Detroit Pistons: 20-game Progress Reports for every player

Detroit Bad Boys

Well, the Detroit Pistons are at the 20-game mark, and things look a lot bleaker for the team than they did at the 10-game mark. A lot of readers thought I graded a little too high, and we talked about grading on a curve last time, but it was 10 games and this is one of the youngest teams in the league. I’ll cop to being gracious with the grades because players were still getting into form, others were trying to fit into expanded roles, and my hope was always that it was going to improve by the 20-game mark.

Ha ha, hope. Remember hope?

With 10 more games under their belt, the team has not improved much at all, and the grades will be less generous. I’m writing this the day after the most recent Laker game on Nov. 28, and I think that game is great to think about right now because it featured all the team’s ups and downs in a microcosm. Long stretches of zero points followed by a ferocious comeback and ending the game with a chance to win, but mismanaging play calls and a dwindling play clock ultimately equals a loss for the team yet again.

Again, I’ll be grading the coaching staff as well as the individual players. I will start by giving the statistical leaders for each category such as points, rebounds, assists, etc. Then, I will start to grade each of the players that I will start by listing them in ascending order according to minutes played. So without further ado, let’s look at the leaderboard and dive into the grades:

  • Points: Jerami Grant (375)
  • Rebounds: Isaiah Stewart (131)
  • Assists: Cade Cunningham (72)
  • Blocks: Isaiah Stewart (21)
  • Steals: Jerami Grant (23)
  • Free Throw Attempts: Jerami Grant (109)
  • Turnovers: Cade Cunningham (52)
  • Personal Fouls: Jerami Grant (42)
  • True Shooting Percentage: Hamidou Diallo (58.9%)
  • Free Throw Attempt Rate: Trey Lyles (38.2%)
  • Total Rebounding Percentage: Isaiah Stewart (16.3%)
  • Assist Percentage: Cade Cunningham (26.0%)
  • Turnover Percentage: Frank Jackson (8.5%)
  • Usage: Jerami Grant (26.7%)

The Coaches: F

I didn’t want to do this because I have a lot of respect for coach Dwane Casey as a person, and he remains one of the best defensive coaches out there … but this offense is borderline inexcusable. Defensively, I think they’ve been fine, especially for such a young team, but again with Casey being such a great defensive coach that’s a given. It was always going to be about how they were going to develop the young guys on offense and how they work to feature No. 1 overall pick Cunningham.

Someone with more knowledge of the way the team was run last year should please comment below, but I definitely feel like the change in all of these assistants has to at least account for some of the change in philosophy and play calls on offense. I mean, to put it bluntly, I’ve seen enough direct handoffs this year to be sick of that play call.

So why an F? Think about who the Pistons’ primary ball handlers are: Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes. Pull up any scouting report on these two guys and you will see they excel as pick-and-roll ball handlers. Yet, as outlined by just about everybody here on staff at Detroit Bad Boys, the Pistons are one of the worst teams at setting screens, and they do not run a lot of pick and roll.

Now that we are 20 games in, we can all say this offense is not working. People can say they’re getting good looks and just not draining them. I think it is the system not allowing them to get into their rhythm (with one exception) and is not playing to the skill set of the personnel.

Why on earth you don’t want to run pick and roll with Killian and Cade as your primary ball handlers is something I would love an explanation for. Neither guy is a Russell Westbrook or De’Aaron Fox-type athlete, yet they are called on more often than not to shake defenders in an isolation situation.

The one exception is Jerami Grant as he can run off these kinds of DHOs, pin downs, and curls because those types of plays highlight his skillset, and I think we see this play out by the fact that he’s the only one who can consistently score every night because the system plays to his strengths. He doesn’t have to read coverage as a ball-handler coming off a pick, he doesn’t do drive and kick stuff the way Killian or even Cade can, and most importantly many nights he’s not utilizing his offense to set up easy shots for his teammates. I’ll dive into more specific numbers with Grant, but I just want to highlight this because this is why I give the coaching staff an F because it seems like the offense is catered to someone like Grant and for whatever reason, the rest of the team and what they excel at do not seem to fit into this offense.

Kelly Olynyk, Saben Lee, Rodney McGruder, Luka Garza, Jamorko Pickett: INCOMPLETE

I start here again with the incompletes because these guys just don’t have a lot of minutes to evaluate—and with Olynyk being injured he played zero games in this stretch. Garza has played the most minutes out of all of these players at 128, but he’s only taking 38 total shots so there is little to draw on. Out of these guys, Garza has been the most intriguing as it’s clear he hasn’t been outmatched, but he is still a rookie and his deficiencies, especially on defense, do show. My hope is he and Saben Lee will get more playing time in these next 10 games so we can dive deeper into their play and their progress.

