Despite another lost season for the Detroit Pistons in 2023, the franchise added another potential centerpiece to their backcourt alongside Cade Cunningham in Jaden Ivey. After the mild surprise pick of Keegan Murray to the Sacramento Kings with the fourth pick, Ivey immediately became the apparent fit at five as Detroit sorely lacked downhill scoring the season prior. With Cunningham sidelined for most of the season with a shin injury, the Pistons were forced into giving elevated roles to Ivey, Killian Hayes, and Cory Joseph. Alec Burks showed his value as a veteran addition, providing consistent shooting and shot creation behind the starters. Troy Weaver also made the low-risk signing of R.J. Hampton, a failed first-round pick who was waived by Orlando after a series of struggles. Meanwhile, Rodney McGruder again played soundly in his sparse minutes while being a favorite of the young players on the team. With the franchise’s star guard riding the bench for the majority of the season, this group again proved to be underwhelming.
The Pistons, concerningly thin at both guard positions by the midpoint of the season, took a chance on the 22-year-old R.J. Hampton after he was waived by the Orlando Magic in February. Hampton was a highly-touted prospect and former first-round pick of the Denver Nuggets in 2020, but struggled with playing time and efficiency as the team began to rise toward contention. While the 6-foot-4 combo guard showed some flashes of being an NBA talent with Orlando, it became apparent why he didn’t last with the team once he arrived in Detroit. Hampton frequently looked lost on the court for the majority of his time with the Pistons, although his frame and length still provided some intrigue. While he finished with a respectable 7.3 points on 36 percent shooting from deep in his stint with Detroit, I don’t believe Hampton would be able to find a role on the team next year with Cunningham’s return and possible draft-day additions.
For the third straight season, Rodney McGruder provided a strong veteran presence along with toughness and consistency whenever the team needed him to step on the court. Once deemed a frustrating waste of a roster spot, McGruder has proved to be a valuable reserve on and off the court. This season, McGruder was called upon more than usual, starting 12 games throughout the year – a high with the Pistons. McGruder has never eclipsed six points per game with the Pistons, and that is unlikely to change in the future. Hopefully, if McGruder returns, he is again relegated to a veteran reserve role as Detroit hopes to blossom next year behind their talented backcourt.
Killian Hayes was gifted a massive opportunity, albeit under unfortunate circumstances, when Cade Cunningham was ruled out for the season. Before the campaign, it may have been a struggle to get Hayes consistent minutes with Cade and the addition of Jaden Ivey. Instead, Hayes started a career-high 56 games, playing over 28 minutes per game as the team’s primary point guard. While the third-year guard naturally averaged career-highs in points (10.3) and assists (6.2) per game with an elevated role, this year proved to be a mixed bag for Hayes. The former lottery pick would routinely string together two or three promising performances together followed by two weeks of disappointing stinkers where you think you’ve been watching two different players. Hayes is one of the most divisive names on Detroit’s roster, and it is looking like he may have just one more season to revive his NBA career.
Despite various injuries throughout the roster, Cory Joseph still saw his role reduced this season. A frequent starter for Dwane Casey in 2021-22, Joseph was relegated to only two starts in 62 appearances this season. However, with Detroit still lacking playmakers, the 31-year-old Joseph still averaged nearly 20 minutes per game as he and Hayes shared the bench point guard role. Joseph’s continued role with the Pistons unfortunately has more to do with Cade’s injury and Killian Hayes’ stagnant career trajectory. Entering unrestricted free agency, it is unlikely that Joseph returns to Detroit for a fourth season. I could still see him providing value as a third point guard for an NBA team.
The Pistons acquired Alec Burks – along with Nerlens Noel – for free last off-season, netting him in return for taking on Kemba Walker’s dead salary. With Detroit crowded up front and thin at both guard positions, Burks became the obvious prize of the trade. In his first season with the Pistons, Burks continued to excel in the role he’s become accustomed to in recent years, a flamethrowing combo guard off the bench. Burks knocked down 40-plus percent of his threes for the third season in a row en route to 12.8 points per game in only 22 minutes. Burks started just eight games and frequently carried the bench unit when the offense couldn’t get anything going – which was often. Burks is valuable both as a shot-creator and catch-and-shoot, evidenced by the veteran being one of Detroit’s few bright spots on offense. The Pistons were reluctant to trade him at this year’s deadline, meaning he could be in line for a large role off the bench again next season.
Jaden Ivey became an immediate target for both fans and the front office after Detroit fell out of the top three in last year’s draft lottery. The expectation was that he would still be taken before the Pistons called a name at five, but the team lucked into the Purdue product to slot next to Cade Cunningham as his future backcourt mate. Ivey’s burst and explosiveness were on display from day one in the NBA, but his control and discipline both when driving and finishing left much to be desired. These early struggles are expected of a rookie guard, though, and Ivey was able to turn in one of the best seasons for a rookie guard in recent memory – despite only making All-Rookie Second Team.
In 74 games, Ivey impressed with a not-totally-inefficient 16.3 points in over 33 minutes per game. By the end of this season, Ivey saw massive improvements in two question areas coming out of college – three-point shooting and defense. The rookie knocked down 34.1 percent of his threes, with a decent dose of them being tough pull-ups. His elite quickness will help on defense as his career progresses. Ivey was exactly what the Pistons wanted, and possibly even more, as he’ll prepare for his first full season next to Cunningham.
*knocks on wood*