Detroit Pistons 2021-22 season grades: Only one player receives an ‘A’

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons‘ 2021-22 season ended a week ago. That means it’s report card time.

The Pistons finished 23-59, but won 11 of their final 25 as they found a groove — and got healthier — at the end of the season. The grades reflect the Pistons are a rebuilding team learning how to win. Despite the poor record, most players met or surpassed expectations.

The report card is ordered by total minutes played — with Saddiq Bey leading the way at 2,704 — and the three players who finished the season on the roster with fewer than 200 total minutes this season — Jamorko Pickett, Braxton Key and Carsen Edwards — aren’t listed. (Nor are the bevy of fill-ins who stepped in during the December and January stretch when the Pistons’ roster was decimated by COVID-19 protocols.)

F Saddiq Bey: B-plus

Averages: 16.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists.

It may look, on the stat sheet, like Bey regressed from his first-team All-Rookie season. His points per game increased from 12.2 to 16.1, yet his efficiency declined. But after an early season slump, Bey settled nicely into his role as a shot-creator. He averaged 17.5 points, five rebounds and three assists on 44.1/38.1/80% shooting splits from Feb. 16 until April 3 — a 22-game sample size during which the Pistons went .500. Bey made strides as a go-to scorer and passer this season and has firmly established himself as one of the Pistons’ best players.

G Cade Cunningham: A-minus

Averages: 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.2 steals.

Here’s the main takeaway from Cunningham’s rookie season: He’s the player he was advertised to be. Skilled scorer with point guard vision, impact defender when locked in and natural leader.

Cunningham wasn’t quite as efficient as you’d want your No. 1 option to be, as he shot 41.6% overall and 31.4% from 3. But he missed training camp, preseason and five of the first six games with an ankle sprain. After Nov. 30, he averaged 18.8 points while shooting 43.7% and 34.4% from 3. Those are healthy numbers for a leading option as a rookie, and a better indicator of what we can expect from him next season.

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C Isaiah Stewart: B

Averages: 8.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.1 blocks.

His impact doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, but Stewart is hard to replace. He’s the Pistons’ best rim protector, screener and proved himself a capable defensive switcher on ball screens. He was, by the end of the season, holding his own on the perimeter against Luka Doncic and James Harden. While he has strides to make as an offensive weapon, he teased his upside on that end by knocking down 11 of 18 3-pointers at the end of the season.

G Killian Hayes: C-plus

Averages: 6.9 points, 4.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals.

It took a while for Hayes to get comfortable this season. A hand injury hamstrung his progress as a shooter early in the season, and he was an imperfect fit next to Cunningham in the starting lineup. He began to find his groove once he came off the bench. Hayes is the club’s best perimeter defender and arguably best passer. He made strides this season as a finisher at the rim. His offensive game is a work-in-progress, but he looks like he belongs in the NBA.

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G Cory Joseph: B

Averages: 8 points, 3.6 assists.

Joseph gives you just about everything you’d want in a veteran point guard. He’s steady with the ball in his hands and can knock down 3-pointers (41.4%). He organizes his teammates on the floor and mentors young guards off of it. He embraced his role and gave the Pistons stability at the point.

F Jerami Grant: B-minus

Averages: 19.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1 block.

Grant’s season should be told in stages. He shot 41% overall and 32.7% from 3 during his first 32 games — a stretch interrupted by a 24-game absence due to a thumb injury and COVID-19. Once he got comfortable playing alongside Cunningham, his efficiency increased. Grant shot 46.3% overall and 41.6% from 3 during his final 15 games.

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G Hamidou Diallo: B

Averages: 11 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals.

Diallo is the Pistons’ designated energy guy and he’s great in that role. He’s the most electric dunker on the team, and had his strongest individual season, starting a career-high 29 of 58 games. He had two games with at least 30 points and showed that few defenders in the NBA can keep up with his athleticism when he’s determined to get to the rim.

G Frank Jackson: C-minus

Averages: 10.6 points, 30.8% on 3s.

