The Detroit Pistons hosted their media day on Monday. Here are the key takeaways

Detroit Free Press

After a long offseason, the Detroit Pistons held their media day on Monday. It was a proper re-introduction to the roster — one that hasn’t changed significantly since the last time we saw this team in May, but also one that’s a little more experienced and hopes to inch closer toward becoming one that can consistently win.

General manager Troy Weaver, head coach Dwane Casey and most of the 17-player roster sat at the podium in the Little Caesars Arena media room to talk about their offseason and expectations for the coming season. Here are some key takeaways.

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How Cade Cunningham is handling No. 1 pick expectations

It probably isn’t much of a surprise, but Cade Cunningham has received a warm welcome since his arrival two months ago.

“I feel the love pretty much everywhere I’ve went when I’m in the city,” Cunningham said. “People are telling me good luck, just checking. Hearing it from the city as much as I feel it within myself, it’s a good feeling. It’s been the start of the excitement of the season and how things go for us.”

He only recently turned 20 years old and is entering his first NBA season, but expectations are high for Cunningham. It comes with the territory of being a first overall pick — the franchises’ first in 51 years. He hasn’t shied away from acknowledging that reality. Cunningham has been the near-consensus top player in his class since before his freshman season at Oklahoma State, so he isn’t new to this.

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On Monday, he took another opportunity to assure everyone that he’s eager for the challenge of leading the Pistons.

“I try to stay me, I try to lock in on the fact that I’m trying to live this every day,” he said. “I’m really just writing my own story. I’m not any of those guys. It’s fun, it’s exciting to see where I can take it. I just see it as an opportunity to show everybody that I am the No. 1 pick and I was taken there for a reason.”

Biggest offseason priority? Adding shooting

It’s a 3-point shooting league, and the Pistons didn’t shoot them well last season. They were 21st in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game (32.9) and 22nd in makes (11.6) and percentage (35.1%). It wasn’t the primary reason why they finished with a 20-52 overall record but it’s an area they prioritized this offseason.

Newcomers Kelly Olynyk, a career 36.7% shooter, and Trey Lyles (34.1%) will add more spacing to the frontcourt. They were targeted for their ability to shoot, and the Pistons will utilize them.

“Two Canadians in Trey Lyles and Kelly that we brought in are big versatile guys that can shoot the ball and have great basketball IQ,” Weaver said. “We really think they can really help our front line get some experience and give us shooting. That’s what we’re excited about, bringing those two guys in.”

When asked to pinpoint two areas where the Pistons can make strides in this season, Weaver said shooting and defense. Beyond the addition of Olynyk and Lyles, the Pistons are hoping that some of their returning players, such as Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Hamidou Diallo, can also become consistent shooters. 

“We have to hang our hat on our defense,” Weaver said. “The strength of our team will be our effort and our energy and our depth. Defense has to be the way we step it up. We’re really going to look at improving our defense. The second is shooting. We’ve added some shooting via free agency, via the draft and internal development. Our defense and shooting are two things that we’re looking to hopefully tick up this year.”

Killian Hayes’ focus? Defense

Hayes didn’t get much time to show what he could do during his 26-game, injury-shortened rookie season. But from week one, Casey praised his effort on defense and said his defensive ability was ahead of his offense.

Summer league was also up-and-down for Hayes, but after getting back from Las Vegas, he flew home to France and spent some time with his trainers. When he arrived back at the practice facility in September, he was a different player, Casey said. He played with better pace, and his conditioning was great.

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Hayes will continue to develop on offense, but he said his focus is also on being a “great” defensive player next season. He has the tools, standing 6-foot-5 with a long-enough wingspan to defend multiple positions. He’s also embracing the mindset.

“Defense is really a mindset, because everyone can be a good defender if they play hard on defense,” he said. “Also physically, I can guard different positions as well and use that to my advantage to really, mentally, buy into that defense and stop whoever I gotta stop.”

Why the Pistons moved on from Sekou Doumbouya

Detroit’s final trade of the offseason saw them move on from the last remaining player from the previous regime, Sekou Doumbouya. The third-year forward was mostly outside of the rotation last season, and the Pistons traded him and Jahlil Okafor to the Brooklyn Nets for DeAndre Jordan (who was then bought out) four second-round picks and cash

Doumbouya, who was drafted 15th overall in 2019, averaged 5.1 points and 2.6 rebounds in 56 games last year. 

“One, we liked the trade opportunity to replenish our second round picks, for sure,” Weaver said. “And the fact that every player we moved on from, we wanted to give them an opportunity to grow somewhere else. Sekou, I was only here for one season but he had come in and did a nice job. But I thought him getting a fresh start somewhere else would help his career.”

Isaiah Livers will return soon

When the Pistons selected Michigan forward Isaiah Livers in the second round of July’s draft, they did so with the understanding that it would be a while before he saw the court. Livers suffered a stress injury in his right foot during the Big Ten tournament in March, and it prematurely ended his four-year career with the Wolverines.

Nov. 1 is his expected return date. He hasn’t been able to play basketball, but he’s still been involved. The coaching staff has been getting him up to speed on the playbook and terminology, and he’s been watching practices from the sideline with a notebook in his hand.

Being injured hasn’t been a fun experience for the 6-foot-7 sharpshooter, but he’s making the most of it.

“Frustrating is a great word to use,” Livers said. “You grow up playing basketball, you love basketball, but at the end of the day you gotta sit back, you gotta be patient. That’s one thing I did learn from my injury is being more patient with life. That’s with basketball, relationships, family. It’s teaching me a lot of great lessons, and I’m also learning a lot on the sideline, watching practice.”

Chris Smith, the rookie out of UCLA who signed a two-way contract with the Pistons in July after going undrafted, also expects to return this year. Smith tore his left ACL on New Year’s Eve last year, and he will complete his rehab at an unspecified date.

Smith, a 6-9 forward, averaged 12.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and shot 50% from 3 in eight games last season before suffering his injury.

“At UCLA we started my rehab, but obviously there was a lot of other things that needed to be dealt with as well. I didn’t get as much attention as my trainers and everyone wanted. But here, I get time with the strength coach, with the rehab trainers and everything, one-on-one stuff. It’s been really good. I get on the court and everything, have coaches that spend time with me. Everybody in the facility, from top to bottom, greets me as if I’m one of the players who have been here already. I just got here and just felt like I belonged and I had been here already.” 

Contact Omari Sankofa II at 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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