Detroit Pistons Post-All-Star Break Observations

The 12-45 Detroit Pistons traveled to TD Garden to take on the Boston Celtics and scraped by with a 112-111 victory in their last game prior to the NBA All-Star break. Thanks to a clutch jumper from Jerami Grant and a missed mid-ranger from Jayson Tatum at the buzzer, the Pistons avoided adding on to their season-long eight-game losing streak. There were murmurs that this down-to-the-wire victory might light a fire under these Pistons, who have admittedly looked lost for much of the season.

The Pistons returned and quickly turned those hopeful rumblings into approving nods as they knocked out Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Mobley’s Cleveland Cavaliers in another tight affair. Now, sitting at a slightly less depressing record (except for lottery purposes) of 18-50, the post-All-Star break Pistons have shown competitiveness and fire in each of their ten games – either winning or losing in close fashion. In fact, these games have been so competitive that only one contest – a 114-103 loss to the Celtics – had a double-digit margin.

There’s no doubt that the Detroit, who currently hold the second-worst net rating in the league at -8.8, have done something differently during this run. A team with 12 wins through almost 60 games rarely can reel off a .500 stretch over a ten game span, never mind earn its longest win streak since 2019 (which is 3…silver linings though, right?) – but that’s exactly what Detroit has accomplished during this stretch. It has certainly taken a team effort, with Detroit being forced into an eight-man rotation as their guard corps – including Killian Hayes, Hamidou Diallo, Rodney McGruder, and Frank Jackson – has taken a massive hit. With Cory Joseph and Saben Lee as the only other healthy guards, the heavy-lifting has been relegated to the group’s newest addition…

Cade Cunningham has played his best month of basketball in March, so much so that he has forced his way back into the Rookie of the Year conversation despite Mobley being viewed as the heavy favorite. Cunningham has dominated the seven-footer statistically for a notable stretch now, but Mobley’s hot start to the season, elite defense and the Cavaliers looking like a playoff team has made the race closer than it should be. Cade is in the midst of an elite seven-game stretch to open the month of March, with averages of 23.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.4 assists. The efficiency has still been lacking a bit, a reasonable downfall of a rookie guard, especially one who is constantly getting double-teamed. Regardless, it has become incredibly evident during this stretch how in control and poised Cunningham is, and he has certainly proved that the team can trust him late in games. The Rookie of the Year push continues…

You know who else Dwane Casey has been trusting late in games? If you guessed second-round rookie Isaiah Livers, you’d be correct. The former Michigan Wolverine suffered an injury his senior year and lost a decent amount of draft stock, but the idea of adding his leadership and “3-and-D” talents along with pairing him with his college coach, John Beilein, was too much for Troy Weaver to pass on. While exciting for all involved at the time, Livers’ injury left him as the forgotten second-rounder as Luka Garza held the mostly-unwarranted spotlight, until…

Outside of a fluke five-minute outing before returning to the shelf and eventually G-League, Detroit’s February 27th contest against the Charlotte Hornets was Livers’ first real court time. With six points in 13 minutes, Livers performed enough to warrant sparse minutes. While he only played 21 total minutes over the next three games, Livers still showed consistent effort and engagement on both sides of the ball. In part due to injuries to McGruder and Diallo, Livers has been thrown into the fire in recent games, notching 25-plus minutes in two of the last four contests. Albeit a small sample size, he is knocking down 40 percent of his threes (disregarding the December game) with above-average defense. If he continues at this rate to close the season, Livers makes both McGruder and Frank Jackson more expendable than they already are.

The hype was real when the Pistons finally acquired Marvin Bagley III before the trade deadline after being connected to him for months. That excitement has proven to be warranted, not because Bagley is the transcendent talent that he was viewed as coming out of college, but because he fills a massive role that Detroit desperately needed someone to fill – a vertical threat. No offense to Isaiah Stewart, who has finished his fair share of lobs, but “Beef Stew” will always be a hustle-over-athleticism center who thrives in the post and on putbacks. Bagley, meanwhile, has been nothing short of a jolt to the team’s offense – providing the bouncy and often-used lob threat that prolific playmakers in Cunningham and Hayes desperately needed.

Bagley showed off his offensive abilities during his first few games with the Pistons prior to the All-Star break, but he really began to shine following Stewart’s injury. Along with consistent feeds from Cunningham and Hayes, Bagley has boasted his impressive post game, impact on the offensive glass, and hints of a three-point shot. The 6’10 big man is averaging 16.4 points and 8.6 rebounds on 56% shooting over Detroit’s last five games and has added a new dynamic to the Pistons offense. His defense still leaves much to be desired and his role for the future is unclear, but his play as of late should make Detroit’s front office heavily mull over his Restricted Free Agent status in the offseason.

Detroit’s defense has also shown some signs of life during this ten-game stretch, as the team limited half their opponents to 110 points or less while only allowing over 115 twice (including a 127-126 OT win vs. Atlanta). With a rotation-heavy defense that doesn’t exactly have the stoppers to execute most of the time, Detroit’s post-break 114.1 defensive rating is middle-of-the-pack. However, lineups featuring Cory Joseph, Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant and Bagley boast an impressive 102.2 defensive rating – a sign of life for a team that can add better support around their best defenders this summer.

Only time will tell if the Pistons can carry their reinvigorated momentum through the final 14 contests and beyond, but this recent stretch is hopefully a taste of what is to come for this up-and-coming team.

Looking for more Pistons content? Check out the Palace of Pistons Podcast below.

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