Three Pistons players primed for a breakout season

Detroit News

It takes the right combination of ingredients to make a satisfying meal. Some dishes are ready to serve in a matter of minutes, but the best meals often take a little more time.

The same can be said for a basketball team, especially one like the Pistons, who are looking to make a jump in the Eastern Conference.

In order for everything to work, the team needs a realistic timeline and a specific mix of the right elements, such as a star player, a primary No. 2 option, a lockdown defender, dedicated role players and an X-factor — a player who could have a breakout season.

Health, of course, is always a bonus.

The Pistons are about to embark on Year 3 of their promising rebuild under the guidance of general manager Troy Weaver. After a productive offseason, the roster appears to be in a better position to win more games than last year’s 23-win campaign.

Cade Cunningham serves as the team’s rising star and Saddiq Bey proved last season that he can light up the scoreboard on any given night. As long as that duo continues to improve at their current rate, the Pistons should be better than they were a season ago.

In order to take that next step and to possibly compete for a spot in the NBA’s play-in tournament, they’ll need significant help from some of the other role players.

Here are three Pistons players who appear poised for a breakout season:

Marvin Bagley III

The first chapter of Bagley’s NBA career began with the Sacramento Kings,  the franchise that drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2019.

The 6-foot-11 big man suffered multiple injuries and appeared inconsistent during his three seasons with the Kings, but his production increased when he was dealt to Detroit at last season’s trade deadline on an expiring contract.

Bagley averaged 9.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in his final 30 games for the Kings. He upped his scoring average to 14.6 points and added 6.8 boards through 18 games with the Pistons. He also totaled career highs in field-goal percentage (55.5%) and became reliable around the rim with his two-point field-goal percentage (62.4%).

His brief stint was productive enough for the Pistons to re-sign Bagley to a three-year deal worth $37 million this summer.

With more stability and a chance to compete for a spot in the starting lineup, Bagley could be in line to have a career season.

Bagley served as a lob threat and a player who can find different ways to score when he’s established inside the paint. His array of jump-hooks and ability to finish with either hand proved beneficial for Detroit when it needed a bucket down low.

If Bagley is playing at a high level inside the paint and attracts multiple defenders, it’ll spread the floor and allow Detroit to get open looks from 3. The question that remains is whether those players will knock down those open looks, especially since the Pistons shot 32.6% from distance last season.

Hamidou Diallo

For the past two seasons, Hamidou Diallo could be counted on for 11 points and 5 rebounds per game — his averages since the Pistons acquired him in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The former Slam-Dunk champion is known for his athleticism and defensive versatility. At 6-5, Diallo often finds ways to attack the basket and can finish in the halfcourt or on fast breaks.

The obvious next level in Diallo’s evolution is his 3-point shooting. A career 27% shooter beyond the arc, Diallo has the potential to become one of the Pistons’ primary role players if he can knock down shots when open.

Last week, during his annual basketball camp, Diallo acknowledged the talk surrounding his game and said he’s been in the gym working to improve his skills.

“We hear the chatter; we hear what the people want. We hear what the world thinks, so we hear everything,” Diallo told The Detroit News. “I’m just in the lab trying to get better each and every day, trying to build this chemistry with this young team we got coming in and, most importantly, just trying to do whatever I can on the court to help us win some games. That’s the biggest objective.”

Diallo played 20 games for Detroit in the 2019-20 season and connected on 39% of his 3-pointers (15-of-33). If he can produce similar numbers over the course of an entire season, it would bode well for the Pistons.

The Pistons bolstered their depth at the wing position with the addition of Alec Burks and Kevin Knox, and the team will have a healthy Isaiah Livers when training camp begins next month.

Diallo has the potential to be a primary scoring option, as he proved several times last season, but if he can become a capable shooter, it’ll increase the Pistons’ chances to collect a few more wins.

Isaiah Stewart

Isaiah Stewart, the Pistons’ defensive anchor, provided a glimpse into what he’s been working on during his two Summer League games last month.

Detroit’s stretch-center is expanding his game to the perimeter and appears committed to showcasing his ability to knock down 3-pointers.

Stewart went 5-of-9 from deep against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Washington Wizards, including back-to-back triples in the waning moments of Detroit’s win over Washington.

Stewart connected on 15 3-pointers as a rookie and 21 last season. He could wind up somewhere in the 35-40 range if he attempts more triples this season.

If Stewart can take that next step as a knock-down standstill 3-point shooter, it’ll allow Detroit’s bevy of guards to use him in pick-and-pop situations. His confidence to take the deep 3 also makes him a threat for defenders to step away from the basket, allowing either Bagley or rookie big man Jalen Duren to work inside.

Stewart’s bread and butter is the defensive end and his effort and intensity on that side of the floor will always be something he’ll lean on. He averaged 8.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in his sophomore season last year, along with 1.1 blocks per game.

However, adding the 3-ball as a regular part of his offensive repertoire could be the icing on the cake for the Pistons.

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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