By watching a Pistons game toward the end of the season and squinting a little, it’s easy to see the possibilities for the future of the rebuild.
Jerami Grant is a big piece of it.
Rookies Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart easily fit into the future framework. There’s a vision for Killian Hayes and even for Frank Jackson, Josh Jackson and Saben Lee. Right now, they’re all puzzle pieces — and the big question is how general manager Troy Weaver and his staff will add to it and complete the big picture.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. The Pistons are in position to have a top-five pick in the draft, and with any luck, they’ll end up with either Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs as the next building block.
That still won’t be the elixir that cures everything. There will be fewer losses next season, but along with that will come some incremental progress. Bey and Stewart will play better and more consistently than this season, which should result in All-Rookie Team selections for each of them. Hayes will play more than 50 games and with some work in the offseason, he’ll round into form. Lee will do the same, and possibly develop a jump shot that will make defenses defend him differently.
That’s the hope, at least.
Add to that nucleus a top-tier free agent who can arrive after next season — when Blake Griffin’s $29.8 million comes off the books — and there’s a pathway for the Pistons being a playoff team sooner than later.
All of that is separate from the expected jumps that some of the complementary players are expected to take this offseason and next and the other additions Weaver and his staff will make to augment the roster. If the Pistons’ front office can do well with picks in the middle of the first round and very little flexibility in the salary cap, imagine what they can do with some higher picks and more cap space.
Optimism still can reign, but there is more substance to it now than just blind hopefulness. This season has provided optical proof that there’s something there to behold and to glean with more work. Coach Dwane Casey has said that this is an important offseason for the young rookies, who didn’t have a Summer League or a full training camp to develop and prepare for the league last year.
It likely will be different next year. With some luck. And with the right moves.
The last Monday Drive of the regular season looks at some of the top takeaways from this week:
► Where it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Jerami Grant would become the most improved player, there’s some significant momentum for the Julius Randle, who was an All-Star selection ahead of Grant and also has led the moribund Knicks to a playoff spot — and potentially hosting a first-round series. With rest and injury management, Grant is on track to play fewer than 60 of the 72 games, which some award voters take as a big consideration.
► Hamidou Diallo’s career-high 35 points in last week’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets were an eye-opener, but it shouldn’t be. He has that type of ability, especially when the 3-pointer is falling for him. He’s been a slasher and a good finisher in transition, so seeing all of the elements come together, at least for one game, is encouraging. He’s in the last year of his contract, but it’s a good bet that they’ll bring him back next year.
► Sekou Doumbouya has been up and down all season — as he was last year as a rookie — but Casey has complimented Doumbouya’s ability to read defenses and to make his cuts in the offensive scheme. He’s been getting more consistent minutes and he’s been obviously more productive in a starting role rather than coming off the bench. Casey credits the 3-point shooting with some of that difference.
► Stewart had been surprisingly accurate on 3-pointers, but recently, he had been struggling from beyond the arc. He missed 12 straight over a four-game stretch, but Casey had been encouraging Stewart to continue to shoot them, simply as an impetus for getting more comfortable with taking those shots in games. He turned things around in Saturday’s loss to the 76ers, going 2-of-4, including a banked-in attempt.
► For Deividas Sirvydis, who had only totaled 14 points in his 16 appearances this season, scoring eight against the Sixers obviously is considered a breakout. He went 3-of-6 from the field and hit a couple of 3-pointers, raising some eyebrows about what his future could actually be. He’s in line behind a slew of other wings, so there’s no straight line for it, but he could be an intriguing option if he continues to get stronger and develop