Detroit Pistons have crowded frontcourt, thin wing rotation after quiet free agency

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons have had a quiet free agency period thus far — especially by Troy Weaver’s standards.

Rather than the usual flurry of signings we’ve become accustomed to, the Pistons have only made two low-key moves. They re-signed Marvin Bagley III to a three-year, $37.5 million contract — an expected move after trading for him in February — and then agreed to a two-year, $6 million deal with Kevin Knox.

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It’s possible the Pistons completed most of their offseason work before the moratorium period began at 6 p.m. Thursday. They added two lottery picks in Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren and traded for Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel and Kemba Walker, who was bought out of his $9.2 million contract. The roster is currently full; they would need to waive a player or make a trade to create room for another free agency signing.

It’s also possible there’s more dealing to be done. The giant domino hanging over the offseason is Kevin Durant’s request a trade from the Brooklyn Nets, according to reports. Some teams are waiting to see what happens. If he’s traded, it could lead to a flurry of moves across the league to accommodate what would be one of the most consequential trades in NBA history.

The offseason is far from finished. The Utah Jazz reportedly pulled off a blockbuster trade on Friday, sending Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and both teams could make additional deals to balance out their rosters. It’s too early to put a bow on Detroit’s summer. The Pistons could find a way to get involved in any future deals. Or, they could stand pat.

Let’s take stock of Detroit’s roster after three days of free agency.

Loaded at center, light on the wing

Here’s the Pistons’ current depth chart. Rather than sorting by position, we’ll look at their guards, wings and bigs.

Guards: Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Killian Hayes, Cory Joseph, Saben Lee

Wings: Saddiq Bey, Alec Burks, Hamidou Diallo, Isaiah Livers, Kevin Knox

Bigs: Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley III, Kelly Olynyk, Nerlens Noel, Jalen Duren

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There’s some interchangeability here. Cunningham can play three positions, and Dwane Casey has stated he believes Cunningham can also play alongside Killian Hayes and Jaden Ivey in three-guard lineups. Bey and Livers can both play power forward, and may have to often so the Pistons will have sufficient spacing.

But there’s also a clear logjam in the frontcourt. Duren and Noel were added to a frontcourt that already includes three rotation players in Stewart, Bagley and Olynyk. Of the five bigs, Olynyk is the only reliable shooter. There’s also some skill overlap, as Bagley, Noel and Duren all thrive playing inside and rolling to the rim.

It’s possible that of the latter three players, Bagley is the only one who will play significant minutes early in the season. The Pistons made a notable financial commitment to him, guaranteeing all three years of his contract, and he’s the most reliable scorer of the three. Noel has an injury history, appearing in just 25 games last season, and has a team option for the 2023-24 season. Duren is 18, raw and will have plenty of opportunities to play in the future even if he doesn’t receive much playing time early on.

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The Pistons have more immediate commitments to Bagley and Stewart, who was the starting center last season and will be eligible for his rookie contract extension next offseason. The coaching staff will likely have a hard time not playing Olynyk because of his shooting and overall offensive versatility.

Eliminate Noel and Duren from the rotation, and the frontcourt situation becomes less cluttered. Stewart and Olynyk can play the bulk of the minutes at center, and Bey and Bagley can both play power forward. Bey had some success playing the four last season while filling in for an injured Jerami Grant.

The Pistons’ opening night rotation could look something like this — Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart in the starting lineup, and Cory Joseph, Alec Burks, Hamidou Diallo, Isaiah Livers, Marvin Bagley III and Kelly Olynyk absorbing most of the bench minutes. Burks could start over Hayes if the coaching staff wants more shooting in the starting group.

What roster needs are still unaddressed?

The Pistons addressed their biggest need — shooting — by trading for Burks. The 30-year-old veteran wing has knocked down 38% of his 3-pointers during his 11-year career, and should lift a team that only shot 32.6% from behind-the-arc last season, 29th in the NBA.

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They could use more shooting, though. Burks, Livers (42.2%) and Joseph (41.4%) are the only players on the roster who shot better than 35% from 3 last season. Bey slumped to 34.6% after shooting 38% from 3 as a rookie, and Cunningham shot just 31.4% after knocking down 40% of his 3’s in college. Detroit wants Stewart and Hayes to make 3-point shooting a reliable part of their arsenals. Internal improvement could bump the Pistons closer to league average next season, but they should still seek outside help.

Detroit still has somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million in cap space left. It’s impossible to say if it’ll be spent, and if so, on who. It’s always too early to rule out more moves from Weaver.

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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