With five new faces, the Detroit Pistons’ rotation will see some significant changes next season.
Their leading scorer during the last two seasons, Jerami Grant, is now a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Frank Jackson, Rodney McGruder and Luka Garza are no longer on the team.
Lottery picks Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren will require minutes, and Alec Burks, acquired in a recently finalized trade, is too good a shooter to languish on the bench. Additional roster changes are possible, as the Pistons have about $10 million in cap space remaining.
In the meantime, here’s how the depth chart and rotation could shake out if the Pistons stick with their current roster on opening night.
WHAT WE SAW IN VEGAS: Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren are as advertised
Starter: Cade Cunningham.
Primary back-up: Killian Hayes.
There’s a fair amount of uncertainty up and down Detroit’s rotation, but there’s little to be uncertain about here. This is Cunningham’s team. The ball will be in his hands. Everyone else will have to adapt around his game.
Hayes was a starter on opening night last season, but the Pistons moved him to the bench in January after he returned from a minor hip injury. The coaching staff believed Hayes needed the ball in his hands apart from Cunningham. Cory Joseph was a better fit alongside Cunningham due to being a superior shooter.
With Jaden Ivey now in the fold, it seems likely Hayes will continue his role of running the second unit, where he looked more comfortable, and can still potentially close fourth quarters if he’s playing well. Developing a reliable jumper would increase Hayes’ odds of re-entering the starting lineup.
Starter: Jaden Ivey.
Primary back-up: Alec Burks.
Hayes and Cunningham were both opening-night starters as rookies, so it feels safe to assume that the Pistons will also toss Ivey into the fire and allow him to start from the jump. Ivey was Detroit’s most impressive player in Summer League, despite only playing five quarters because of an ankle injury. His elite speed, both in the open floor and in half-court situations, will give the offense a dynamic it hasn’t had in years — if ever. If he can consistently knock down open 3-pointers 3’s and defend, he and Cunningham should form a dynamic duo from Day One. The Pistons can afford to give their partnership as much time as it needs to gel.
There’s an argument that Burks, a career 38% outside shooter, should start. He’s the most proven outside shooter on the roster, and the Pistons could have one of the youngest starting fives in the league next season. Burks would provide floor spacing and veteran savvy. But the roster’s current construction incentivizes the coaching staff to start two big men.
My guess is Burks will come off of the bench, but will also be one of Dwane Casey’s preferred options to finish games.
Starter: Saddiq Bey.
Primary back-up: Isaiah Livers.
Bey started all 82 games last season and got better as the season progressed. No other forward on the roster appears to be a threat to supplant him in the starting lineup. In my mind, the only question is whether or not Livers plays behind him, or starts alongside him.
Livers appeared in just 19 games last season after successfully rehabbing a stress fracture in his right foot, but it didn’t take long for the 42nd pick of the 2021 draft to acclimate. He shot 42.2% from 3 and was active defensively. The game never appeared to move too fast for him. He was also one of Detroit’s better players during Summer League.
The roster is short on players who can both shoot and defend, and Livers will likely be a core rotation piece regardless of if he starts. If Casey wants to go small, he could start Livers and Bey at both forward spots and stick with Isaiah Stewart at center.
Starter: Marvin Bagley III.
Primary back-up: Kelly Olynyk.
Parsing through Detroit’s big man rotation requires some guesswork. Bagley and Olynyk can interchangeably play power forward or center. The Pistons made a $37.5 fully guaranteed commitment to Bagley this offseason, and he immediately gelled with Cunningham as a lob threat and polished interior scorer. There will be some fit issues regardless of who Detroit starts at center, given Bagley’s limitations as a shooter and defender. But the front office believes he isn’t done growing, and he’ll be given ample opportunity to play.
Olynyk is the Pistons’ only proven shooter taller than 6 feet 8, so he’ll likely be in the rotation by default on opening night. He’s coming off of an uneven, injury-marred season, but is a career 36.5% outside shooter and an adequate passer as well. Barring a trade, he’s a player Casey could rely on often.
Starter: Isaiah Stewart.
Primary back-up: Jalen Duren.
Stewart is the safest bet out of all of the Pistons’ big men to start. He’s the most versatile defender on the roster, capable of protecting the post and switching onto forwards and guards, and is a strong rebounder. If his outside shooting carries over from Summer League, he becomes a true difference-maker on offense
Right now, my guess is that Duren will be the coaching staff’s preferred backup over Nerlens Noel. They’re similar players, but Duren has significantly more upside and is in the franchise’s long-term plan. Duren, 18, was a Summer League standout and showcased all of the skills that made him a lottery pick. He’s a powerful athlete and elite lob threat with good rim protection and passing instincts.
Noel is a proven defender, but also more limited offensively and has a significant injury history. My view is that Noel will be more of an emergency center who could seize a larger role if Duren isn’t quite ready for the NBA.
Hamidou Diallo: The 23-year-old wing was a key rotation piece for the Pistons last season, filling a role as a rebounder and energy provider. With Ivey now providing many of Diallo’s strengths and Livers being a more reliable shooter and defender, it isn’t clear how many minutes will be available for Diallo to grab. Diallo could force his way into the rotation by improving his defense and his career 27.7% 3-point clip.
Cory Joseph: The veteran point guard started 39 games and shot a career-high 41.1% clip from 3 last season. He has a close relationship with Casey and has served a valuable role as a mentor for Detroit’s young guards. But the Pistons have now used top-seven picks on three players who are best with the ball in their hands, and Ivey will receive significant minutes as the fifth overall pick. It leaves fewer minutes available for Joseph, and it’ll be interesting to see how significant a role Casey is able to carve out for him.
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.