Toronto — The season is winding down to the last five weeks or so, and already, some of the focus is turning to the offseason and the next stage of the rebuild. There’s still value in the last stretch of the season, with some decisions being made about how the roster will be reshaped and what exactly the young players will need to do to improve.
The Pistons have a solid core, but they’ll add to it in a very important offseason, with some flexibility in the salary cap and what looks to be a top-five draft pick. General manager Troy Weaver and his staff will have to figure some things out with the roster and how to push the team toward a growth year, with most of their key players in their second or third year in the league.
This week’s mailbag looks at some of the thoughts heading down the stretch and into the offseason.
► Question. Why isn’t Cade running away with Rookie of the Year when the Pistons are 1-13 without him? He clearly impacts winning. — @DodaLu
► Answer. Cade Cunningham is having an excellent rookie season, leading all first-year players in scoring, at 16.1 points entering Thursday’s game. Rookie of the Year is somewhat similar to the MVP discussion every year, with the opposing viewpoints of who’s the best rookie versus who helps his team the most.
Certainly, contributing to winning is going to factor into the voting, and the stat you mentioned is part of it. The Pistons also are going to have the worst record of the teams with rookie contenders. The frontrunners seem to be the Cavs’ Evan Mobley and the Raptors’ Scottie Barnes.
The Cavs are 36-26 and the Raptors are 34-27. That’ll play into a lot of the voters’ decisions, but it won’t be the only criterion. With about 20 games for each of them, the voting will go down to this last stretch.
► Q. What are the developmental “next steps” for the young guys: Bey, Cunningham, Hayes, Stewart? What specific skills will they focus on this summer? — @troy_tweets
► A. There are some steps forward that each has made this season, but there are many more to go. I don’t know what the Pistons have planned for each of them, but I’ll hazard a guess.
Bey will continue to work on ball-handling and finishing at the rim. He’s done a really good job of improving his counter-moves and getting to the spots he wants on the court. He’s said he likes to get in the weight room, so I’m sure that’ll be part of his regimen, too.
Cunningham will probably work more on his strength and fitness and being able to absorb contact. His turnovers probably have been his biggest issue, but that’s very fixable. The shooting has been fine, and the other skills are solid.
Stewart has improved his touch around the rim, and with his high intensity, he’s become much more effective in the paint, with putbacks and post-ups being a major part of his game. The path forward includes improving from the perimeter, not just the 3-point line. Stewart can create some havoc if he can drive to the rim, which may come later.
► Q. Killian Hayes has the prototype size for an NBA player, especially at the PG position; is his problem mainly confidence or he’s still trying to figure ‘it’ out? Also, could he possibly be trade bait this coming offseason? — @MrAllCity
► A. Hayes’ stature was one of the reasons the Pistons drafted him with the No. 7 overall pick. At 6-5, he is taller than most other point guards and on defensive switches, he can match up well with a wing, and there have been some instances where he’s held his own against a power forward or center for short spells.
Hayes is a gifted passer and defender, but the bigger issue is his scoring and consistency. Even in Europe, he wasn’t a go-to scorer, so it’s unreasonable to expect him to become that in the NBA so quickly. Figuring “it” out is going to take some time, and all players have a different epiphany moment — assuming they even figure it out.
I’ll default back to the idea Hayes has played just 76 games in his career, not even a full season. The key to his progression is going to be steady improvement, which can be something like 10 points and six assists per game. The plan seems to be that the Pistons would like to see Hayes shoot 1,000 3-pointers per day in the offseason to develop a better feel. That said, next season will be the one to make a better assessment of where he is in his development.
Pacers at Pistons
► Tipoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: BSD-Extra/950
► Outlook: The Pistons are in their best stretch of the season, and the Pacers (22-42) have won three of their last five games, after stumbling early in February. Tyrese Haliburton has posted 20.4 points and 9.6 assists in eight games since being traded from Sacramento.