Hamidou Diallo: B+ (202 total minutes)

Diallo is one of the few guys who seems to understand what his role is, and this is reflected in his team-leading 58.9% true shooting percentage. Yes, you can criticize him for not taking threes, and yes, you can criticize him for not doing much on offense, but being the guy who replaced Josh Jackson for a while in the lineup it is night and day between the two. Diallo commits himself on defense as evidenced in both Laker games where he was matched up with LeBron.

He can also operate as a lob threaten in the dunker spot which he’s done a lot since getting more minutes and this has been extremely effective in giving the offense a different threat that they have not had. And most importantly, he does not waste shots which is a bit of restraint that Josh Jackson might never understand. I would love to see him handle the ball and play make more which is why he’s out of the A range, and I wish he had more of a jump shot that any of us could feel confident in, which is also why he is not in the A range.

Trey Lyles: B- (328 total minutes)

Lyles is one of only four players on this current roster that has played all 20 games, but he is hard to grade because like many on this team he is wildly inconsistent, and I am uncertain what his go-to skills are at this point. He also has a better understanding of not wasting shots as he is second on the team with a 55.7% true shooting percentage.

It is hard for me to gauge where the rest of our fan base is on him, but I assume there are very few out there who appreciate and understand that he is doing an adequate job in his role. That being said, he’s supposed to be a floor spacer but he hasn’t done that consistently at all. His overall 3-point percentage is 30.5% and in games 11 through 20 he’s posted a 31% so I’m not sure you want to call that an improvement.

Yet, he still leads the team in free-throw attempt rate meaning he is getting physical down low as he’s had to play center and again when he shoots inside the 3-point line he is not wasting those shots. Defensively, I do not know what to think of him. I don’t think he’s that great as he’s not physical enough to consistently play center and he moves just okay laterally at the four. On the positive note, in his last three games, he scored 19 points against Milwaukee, 13 points against the Clippers, and 13 against the Lakers. I hope this means he’s rounding more into form and if he can shoot at least league average from 3 that will do wonders not only for him but for the team as well.

Josh Jackson: F (354 total minutes)

Out of everyone on this team, Josh Jackson drives me the most bananas. This is not because I think he’s a bad player, this is because he has so many awesome tools but he just can never seem to put them all together—plus he has terrible momentum-killing shot selection. Let’s start with his jump shot first when trying to understand my frustration. Currently, he is shooting 28.6% from 3 and 69.7% from the free-throw line. These are numbers that will knock him out of the league if he is not careful.

Being a wing who can’t shoot makes it almost impossible to find a job in the NBA. He’s also a below-average passer with an assist rate of 15.5% versus a turnover rate of 14.5% which says he’s turning it over just about as much as he’s creating plays for others. Being a bench scorer was supposed to be his calling card, and while he scored 139 points which is 6th on the team, in games 11 through 20 he only scored 54 points. Why he earns an F for me is not only all the things I just listed but again to go back to Hamidou’s true shooting percentage and defensive ability, it seems as if his replacement in the rotation has been much more successful in his same role. Until Josh Jackson starts shooting threes or getting to the line more, I just don’t see how he can help this team going forward.

Killian Hayes: B (376 total minutes)

Killian is the hardest Piston for me to grade because there is a lot that goes into his game that I don’t think is quite his fault, but I also think he just has not been aggressive enough when his number has been called. In addition, he’s fighting through this thumb injury and he should be given major props for being able to do that. But I also wonder how much this is affecting his game and his ability to do certain things. What I keep coming back to with Killian is this: I am not certain what this coaching staff wants him to do on a game-to-game basis.

He brings up the ball a lot of times in half-court sets, but what does he do after that? He has only taken 38 total three-point attempts which is eighth on the team and still not as many as Kelly Olynyk at 41 (who has missed the past 10 games). So it doesn’t seem like the coaches want him launching threes to space the floor. And while he’s good in the drive and kick game and had some nice moments last night in a Laker game, as outlined by our own Bryce Simon and so many other people here on staff at DBB the Pistons aren’t a pick and roll team!

I will circle back to this with Cade as well but this is also why I am very critical of this coaching staff despite my love for coach Casey. Killian succeeds best as a pick and roll guard yet the offense does not want to run pick and roll, so I am unsure how he is supposed to succeed in an environment that does not highlight his best skill. I settled on a B because his defense has been great, and he has been a consistent 3-point threat which this team has very little of.

