Detroit Pistons mailbag: This season’s surprise player, competing in Eastern Conference

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

A lot has changed since our last Detroit Pistons mailbag. The roster is almost completely new, and preseason is two days away.

Because the Pistons have a short training camp, coach Dwane Casey anticipates some position battles carrying into the season. It has been a crazy month of trades, signings and related roster moves, and the beginning of the season will see the Pistons continue to tinker with their rotation. 

The questions in this mailbag edition are mostly offseason and camp-related, fittingly. Let’s dive in. 

Who do you see having the most upside this year out of everyone on this brand new roster? With the rookies included — @Donashello 

There are multiple candidates. You could argue it’s Josh Jackson, who has a lot to prove entering his fourth season. He looked good toward the end of last season with the Memphis Grizzlies and was settling into a groove until the season’s suspension. I’m not sure how big his role will be at the beginning, with Blake Griffin and Jerami Grant starting at the forward positions. But Jackson has an opportunity to establish himself as a key player. 

Killian Hayes is also a good choice. He’s a rookie, but Casey and general manager Troy Weaver believe his learning curve won’t be as severe as most rookie point guards due to his experience overseas. If he begins the regular season as the starter, and I think he will, he could surpass some expectations. 

My pick is Grant, who was fifth in both minutes played and shots taken per game for the Denver Nuggets last season. The Pistons paid him $60 million and he’ll have the biggest offensive role of his career. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him become the second option after Griffin. It remains to be seen how he handles the added scoring responsibility, but this could be a career-best season for him, statistically.

READ MORE: Why Troy Weaver and Pistons are betting big on Jerami Grant

Last season we really found the diamond on the rough with Christian Wood and we’re fortunate enough to turn that into a positive asset (1st round pick). Do you expect to see the same type of luck with Josh Jackson this season? — @BrandonKastaw

It’s tough to expect a Christian Wood-esque turnaround with any player. In the span of 14 months, Wood went from barely making an NBA roster to signing a three-year, $41 million contract with Houston, where he’ll be the second-or-third option on a potential playoff team. He also benefited from an unexpected role increase toward the end of the season, thanks to injuries and the Andre Drummond trade, that enabled him to showcase ahead of free agency.

Jackson has a chance to have the best season of his career in Detroit. He still has all of the qualities that made him the fourth pick of the draft in 2017 as an athletic, versatile defender who can make plays with the ball in his hands. He’ll need playing time to show it, and the Pistons have a lot of forwards competing for minutes. 

READ MORE: Pistons’ Saben Lee is a lion on the court: He’ll ‘dunk on anybody’

Do you think Detroit would scrap the rebuild if Houston offered James Harden? Reason I mention Detroit is because Troy Weaver knows him very well, and Houston may not be inclined to trade Harden to his preferred destinations after he failed to show up to training camp. — @The__Cooler

Given Weaver has said the Pistons want to build a team that can sustainably compete for a title without sacrificing the future, a Harden trade would say the Pistons believe he would make them an instant contender. Assuming Griffin is healthy and an All-Star contender, they would form one of the most potent scoring duos in the league. I’m not sure if they would be a strong contender, but they would make the playoffs. 

I don’t think the Pistons have the assets to get a deal done, though. They already owe Houston a future first-round pick that’s protected through 2027, and can’t trade another until that pick is conveyed. Houston wants a large haul for Harden, and can do better than anything Detroit has to offer. 

The East looks good this season. The Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat will all contend for the conference crown, and the Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks are strong options for the final two playoff spots. 

The Pistons are probably in the third tier of the East, along with the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets. At minimum, they’ll need health and strong seasons from Hayes, Grant and Griffin to compete for the play-in tournament, which includes the Nos. 7-10 seeds. The first half of the season is brutal, with nine back-to-backs and two five-game road trips. It could put them in an early hole. The roster also lacks shooting, which limits some its upside on offense. 

Even if Griffin has a great season, it would increase the odds of him being traded before he could lead the Pistons to another playoff appearance. Barring any surprises, it’s tough to see the Pistons competing in 2021.

TAKE A LOOK: Here’s the Pistons’ first-half schedule for 2020-21

The positional battle at shooting guard is one of the more interesting battles of training camp. Svi Mykhailiuk is the best shooter on the roster, but Delon Wright is a superior ball-handler, playmaker and finisher

Mykhailiuk makes more sense as a starter, because the starting lineup would already have two ball-handlers in Griffin and Hayes and could use the extra spacing. But I question how well Wright would fit next to Derrick Rose off the bench, as both players are slashers who thrive best with the ball. Wright hit a credible 37% of his 3-pointers last season, so carrying that into this season would help the second unit. 

I’m wondering what realistic expectations should there be for Sekou in year 2? Where do you hope to see his level of play being by the end of the season? I enjoy your reporting, keep up the good work! — Lee Sutkowi

It sounds as though Sekou Doumbouya is coming off of a strong offseason. Casey has praised his conditioning level and work ethic compared to last season, and says Doumbouya has been more vocal defensively. 

Doumbouya should make positive strides toward being a reliable NBA player. He struggled on both ends of the floor last season, except for a handful of good performances, so there’s nowhere for him to go but up. I think he’ll be a more efficient offensive player, particularly around the rim. Ideally, he’ll be more attentive on defense as well. It could be too early for him to be a regular contributor, considering Detroit’s depth at forward. But he should look a lot better during the time he does play.

DEPTH CHART: Analyzing the roster by position. Where are the strengths, weaknesses?

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofaRead more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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