason he was fired the same season. His unimpressive offenses and questionable rotations have driven me crazy his entire tenure, similar to the Pistons last coach, Stan Van Gundy. However, I think the “hot seat” is too strong of a phrase to use for Casey, who still doesn’t have a great team to work with yet and can’t be fully blamed for the struggles. No matter what, I’m always open to change and have an open mind to anything that could accelerate the process of bringing the Pistons back to the top of the NBA.

Tyler: No, but that doesn’t mean his coaching shouldn’t be heavily monitored. Casey’s coaching is interesting to say the least. He sticks to his guys, and is very stubborn when it comes to his line ups. It’s what got him tossed in Toronto back in 2018. But it needs to be stated that Dwane is excellent when it comes to developing young players, and the Pistons have been benefactors of that. I believe Weaver and Casey are looking at this year as a proving ground and trying to see who sticks around, what line ups works, and overall trying to figure out this team. Next year this team should have playoff aspirations and if the team stalls that’s when Casey should be put on the hot seat.

(Featured Image by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

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