Detroit Pistons mailbag: Why the John Beilein hire makes sense

Detroit Free Press

We’re roughly three weeks past the end of the regular season, and two weeks away from the NBA draft lottery. In other words, it’s the quiet part of the offseason for the Detroit Pistons, and a good opportunity to look ahead at what could come.

Big thanks to everyone who sent questions for the first mailbag of the offseason. Let’s get to it.

WHAT’S NEXT: How Saddiq Bey can improve after historic rookie season

I think it’s a good, logical hire. John Beilein’s ability to develop talent was thoroughly proven during his 12 seasons at Michigan. His lone season coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers — which was disastrous, to be fair — doesn’t erase his previous 30-plus years of success.

Dwane Casey pushed for the Pistons to hire Beilein, and Beilein will be on his staff.

“John has been one of the best fundamental teachers in the college game for years,” Casey said in a released statement. “With the age of our core group I wanted to add to our excellent developmental staff. John is a basketball lifer with a passion to help young players get better, especially in the area of shooting. We have an excellent group of young development coaches who have done a good job with our young core. John will add to and enrich the development staff’s quest to get our youth brigade to the next level.”

I think a top-three pick would certainly put them in the conversation to make a play-in tournament, but I’m not ready to predict they will yet. The Pistons were slightly better than their 20-52 overall record last season, and internal roster improvement plus Cade Cunningham, or any of Evan Mobley, Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs, should give them a higher floor entering next season. Winning 15-ish more games is doable, especially if they draft Cunningham.

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They will need to improve substantially on offense for it to happen. The Pistons had an offensive rating of 107.6 last season, 26th in the NBA. After Jerami Grant, they lacked a consistent second scoring option. They also need to add more shooting, as they were just 22nd (35.1%) in 3-point percentage. Cunningham or Green could be average 3-point shooters from Day 1, but it’s a weakness they’ll likely look to address in free agency.

Their candidacy for a play-in tournament also hinges on the rest of the Eastern Conference. Let’s assume the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and Miami Heat will comfortably make the playoffs again, barring any unexpected injuries. The Toronto Raptors could be significantly improved following a COVID-19 addled season in Tampa, Florida. The Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards filled out the 8-through-10 seeds this year and will be competitive. So could the Chicago Bulls, who traded for Nikola Vucevic before the deadline. That’s 12 teams.

The Pistons should be better, but will they be able to crack 40 wins if necessary? I’m not convinced yet.

Hamidou Diallo and Saben Lee are my picks. Diallo’s size, leaping ability and speed could make him a really versatile wide receiver. Lee’s dad, Amp, was an NFL running back and Lee is also one of the better athletes on the team. Could picture him being a solid cornerback.

Given that the Pistons had eight players 23 years-old or younger at the conclusion of regular season, I think Beilein is joining an environment that suits him. Casey specified on Wednesday that Beilein will be particularly helpful in helping the Pistons improve their shooting, but he’ll have a hand in shaping the Pistons’ entire youth development program. His impact will mostly be felt behind-the-scenes, rather than on the sideline. It helps the roster maintain the developmental pace that was set last season, it would obviously bode well for Detroit’s trajectory. 

As for one of my favorite albums I don’t think many people have heard before, I’ll throw out Innerspeaker by Tame Impala. A lot of people are probably familiar with the band because of the song “The Less I Know The Better,” which has 800 million (!) streams on Spotify. But Innerspeaker, their debut album, released in 2010, and it’s basically a perfect modern psychedelic rock album. Introduced me to the genre when I was in college. Definitely worth a listen.

It partially depends on who they draft, but I think we can safely pencil in Grant as an opening-night starter. Saddiq Bey seems like a safe bet as well, at either guard or forward, since he is already an above-average 3-point shooter.

FROM OUTSIDE: Why the Pistons would love for Isaiah Stewart to become a 3-point threat, and soon

Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Mason Plumlee all have solid chances, but will have competition as well. If the Pistons draft Suggs and retain Diallo, would it make sense to start Hayes or bring him off of the bench? If the Pistons draft Mobley, is he the starting center on opening night? If so, will Stewart be able to play the four next to him? Josh Jackson could start, as well.

As for the second question, I wouldn’t scratch any lottery picks off of the list. The top-four of the draft is pretty much set. If they were to pick fifth or sixth, the front office would have some interesting decisions to make, though.

You can’t go wrong either way, both from a need and talent standpoint. Green is the best wing in the draft, a classic score-first shooting guard that the Pistons haven’t had in a long time, and the fanbase has certainly craved. Mobley has Defensive Player of the Year-potential, with good-enough ball-handling and touch to imply that he can develop into a go-to scorer as well. The Pistons need both.

Mobley may have a slight edge, simply because it’s tougher to find bigs of his caliber. High-scoring wings come out of nearly every draft, whereas Mobley has the tools to be a better two-way center than any big in both the 2020 and 2019 drafts. But Green is so good that you can certainly make the case that he’s a better franchise player than Mobley.

If the four rookies could only improve in one particular way during the offseason, what would you recommend for each? — Matthew Crowe

Hayes: Offensive aggression. He was unselfish to a fault last season. During drives to the rim, defenses knew that passing the ball was often his first and second option. When he did shoot, he usually settled for a floater or runner instead of getting all the way to the rim. After a rough start and hip injury, Hayes began to find his stride toward the end of the season. He’s already a good passer and defender, but being a more aggressive scorer could make the game easier for himself and his teammates.

Saben Lee and Stewart: Shooting. Lee was essentially a non-shooter last season, attempting just 23 3-pointers in 48 games. He hit them at a solid 34.8% clip, but he needs to increase his volume. Same for Stewart, who became a willing shooter toward the end of the season. Stewart made 21 of his 63 attempts (33.3%), and would also benefit from increasing his volume as the coaching staff wants him to be able to comfortably play power forward.

Bey: Finishing. He got more efficient inside the arc as the season progressed, but still had below-average accuracy from midrange and at the rim. He can do a better job at bullying smaller defenders and maneuvering around bigger ones.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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