He’s on the verge of being a role player just because the team hasn’t utilized him like most starting guards would be utilized—especially starting point guards—which also factored into my grade because he is filling this role player role well even if he hasn’t done much or been aggressive enough to do something outside of whatever the play calls are.

Frank Jackson: A- (429 total minutes)

Finally, we get to our second player who has been able to play in all 20 games thus far. I gave frank Jackson an F in the first 10 games because he was playing terribly, so I am very happy now to be able to give him a good grade because he is filling the role that he was supposed to fill. To recap, in games 1 through 10, he was shooting 21.4% from 3 and 62.5% from the free-throw line. In games 11 through 20, he’s shooting 36.9% from 3 on 6.5 attempts per game and 88.5% from the free-throw line. He’s also averaging 13.3 points per game in this stretch and has scored in double figures. and 8 out of these last 10 games While his true shooting percentage is only 53.6%, it is safe to assume that it is below average only because he was shooting so terribly at the beginning of the season. Defensively, he’s just OK, and he understands how to attack a closeout and drive in to attack the basket. Even when he wasn’t succeeding in as first 10 games, he was one of the few players on his team who understands his role—which is shooting threes and getting to the rim—and he does not try to press outside of that. I know we are all hoping that he continues to play as well as he had in these past 11 games, but I do think his defensive limitations will ultimately keep him out of the starting lineup a lot of times which is fine, but it’s also why doesn’t have a straight-up A.

Isaiah Stewart: C (433 total minutes)

Yes, the incident with LeBron did happen during this time, and I stand with Beef Stew in that I do not believe it was an accident, and having been in similar situations like that before where all you see is red. I definitely understand why he did what he did. And more than anything, it’s nice to know that he’s not going to back down from anybody, which is always what Detroit basketball has been when it’s been at its very best. But his actual basketball game I think can be best summed up in a tweet that I saw recently by our own Brady Fredrickson:

Well, he will continue to lead the team in rebounding, I’m just not sure what else he’s going to be doing besides giving hustle plays. As Brady alludes to here, he’s not a real roll threat to jump up and dunk, and when you’re under 7 feet in the NBA without that kind of vertical athleticism, it becomes hard to be a threat unless you can shoot it. As I said with Killian, part of this is on the coaching staff as I am just uncertain what they want Stewart to do. He doesn’t set screens for pick and roll. They don’t give him post-up touches. And there is absolutely no evidence that they have any faith or have worked on him being a pick and pop threat.

There are a lot of direct handoff plays and guys coming off Stewart pin downs or running curls, and I just don’t know how Stewart fits into that kind of an offense. But, he’s also tied for 3rd on the team with 102 total field goal attempts. It makes me wonder how many of those are second-chance opportunities or ones where he gets the ball late in the shot clock and somebody has to take a shot—because that has happened a ton in these first 20 games. My hope at this point is that he can move along into a Robert Williams, who is pretty similar in both game and physical measurements, that way he can be great defensively but the team obviously has to find some type of other offense and cannot rely on him at this point the way the Celtics never really relied on Robert Williams while he was still developing.

Cory Joseph: D (436 minutes)

Joseph is the third player who has played in all 20 games, and he’s probably the one that Pistons fans have the most issues with. He is one of three consistent playmakers on the team as he is second on the squad with 70 assists. Unfortunately, that’s really the only positive thing I can say about him because I just don’t understand what he is doing to earn his playing time. For one, Saben Lee is chomping at his heels not because of his G League play but because his play last season showed an actual NBA game and is deserving of a backup point guard role. More importantly, the Pistons have spacing issues as well as an inability to get to the rim. I think when Joseph is out there he exacerbates these problems. Currently, he is shooting 29.7% from 3 for the entire season, and in these past 10 games, he’s shooting 26.7% on 1.5 three-point attempts per game. So for the spacing not only is he not shooting well he’s also barely taking three-point attempts. So why would any defense in their right mind ever want to defend him as a shooter? Looking at his shot chart we get a better idea of what he excels at:

2021-22 Shot Chart for Cory Joseph

I would like to praise him for being able to finish at the rim, and that he has at least one spot where he’s hitting at a respectable clip. But it also makes Joseph incredibly easy to scout. Don’t let him shoot behind the three-point line and keep him away from the basket. He has received ample criticism about driving into no man’s land, and I think the shot chart also reflects that because we can see that in the mid-range, he’s not taking many attempts and that is where he’s really throwing the ball away to get his assists.

