The Pistons are 19-52, and they’ll be right back in the NBA draft lottery, hoping for another top-three pick this summer. It’s not a sign of failure, coming off getting Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 overall pick last year.
Ignore the numbers for a bit and look at what they’re doing on the court. Second-year forward Saddiq Bey had 51 points on Thursday night, and Jerami Grant followed with 40 on Saturday. Cunningham is looking more and more like a central piece to the rebuild that seems closer than it was this time last season.
The young pieces are there, with Bey, Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley III, Hamidou Diallo and Isaiah Livers making big statements in recent weeks about how they could fit in the eventual picture of the Pistons’ turnaround.
It’s going to take patience and some wise maneuvering by general manager Troy Weaver and his staff this offseason. The Pistons will have a decision to make on Grant, who will be entering the final year of his contract, worth $21 million. There are some other moveable pieces — all on very reasonable contracts — that they’ll have to assess as well.
Bey looked like the real deal even before his stellar game. The book on Bey’s offensive game was that he was primarily a 3-point shooter, with some ability to get to the basket. He’s changed all that. Beyond those skills, Bey has shown an ability to create off the dribble, pull up and hit a midrange jumper or find the open teammate.
Coach Dwane Casey sees even more on the horizon.
“In time, he’s going to be one of our pick-and-roll players. He’s excellent right now, but he has room to grow in that area, where he can find people make passes and make plays out of the pick-and-rolls,” Casey said. “That’s his next evolution as a player, to be able to come off of pick-and-rolls fine. He’s doing a decent job now, but he could even be better by doing that.”
Bey has an intense summer workout regimen, and as much as he’s improved on his first-team All-Rookie selection from last season, there’s still more improvement that he can make to reach his potential.
That’ll be the focus this offseason, with some internal improvement, but also some key additions in free agency and through the draft.
Here are some key takeaways from last week:
► Isaiah Livers has fit seamlessly into the rotation, on both ends of the court. He’s done well with his 3-point shooting and know-how on the defensive end. Livers said he had been studying game film during the time that he was out because of a foot injury. That diligence has helped him acclimate more easily and to be a good communicator and student of the game.
► Bagley has shown he can be effective either in the starting lineup or with the second unit. What seems to be happening more is that he’s getting into foul trouble against some of the top-tier big men, which will be an area of improvement for him. The Pistons have seen enough in the time since the trade with the Sacramento Kings to see that Bagley will be worth investing more in for the long term. What they might watch, though, is that the more they showcase his talent, the more other teams might be interested in Bagley as a restricted free agent.
► Killian Hayes continues to have hard luck with injuries. He had a head contusion this week that kept him out of a couple of games, just another in the long list of nagging issues that have hurt his quest to gain consistency over even a few games. With 11 games left in the season, there’s still time for him to put something together for the remainder of this season. In his time with the second unit, he’s looked a little better, but Casey has said he wants to see more of it over longer stretches.
► Cunningham had another outstanding matchup against the Cavs and another Rookie of the Year frontrunner in Evan Mobley. Cunningham finished with 15 points, six rebounds and 10 assists, and Mobley 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Cunningham had his moments, but the night belonged to Grant and his 40-point performance, along with 20 points from Bey. Mobley showed that he is worthy of the award as well, helping the Cavs to what looks to be a playoff spot.
Trail Blazers at Pistons
► Tipoff: 7 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Blazers (26-43) are 1-9 in their last 10 games, as they’ve been without their leading scorer, Anfernee Simons, since March 5. The Pistons (19-52) have lost five of their last six games.
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