POP 2021-2022 Season Review: The Forwards

The Pistons have a shaky forward room, led by Jerami Grant (above) and his fluid situation on the roster. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The most coveted position in basketball right now is a wing, particularly one who can shoot from deep and play perimeter defense. The Pistons wing room is far from finished, but there are some compelling players who currently reside there. But there is also a big elephant in that room, and Detroit will have to address it sooner or later. Nevertheless let’s take a look at the forwards on the roster and how they performed last season, along with some optimism for next season. 

Jerami Grant

There was perhaps not a player talked about more at the trade deadline, across the league, than Jerami Grant. The Lakers, Bulls, Cavaliers, Wizards, basically any team fighting for the playoffs, which is more than usual now because of the prospect of the play-in tournament, were interested in Grant’s services. But the Pistons opted to not move on from Grant, as no team was able to pony up enough assets to Troy Weaver’s linking. Our own Aaron Johnson put together an excellent piece about why keeping Grant is justified. And sure enough, the Pistons kept him. 

So how did he play? Well, Grant missed 24 games with a torn ligament in his thumb and had his season cut short with a calf injury. As for stats, they were mostly down across the board, but not significantly so. Grant averaged 19.2 points per game, down from 22.3 last season, and a hair fewer rebounds and assists per game. His shooting splits were mostly the same too: 43/36/84 this season compared to…43/35/85 in 2020-2021. Not much different. He took fewer shots as well, likely due to the presence of Cade Cunningham and just spending time acclimating to more touches for other players. This is not like last year, where Grant was the entire offense most nights. 

There were times during the season when it was frustrating watching Grant out there. There were instances, particularly at the beginning of the season and after returning rom the thumb injury, where he hijacked possessions and failed to get others involved. He would settle in isolation and take mid-range jumpshots, shooting just 24% on attempts 10-16 feet from the rim per Basketball Reference. This angst against Grant was heightened knowing that it was to the detriment of Cunningham, who was looking to gain his footing as well. 

The numbers say that Jerami Grant was mostly the same player as he was last year, albeit with more injuries that forced him off the court. When he was on the court, he had his moments – a 40-piece against the Cavaliers, 35 points in a win against Houston on NBA TV – but it was an odd season for the Pistons best player…at least coming into this season. 

But where does that leave him now? Detroit will undoubtedly explore all options to potentially move Grant and his hefty salary – and the onus of giving him an extension. There are reportedly several teams still in on trying to acquire Grant, but Troy Weaver will need to adjust his expectations for a potential return while not settling for anything. Remember the beginning of this article, and how wings are the most sought-after commodity in the league? The Pistons have a lot of cap space and could simply re-sign Jerami Grant, keeping a very good player who can do a little bit of everything. Nearly every team needs a player like Grant, so why be so excited to trade him? 

Saddiq Bey

One of the core young players on this roster, there was a lot of excitement coming into the year for Saddiq Bey. After a summer with the USA Basketball and some flashes as a good two-way player the year before, Bey got off to an awful start and there was some grave concern. In his first 15 games, Bey shot 36% from the floor and 30% from deep – paltry numbers compared to expectations. Things did eventually even out, and Bey had plenty of hot stretches that reinstalled confidence across the board. He finished shooting 36% from deep, a short dip from the 38% last year, including 34% from non-corner and 39% from the corner per Cleaning the Glass. His growth and capability as a knock-down shooter, especially from deep, is vital especially given the lack of shooting currently on the roster. The Pistons as a team were a dreadful shooting team: dead last in the league in effective field goal percentage and second-last in three-point percentage per Cleaning the Glass. Yuck. But even in a “down” year, Bey still provided some positives. 