I would view Joseph very differently if he was able to get to the free-throw line more frequently, yet his free throw attempt rate is only 33.6%, which makes me think when he does get to the rim it’s because no one is in his way or he is unaccounted for. That’s an assumption and I would have to really look at the film to say that for certainty. I guess the best way for me to sum up why I put Joseph in that D category is I look at the free throw attempt rate rankings on this team and see Saben Lee is right in front of Joseph at 34.5%. With how Lee attacks the basket consistently, I just wonder if he were placed in Joseph’s role might that make a difference? Honestly, if Joseph continues to get as many minutes as he has this season, I will be doing a deeper dive into his game because I continue to ask the question what does he do to earn all these minutes on a team that does not seem concerned with winning?

Cade Cunningham: C- (469 total minutes)

Unfortunately, for many people, the shine has worn off on the No. 1 overall pick—which I think is totally unfair. As I will say with Saddiq, Cade is being asked to do a ton out there on the basketball court. as alluded to in the most recent DBB podcast with Laz and Ben, there is some kind of disconnect between Jerami Grant and the younger players on this team.

I personally hesitate to say tension, but Saddiq and Cade in particular have to make up for a lot of Grant’s deficiencies on the court. I will return to Saddiq in a minute, but let’s look at where Cade stands on the leaderboard for a lot of stats on this team to get a better understanding of what I mean. Cade is second on the team in three-point attempts, third on the team in rebounding, fourth in total rebounding percentage, second in usage, in addition to being first in the team in total assists as well as assist percentage.

Outside of measurable stats, Cade has also taken on a lot of defensive responsibility on guards. Let me give you two examples. In the game on Nov. 15 against the Kings, Cade was lined up against De’Aaron Fox for most of the game and only came off of him when he had to because of a switch. Last night against the Lakers, while Killian did line up against Russell Westbrook for the majority of the game, in crunch time it was Cade who covered Russ and not Killian. So, to put all of this into context, Cade not only has to be the primary playmaker he also has to be one of the top rebounders on this team, 3-point shooters, and be called on to guard some of the fastest and most most athletic point guards in the NBA.

He might excel in this role eventually, but to do it as a rookie is hard for anybody. I personally think allowing him to try and guard somebody like a De’Aaron Fox or Russell Westbrook is setting him up for failure, not because he can’t do it, but because that’s not the best utilization of his skills on defense.

The team is sometimes switching to more of a zone defense to ease the defensive pressure on everyone, but especially Cade. But when they do go man to man, Cunningham is often lined up against the best guard on the other side of the ball. Cade is doing heavy lifting in multiple departments which is probably why a lot of his shooting percentages are so bad. There is only so much energy one player can give, and for a rookie it’s even more challenging because you’re playing at a whole other level of both conditioning as well as skill.

But what he has done is not be consistent, which is why he gets the C-. As outlined by Bryce Simon and others, the turnovers are bad and he’s gotta take responsibility for those. Settling for threes also has to be somewhat on him, but with such little spacing on this team, I also understand why he’s going to take as many as we have seen. Of the 15 games he has appeared in this season there have only been four games where he has gotten to the free-throw line more than two times, and in seven of these 15 games, he has gotten to the line zero times. He has to be able to put pressure on the rim and he asked to be able to be a free-throw threat in order to open up his game more. This is especially true if that three-point shot is not going to go in. His aggression comes and goes which is also why I gave him a C- and if he would just be in attack mode more I would be more forgiving of him as it’s clear he’s trying to make things happen that his teammates have not been able to do well.

Jerami Grant: B- (621 total minutes)

Grant is one of the few guys who I feel is always a net positive for the team mainly due to his ability to score. And I hate harping on the same point but there is a disconnect on the court between Grant and everyone else. Grant leads the team in usage at 26.7% and thankfully has also scored the most points on this team at 375 to justify that usage percentage. Yet, the last time I broke down his game individually, my main gripes with him were his lack of playmaking for as much usage as he gets as well as his below-average rebounding ability.

His playmaking has taken a small tick upward (12.9%) while that usage percentage has gone up, and he still consistently shows that he does not care enough about rebounding. He is fifth on the team in assists with 46 and this translates to a 13.6% assist percentage—which are still backup numbers as Grant shares this percentage with Eric Gordon, Jordan Clarkson, and Kenrich Williams. Grant has played 125 minutes or more than all three of these players as well. His rebounding, however, continues to be bad.

Again, a lot of us have highlighted that coach Casey called out Grant to be a better rebounder this season, and I would love to be a fly on the wall in the locker room to see if they ever have that conversation because it seems like Grant has other ideas than coach Casey. He is fourth on the team in rebounds with 91, which is only five more than Trey Lyles who has 86 and Lyles has only played 328 minutes which is 293 minutes less than Grant.

