With the Draft Lottery set, and the 2022 NBA Draft mere weeks away, now seemed like a perfect opportunity, amongst a host of draft content, to assess the potential development areas of the core Detroit Piston players. With trade and free agency reports swirling around the organization, the summer of 2022 appears to be shaping as one of major change. However, here at Detroit Bad Boys, we know all too well the downsides to building a team via free agency and trades.
Hence, I wanted to put together a piece focusing on the here and now, on players which, barring a shock transaction, will be donning the blue and red in the 2022-2023 season. The premise of the article was to select one area of growth for each of the Detroit Piston players who will begin next season on a rookie-scale contract. Therefore excluding players such as Saben Lee and Luka Garza who initially signed with the team on a two-way deal.
Each area of growth selected has been selected on the basis that a boost in this particular skill, would provide both; the player and team with positive results in the 2022-2023 NBA season.
Cade Cunningham: Ball security and Decision making
2021-2022 Numbers: 3.7 turnovers per game, 1.52 assist to turnover ratio (per NBA.com)
Following a successful rookie campaign, Cade Cunningham solidified himself as Detroit’s face of the franchise. The 20 year-old led all rookies in scoring and was awarded All Rookie First team honors. When assessing the most pressing areas of improvement for year two, Cunningham’s decision-making felt most in need of refinement.
When a player exhibits a usage rate of 27.2%, such as Cunningham did, miscues are a given and turnovers a constant. Considering his role as a primary initiator, there is no world in which Detroit’s prized-rookie averages a league-low turnover rate in his ideal role. In saying this, if your lead playmaker is coughing up 3.7 turnovers a game, winning basketball matches becomes increasingly more difficult. In fairness to Cunningham, prior to the trade deadline, Detroit’s lack of a viable pick and roll threat, hindered his ability to facilitate in the half court.
However, while the team setting wasn’t always ideal, Cunningham displayed a tendency to whip sluggish cross-court passes, as well as lose the ball when dribbling in traffic. In fact, 190 of Cunningham’s 234 total turnovers, were deemed as either ‘bad passes’ (123) or ‘lost balls’ (67), per Basketball Reference. Further developing his handle and processing ability, would provide Cunningham additional creases in a defense to attack. Which in turn, should lead to greater efficiency as a scorer and distributor.
Isaiah Stewart: Perimeter scoring
2021-2022 Numbers: 32.6% from three, 36.3% from mid-range (per Cleaning the Glass)
Isaiah Stewart made significant strides as a player in year two, establishing himself as a one of the league’s premier switch defenders. Though the 21 year-old’s sophomore season featured steady improvement, the abandonment of his perimeter stroke made it difficult to envision Stewart’s role within the team moving forward.
Through two seasons in the NBA, it’s clear that Stewart’s lack of vertical pop creates spacing issues within the confines of a 4-out, 1-in offense. With Cunningham at the controls, it’s safe to assume the offense will feature a heavy dose of on ball screens. Hence, if Detroit’s 6’8” big-man is unable to provide a lob threat, it’s essential that he returns in year three with a jumper capable of dragging his man away from the painted area. Stewart showed signs of such ability as a rookie, however, it appeared an offseason ankle injury, paired with a tweak to his shooting form, resulted in a loss of confidence with the shot.
Though he shot poorly from distance in the past season, it was encouraging to see Stewart connect on 11 of 18 triples in his last eight games. Isaiah Stewart equipped with a reliable jump-shot is the ideal stretch five in today’s NBA. If he is able to return in year three with an outside stroke, Detroit’s offense with Stew on the floor suddenly becomes extremely interesting. A 5-out style of attack is an incredibly valuable weapon, we saw the Boston Celtics use such lineups to dethrone the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks only a few weeks ago. Could Isaiah Stewart with a jumper be Detroit’s version of Al Horford?
Killian Hayes: Offensive aggressiveness
2021-2022 Numbers: 0.9 FGA on ‘floaters’, 1.3 FGA at rim (per Synergy Sports)
Instead of focusing on a particular physical skill-set, the single biggest shift in Killian Hayes’ play needs to come from within. If year two was a make-or-break season, year three is more than likely Hayes’ final chance to show he can be a winning player with the Detroit Pistons.
Although it’s important to practice patience with lottery picks, the offensive numbers for Killian have been hard to rationalize, even for Hayes optimists like myself. Entering his third year as a pro, it’s the Frenchman’s mindset which requires adjustment. Though he lacks any kind of consistency from behind the arc, his aggressiveness on offense is currently his Achilles heel.
Back in early April, I detailed a piece outlining Hayes’ new found confidence attacking the paint. Between the 21st of February and 10th of April, Hayes put together his best stretch averaging 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists on 52.1 TS%. On offense, passing will always be the 21 year-old’s greatest asset. But without a jumper, nor the desire to drive, Hayes’ passing ability becomes completely nullified by an un-phased defender.
If Hayes’ can resume the 2022-2023 season with the similar intent, we may finally be privy to the true Killian Hayes experience.
Saddiq Bey: Scoring efficiency
2021-2022 Numbers: 34.6% from three, 45.4% from two, 52.9 TS% (per Basketball Ref.)
To put it lightly, Bey’s sophomore season began with a shaky start. The quintessential ‘3&D’ prospect spent the 2020 offseason honing his craft as a shot creator. Returning to action with a vast array of pull-up jumpers, mixed in with a bevy of floaters and turnaround middy’s. Unfortunately for Bey, not only did he struggle to convert with his newfound offense but, he appeared to lose confidence in his best asset, shooting an abysmal 28.4% from three in the months of October and November.
While the former Villanova product’s start to the season was turbulent, the turn of the calendar year provided a fresh slate for the 23 year-old, with Bey closing out the season averaging 17.2 points on 36.2% shooting from distance. Though it was encouraging Bey performed well in the second half of the season, he still shot a below average 34.6% from three and 45.4% from the field overall. Such inefficiency’s resulted in a host of ‘feast or famine’ performances from Bey; one night he’d score 25+, the next he’d score 13 on 3-14 shooting.
If Detroit is to improve on their 23-win total from a season ago, it’s imperative Bey is able to provide consistent and reliable offense in a tertiary role.
Isaiah Livers: Movement shooting
2021-2022 Numbers: 3/12 on field goals involving a screen or handoff (Per Synergy Sports)
Michigan native Isaiah Livers spent the first 75% of his rookie season recovering from pre-draft foot surgery. In the 19 games Livers suited up in, the sharpshooting 23 year-old lived up to his reputation as a knock down shooter, converting a scintillating 42.2% from downtown on 3.4 tries per game. Livers left no question regarding his ability to provide spacing on the wings.
Whilst the three-point shooting on the whole was impressive for the rookie, Livers could significantly enhance his impact as a player by improving his shooting off movement. Per Synergy, Livers shot 25% on field goals where Livers received the ball off a screen (1/5) or via a handoff (2/7).
Even though Livers may not have the ceiling of the top young pieces on the roster. If he can develop into a 6’7” sniper, capable of hitting threes in a variety of actions, he’s already solid enough defensively to serve in the league for 10+ plus years as a 3&D wing.