POP 2021-2022 Season Review: The Bigs

With the Detroit Pistons 2021-22 campaign completed, the staff here at Palace of Pistons is recapping the season for each player on the team. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the bigs on Detroit’s roster. This group lost a key piece early in the season and later made an acquisition at the trade deadline that helped open up Detroit’s gameplan offensively. Let’s take a look at how the following five players impacted the Pistons’ this season. 

Isaiah Stewart

Although Stewart’s numbers remained relatively level throughout the season, the sophomore big man came out of the gate slow for Detroit. A reaction to a hard foul from LeBron James cast a shadow over Stewart and cost him a pair of games to a suspension towards the end of November. 

Upon his return from suspension, Stewart’s play improved. He averaged nine points and 10 rebounds per game in December. It was one of two months throughout the season that the center averaged double-digit rebounds. December was also Stewart’s second-best plus-minus month, in which he was a -1.5, which isn’t bad for a team that went 1-11 in the month. 

The most intriguing part of Stewart’s season came after the All-Star break. After shooting 33% from the 3-point line in his rookie season, Stewart seemingly removed the shot from his arsenal throughout the first 50 games of the season. He attempted a mere 24 shots from beyond the arc, making only three. In his final 21 appearances of the season, Stewart nearly matched his number of attempts (22), but connected on 12 of them. The consistent threat of Stewart’s 3-point shot will be a key factor in determining the height of his ceiling. 

 

Defensively, Stewart was Detroit’s anchor. His presence down low is well documented and was vital to a team that struggled to keep opposing guards in front of them on the perimeter. However, Stewart’s defense outside of the paint deserves immense credit as well. 

As of now, Stewart pencils in as the Pistons’ starting center next season. There isn’t a player on the roster better suited to hold down this spot than Stewart, although an offseason with a top draft pick and over $30 million in cap space could change that. 

Marvin Bagley III

The Pistons traded for Bagley at the trade deadline in exchange for Trey Lyles and Josh Jackson. In 18 games with Detroit, the 6’11 big averaged 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, before having his season ended early due to a left hip injury. A restricted free agent this summer, Bagley’s tryout with Detroit being cut short was inopportune, but he still managed to leave an impression that signified his value to the team. He managed to formulate a nice partnership with Cade Cunningham, whose playmaking benefited from having an athletic big to work with. 

Although he has a desire and the freedom to shoot from outside the arc, Bagley has never been a serviceable 3-point shooter. He shot just 22.9% with the Pistons and is at 29.1% for his career. He shot 62.4% from inside the arc with Detroit, a percentage that flourished by playing with Cunningham and another playmaker in Killian Hayes. 

Bagley’s presence brought a major lift to the offense, but the defensive woes provide clarity as to why Bagley may not have been given a role to his liking in Sacramento. At 22 years old, there is still time for Bagley to improve on that end of the floor from a basketball IQ standpoint, but questions about his motor and energy level defensively are fair. 

The Pistons will have to make a decision when heading into contract negotiations with Bagley this summer. His talent is obvious, but his flaws are problematic. I would expect Bagley to return to the team that dealt for him in February, but the parameters of the presumed contract remain unclear. 

Kelly Olynyk

As Troy Weaver’s key free-agent signing last offseason, there’s no way to describe Olynyk’s first season with the Pistons as anything other than disappointing. The nine-year veteran suffered an ankle injury in November and didn’t return until the back end of January, only to spend four games in health and safety protocols. Olynyk appeared in just 40 games this season and was not nearly the same type of player he was last season with the Rockets. 

For a team deprived of floor spacing, Olynyk, a career 36.5% 3-point shooter, didn’t help Detroit absolve this clear issue. He put together the worst shooting season of his career, connecting on just 33.6% of his 3-point attempts. His impact defensively is worse than even Bagley, though the latter was much more effective on the offensive end, too. 

With three of the top four prospects being forwards that could immediately require frontcourt minutes, a role for Olynyk on Detroit next season isn’t a shoo-in. If Detroit holds onto Jerami Grant and re-signs Bagley, three of the four spots in the frontcourt rotation will be spoken for. The addition of any of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, or Jabari Smith Jr. would make it nearly impossible for Olynyk to be an everyday player. An underwhelming season has Olynyk’s future with the franchise looking murky. 

Luka Garza

The rookie appeared in 32 games with the Pistons, shuttling between the main roster and Detroit’s G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise. The Iowa product averaged 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds for Detroit while shooting 32.7% from the 3-point line. 

The common theme of Detroit’s bigs outside of Stewart is their inefficiencies defensively and this problem clouds Garza as well. He’s not quick enough to defend in the pick-and-roll, as guards exposed the center when he was dragged out of the paint. 

After a strong performance in the summer league last August, Garza’s two-way contract was converted to a standard contract. Attached to that contract was a team option this summer. Depending on how the rest of Detroit’s roster shapes up this offseason, Garza’s return to the Pistons is not a lock. 

Heading into the offseason, there is plenty of speculation about what the Pistons may do in regards to bolstering the center position. Gonzaga big Chet Holmgren is one of the best prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft and could be an option for Detroit on draft night in June. With plenty of cap space to work with, some have suggested that the Pistons will chase Suns’ center Deandre Ayton, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason. Detroit does like Isaiah Stewart, however, so that may persuade them to not spend big on the position for now.

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