Nine Pistons predictions for 2022-23: Jaden Ivey will garner ROY attention

Detroit Free Press

The 2022-23 season will be pivotal for the Detroit Pistons. The front office hasn’t publicly set its sights on a playoff run yet, but they will look for signs of growth. Will their first-round picks continue growing into franchise cornerstones? Can they improve on last season’s 23-59 overall record?

Here are nine predictions for the 2022-23 season.

Jaden Ivey will finish top-three in Rookie of the Year voting

This isn’t a hot take. Ivey was widely expected to be drafted within the top four before falling to fifth overall, and he’s tied for the second-best rookie-of-the-year odds at plus-550 with Jabari Smith Jr. and Keegan Murray. No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero leads the pack at plus-180. If Ivey wins the award, it won’t be a big upset.

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But it also isn’t a given that Ivey will be a favorite. Jalen Green, the second overall pick in 2021, finished fourth in the rookie of the year race. Cade Cunningham finished third with 153 total points and nine first-place votes. Green received just one second-place vote, and three points total, despite averaging 17.3 points per game on solid efficiency. Ivey faces stiff competition, and a slow start to the season could be costly.

So far, Ivey has mostly given positive signs that his game will immediately translate to the NBA. He was arguably the best player on the floor during his five quarters of Summer League play. During training camp, coaching staff and his fellow teammates praised his slashing and passing. He was Detroit’s best performer during their preseason opener against the New York Knicks, scoring a team-high 16 points and passing the ball better than the box score suggested. He finished with two assists but was Detroit’s only guard who didn’t turn the ball over.

In the last decade-plus, the Rookie of the Year award has favored on-ball creators. Five of the last six winners of the award — LaMelo Ball, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, Ben Simmons and Malcolm Brogdon — can be classified as such. An argument can be made for Scottie Barnes, last season’s winner, as well, though Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam handled a larger share of Toronto’s playmaking responsibilities. Ivey is on the right track to be a favorite for the award this season.

Cade Cunningham will finish top-10 in Eastern Conference All-Star backcourt voting

Just about everyone expects Cunningham to make a big sophomore leap after a promising rookie season. He averaged 21.2 points, 6.7 assists and 5.6 rebounds on 46.2% overall shooting in March and April. The keys to Detroit’s offense will be his. His numbers should increase accordingly. As one of the East’s rising stars, he’s due for a popularity bump.

Detroit should be one of the NBA’s most fun young teams to watch this season, regardless of record. Cunningham faces steep backcourt competition in a conference that features Darius Garland, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and other All-Star talents. But he should only need around 500,000 fan votes to crack the top 10, based on previous seasons. It’s doable.

Isaiah Stewart will take more than 150 3-pointers 

This feels like a bold proclamation for a player who has 109 3-point attempts through two seasons, but Stewart’s volume should see a substantial boost. He took 18 attempts through his final eight games last season (2.3 per game), five of nine attempts in two Summer League games (4.5 per game) and eight attempts in two preseason games (four per game) combined this week. The Pistons are committed to developing into a reliable outside shooter, and he’s been letting them fly.

If Stewart appears in 75 games and averages two attempts per game, he’ll hit the 150 mark. It’s a realistic benchmark for him to hit.

Saddiq Bey will be Detroit’s second-leading scorer

This is newcomer Bojan Bogdanovic’s spot to lose, but I think Bey will make enough offensive improvements to solidify his place as the roster’s secondary option after Cunningham next season.

Bogdanovic is the most accomplished offensive player on the roster, averaging 18.3 points per game on 46.1% overall shooting and 40.3% shooting from 3 during his last four seasons combined. No one else on Detroit’s roster has had an offensive season as good as him. This has less to do with ability and more to do with opportunity and priority.

Bey was far less efficient last year, averaging 16.1 points per game but on 39.6% overall shooting and 34.6% from 3. But he got better as the season progressed, and his overall efficiency improved after All-Star weekend. With Jerami Grant gone, the Pistons will have a scoring void to fill. Bey occupied that role last season when Grant was injured. The coaching staff will continue to make a point to feed Bey the ball. He is, after all, a future piece. I don’t expect Bogdanovic will be far behind Bey in shot attempts, though.

