Pistons Midterm Reports Part 1: Players trending in the wrong direction

Detroit Bad Boys

Well DBBers, we have reached just over the halfway point of the season. With the recent win against Sacramento, some competitive losses against Denver and the continued emergence of Cade Cunningham, spirits are high and it seems like the team is playing more together. Add to that the quick integration of Kelly Olynyk once he returned from injury (though he fell into health and safety protocols after two games). Olynyk seems like a vet who understands his role and works to support his teammates in that role. If he isn’t traded, he could really help the young guys blossom.

Now, I am sure many of you are wondering why I am talking about Kelly Olynyk here when this is supposed to be the mid-season progress report for the whole team. Well, I want to focus on Olynyk here in the intro because I think this Pistons team is at a point where a lot of the guys on the team have to prove they can play a role if they want to stick around in the NBA—like Kelly Olynyk.

I have read plenty of tweets, articles, and listened to quite a few Pistons-related podcasts out there with comments along the lines of “Welp. It’s another night of bad basketball,” and to me, this is more or less the result of a bunch of young guys still trying to figure things out. So, for this mid-season progress report I am going to go in a different direction as I think there are 3 types of players currently on this team: Foundational Pieces, Guys in Danger of Playing Themselves Out of the League, and Veterans.

I define each group as follows. Foundational Pieces are guys we know for certain are not only going to be in Detroit for the foreseeable future, but who also have shown an array of skills on the court that indicate they are in for a long NBA career (health permitting). Guys in Danger of Playing Themselves Out of the League is pretty self-explanatory, and I will state my case for each guy in their individual breakdowns. And, Veterans are guys who understand their role—whatever that may be—and consistently fill that role.

Since this is at the halfway point of the season, consider this like performance review. So rather than giving each guy a letter grade, I will designate them with one of these three labels and then say why I feel that way. Some guys may also fall between two labels. As always, we will start with the Pistons stats leaders, but instead of listing each player in ascending order according to minutes played, I will list the different groups and then list the guys in each group with their minutes played.

This will be part 1 of a 3 part series and this will only focus on the Guys In Danger of Playing Themselves Out of the League and two other guys I am not going to put in a group for reasons I will list after giving the team leaders. Onto the stats (remember these are at the 41-game mark)!

Team Leaders

  • Points: Saddiq Bey (622)
  • Rebounds: Isaiah Stewart (265)
  • Assists: Cade Cunningham (171)
  • Blocks: Isaiah Stewart (44)
  • Steals: Hamidou Diallo (45)
  • Free Throw Attempts: Jerami Grant (146)
  • Turnovers: Cade Cunningham (120)
  • Personal Fouls: Isaiah Stewart (92)
  • True Shooting Percentage: Cory Joseph (58.8%)
  • Free Throw Attempt Rate: Jerami Grant (38.2%)
  • Total Rebounding Percentage: Isaiah Stewart (17.1%)
  • Assist Percentage: Cade Cunningham (28.4%)
  • Turnover Percentage: Frank Jackson (7.6%)
  • Usage: Jerami Grant (26.7%)

Kelly Olynyk: Incomplete

We have yet to really see what Olynyk can bring to this team on a consistent basis this season so as such he will get an incomplete for now. Sending hopes and prayers out to Kelly he can stay healthy the rest of the year and that he does not have COVID!

Jerami Grant? (797 minutes played)

I will not be giving a report on Grant here because his status with the team is very much up in the air and he also hasn’t suited up since Dec. 10. As such, it would seem odd to lump him into the Foundational Piece group only to them have him be traded. Also, he is definitely a Veteran who fills his role of lead scorer and wing defender, but he is much more than that too. So if I did give him a report it would be a guy that fell between Foundational Piece and Veteran for these reasons … also this seems to be why he is such a sought after trade piece since he will come in an do his job. His job, however, CAN go far beyond filling a role.