Lyles also has more offensive rebounds than Grant with 28 versus Grant’s 19. If you think I’m harping on Grant for a small thing like rebounding, I suggest you glance at his total rebounding percentage and you will find that it is 7.9% which is 9th on the team. To zoom out and look at that across the league grant places 111th out of 194 qualifying players. This is borderline inexcusable from a starting power forward in the NBA. Again, I would love to be a fly on the wall in the locker room to understand why this is happening I will circle back to my comments about Cade and to look forward to what I’m about to say with Saddiq as well, Grant’s deficiencies are causing his teammates to take on responsibilities that Grant cannot or will not do.

I believe this is part of the problem of the team’s lack of success, but I’m not blaming Grant for it. I’m simply saying that he has these two major deficient areas where he is not improving that his teammates have to cover up for. Yeah, he still does get a B- because he is scoring a lot of points and nobody else on this team is as consistent a score as he is. If you still have an issue with Grant take a look at his stat line from games 11 through 20:

20.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.6 bpg, 1.6 TOpg

In this span, he is also shooting 35.1% from 3-point line and 85.9% from the charity stripe. And Grant’s major strength and saving grace for this team is his ability to be in attack mode all the time which is evidenced by his 109 trips to the free-throw line. Sadly, he remains the only Piston who is a threat to consistently get to the free-throw line. He also consistently still brings it on defense being second on the team in blocks and first on the team in steals. More importantly than that, however, he continues to guard the opposition’s best wing player on a night in and night out basis, which is something that should not go unnoticed nor uncelebrated.

Saddiq Bey: C- (650 total minutes)

Here we have the Pistons Iron Man this season playing the most minutes as well as the final of the four Pistons to play in all 20 games so far. Saddiq’s game has taken a step back not only this season but in these past 10 games where he’s shot 34.1% from the field and 30.8% on 6.5 three-point attempts per game. Well, I don’t want to dismiss Saddiq’s responsibility in these struggles, I do also think that this goes back to the coaching staff not fitting all the parts together on this team. In addition, Saddiq must cover for some of Jeremi Grant’s deficiencies.

Looking at his assist from the first 10 games versus these last 10 games gives an indication as to what I am talking about. In his first 10 games, Bey averaged 3 assists per game whereas in these last 10 games, he’s only averaged 1.9 per game. That has a lot to do with Cade getting healthy and taking on the role as the primary playmaker. Bey’s assist percentage now is only 12.7% So it seems to be shifting back to a complementary role, and his usage is 20.6% which seems to be an indication that he is a role player now. But it’s hard to tell what exactly he’s supposed to be doing out there on offense partially because he seems almost scared to shoot it at times and other times he’s given the ball after a Cade drive didn’t work or Grant couldn’t figure out what to do with it.

What is Saddiq’s role now that Cade came back into the lineup? And if Grant is going to be given more usage over Saddiq—which should be the case—then why are they not just placing him in a corner or above the break to be a floor spacer which is what this team needs and where Bey has shown he can excel?

I am definitely with Justin Lambregtse in believing Bey should take a step back and be more of a floor spacer, but I do wonder how the team can get back to him being more of that even tertiary playmaker that he was in the beginning of the season because I think that would help out to get somebody like Killian more open three-point looks or even for Grant who is a good three-point shooter.

The positives are that Saddiq continues to be a great defender being able to guard shooting guards all the way to power forwards and he is one of the best rebounders on the team. He’s only had 35 fouls despite playing 650 minutes which is even more impressive when you see his third on the team with 21 steals and 2nd on the team in defensive rebounding with 86. His improvement in rebounding continues to be a positive as he is second on the team and overall rebounding with 129, which is only two behind Isaiah Stewart’s 131. Even more impressive is that he leads the team in offensive rebounds with 43. If anybody took coach Casey’s challenge to be a better rebounder it seems to be Saddiq and again he seems to have slotted into the “power forward role” next to Isaiah Stewart to help him out with rebounding. And I can’t help but wonder what this team would look like if Saddiq was treated more like a stretch four and Grant was treated more like a small forward.

Thank you as always for reading the best place on the Internet for Pistons coverage here at Detroit Bad Boys. Please let us know what you think in the comments and give us your own grades for these 20 games that the Pistons have played thus far. Here’s hoping that the team can figure out each player’s roles a little better going forward and that we see everyone start to click more as the season wears on.

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