POP 2022-23 Positional Preview: The Bigs

This year’s Detroit Pistons will be the deepest the team has been in terms of big men since the franchise was an Eastern Conference contender in the mid-2000s. With the recent Bojan Bogdanovic trade that shipped Kelly Olynyk to Utah, Troy Weaver was able to create some breathing room in the frontcourt while also addressing a dire need. Now, Detroit boasts a talented quartet of bigs with a variety of different strengths. It is likely that all four of them will see a notable role at some point during this upcoming season. Each has something to prove as the Pistons fight their way back to prominence.

Isaiah Stewart

2021-22 Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 8.7 rebounds (3.2 offensive), 1.2 assists, 1.1 blocks; 52% FG, 32.6% 3PT (55% TS)

No big will be asked to do more for the Pistons this season than Isaiah Stewart, who showed flashes he is a starting-caliber center in 2021-22. The defensive instincts have always been there for Stewart, as well as a reliable post game, but two areas of improvement will be key for the 21-year-old: 3-point shooting and playmaking – specifically dribble penetration. Stewart seems to have made strides with his shooting, albeit in Summer League and preseason. However, if the consistency can stick, even if “Beef Stew” can transform into a league-average 3-point shooter, it would unlock a new layer of Detroit’s offensive. Buckets should be easier to come by for Stewart regardless after the team added more playmaking and shooting to the offense, but being able to operate both as a passer and slasher from the high post would benefit Stewart’s chances of being an NBA starter long-term.

Marvin Bagley III

2021-22 Per-Game Stats: 11.3 Points, 7.0 rebounds (2.2 offensive), 0.8 assists, 0.4 blocks; 50.4% FG, 23.7% 3PT (55.1% TS)

Marvin Bagley saw a resurgence after being acquired by the Pistons last season, which resulted in a luxurious new contract with the team. Unfortunately, his season will be starting a bit later after a scary preseason injury that luckily turned out to be a short-term setback. When he returns, Bagley will likely settle back into his bench role as the first big off the bench. Bagley’s defensive struggles are notable – an aspect of his game he desperately needs to improve – but he can cook defenses off the bench with his underrated post game and athleticism. Shooting, again, will be another area of concern for the fifth-year tweener. Bagley has never been a reliable three-point shooter, even in college, but making defenses respect his outside shooting would at least keep opponents honest. Bagley’s skills will best be on display in pick-and-rolls with Detroit’s young guards, as he is easily the team’s premier lob threat and could form a bench rapport with Killian Hayes.

Jalen Duren

2021-22 Per-Game Stats (NCAA): 12.0 points, 8.1 rebounds (3.0 offensive), 1.3 assists, 2.1 blocks, 2.2 turnovers; 59.7% FG (60.8% TS)

Jalen Duren dominated the paint for a dysfunctional Memphis Tigers team last year that was more known for Emoni Bates’ antics than their team performance. Duren was an outlier, however, eventually warranting a late-lottery selection from Troy Weaver, who made a point to trade for him on draft night. The 18-year-old Duren will be the youngest player in the NBA this season, so his role will likely be limited as he adjusts to the professional level. However, his athleticism, rebounding, and shot-blocking process should all translate seamlessly to the next level. He could see an increased role by season’s end and will certainly be a future piece of the franchise.

Nerlens Noel

2021-22 Per-Game Stats: 3.4 points, 5.6 rebounds (1.9 offensive), 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks; 53% FG (58.1% TS)

A sneaky pickup alongside Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel was arguably the Knicks’ best center for the last two seasons despite being a backup. At this point in the 28-year-old’s career, you know exactly what you’re getting – high-energy rebounding and defense. Noel provides virtually no offensive game outside of dunks and the occasional lob, but he provides a valuable stopgap as Bagley recovers and Duren becomes acclimated with the NBA.

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