10 questions for Detroit Pistons in 2022-23: How will Cade Cunningham grow offensively?

Detroit Free Press

We’re almost exactly a month away from the 2022-23 season, when the Detroit Pistons tip off Oct. 19 against the Orlando Magic. Here are 10 questions they’ll have to answer during the season:

1. Will Pistons solve pitiful outside shooting?

Like every other team in the NBA, the Pistons want to shoot well from 3-point range. But they regressed badly last season, making 32.6% of their attempts (29th in the NBA) after shooting 35.1% (22nd) in 2020-21.

It’s easy to diagnose why the Pistons shot so poorly: Most of their high-volume 3-point shooters also shot poorly. Ten players on the roster attempted at least 100 3-pointers last year. Only three — Jerami Grant (243 attempts, 35.8%), Cory Joseph (157 attempts, 41.4%) and Rodney McGruder (146 attempts, 39.7%) — were above the league average of 35.4%. Saddiq Bey, who led the team with 610 attempts, shot 34.8%. Cade Cunningham was second in attempts, and made just 31.4% of his 363 attempts. Frank Jackson, who was third, knocked down 30.8% of his 279 attempts. And Killian Hayes, fifth with 167 attempts, shot 26.3%.

Alec Burks, a career 38% 3-point shooter, should give Detroit a lift this season. Internal improvement, along with improved shot distribution, could also help the Pistons make a leap forward. Bey, who has been a good shooter at every level of basketball, regressed last season after hitting 38% of his 3s as a rookie. Cunningham also regressed after knocking down 40% in college. The coaching staff should also find a bigger role for Isaiah Livers, who shot 42.2% from 3 but only appeared in 19 games last season due to injury.

More:Despite strong offseason, Detroit Pistons’ play-in path will be difficult in 2022-23

2. Will Cade Cunningham improve his efficiency?

There are few things to question about Cunningham after a strong rookie season. He’s largely the player he was advertised to be in college — a versatile scorer who sees the floor like a point guard, rebounds like a wing, can defend multiple positions and wants the ball in clutch situations.

If there’s a significant knock on Cunningham’s resume thus far, it’s poor efficiency as a leading option. He shot 41.6% overall and 31.4% from 3, and his true shooting percentage was 50.4% − 185 of 197 qualifying players. As a point of comparison, Jimmy Butler’s career true shooting percentage is 57.8%, and Paul George’s is 56.6%.

Yet those numbers are a bit deceiving. Cunningham slowed very start due to an ankle injury that cost him training camp, preseason and four of the season’s first five games. November was his worst month, when he shot 36.9% overall and 28.6% from 3. Remove his first 15 games in October and most of November, and his season percentages increase to a healthier 43.7% overall and 34.4% from 3 — a true shooting percentage of 52.2%.

In 14 games in March, he shot 48% overall with a TS% of 54.9. Cunningham has work to do, but improved as the year progressed. Better accuracy from behind-the-arc and more attempts at the free throw line would do wonders for his efficiency.

More:Detroit Pistons’ Cade Cunningham transformed his body this summer. Now he must maintain it

3. Will Killian Hayes thrive without the ball?

The partnership between Hayes and Cunningham was one of the biggest storylines of training camp a year ago. Most NBA teams prefer to have multiple ball-handlers on the floor, but they still have to fit together. Hayes is one of the team’s best passers and defenders, but his offensive fit with Cunningham was questionable. Hayes isn’t a good shooter, and while he shot a healthy percentage at the rim last season, he doesn’t take many shots there.

Jaden Ivey’s arrival puts more pressure on Hayes to contribute on offense when the ball isn’t in his hands. Ivey will have things to prove offensively as well, but his ability to push the ball in transition and beat defenders one-on-one should translate immediately. He also played off-ball at Purdue and is an active cutter. Hayes needs to find his niche without the ball. Taking and making more 3-pointers would ease most fit concerns alongside Cunningham and Ivey.

More:Detroit Pistons with something to prove this season: Make-or-break for Killian Hayes?

4. Can Isaiah Stewart play alongside another big?

Stewart’s transformation as a 3-point shooter is well underway. The Pistons dabbled with him shooting 3s at the end of his rookie and sophomore seasons, and he was a full-time floor-spacing power forward during summer league. He looked effective, hitting five of nine attempts. It’s a super small sample, but encouraging.

The coaching staff wants him to be able to shift between the “4” and the “5” positions. Defensively, he’s already able to do that. He was the Pistons’ best rim protector last season at 1.1 blocks per game, and proved himself as a switchable defender, hanging with smaller wings and guards on the perimeter. Offensively, he’ll have to consistently hit 3s to mesh alongside Marvin Bagley III, Nerlens Noel or Jalen Duren. Through two seasons, Stewart has taken 109 3s in 139 games. If summer league was a preview of what’s to come, he could come close to matching that total this winter.

