Detroit Pistons mailbag: How long will Isaiah Stewart’s power forward experiment last?

Detroit Free Press

We’re officially in the dog days of the NBA offseason.

The Detroit Pistons have likely completed the bulk of their offseason, adding two new lottery picks, a draft-and-stash prospect and three players through trades and free agency.

They still have roughly $10 million to spend. But barring any additional moves, the roster is set for the 2022-23 season. In this mailbag, we’ll discuss Detroit’s offseason, next season’s potential rotation and expectations for different players. Thanks to everyone who sent a question.

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In your opinion. If Pistons had #1 overall pick. Who do you think Weaver would have picked ? — @Danthemancarnah

Before the lottery, I wrote Chet Holmgren would receive strong consideration from the Pistons regardless of where they pick — even at first overall.

Troy Weaver really likes athletic, defense-minded centers. He was a big fan of Evan Mobley last summer, and Jalen Duren was in the mix to be selected with the fifth pick this past draft, sources say. Weaver was obviously very happy to be able to trade for him later in the lottery without giving up a significant asset.

Holmgren was the best defensive prospect in this past draft, but is also a very skilled shooter and ball-handler for his size. Despite his slight frame, his physicality and aggressiveness shined on the floor.

Holmgren checked all the boxes Detroit wanted in a prospect, and based on conversations I had with team and league personnel before the lottery, my hunch is that he would’ve been the first pick if the Pistons made the call.

Predicting how Pistons’ depth chart and rotation could look in 2022-23 ]

Do you think we can see a starting 5 of Cade Ivey Livers Bey and Duren? With a bench of Killian Burks Hami Stewart and Noel? I like the spacing in 1 and the defense in 2 — @seanmyrealtor 

I would be very, very surprised to see Jalen Duren start over Isaiah Stewart, who was arguably Detroit’s best all-around defender last season. Duren is very talented, but is only 18 years old. If he exceeds expectations, I could see him starting by the end of the season. But it’s hard to envision a scenario where Stewart is moved to the bench, especially if he’s able to consistently knock down 3-pointers.

Otherwise, Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey are locks for the starting lineup, and my guess is that Jaden Ivey will continue the tradition of Detroit’s lottery guards starting on opening night as well. Isaiah Livers has a chance too, thanks to his spacing and defense. Detroit will still need spacing in its second unit, leading me to believe Kelly Olynyk will have a substantial role. And we can’t forget Marvin Bagley III, who just signed a fully-guaranteed three-year deal and will receive his fair share of minutes regardless of if he starts or comes off of the bench.

What are your biggest criticisms of the pistons off-season so far? — @MatthewCrowe313

I don’t have any big qualms, honestly. They could use more shooting, and Bagley’s three-year, $37.5 million contract was a tad richer than I would’ve guessed. But they did good work by flipping Jerami Grant for cap space, and then turning that cap space into Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, Jalen Duren, Gabriele Procida, future second-round picks and cash. Couple that with Ivey falling into their lap with the fifth pick, and they got the broad strokes of their summer right.

Cap space is a double-edged sword. Rather than go all-in on a big name, they acquired more assets while keeping their books clean in 2023. They still have money left, and could address their lack of shooting with another signing or trade. Even if the Bagley deal ends up being an overpay, they have significant financial flexibility and can open up as much cap space as they need next summer.

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How long is the leash for Beef Stew playing at the 4? If he struggles and it’s the all-star break, will they pull the plug on that experiment, or let him grow into that role? — @SamLinRealtor

The Pistons are committed to Stewart shooting the ball. Even if it doesn’t translate on the floor next season, it’ll continue to be part of his long-term growth plan. He’s already shown that he can handle the defensive responsibilities that come with playing alongside another big. He’s very comfortable switching onto smaller forwards and guards. The coaching staff wouldn’t be doing Stewart or themselves any favors by abandoning the experiment — it’s in everyone’s best interest that he learns how to space the floor.

The bottom line is that the Pistons want Stewart to be able to play with Duren and other post-oriented centers. If Stewart can shoot, he’ll fit any lineup. Stewart isn’t a lob threat and his post-ups tend to be inefficient possessions, His most realistic path to adding more value on offense is spacing the floor.

What role do you see Isiah Livers having throughout the season? — @DetSportsMayor

I feel like the Livers’ hype train is getting ahead of itself. I get where a 3 & D wing is a good fit given the other 4 presumed starters, but 2nd year PFs lacking size, bounce & handle rarely contribute. Am I being a wet blanket or does he have a ways to go to be a net positive? —  @Hermaphro

Let’s combine these two questions, since the answer for both is similar. Livers will be the proverbial “glue guy” for the Pistons. Every team needs a player who can knock down 3s, plays good team defense and plays mostly mistake-free. That’s Livers.

He looked like a veteran during Summer League and he fills a big need for Detroit as a wing. I think he’ll have a significant role next season, and there’s a chance he plays his way into the starting lineup.

Livers has the size to play both forward positions, standing 6 feet 7 with a 6-9 wingspan. I would say most of the NBA’s effective 3-and-D wings and forwards lack a strong handle and bounce. It’s in the name, they provide shooting and defense. Livers doesn’t need elite athleticism or ball-handling to perform his role well, and him thriving without the ball is a plus as it’ll enable him to fit with Detroit’s players who do need the ball, such as Cunningham and Ivey.

Pistons set up to strike in 2023 NBA free agency with loads of cap space ]

I’m wondering if Troy Weaver is done for now or does that depend on Kevin Durant? As it is, I see improvement next year mostly through organic growth of the young Pistons. I don’t know about the playoffs. Seems unlikely. What’s your take? — @Agridome

We could see a flurry of moves across the NBA if, or when, the Brooklyn Nets trade Durant. It’s unclear if he’ll be moved. But the Pistons have cap space and can make another signing regardless of what happens with Durant.

The playoffs do seem unlikely next season, I agree. I’ve seen some fans predict the Pistons will improve significantly from last season’s 23-59 record. They should be better, but it’s tough to see a path to the playoffs given how strong the Eastern Conference is.

Eight of last year’s playoff and play-in teams — the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers — are strong bets to be in the mix again next year. The New York Knicks were better than Detroit last season and got better this offseason with Jalen Brunson in the fold. The Nets are a wild card depending on what happens with Durant and Kyrie Irving, and the Charlotte Hornets are also an unknown because of Miles Bridges’ domestic violence case. But at minimum, there are eight teams that should be better than Detroit next year.

The Pistons will have to leapfrog two of the Nets, Hornets, Knicks, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards to make the play-in. It’s possible, but not likely.

Who do you see making the biggest improvement in 3pt%? Cade seems prime to get better looks with Ivey. — @SamLinRealtor

Cunningham is the safe pick here. He was a better shooter than his 31.4% clip suggested and had strong percentages from long midrange and at the free throw line. It’s possible his high workload, as well as acclimating to the NBA’s pace, negatively affected his outside shooting. He was a 40% shooter during his lone season at Oklahoma. The defensive attention Ivey’s speed draws should definitely help Cunningham generate better looks.

Bey is in the conversation here, too. He shot 38.0% as a rookie, but that dipped to 34.6% last season as he incorporated more pull-up 3s. Bey is one of the best catch-and-shoot players on the roster, and he may not have to work as hard for his shots next season.

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

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