Detroit Pistons and NBA predictions: How good will they be in Cade Cunningham’s debut?

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons begin a new season this week, leaning on a young roster that could feature four first or second-year players — when healthy — in the starting lineup.

The Pistons, with Cade Cunningham as their new franchise player, host Chicago to open the season Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena, then pay a return visit Saturday at the Bulls. (Here’s a look at their entire 82-game schedule.)

Free Press sports writers answer burning questions and make predictions for the Detroit Pistons‘ 2021-22 season and NBA at large:

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Omari Sankofa II

Biggest story line you’re watching: How high Cunningham is able to raise the team’s floor as a rookie.

Best-case scenario: Cunningham is an instant star, the second-year players take notable steps forward and the Pistons emerge as a play-in favorite.

Worst-case scenario: Second-year players suffer sophomore slumps, Cunningham underwhelms and the Pistons finish with the NBA’s worst record. The latter part might be the best-case scenario for the tank-happy crowd, though.

Will Cade Cunningham win rookie of the year: Yes. Jalen Green will score more points and might be the bigger SportsCenter Top 10 regular, but Cunningham does everything. He’ll fill the stat sheet and I think the advanced numbers will support his claim over Green.

Leading scorer: Jerami Grant will improve his efficiency compared to last year and average a career-high 24 points per game.

Overall record: The Pistons will be slightly better, finishing 28-54, 14th in East.

East playoff teams, 1-10: Bucks, Nets, Celtics, Hawks, 76ers, Bulls, Heat, Knicks, Raptors, Wizards.

West playoff teams, 1-10:  Suns, Jazz, Lakers, Warriors, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Clippers.

Conference finals: Nets over Celtics; Suns over Warriors.

NBA Finals: Nets over Suns.

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Jeff Seidel

Biggest story line you’re watching: How much improvement will the young core make this season? This team promises to be intriguing no matter how many games it wins.

Best-case scenario: Cunningham proves to be a franchise player they can build around. The core develops, and they play hard but still end up with another lottery pick. Best, best-case scenario? Hey, we are shooting for the moon here, so another No. 1 pick, baby!

Worst-case scenario: Cunningham’s ankle injury lingers and slows his development. He struggles to adjust and the second-year players take a step back. But I seriously don’t see that happening.

Will Cade Cunningham win rookie of the year: Yes. He is going to have some big games and experience the unusual dips. Typical rookie stuff. But he’s smart enough to adjust to the NBA game. Only thing that gives me pause: The ankle injury could slow things down.

Leading scorer: Jerami Grant.

Overall record: 32-50. This still isn’t a playoff team because it will lose too many close games. But it will be entertaining.

East playoff teams, 1-10: Nets, Bucks, 76ers, Heat, Hawks, Celtics, Knicks, Bulls, Hornets, Raptors.

West playoff teams, 1-10: Lakers, Warriors, Suns, Clippers, Jazz, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Pelicans.

Conference finals: Lakers over Warriors; Bucks over Nets.

NBA Finals: Bucks over Lakers.

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Shawn Windsor

Biggest story line you’re watching: Cunningham’s development, of course. If Grant takes the leap the team expects him to, especially after his Olympic experience, that will be a close second.

Best-case scenario: Cunningham is the real thing. Killian Hayes finds a consistent jump shot. Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart keep building, and the team sneaks into a play-in game.

Worst-case scenario: Cunningham’s ankle remains balky. Hayes keeps struggling from the perimeter — and finishing through contact — and lingering injuries cost this young and developing team a year.

Will Cade Cunningham win rookie of the year: No. He will pay more attention to the shots his teammates are getting — or not getting — and he will focus on finding his voice with the team.

Leading scorer/points per game: Grant — 25 points a game.

Overall record: 33-49.

East playoff teams, 1-10: Bucks, Nets, Hawks, 76ers, Heat, Celtics, Bulls, Raptors, Hornets, Magic.

West playoff teams, 1-10: Suns, Jazz, Lakers, Nuggets, Mavericks, Warriors, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Clippers, Pelicans.

Conference finals: Nets over Bucks, Lakers over Mavericks.

NBA Finals: Nets over Lakers.

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