Detroit Pistons mailbag: Favorite NBA draft prospect; who improved most this season?

Detroit Free Press

Regardless of how the Detroit Pistons‘ season ends Sunday in Philadelphia, this has been a successful rebuilding season. Cade Cunningham has thrived as the No. 1 option after a slow start, Detroit’s recent first-round picks have all made strides and several role players, including Hamidou Diallo and Marvin Bagley III, found their strides with the second unit.

The last mailbag of the season discusses which players grew the most this season, prospects in the 2022 NBA draft and a few looming decisions the Pistons must make this offseason. Big thanks to everyone who sent a question.

OWNER SPEAKS: Tom Gores on Pistons rebuild: This one feels different

Player(s) you thought developed the most over the course of the year — @Pheenomz4774

Saddiq Bey is the easy answer here. He struggled with his expanded role early in the season, but has been an above-average offensive player since the All-Star break. After 27 games, he averaged 11.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 34.5% overall and 29.6% from 3. In 24 games since Feb. 16, he’s averaging 17.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 42.5% overall and 36% from 3. He has improved his efficiency significantly while operating as Detroit’s second/third option.

Bey took more than ⅔ of his total shots from 3 as a rookie. This season, that’s dropped to about 54%. Rather than operating as a 3-point specialist, he’s handling the ball more and creating more looks for himself inside of the arc. Beyond his diversified scoring, he’s also improved significantly as a passer. His assist rate this year (13.7%) is nearly double as a rookie (7.6%), and he’s turning the ball over at a slightly lower rate.

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Killian Hayes deserves some love here as well. In his last nine games, he’s averaging 11.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and four assists while shooting 46.9% overall — a significant increase over his season mark of 38.3%. He has made just 9 of 31 (29%) 3-pointers in that stretch, but his efficiency inside of the arc has been good, making  36 of 65 (55.3%) of his 2-pointers. Hayes is attacking the rim more than he ever has in his young career, and it’s helping him find his offensive groove.

Who is your dream guy for the pistons to get in the draft? — @Cade4President

He’s a bit divisive, but Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren is still my favorite prospect. It’s hard to acquire players with his skillset outside of the draft. He can both protect the rim (3.7 blocks per game) and space the floor (39% from 3). He’s also a great ball-handler for his size and thrived pushing the ball in transition, and occasionally taking pull-up 3s. Couple that with the fact that he’s also a proficient interior scorer who attacks space and can finish lobs, and there isn’t much to knock about his overall game. He’s the most skilled two-way player in the draft.

The biggest knock on Holmgren is his size. He’s nearly 7-feet tall but listed at just 195 pounds. He doesn’t shy away from physicality, but he struggled against it in college. His life won’t get easier in the NBA. Whatever team drafts him will have a strength development plan in place, and his skinny frame doesn’t change that he has excellent defensive timing and instincts. The players who will punish him in the post — the Joel Embiid’s and Nikola Jokic’s of the NBA — are tough matchups for virtually everyone in the league, anyway.

Jabari Smith Jr. and Paolo Banchero are great prospects in their own right, but Holmgren’s defensive impact and overall versatility pushes him over the top for me.

Assuming we draft one of the three bigs at the top of the draft, which do you think is more likely:

-Killian starts alongside Cade

-Pistons sign/trade for starting caliber SG

-Pistons start someone else already on the roster — @day_twa_tone

For Hayes to start alongside Cunningham next season, he’ll have to improve dramatically as a shooter. He shot 27.8% from 3 as a rookie, and that slumped to 26.2% this season on fewer attempts per game. Hayes has found a groove late in the season as a ball-handling playmaker,  but he’ll have to thrive off-ball next to Cunningham. If his shooting isn’t up to par, it could be tough for the coaching staff to justify starting him.

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Right now, my guess is that the Pistons will look to sign or trade for a starting caliber guard. Jalen Brunson, an unrestricted free agent this summer, makes a lot of sense. He’s averaging career-highs in points (16.2 per game) and assists (4.8) while shooting 50.2% overall and 37.1% from 3. He’s a great fit for Cunningham, and would raise Detroit’s floor.

I’ve got two

-One skill you want Bey, Killian, Cade, and Stew to work on in the offseason.

-Is there any intel you can give us about Kelly being on next years roster. With the emergence of Bagley and likely drafting another front court player Kelly seems expendable. Late FRP? — @Patsandbball

Hayes: I mentioned it earlier, but he has to improve as a shooter. Dwane Casey said last month that he wants to see Hayes get 1,000 shots up a week this summer. If he could bump his 3-point average up to around 34% next season, it would go a long way toward securing his place in the NBA.

Cunningham: Taking care of the ball. Players who pass as often as Cunningham does are going to turn the ball over, especially rookies. But he’s prone to making careless mistakes. His 16.3% turnover rate, according to Cleaning The Glass, is in the fifth percentile among wings.

Stewart: Shooting. The sophomore big man has made nine of his last 16 3-point attempts. His shot mechanics are fundamentally sound, and outside shooting has been a priority for him during his skill development work after practices. He’s only made 13 of 44 attempts this season, but the coaching staff is confident it’ll eventually become a reliable part of his arsenal every night.

Bey: Ball-handling and footwork. He has made significant strides this season with the ball in his hands. He’s knocking down sidestep and stepback jumpers and has had success with his turnaround jumper as well. There’s no need for Bey to complicate things this offseason. If he continues the skill development path he’s already on, he should be even more effective as an offensive focal point during his third season.

As for Kelly Olynyk, it probably isn’t breaking news to say he could be traded this offseason. I’m not predicting that he will be, but the Pistons’ recent draft picks are the only players I consider unlikely to be moved. With that said, Olynyk’s ability to space the floor as a center is very valuable, and I don’t think any of the big men slated to go top-four in this year’s lottery will be full-time centers in the NBA. Given Detroit’s lack of depth at center early this season, I don’t think they’ll risk being in that position again next year.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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