The Pistons are back. Well, sort of.
Like almost everyone else, they’ve been trying to keep their players and staff out of COVID protocols and still continue business as usual. It hasn’t been easy, and just holding practices in person has been a challenge.
It’s stalled what already was a difficult season, but things will start getting better in the next couple of weeks, as they have players return to the court.
Their long-term outlook is tied to how and what they do for the rest of this season and into next season. This week’s News & Views looks at what that future could look like and what the past two weeks have contributed:
► News: The Pistons got six players back from the COVID protocols.
► Views: It’s been a struggle for the past two weeks, with eight Pistons players going into the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The whole NBA has been dealing with COVID protocols and the roster attrition has been unprecedented. It’s hit most teams hard, but the Pistons, with so many players in a short period, have been hit among the worst in the league.
There were some ugly times, with a 35-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs and some bad plays. Saddiq Bey said it was similar to playing a pick-up game, because the players were so unfamiliar with each other.
The players credited the couple of practices they had last week with helping them build the chemistry to reach the highlight of this stint, a victory over the Spurs in the rematch on Saturday. For what it’s worth, that win was one of the highlights of an otherwise miserable season.
More: Pistons’ postponed game vs. Bulls rescheduled; Suns game pushed back
Getting Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Trey Lyles, Saben Lee, Rodney McGruder and Josh Jackson back healthy helps the Pistons get back to their assessment and rebuilding process this season. There’s plenty more to figure out about how the pieces of the roster fit together and what the roster will look like to finish this season and going into next season.
► News: The Pistons had one win in December and own the worst record in the league.
► Views: Unless something changes dramatically in the second half of the season, the Pistons again will be in line for a top-three pick in the draft. It’s not all bad basketball — injuries have played a major part in their slow start to the season and in them not finding a consistent groove through the first two months.
Like last season, they’ll have to find the hidden benefits in a losing season and be able to chart improvement plans for their young players in the midst of their rebuild. There were higher expectations for the likes of Bey, Hayes and Isaiah Stewart, and that improvement has been up and up and down this season, but some consistent time to jell on the court could help to push that in the remainder of the season.
The benefit could be a needed young piece for the Pistons, such as Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero, but the rebuild seemed like it was on a faster track than it has been, despite the injuries. Cunningham was projected to be the glue for the rebuild, and every indication has been that he will be. They need more talent, and the draft, free agency and the offseason should start bringing some of that to them.
► News: Bey and Hamidou Diallo combined for more than 54% of the Pistons’ points in a three-game span.
► Views: When the Pistons were shorthanded, someone needed to add the scoring punch, and the pair took on the challenge. Diallo has been in a zone, getting to the rim almost at will, and using his athleticism to have some highlight-reel finishes.
More: Beard: Bey, Diallo shine in expanded roles for shorthanded Pistons
It’s a big development for Diallo, who has had the opportunity to show off his game in increased minutes. He’ll make it an interesting offseason if he’s able to continue this production for the rest of the season, and having the Pistons decide on what the long-term plan for him will be.
For Bey, it’s a confirmation that he can carry a bigger load of the offense, much like Jerami Grant did in his breakout season last year.