Detroit Pistons NBA preseason questions: What to expect from Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren

Detroit Free Press

Preseason starts on Tuesday for the Detroit Pistons, who will face the New York Knicks on the road in a TNT/Bally Sports Detroit-televised game at 7 p.m. from Madison Square Garden.

We should see the debuts of rookie lottery picks Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, both of whom have earned positive reviews from those around the team through the first week of practice.

Here are four items Free Press beat writer Omari Sankofa II will be watching for during the four-game exhibition schedule.

What will Cade Cunningham’s Year 2 preview look like?

This question is broad, but Cunningham’s gains will make-or-break the Pistons’ goal to compete every night this season. He’s coming off of a good rookie season, but will have to improve his efficiency to prove he’s franchise-player ready. Cunningham added 15 pounds to his frame this summer and looks more muscled. The hope is the added strength will help him withstand the grind of an 82-game season.

It could also help Cunningham in the paint, where he made 58% of his shots last season — 28th percentile for wings, according to Cleaning The Glass. He said he wants to do a better job establishing his position, and coach Dwane Casey wants to run more post-ups for Cunningham.

“That’s what we want him to do — get into the paint, finish at the rim,” Casey said after the Pistons’ open practice Sunday. “He got deep post position, something we’re going to do with him this year quite a bit. We have to get our spacing better and timing better behind him. That’s why we have exhibition, thank god, another month before we have to worry about that. I really want to have him down in the post.”

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How will Dwane Casey juggle frontcourt?

The Pistons have four bigs, and three of them — Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley III and Nerlens Noel — are good enough to crack the rotation. Jalen Duren could be, too, but we need to see the rookie in action first. The coaching staff still has incentive to see if he’s NBA ready.

Playing all four bigs every night will be a challenge, if not impossible, due to spacing needs. Stewart and Bagley are willing shooters, but will have to improve their career percentages for defenses to respect them. Noel and Duren are unlikely to take many 3s. The former two are being encouraged to take more to accommodate Noel and Duren. Stewart has spent significant time working on his shooting mechanics and outside touch, and Bagley is also embracing the call to improve his career 29.1% mark.

“It’s tough,” Casey said. “What’s going to have to manifest itself, it’s not natural right now, is for Isaiah to slide to the ‘4’ just to open up some spots for everybody because right now there’s four (bigs) and it’s tough to play that many in today’s game, to be that big. I really feel like Isaiah and also Marvin can slide out to the ‘4’ and space the floor. That’s our charge right now, is trying to get them to do that.”

Even if one or both of Bagley and Stewart become capable outside threats, Casey will have to make tough decisions. Newly acquired forward Bojan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Livers all spent time at power forward last season, and could again this season. Preseason will give us a firmer idea of the pecking order of Casey’s rotation, and if he’ll be able to find opportunities for Duren.

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Will Killian Hayes’ new jumper translate?

Shooting has been Hayes’ most important growth area since he was drafted. He’ll have a new shooting release this season, and took 1,000 3-pointers a day with his new form in Miami during the offseason. He anticipates it will help him make a higher percentage.

“Definitely very confident about my shot,” Hayes said at media day last week. “Worked on it all summer, tweaked some things, worked with different shooting coaches. I’m just excited and feeling very confident overall.”

The third-year guard has shot 26.8% from behind-the-arc through two seasons. He’ll have to consistently knock down catch-and-shoot 3s to thrive alongside Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, and would benefit from both better accuracy and volume, as he has been a reluctant shooter at times.

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How will Jaden Ivey’s speed transform the Pistons?

Ivey is instantly one of the NBA’s most elite athletes. His lightning-quick first step and open floor speed should generate easy scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. Casey is impressed by what he has seen.

“His passing has been a godsend,” Casey said after practice Monday. “He’s been able to get in there with his speed and see the floor. That’s something that’s come quicker than I thought. Defensively he can use his speed more, too. Just being solid defensively from that standpoint, because he’s taller than you think. He’s not a small guy. He can use his size defensively.”

Ivey’s fit with Cunningham and Hayes will be fun to watch. He was an active cutter at Purdue and can rise above defenders for dunks. He’ll have to prove he can knock down 3s, as he shot 30.9% in Big Ten play last season. Even if his shot isn’t falling, he’ll be a highlight factory, should get to the free-throw line consistently and make the Pistons a significantly more dangerous transition team.

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

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