Detroit Pistons v Sacramento Kings

Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Guys in Danger of Playing Themselves Out of the League

Josh Jackson (601 minutes played)

  • 41 per game stat-line: 32 games played, 3 games started, 18.8 minutes
  • 8.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.0 turnovers
  • 53.8% on two-point shots, 27.9% on three-point attempts, 71.1% from the Free Throw Line

While his size and defensive ability are major positives, Josh Jackson has done little to shake the “chucker” label associated with guys that remain inefficient despite being able to score in bunches. It has been stated by so many writers, commenters, and readers here at DBB that the difference Hamidou Diallo has made since being inserted into Josh’s initial place in the rotation is night and day. This more than anything is accelerating Josh’s exit out of the NBA faster than we may realize.

Point blank, Josh Jackson has to be a role player at this point, but what role he exactly inhabits is a mystery. Is he a defensive wing you can bring off the bench to handle guys with size and length? Is he a microwave scorer who can lead a second unit? Is he a small-ball 4 one can deploy to push the pace and take bigger, slower 4s off the dribble? Well, the Pistons were the perfect spot to answer any of these questions for Josh’s NBA future, and yet we do not have a definitive answer to any of these.

I do want to be clear here and say that I think Josh Jackson has been nothing but a hard working professional since he’s come to Detroit and anyone with “attitude” or “maturity” questions can just see themselves out the door now. From Troy Weaver, to Coach Casey, to Josh’s teammates they will all tell you that he is a pro’s pro looking to help out the entire organization. This just has not worked out on the court unfortunately.

This is now Josh’s fifth year in the league, and he has never done the following: shot above 32.4% from the three-point line, posted a free throw percentage over 72.9%, dished out more than 2.3 assists per game, posted a total rebound percentage over 9.7%, or had a free-throw attempt rate over 31.4%. He also has only posted one season where he had an effective field goal percentage at 48.0% or higher, posted a true shooting percentage over 51.6%, and had a usage rate under 22.8%.

So he is not a shooter, he is a below average to bad free throw shooter—and even if he was he does not get to the line that often to make defenses pay—he is not super active on the glass, is not creating many open looks for his teammates, AND he needs the ball at the level of a secondary ball handler in order to play his game.

He is at least getting better with not wasting his two-point attempts and he is still a solid defender with the kind of size and length to make a big difference. The main thing with his offense, though, is he is still posting a 45.2% three-point attempt rate despite still being a terrible long-range shooter. Someone should be telling him to take fewer threes—and the proof of how much a difference this could make is manifested in Hamidou Diallo’s true shooting percentage,

While many of us want Diallo to take more threes, I personally think he is making the right call with his 17.3% three-point attempt rate. He knows he is not a shooter, but a great athlete who can cut, run in transition, catch lobs, and take less athletic guys off the dribble so that’s what he tries to do and saves his threes for open looks and last resort options. All of this translates to a 55.2% true shooting percentage (currently ranks 5th on the Pistons). That’s a 4.8% difference from Josh’s 50.4% just by de-emphasizing his weakest skill right now: shooting.

This to me is the reason why Josh Jackson ranks the highest on Guys In Danger of Playing Themselves Out of the League. Hamidou has been in the Association one year less than Jackson and yet is showing more growth and awareness on the court to remain a positive contributor. And it does pain me to have to put Josh here as I REALLY want him to work out here in Detroit, but it remains unclear what he can bring that makes it so a team can live with all of his deficiencies.

Houston Rockets v Detroit Pistons

Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Frank Jackson (749 minutes played)*

*Frank Jackson hasn’t played a game since December 29, 2021 as he is dealing with an ankle injury

  • 41 per game stat line: 33 games played, 5 games started, 22.7 minutes
  • 10.7 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 0.8 turnovers
  • 51.3% on two-point shots, 33.3% on three-point attempts, 83.0% from the Free Throw Line

Jackson may seem like an odd choice here, but I place him in this group at the halfway point because he is a role player by this point who is having trouble filling that role. You may think I am being hard on Frank, but let me put this another way. He is a 6-foot-3 guard who weighs 205 pounds who is a defensive liability, consistently posts the lowest assist percentage on the team, and is not consistently putting pressure on defenses filling his one role as a shooter.