The Pistons will flip two players at the trade deadline

The Pistons are positioned to be sellers at the trade deadline. Or buyers, if they exceed expectations and are firmly in the playoff race in February. They have several expiring contracts ready to be flipped, and significant money to absorb a big contract. They’re one of the most malleable teams in the league, and the deadline will signal how far along the front office believes the “restoring” is.

Either way, it’s fair to expect at least one player will be moved. General manager Troy Weaver was active during his previous two trade deadlines and has incentive to remain on the prowl. Bogdanovic, Cory Joseph, Hamidou Diallo and Rodney McGruder are all on expiring deals, and Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel have team options next summer that can be declined. Detroit will have decisions to make.

Jalen Duren won’t play a G League game

The Pistons have made it clear they want to use the Motor City Cruise as a developmental tool. But no Pistons first-round pick has played a G League game. There has been speculation that Duren, who is the youngest player in the NBA (he won’t turn 19 until mid-November), will be Detroit’s first. Dwane Casey didn’t rule out the possibility when I asked him during training camp, and Duren has expressed comfort with it as well. Duren is talented, but it remains to be seen if he’ll crack the rotation on a nightly basis when Stewart, Marvin Bagley III and Noel are all more experienced.

I think Duren will stick with the Pistons all season. He has shown enough to suggest he can be an impactful player from Day 1. Duren grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds in 24 minutes against the Knicks on Tuesday. He’s arguably Detroit’s most-athletic frontcourt player, though Bagley has a claim as well. The Pistons don’t need Duren to do much at this stage of his career. If he can rebound, adequately defend and finish lobs, he’ll be a productive rookie if the opportunity comes. This prediction may age poorly, but my bet is that the Pistons won’t break precedent.

Detroit’s offense will finish close to average 

The Pistons finished with an offensive rating of 105.6 last season, 28th in the NBA. In 2020-21, their 107.6 offensive rating ranked 26th. Poor outside shooting was a major factor in both seasons, and Detroit has also struggled with injuries and the youth.

The ingredients are there for the Pistons to have an improved offense that’s toward the middle of the pack, rather than the bottom. They improved their outside shooting by adding Bogdanovic and Burks, who has a career 38% clip. Bey and Cunningham could see some positive regression after shooting worse than expected last season. And Isaiah Livers, a marksman in college who shot 42.2% as a rookie, will have a larger role.

Couple that with improved roster depth and potential all-around career-best seasons from Cunningham and Bey, and the Pistons should finally exit the NBA’s basement offensively.

Isaiah Livers will lead the team in 3-point percentage

I’m calling my shot with this one. Livers led the team in 3-point percentage last season, albeit on just 64 attempts. But he hit 41.2% of his 398 attempts during his four seasons at Michigan. Livers will have stiff competition from Bey, Burks and Bogdanovic, but I like his chances. He’s shown enough for me to think that an increase in volume won’t significantly hurt his accuracy.

The Pistons will miss the play-in, but they’ll be one of the NBA’s most fun teams

Even with a 20-win improvement, the Pistons could fall short of the threshold needed to qualify for a play-in game. Last season’s 10th seed, the Charlotte Hornets, won 43 games. Detroit went 23-59 overall a year ago. The Eastern Conference is stacked, and could be even better next season. The Pistons will have a very difficult path.

Regardless, they’ll be a blast to watch. Ivey will be a nightly highlight reel. The Pistons arguably have never had a guard with his combination of burst and verticality. Cunningham is one of the NBA’s rising young players and is different kind of highlight-maker. His methodical drives to the rim and clutch buckets made him a nightly thrill to watch last season. Bagley and Duren will catch lobs. Even if the Pistons lose more than they win, they’ll make a lot of teams sweat.

Experience will likely be the main factor holding the Pistons back from being good next season. Until that changes, they’ll have to settle for being fun.

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