Grading the Detroit Pistons at midseason: There’s plenty to like despite awful record

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II | Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons concluded the first half of their schedule Thursday, losing 114-104 against the New York Knicks. Despite the 10-26 record — the Pistons are trending toward a bottom-three finish in the league — it hasn’t felt like a disappointing season.

In fact, the first year of general manager Troy Weaver’s rebuild has had a lot of positives. The healthy rookies — Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Saben Lee — are exceeding expectations. The free agency signings have all been sound. And the team has been in more games than not, despite a young roster, tough schedule and roster turnover in the form of trades, pending buyouts and injuries.

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Here’s the Pistons’ report card at the midway point of the season, in order of salary.

F Blake Griffin

Age: 31.

2020-21 salary: $36.6 million.

The word: Griffin hasn’t had the comeback season he and the Pistons wanted, as he averaged an inefficient 12 points on 36.5% shooting, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 20 games. If he does bounce back this season, it won’t be in Detroit. The two parties agreed to a buyout Friday, making him an unrestricted free agent Sunday evening once he clears waivers. Griffin embraced being a positive example for the young players while he was with the team, but there wasn’t much upside between the Griffin-Pistons partnership from either side this season.

Grade: D.

What GM Troy Weaver can learn from Pistons’ failed Blake Griffin trade ]

F Jerami Grant

Age: 26.

2020-21 salary: $19 million.

The word: The first big free agency splash of the Weaver era, Grant has been a revelation for the Pistons. Through the midseason point, he’s in the lead for the league’s Most Improved Player award, and has thrived as Detroit’s best offensive player. Grant has easily been the franchise’s best offseason signing since Antonio McDyess in 2004, and has a chance to become its best since Chauncey Billups in 2002, depending on how the rebuild progresses.

Grade: A.

Many laughed when Jerami Grant signed with Pistons. Who’s laughing now? ]

G Delon Wright

Age: 28.

2020-21 salary: $9 million.

The word: The combo guard is currently nursing a right groin strain, but he was in the midst of a hot streak before he went down on Feb. 19. In his past seven games, Wright averaged 16.7 points (61.8% shooting, 55.6% from 3), 6.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals. Acquiring him from the Dallas Mavericks, in exchange for Trevor Ariza in a three-way deal in the offseason, was a great move.

Grade: B.

C Mason Plumlee

Age: 30.

2020-21 salary: $8 million.

The word: Plumlee has lived up to expectations, and then some, as the starting center. His passing has enabled him to be a focal point in Dwane Casey’s offense, and he has been a reliable rebounder and lob threat. Plumlee picked up his first career triple-double against the New Orleans Pelicans in mid-February, highlighting his versatility.

Grade: B.

G Dennis Smith Jr.

Age: 23.

2020-21 salary: $5.7 million.

The word: Smith has only played 12 games with the Pistons, but it has been enough time for him to show that he can get his career back on track. He has been good defensively, averaging a combined two blocks and steals per game in just 20.6 minutes since arriving in Detroit. And he has occasionally shown he can be a spark plug on offense.

Grade: B.

G Killian Hayes

Age: 19.

2020-21 salary: $5.3 million.

The word: Hayes struggled to score in the seven games he played this season, but it isn’t a substantial sample size to make any sweeping statements about the quality of his season thus far. He showed enough promise on defense and as a passer to inspire belief he can finish his rookie season on a strong note whenever he returns from his hip injury.

Grade: Inc.

G Rodney McGruder

Age: 29.

2020-21 salary: $5 million.

The word: McGruder has mostly played spot minutes this season in 12 games, though he efficiently scored 20 and 13 points in the final two games before the break. The front office has praised the example he has set in the locker room.

Grade: Inc.

G/F Josh Jackson

Age: 24.

2020-21 salary: $4.8 million.

The word: The Pistons got the former fourth overall pick for a bargain this season, signing him using the room exception. He has thrived as an off-the-bench slasher, but is only shooting 29.1% from 3. Still, he’s one of Detroit’s key players this season.

Grade: B.

F Sekou Doumbouya

Age: 20.

2020-21 salary: $3.4 million.

The word: Doumbouya hasn’t made much of a leap forward in his sophomore season. He has been slightly better as a defender, passer and rebounder, but his overall shooting percentage has dipped from 39% to 35.5% on roughly the same number of attempts per 100 possessions. He hasn’t been a significant rotation piece, considering the Pistons’ depth at the forward positions.

Grade: C-minus.

C Isaiah Stewart

Age: 19.

2020-21 salary: $3.1 million.

The word: Stewart’s game is infectious. He never stops going full steam and has found success as a rebounder and defender. He supplanted Jahlil Okafor in the rotation as the backup center early in the season, and the rookie big man has already established himself as a fan favorite.

Grade: B.

G Wayne Ellington

Age: 33.

2020-21 salary: $3 million.

The word: After a red-hot shooting performance in January, the veteran wing cooled off in February. Still, he has been a steady presence in the rotation this season and has been one of the best two shooters on the team along with Bey. He hit 16 3s combined in the final three games of the first half.

Grade: B.

Which Pistons have most, least trade value? A breakdown ahead of the deadline ]

G/F Saddiq Bey

Age: 21.

2020-21 salary: $2.7 million.

The word: The sharpshooter has been the Pistons’ best rookie this season. He’s shooting 39.3% from 3, made positive strides as a passer and defender and become a full-time starter.

Grade: B-plus.

C Jahlil Okafor

Age: 25.

2020-21 salary: $1.9 million.

The word: Okafor appeared in 12 games before undergoing knee surgery in February. But even prior to the surgery, he had fallen toward the back of the rotation in favor of Stewart.

Grade: C-minus.

G Svi Mykhailiuk

Age: 23.

2020-21 salary: $1.7 million.

The word: The third-year wing has struggled to shoot the ball this season, and is hitting 33.5% of his 3s. Mykhailiuk has improved in some areas, though. Casey has praised his effort on defense and he’s making a career-high 62% of his shots at the rim. After shooting 40.4% from 3 last season, there’s reason to believe he’ll find his rhythm before the season ends.

Grade: C-plus.

G/F Deividas Sirvydis

Age: 20.

2020-21 salary: $898,310.

The word: The Pistons’ 2019 second-round pick signed a three-year contract in December. He’s a project and has only played eight minutes this season.

Grade: Inc.

G Saben Lee

Age: 21.

2020-21 salary: Two-way contract.

The word: With Wright nursing an injury, Lee has played significant minutes over the past two weeks and impressed, averaging 12.6 points, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals on 60% overall shooting in five games from Feb. 21-28. He knocked down four of his five 3-point attempts during that stretch. Considering he was a second-round pick in November and is on a two-way contract, it’s fair to say the rookie point guard is exceeding expectations.

Grade: B-plus.

G Frank Jackson

Age: 22.

2020-21 salary: Two-way contract.

The word: Jackson has appeared in nine games, playing 54 minutes. He has had stretches of active defense and has shown he can hit shots, but the two-way guard hasn’t had much of a chance to prove himself through the midway point.

Grade: Inc.

Head coach Dwane Casey

The word: The message from the front office and Casey entering the season was clear: Win or lose, the Pistons were going to compete every night. In a season full of losses and potential distractions, Casey still has buy-in from his roster. The 2020 rookie class has flourished, and the Pistons have had few games where they haven’t been competitive, despite going against one of the NBA’s toughest schedules. Despite their poor record, the first half of the season can be seen as a success. Casey is a big reason why.

Grade: B.

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

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