It’s not Jackson’s fault he battled injuries during his second season in Detroit, but it does drag his grade down. He missed 29 games, and his efficiency dipped as he knocked down 30.8% of his 3s after making 40.7% last season. Jackson is a better shooter than his percentage suggests, and he had six games this season with at least four made 3s. He could get back on track next season with better health.

C Kelly Olynyk: C-plus

Averages: 9.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists.

Olynyk had one of his toughest seasons thanks to injuries. He was limited to 40 games because of a left knee sprain and COVID-19. But his final 18 games highlighted why the Pistons signed him last offseason, as he shot 55.3% overall and 37.1% from 3.

G Rodney McGruder: B-plus

Averages: 5.4 points, 2.2 rebounds.

McGruder’s job is a thankless one. Some nights, he was the first player off the bench. Other nights, he didn’t leave it. Off the floor, he mentored young players and provided a veteran voice in the locker room. Regardless of how often he played, he was ready when called. He had his best season as a 3-point shooter, knocking down 39.7% of his 2.9 attempts per game. And he remained committed to the Pistons even after they nearly traded him to the Denver Nuggets.

G Saben Lee: C-minus

Averages: 5.6 points, 2.9 assists.

It was a tough sophomore season for Lee, who shot 39% overall, 23.3% from 3 and regressed after a solid rookie year. He provided flashes of the player he can eventually become and is one of the best athletes on the roster. But he’s still a project.

F Marvin Bagley III: B

Averages: 14.6 points, 6.8 rebounds.

He only played 18 games after arriving at the trade deadline, but Bagley looks like a player the Pistons can build around. He thrived as a go-to option both with the starting lineup and second unit and shot 55.5%. His athleticism added a new dynamic to the frontcourt.

C Luka Garza: B

Averages: 5.8 points, 3.1 rebounds.

The 2020-21 national college basketball player of the year was a capable offensive player, shooting 44.9% from the floor and recording three 20-point games. Defensively, Garza needs to make progress. He exceeded expectations for a late second-round pick.

F Isaiah Livers: B-plus

Averages: 6.4 points, 3 rebounds.

Livers didn’t make his NBA debut until Dec. 16 due to rehabbing a stress fracture in his right foot. His second game wasn’t until Feb. 27. But once he entered the rotation, the coaching staff struggled to find a reason to take him out of it. Livers showcased the qualities that made him a standout at Michigan, shooting 47.7% from 3 during his final 11 games and playing smart, reliable defense.

Coach Dwane Casey: B

The first half of the season was tough for Casey, as it was for the rest of the team. His roster was shorthanded for most of it, and he was forced to thrust several players into roles they weren’t prepared for. But he made several good decisions that helped the Pistons hit their stride during the second half of the season. Hayes thrived with the second unit, Cunningham became the fourth-quarter closer and Bey proved he could function as a secondary ball-handler and offensive option. Casey kept his players engaged even after enduring a 14-game losing streak and a weeks-long COVID-19 outbreak. It’s tough to give a coach an “A” for a 23-win season, but a B feels well-earned.

GM Troy Weaver: B-plus

Weaver, last week, acknowledged he “struggled” during his second season as general manager. The Pistons entered the season with two proven NBA centers in Stewart and Olynyk, and neither are above-the-rim threats. When Olynyk got hurt, it forced Casey to play Trey Lyles out-of-position. Weaver fixed the situation by trading for Bagley, who fortified the frontcourt depth and provided a needed dose of athleticism.

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Weaver’s self-evaluation is harsh. Thanks to Blake Griffin’s dead money on the books, the Pistons didn’t have the cap space necessary to properly address every positional need. And Weaver did eventually address it. The good outweighs the bad — Cunningham was the right pick at No. 1 in the draft, Livers and Garza had solid rookie seasons as second-round picks, Hayes, Stewart and Bey all made meaningful strides forward and 2021 trades for Joseph and Diallo appear to be wins, as both played meaningful minutes this season.

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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