Even more promising from Bey was his work within the perimeter. He sought out more shooting opportunities in the paint, leading to more free throw attempts. Bey averaged one more free throw attempt per game, small growth but growth nonetheless. There was also a direct correlation of offensive success to Bey getting to the free throw line, a sign that the Pistons crave someone to get downhill and collapse defenses. Bey also attempted more shots at the rim (+5%) and mid range (+9%), while making a greater percentage of them than last year per Cleaning the Glass. If he can continue expanding his skillset to get to the rim more often, forcing defenses to stretch, the Pistons will be a more effective team offensively, and that much more dangerous.

Things looked pretty grim at the start of the season for Saddiq Bey. He was ice cold for a good portion of the season, but picked up and had some notable performances: a 31-point outburst against the Pacers late in the season, two 30+ point games in a two-day stretch around the New Year, and a 51-point explosion against the Orlando Magic. Highlights abound! But moving forward, consistency will be key for Bey. Cold stretches happen to everyone, but he must find ways to maintain viability on the floor. That means getting to the rim or setting up teammates, the latter seemingly possible as he nearly doubled his assist percentage year over year. It will be a big season for Saddiq Bey, especially as a potential extension looms and the Pistons inch closer to putting together a playoff roster. You hope that Bey is part of that. 

Hamidou Diallo

The Pistons were pretty banged up last season, but Hamidou Diallo provided some stability in times of need and proved to be a valuable asset. The 24-year-old started 29 games last season (career-high, by a wide margin) and showed off his skills as a bit of a do-it-all wing to fill in when needed. He cut down his turnovers, made more two-pointers, takes plenty of shots at the rim, and provides an athletic lift to a team that looked so milquetoast at times. 

Something he is unable to do is make shots from beyond the arc. Diallo 24.1% from deep, a stark 14.5% drop-off from the season prior per Cleaning the Glass. As noted above, the Pistons do not have capable shooting on the roster – but boy do they really need it. If Diallo can split the difference and be a 31% shooter from deep that stretches the offense and provides a different wrinkle off the bench. He is also a pretty poor free throw shooter, knocking down just 65% of his attempts from the charity stripe. 

The pathway to playing time is a little less clear for Diallo. Detroit will have to decide if they want to pick up his $5.2 million option, and his inability to make and take threes may limit his time on the court. But he has some valuable skills that the Pistons need, namely the athleticism and ability to get down hill. In such a broken season, Diallo managed to provide some bursts of enjoyment. But the roster may go through some change and he will need to expand his capabilities if he wants to remain in the rotation. 

Isaiah Livers

A Michigan man making a statement in Michigan? Sign up pretty much every Pistons fan and definitely everyone in our Palace of Pistons group chat. Isaiah Livers came on strong late in the season and did what has been preached consistently – make shots. Livers drilled 42% of his threes and was effective in both corner and non-corner attempts per Cleaning the Glass. In total, 67% of all of his shots came from beyond the arc while just 18% came at the rim. Livers was actually fine shooting that close, he made 75% of his rim attempts and could get even more looks there as opposing teams see his lethality from deep. The Pistons need shooting, and Isaiah Livers provides that. He is almost 24-years-old already, but Detroit should be looking to give him more consistent play time next season. He makes players like Frank Jackson and Diallo a little more expendable. In terms of expectations and performance, Livers exceeding them and then some. 

Rodney McGruder

Out of all of the players on the roster, McGruder had maybe the biggest roller coaster season. He was nearly traded to Denver, until Bol Bol’s physical was nullified. After being put on blast by Klay Thompson and enduring that infamous feud, McGruder and Draymond Green made amends. Oh, and he also played 48 games for the young Pistons and did savvy veteran things that Detroit needs. 

McGruder is on the roster because every team needs some veterans on the bench who can soak up minutes and keep young guys in line, and he does just that. The youngsters on the team like him a lot, and were happy to see the trade be squashed. “He’s just an example of a true professional, coming in and doing his job,” said Isaiah Stewart via Rod Beard of The Detroit News. That sort of thing isn’t quantified in the box score, but it provides value in practice, on flights, and on the bench. 

He had a 19-point game against the Warriors right after the trade was rescinded. Pretty cool!

Featured Image: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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