I think of guys like Bryn Forbes, Gabe Vincent, and our old friend Langston Galloway when thinking about Frank Jackson since they fit his physical profile and skillset. Forbes and Vincent are still bad defenders, but they shoot the lights out of the ball and used that to find a way onto being a contributor on a winning team—Forbes even helped the Bucks win a title last year! Langston, while he has similarly struggled with scoring efficiently, like Frank has turned himself into a tenacious guard defender to the point that Phoenix, Brooklyn, and Milwaukee have all called upon his services in the last two seasons.

My point here is that Frank has to find consistency in one skill down the stretch. Langston is probably his best offensive comparison at this point, but even Langston never let his 3 point percentage dip below 34.4% in any full season he played. He also learned by his third season that his bread and butter was in the 3-point shot as he only posted one season after his third year where less than 56.5% of his attempts were NOT three-pointers.

My hope is that Jackson has figured this out as well seeing that 61.0% of his shot attempts this season have come from long range. Yet, he is in the category of Guys In Danger of Playing Themselves Out of the League because he is not at the level of a Bryn Forbes or Gabe Vincent as a shooter to where he consistently makes defenses pay for leaving him open or going under screens. Just take a look at his shot chart this year:

Frank Jackson’s 2021-22 Shot Chart

As we can see here, Jackson has only been a decent corner three-point shooter. This to me is a bigger issue than we realize because defenses don’t have to account for him anywhere else on the floor. And, when you think about lineup combinations for the Pistons, if Jackson is going to be posted in the corners on most plays then he displaces Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Trey Lyles, Hamidou Diallo, Kelly Olynyk, Cory Joseph, Luka Garza, and even Isaiah Stewart from being placed there in the corner.

For those of you that don’t know why I am arguing this is a bigger deal than we realize, corner threes are the easiest three-point shot on the court because the distance is shorter than heaving one up from behind the arc. Frank Jackson is NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THE GUY TAKING THESE SHOTS. He is a three-point specialist who is supposed to free up the court for his teammates to operate in these corners. Again, pointing back to Bryn Forbes, Langston Galloway, and Gabe Vincent

I am also uncertain if he’ll turn a corner on defense. Sometimes he dies on screens. He does not always stay with his man. And the Pistons do seem to try their best to keep Jackson away from guarding the opposition’s top ball handlers. In my opinion, when you are an NBA player under 6-foot-5 tall and you can’t guard point guards, then you are a liability defensively because you are going to be giving up size to all but a very few shooting guards in the NBA.

And last but not least, Jackson is quite possibly the worst passer on the team. At the midway point he posted a 7.0% assist percentage. For a guard, that is inexcusable. To put this in context, when you look at the league rankings for assist percentage, a 7.0% would rank a player at 165 out of the 183 players that qualify. Frank is not just bad, he is at the bottom of the league when it comes to being a passer.

I do honestly hate putting Frank in this category, but we keep it real here at DBB. If Jackson remains a liability on defense, a non-factor as a passer, and cannot be more efficient than the non-shooters and fellow role players on this team like Hamidou Diallo, Cory Joseph, and Trey Lyles—who all post a significantly better true shooting percentage than Jackson’s 53.6% at the 41-game mark—then he will be finding himself outside the NBA fairly soon. He is only 23 so youth is on his side, but this is his fourth year in the league and time is running out for him to find a consistent skill to justify his presence on the court.

Detroit Pistons v Denver Nuggets

Photo by Ethan Mito/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images

Killian Hayes (806 minutes played)

  • 41 per game stat line: 31 games played, 31 games started, 26.0 minutes
  • 6.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, 1.6 turnovers
  • 38.5% on two-point shots, 29.5% on three-point attempts, 83.9% from the Free Throw Line

This one is tough, but as laid out by our fantastic editor Sean Corp, it is time to keep it real when it comes to just how bad Killian’s number are. As Sean laid out, it is almost impossible for Killian to overcome this kind of terrible production—and to me the shooting splits are the ones that hurt him and the team the most. In addition to what he’s doing on the court, he is also becoming a constant question mark in the injury report.

