Detroit — The Pistons started this season 4-14, which is the same record they had last season. Some fans were expecting a significant uptick after the addition of Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick, but the Pistons have had some other issues that have combined to stunt their rapid growth.
The schedule has been tough, but the Pistons have the worst shooting stats in the league and their defense has been hot and cold. More than that, they haven’t made the expected strides with their young talent to make a big jump in the standings.
The rebuild is going to take time — and most importantly, patience.
General manager Troy Weaver and coach Dwane Casey aren’t panicking. No one else should. The trajectory seemed to be that they were going to be in the draft lottery again and add another piece that will add to their young core and push the rebuild in the right direction.
This week’s mailbag touches on the issues with the Pistons’ growth and their problems on offense.
► Question. We fans thought the young players were going to take a step forward this year and it doesn’t look like any have… Bey is shooting worse, Isaiah not taking 3s and Killian still with minimum offensive game. Can you point to improvement from last year to this year? — @zachwillis125
► Answer. The “step forward” that most people were looking for isn’t a linear one. Saddiq Bey has expanded his game to be more effective inside the arc, and he’s a more capable shot-maker. Killian Hayes is still getting healthy, so I don’t think it’s fair to make a snap judgment on what he is or isn’t. Isaiah Stewart is playing starters’ minutes and learning how to play against starter-level competition.
The expected step forward never was going to be that they added Cade Cunningham and immediately started dominating. That’s a miscalculation on those who thought the No. 1 pick would immediately catapult the Pistons into contention. Everyone in the organization said that it would take time, and apparently, it will.
► Q. If a fully healthy Killian were on the Drive, would he stand out and dominate the competition? — @MrKingNation
► A. This question surely was meant as a diss, but there’s a good point in here that bears mentioning. In the meaning of “dominate,” the assumption is that you mean he’d be a top-tier shooter and scorer. He’d probably average double figures in scoring and maybe assists, but Hayes never has been a high-volume scorer. In 2020, he played in Germany with Ulm and he averaged 12.8 points and 6.2 assists, shooting 46% from the field and 39% on a moderate volume of 4.1 3-pointers per game.
In two seasons with Cholet in France prior to that, he averaged 7.2 and 3.1 assists in 2019 and 2.2 points and 1.2 assists in ‘18.
Many fans had — and still have — unreasonable expectations for Hayes. He’s not a volume scorer. Hayes has played 40 games in his NBA career, and it’s not a slight to say that he’s still trying to find his way. He’s been injured and has missed as many games as he’s played, so to say that his development has been slow isn’t an excuse — it’s the truth.
The G League still has some NBA-caliber players, especially at the guard spots. It’s not just some trash league where anyone can go and inflate their numbers. Defensively, Hayes would dominate in the G League, but he’s already doing some of that in the NBA.
I’ve said before that getting him to 10 points and six assists would be a marked improvement. Pump the brakes on the Hayes expectations and let him have a full season under his belt before making any decisions about what he is or isn’t.
► Q. At what point do we stop saying, “The shots will fall. Water will find its level” and start saying, “This isn’t a very good shooting team at all”? — @CallMeDjm
► A. The difference this year has been the shooting and running the offense. It’s been clear to me that the Pistons have been getting open looks at the rim and the shots just aren’t falling. They also have some bad offensive possessions and some poor shots, but the fact they have most of the same pieces as they did last season suggests that either last season was an anomaly, or this season is.
Bey shot 38% beyond the arc last season; that number is down to 30% this year. Frank Jackson was at 41% last year; he’s down to 33% this season, after a hot streak the past couple of weeks.
As a team, the Pistons are last in the league (30%) in 3-point percentage and 29th (41%) in overall field-goal percentage. Last season, they were 22nd (35%) in 3-point percentage and 24th (45%) on field goals. Those are striking numbers from one season to the next, with essentially the same roster.
► Q. Who has been the best turkey-ham (starter), the best side (bench), and the best dessert (someone you look forward to going forward) so far this year? — @MIKoenig44
► A. I like the holiday theme to this question, so I’m using it. This one is easy for me: the Golden State Warriors. Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins are a solid group, and while they wait for Klay Thompson to return — probably somewhere around Christmas — they have the luxury of putting Jordan Poole in a legitimate playing spot to give him good experience.
They already have the best record in the league, but when James Wiseman and Thompson return, they’ll have to adjust the chemistry a bit to mix them in, but there are some exciting possibilities. It makes the past couple of years of struggle worth it to think that they can get back near the levels of dominance they had in their championship seasons.