5. Will there be minutes available for Jalen Duren?

The Pistons were thrilled to acquire Duren on draft night. He was the 13th overall pick, but the front office ranked him as a top-five prospect. His size, athleticism and youth (he’ll still be 18 years old on opening night) made him one of the highest-upside players in his class. He has the tools to become one of the NBA’s best rim protectors and lob threats, at least.

But the Pistons have depth at center. Stewart, Noel, Bagley and Kelly Olynyk will all be competing for minutes. Duren is talented but raw. His rebounding numbers during summer league were underwhelming, and the leap in talent from Memphis to the NBA is big. He’ll have growing pains. Despite being a lottery pick, he may have a tough time getting on the floor as a rookie, unless he’s either ahead of schedule or injuries to other big men pave a path.

6. What else can Marvin Bagley III do?

The Pistons traded for Bagley in February to do what he does best — score and give their frontcourt more athleticism. Bagley immediately found chemistry with Cunningham and averaged 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds on 55.5% shooting in 18 games. The front office rewarded him with a fully guaranteed three-year, $37.5 million contract. For now, Bagley’s future is secure.

Now, he has to show there’s more to his game. For all of his athletic gifts, Bagley is both a poor shooter and inconsistent defender. If he doesn’t improve one or both areas, the coaching staff could have a tough time fielding a capable frontcourt considering Olynyk is the only proven shooter in the group.

7. Is Jaden Ivey at least a two-level scorer?

It’s tough to project rookies, but Ivey’s athleticism should help make him effective in some areas right away. He has elite hops and an elite first step. Few NBA defenders have the foot speed and reaction time necessary to stay in front of him. He’s going to have a lot of highlight dunks this season, and his rim pressure should open the floor for Cunningham and shooters.

We’ll find out what else Ivey will provide offensively. He doesn’t have much of an in-between game, and developing a reliable floater will be a big part of his development. He’ll have to prove he can consistently sink 3s from NBA range. Ivey shot 35.8% from 3 during his sophomore season at Purdue, but slumped to 30.9% in Big Ten play. As a freshman, he shot 25.8% from 3 and slumped to 21.6% in conference play.

Ivey also averaged nearly as many turnovers (2.1) as assists (2.6) in college. His athleticism gives him a strong base to build from, but he must continue rounding out his game.

8. Does Kevin Knox II have more to show?

General manager Troy Weaver likes taking swings on former lottery picks. Knox joins Bagley, Trey Lyles, Josh Jackson, Jahlil Okafor and Dennis Smith Jr. as the latest with a chance to turn his career around in Detroit.

The former ninth pick of the 2018 draft has yet to find his footing. He averaged 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds at Kentucky while shooting 44.5% overall and 34.1% from 3, but has shot 36.9% overall and 34.1% from 3 in the NBA. The Pistons don’t need much from him — if he can make 3s, it could lead to consistent playing time. He shot 38% from the corner 3-point line as a rookie and 49% during his third season, according to Cleaning The Glass. There’s some upside here.

9. Which Saddiq Bey will we see?

After Cunningham and Ivey, Bey might be the Piston fans are most excited to see this season. His sophomore season was a leap forward, even if his efficiency didn’t keep up with his shot volume. The coaching staff gave him the green light to seek his own shot, rather than rely on catch-and-shoot opportunities. He averaged 16.1 points per game — nearly double the 8.2 points he averaged as a rookie — and improved significantly as a passer. His field goal percentage dipped slightly to 39.6% from 40.4%, and his 3-point percentage declined.

Like Cunningham, Bey’s full season percentages don’t tell the full story. He struggled in November, shooting 32.1% overall and 27.2% from 3, but began to find a rhythm in December. Remove Bey’s first 34 games and his numbers increase to 18.1 points on 41.7% overall shooting and 36.4% shooting from 3. He has the talent to become a secondary option for the Pistons, but he has to continue to improve his efficiency.

10. Will Pistons make significant play-in tournament noise?

Fans want the Pistons to make a major leap forward next season. It’s understandable, considering the franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008. Unfortunately, a significant improvement still wouldn’t guarantee a playoff bid in a competitive Eastern Conference.

Of last season’s 10 postseason teams, only one — the Charlotte Hornets — appear positioned to take a step back. The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat are all genuine contenders. The Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavalier are all safe postseason bets, at least. The New York Knicks, who won 37 games last season, could be better following the addition of Jalen Brunson. That’s 10 teams. The Pistons, 23-59 a year ago, will also attempt to leapfrog the Washington Wizards, which won 35 games and will bring back a healthy Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis.

I won’t be the one to rule out a Pistons postseason bid. I’ll just say they’ll have their work cut out.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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