In my opinion, Killian has to start moving over into the role player Veteran mold already as his lack of offensive skills make it so defenses do not even have to think about him right now. Couple this with another non-shooter so far in Isaiah Stewart and the rest of the team struggling to shoot the ball from deep, and now you can understand why Cade and Saddiq have had an incredibly hard time maintaining good shooting percentages all season.

And maybe, yes, you can point to Isaiah Stewart too when criticizing floor spacing and lack of offensive production … but at least Isaiah Stewart crashes the glass. At least Isaiah Stewart already fills a role on this team as a rim finisher. And at least Isaiah Stewart DOES NOT WASTE SHOTS as evidence by his 55.6% true shooting (he also is the ONLY guy on this team to consistently keep his true shooting percentage over 55%). I understand we all want more from Beef Stew, but unlike Killian he already fills a few roles and fills them well.

Killian is dead last on this team in true shooting percentage among the players who have logged 100 minutes or more posting a 44.0% at the 41 game mark. Killian has to find something that works on offense the rest of the season plain and simple.

This boils over into the fact that Killian does not take many shots either. Because he doesn’t have a go-to shot or go-to skill, many nights he is more than happy to make an extra pass (whether or not one needs to be made) or just stand behind the three-point arc and let his teammates go to work. And this to me is most damaging looking at his three-point numbers

Yes the percentages are bad, but to put this in further context let me explain his 29.5% another way. Killian has only logged ONE game all season where he has made more than 2 three-point shots. This game occurred on Nov. 13 at Toronto, and he sunk 3 shots from downtown. In addition, he has logged 25 games out of 31 games in which he appeared where he made 1 or ZERO three-pointers. For those wanting to hope for the Lonzo Ball comp, I would say you need to majorly pump the breaks as Killian is far from being even an average floor spacer. Killian is not even averaging 3 attempts from distance per game currently. Lonzo’s career low in three-point attempts per game is 4.9 his second year and his career low in percentage was his rookie year at 30.5%.

You know who Killian DOES compare to currently, though? Frank Ntilikina. Just look at their stats side-by-side and sadly it is almost a mirror image. Killian is the much better passer, but this is still very bad as the same offensive question marks that people asked about Frankie Smokes are currently being asked about Killian. And to be honest, I am baffled that Ntilikina made it on to another roster as he is another guy playing himself out of the league.

But, I make this Ntilikina comparison because of the defense both guys provide. It is why Frank still has a job in Dallas and why Killian started most nights in the first half of the season in Detroit. Bryce Simon of Motor City Hoops has shown how much of a defensive disruptor he can be in many of his video breakdowns and I don’t want to take anything away from Killian on that side of the ball. He will definitely be someone defensive minded coached will love to have because of the focus and attention to detail he brings to that end of the court.

But Killian has to find something on offense right now to avoid becoming like Frank Ntilikina. To echo Sean’s thoughts, time is running out even in Killian’s second season. Not only does the team have the 2022 NBA Draft to consider other backcourt mates for Cade like Bennedict Mathurin, Jaden Ivey, and Johnny Davis but with the way other guys on this team have stepped up, Killian is already finding himself behind the 8-ball.

And last but not least, Killian’s health has been an issue this season and last. The hip injury took him out most of last season and his thumb has been giving him problems all year this season. This is a bad trend to start your NBA career and adds more fuel to the fire for those calling for Killian to be taken out of the starting lineup. I do wish the team had sat him for a longer period of time this season to help that thumb heal, but it is tough to sit your rookie point guard his first two seasons.

Health concerns suck and no two cases are the same, so it is tough to know exactly what kind of long term impact Killian’s injury history so far will have on his career going forward. Yet, it is worth bringing up because it keeps happening and his play has been dismal at times. Those two things, unfortunately, have led many a basketball player to not making their second contract. I hope Killian can get fully healthy and find a role, but this kind of start to his NBA career is going to be tough to overcome.

Let us know what you think of the Midterms so far in the comments. If this list got you down, then fear not! Next time we will look at who I consider the Veterans on this team filling in roles consistently.

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