the last time detroit pistons won an NBA playoff game, George W. Bush was still the chairman and core of the team’s championship since their 2004 title run, led by Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace, was still in its place. Since that fateful trip to the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, the Pistons have regularly been one of the most unlucky franchises in the NBA.
It feels like that is starting to change.
In a matter of a few short years, the Pistons have assembled one of the best young cores in the NBA. It starts with Cade Cunningham, the franchise player Detroit landed when it won the 2021 NBA Draft lottery. The Pistons landed another top prospect in guard Jaden Ivey in the 2022 draft, and they swooped in to steal one of my favorite prospects in the draft, center Jalen Duren, with a trade at the end of the lottery. The two promising rookies will augment a group that already included the Pistons in the 2020 draft: Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart.
Landing talented young players is only part of the equation in building an eventual winner. Teams must also add the right veterans around them to give youngsters a chance to succeed. Detroit has done that too, and made another brilliant move in that regard by acquiring Bojan Bogdanovic in a trade with the utah jazz earlier this week.
Here’s why the Pistons should be poised for big success in the near future.
Cade Cunningham is the premier stud starter every team needs.
It was easy to see that Cade Cunningham was on his way to becoming a future NBA star from his high school days at Montverde Academy. I spoke to Cunningham for a story before his senior year, and since then, he has just met and exceeded expectations.
Cunningham is the kind of oversized lead ball handler every team wants. At 6’6, 220 pounds, he puts pressure on the defense with the ball in his hands as a scorer and passer. He can also play off the ball as a quality 3-point shooter, even if his shooting ability didn’t show in the numbers as a rookie with a 31.4 percent mark from deep. Given his success as a college-level shooter in oklahoma state — where he shot 40 percent from 3 — you can expect him to be a better shooter in his second season with the Pistons and beyond. Oh, and he’s also a great defender.
The hardest and most important piece for any NBA contender to find is a primary starter. The Pistons have a bright future because Cunningham has a bright future, and he’ll have a lot of the ball in his hands. How high the Pistons’ ceiling goes should be a reflection of how high Cunningham’s ceiling is. It’s not crazy to think he should be an All-NBA-caliber player during his prime.
Jaden Ivey is an incredible complement to Cunningham on the perimeter.
If there’s one deficiency in Cunningham’s skill set, it’s a lack of top speed. That’s why Jaden Ivey fits so beautifully next to her on the perimeter.
Ivey was our No. 3 overall prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft, but fell to the Pistons at No. 5 on draft night. The turbocharged guard will be one of the fastest players in the NBA from the moment he steps on the court. His ability to press the rim is a great complement to Cunningham’s more deliberate play, and gives the Pistons a thunder-and-lightning approach that should be incredibly difficult to defend and amazing to watch.
Ivey is probably going to be tough defensively early in his career … but Cunningham can take on the tougher backcourt job. Ivey still isn’t a reliable catch-and-shoot threat … but Cunningham can space the floor around his drives. Cunningham doesn’t have the extra equipment to generate pressure at the rim when he wants to … but Ivey’s best skill is exactly that. We can’t wait to see how this matchup plays out.
The Pistons are getting shooters and rollers to put their two shooting guards in position for success.
Let’s take them one by one, starting with my favorite addition to the Pistons’ core.
- Jalen Duren – Big Roller: I had Duren as my No. 5 overall in the 2022 NBA Draft because he was the youngest player in the class, has incredible physical tools, plays with a great engine and has shown promising skill. With long arms, great jumping ability, and the strength of a male child, Duren will have plenty of gravity as a vertical spacer with a large catch radius. Having a great marksman is a way to make life easier for your guards, and Duren is going to be exactly that. Getting him via trade at No. 13 overall was a stroke of genius by CEO Troy Weaver.
- Saddiq Bey – Wing Shooter: Bey is a 6-foot-8, 215-pound big forward who lacks top-tier athleticism and playmaking skills, but he fits in with this core because he’s a good shooter and rarely turns the ball over. Year 3 is important for Bey, but the addition of another ball handler in Ivey should help clarify his role going forward. The Pistons really only need him to hit 3-pointers and stay defensive.
- Bojan Bogdanovic – Side Shooter: The 33-year-old is a high-volume 3-point shooter, who can also generate offense with the dribble in a pinch. He will be able to make room on the floor for Cunningham and Ivey while he improves the depth of Detroit’s wings. This is an excellent choice in terms of skill set, positional value, and making life easier for his young stars.
- Killian Hayes – defensive guard: I had Hayes as a top three prospect in the 2020 draft, and he certainly hasn’t lived up to it. Hayes just has trouble scoring the ball, and he’s not a good shooter from the receiving end. At the same time, he is still only 21 years old, has incredible size for a guard and is already very good defensively. I like the idea of Hayes leading the second unit alongside Ivey when Cunningham needs a break.
- Alec Burks – Guard Shooter: The Pistons used their cap space to sign Burks and Nerlens Noel this offseason. Burks is another shooter dotting the perimeter around Cunningham: He has shot at least 40 percent from 3-point range in each of his past three seasons. Like Bogdanovic, Burks can also give you a bucket in a pinch, and should take some of the pressure off the young shooting guards in midcourt.
- Marvin Bagley III – Big Roller: Don’t rule out the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft just yet. Bagley, the second and third jump king, is a bouncing guy who gives Detroit another vertical spacer and offensive rebounder.
- Isaiah Livers – Wing Shooter: Livers had a great four-year run for the michigan wolverines before the Pistons picked him up in the second round of the 2021 draft. All he did as a rookie was shoot 42 percent of his 3s. While he’s a bit small and slow for a four at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, he can shoot the rock from deep with consistency and generally plays with a high IQ.
The Pistons are going to be awesome…eventually
It will take time in Detroit. Cunningham needs to learn to be The Guy, and going from good to great is the hardest step in the league. It may take Ivey a few years to improve his defense and take on any semblance of a midrange game. Duren is so young that it’s hard to expect him to contribute right away, but I love his long-term potential.
The Pistons will be one of the most exciting young teams this year. Eventually, I think this group will form a sustainable winner. For the first time in a long time, things are looking up for the Pistons.