Beard: Five takeaways from the Pistons’ first half of the season

Detroit News

Detroit — The season started with high hopes for the Pistons. After getting Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 overall pick and having an encouraging Summer League performance, there were signs the Pistons could take a step forward after a dismal finish last season.

Then came the injuries. And the COVID issues. And more COVID issues, and the losses piled up.

Despite that, the Pistons had some positives in the first half of the season. Though it only resulted in 10 wins in the first 41 games, there were some flashes that could get brighter in the final 41 games.

The Monday Drive takes a look at five takeaways from the first half of the season:

1. Cade Cunningham is the real deal: Obviously, there are high expectations for the top overall pick, and though Cunningham had a slow start after an ankle injury in training camp, he’s turned things around. Cunningham leads all rookies in scoring (15.5), ranks fifth in rebounding (5.8) and second in assists (5.3).

Early in his career, he’s blending all the aspects of his game that will make him an asset for years to come. He’s not just a scorer and not just a passer. He can facilitate the offense or move over to shooting guard in any lineup, and his ability to create makes the offense more potent when the shots are falling.

Cunningham is passing the eye test as a closer and clutch shooter, as well as a facilitator. Those were all traits that made him one of the top prospects in the draft process, and that it’s translated well to the NBA is a positive step. Throughout the first half, Cuningham has posted solid games and he’s fit in well with the starting group. If Cunningham continues on his present course, he’ll be high in the conversation for rookie of the year.

2. Saddiq Bey continues to improve: Coming off his rookie year, which included a first-team all-rookie selection, the projections were that Bey would take a big step forward. It’s come, but not quite as fast as some would have wanted. Bey had a slow start to the season, and the 3-point shooting was way down, as was his scoring. He didn’t put his head down; instead, he continued to work at his game until he broke out of that slump.

Since Dec. 16, Bey is averaging 20.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 37% on 3-pointers. That’s corresponded mostly with Jerami Grant’s injury, which pushed Bey into more of a primary-scoring role — and he’s flourished in that spotlight. There is still more growing that he has to do, but Bey looks more like a long-term piece who can be above-average on both ends of the court, which is very good for a player picked in the middle of the first round.

3. It’s a COVID year: The Pistons were one of the last teams to have a player enter the COVID protocols, after it ravaged many of the rosters around the league. In late December, the first few cases on the team came about, and the Pistons had eight players in the health and safety protocols at the same time. For a few games, they had more players from the G League on 10-day contracts than they had players from their regular roster.

Almost a month later, the Pistons are just getting their last players out of protocols, in addition to some cases with assistant coaches and other staff members. It may not be over, either, just getting through the first wave was difficult.

4. Trey Lyles is doing yeoman’s work: Because of Kelly Olynyk’s knee injury, the Pistons have had to play without one of their key components on the second unit. It’s pushed Trey Lyles to play out of position at backup center, against some bigger, skilled big men. He’s taken some lumps, but he’s also gotten to show that he can be a valuable piece as a stopgap.

Lyles’ perimeter game makes opposing centers get out of the paint, which in turn opens up the driving lanes for the wings. It’s a little give-and-take, but in the long run, it should help Lyles to have that experience in the paint and augment his game.

5. There were some surprises: Because of the COVID issues, some players got a bigger opportunity to show what they can do. That includes Hamidou Diallo, who has made the most of his chance with some stellar play. Since he joined the starting lineup following Grant’s injury, Diallo is posting 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 steals and shooting 52% from the field. Prior to that, Diallo’s numbers were 6.7 points, three rebounds and 0.6 steals. It’s just about getting consistent minutes.

Josh Jackson and Cory Joseph also had some encouraging production in spurts as well, which bodes well for their depth moving forward. Even some of the G League players, including Derrick Walton Jr. and Cassius Stanley, have been impressive in their stints.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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