Las Vegas — Through their first two games, the Pistons have some positives to take away from Summer League. Their guard play with Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham has been a bright spot, as well as backup center Luka Garza’s performance.
Their losses to the Thunder and Rockets also showed that this squad is imperfect — which is normal for a team in Summer League. It’s a patchwork group in which some players are out of position, such as starting Tyler Cook at center. It’s not always going to be perfect, but the key takeaway should be how the players fit when training camp rolls around next month.
With the Pistons re-signing veterans Cory Joseph and Rodney McGruder, there’s a lean toward a veteran presence, but getting Frank Jackson back was important as well. The young core will need some veteran guidance because the season could look similar to last season, when they won just 20 games and were in the race for the No. 1 pick.
The roster restoring will take more than a couple of lottery picks to bring back the shine. The progress so far is encouraging, though.
This week’s mailbag breaks down some of the fits of the new players on the roster and looks at whether the playoffs are a possibility:
► Question: Are we really worried about Cade as a scorer? He is a facilitator first. Is the fan base getting ahead of themselves with the Cade vs Green comparisons? — @DumasMike
► Answer: There shouldn’t be any concern about Cunningham as a scorer. If there was any worry after he scored 12 points in the opener, he showed with 20 points in the second game that it’s unfounded. In the first two games of Summer League, it appeared that there were certain things the coaching staff wanted to see from Cunningham and Hayes in the backcourt. They made some adjustments with staggering the minutes for that pair and letting Cunningham play with the ball in his hands a little more.
That seemed to work out well, and when Jalen Green and Cunningham defended each other, it seemed that Cunningham got the best of those matchups, though Green finished with 25 points. The hype around that matchup is just going to follow them around for the rest of their careers, because they were the first and second picks. Each of them is the best fit for his team, so it’s all going to work out.
Cunningham was highly regarded as a three-level scorer, and he’s shown that he can be effective on 3-pointers and at the rim. There will be time for the mid-range shot as well.
► Q: Do you see the team with the possibility of reaching Play-In? When does Isaiah Livers recover? — @DpistonsA
► A: It’s going to be really tough for the Pistons to make the playoffs, or even the play-in tournament. With 15 teams in the Eastern Conference, the Pistons would have to be better than five teams in order to reach 10th place. The tough part comes in projecting five teams that they can leapfrog, given that they had the worst record in the East last season.
Maybe there’s a world where they can jump the Magic, Cavs and Raptors, but that’s only three teams — and maybe that’s even being generous. The Pistons didn’t make significant improvements in free agency, so from the initial appearance they’re going to have the same squad as last season, with some internal improvements plus Cunningham. That still doesn’t smell like a playoff team.
What could happen with Cunningham is that he comes in and makes such an immediate impact that they get off to a good start and just flow with that. It’s possible, but not likely.
Isaiah Livers said that he expects to be cleared for full basketball work in October, at some point. The way the roster is shaking out with guaranteed contracts, he’ll likely be a G League piece to help get the Motor City Cruise started in their inaugural season.
► Q: Who do you think starts at center? I know the team thinks/hopes that Stew can grow into a starting C, but I feel like Olynyk’s experience and shooting are better for Cade’s development right now. — @MatthewCrowe313
► A: I think it’ll be a bit of both. There might be some times that Isaiah Stewart starts, but Kelly Olynyk can see some time too. The Pistons might be challenged when they find themselves against the better centers in the league, because that’s not Olynyk’s strong suit.
There seems to be something to the thought that Olynyk can spread the floor and help the guards open lanes to shoot. They’ll also need rebounding, and Stewart has shown that he can do that, even at his size.
Garza is making an impression in his time in Summer League, so that could be a surprise addition to the roster as a reserve.
Pistons vs. Knicks
► Tip-off: 8 p.m. Friday, Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
► TV: NBA TV
► Outlook: The Pistons have lost their first two Summer League games, but No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham has been solid. The Knicks (2-1) are led by second-year players Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin.