The Pistons are playing their best basketball of the season, without three of their best players.
Detroit is riding a two-game win streak after back-to-back wins against the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, and the team looks to complete its six-game road trip with a victory against the Phoenix Suns on Friday.
Each game of the Pistons’ west coast swing has been competitive and the offensive scoring load has been fairly balanced. It’s the best-case scenario of a team without Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, all of whom are battling injuries.
This week’s mailbag looks at Jaden Ivey’s development through the first part of the season, Bey’s ankle injury and more.
▶ Question: What do you think it would take for (Jaden) Ivey to win Rookie of the Year? — @TweeterRen
▶ Answer: Jaden Ivey, the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, is establishing himself as one of the best rookies in his draft class. The former Purdue star is using his speed and explosiveness to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. Ivey is Detroit’s fourth-leading scorer at 16.2 points per game. For a 6-foot-5 guard, Ivey rebounds the ball as well as you would want with nearly five boards per game.
For the past two weeks, Ivey has held down the second spot on the NBA’s rookie ladder, which is updated every Wednesday.
Indiana Pacers wing Bennedict Mathurin, who was selected at No. 6, is having a superb start to his rookie season and is currently slotted as the league’s top rookie. He’s averaging 19.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists this season.
No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero is slated to return from a right ankle sprain on Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers after missing seven consecutive games. When healthy, the Orlando Magic rookie has a formidable claim to the NBA’s rookie of the year award. He’s totaling 23.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. He’s missed nearly 40% of the Magic’s games, but if he’ll likely remain a contender if he stays healthy throughout the rest of the year.
Ivey has a chance if he can avoid the injury bug and remain consistent in leading the Pistons while Cunningham is sidelined. However, it also depends on the success of Banchero and Mathurin.
▶ Q: Will Dwane Casey be coaching next season? — @Rams391
▶ A: The Pistons currently have the second-worst record in the NBA at 5-15. Two factors come to mind as to why Detroit is performing below the lofty amount of expectation placed on the franchise by its fanbase during the offseason. Defense is one. The team allows 117.9 points per game, which ranks 28th in the league.
Despite the defense deficiencies and early bench struggles, the main factor hindering this team from reaching its full potential is the injury bug. Bojan Bogdanovic, Killian Hayes and Hamidou Diallo are the only players that have been available for all 20 of the Pistons’ games. The 12 other players have missed at least one game due to injury or illness. It’s hard to build chemistry when so many players are in and out of the lineup.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey signed a contract extension in 2021 that will keep him at the helm of the team until through the 2023-24 season. I don’t see the front office parting ways with him, especially since he’s well regarded by Pistons owner Tom Gores, who lauded the job he’s done with a young roster despite their early season struggles.
At the beginning of the season, both Gores and general manager Troy Weaver defined their expectations for this year’s group. It came down to simply competing on a nightly basis, but that was with the understanding that Detroit would have a healthy roster.
This time last season, the Pistons endured a 14-game losing streak and didn’t claim their fifth win until Dec. 19. Technically, Detroit is ahead of schedule compared to last year.
▶ Q: How serious is Saddiq (Bey)’s injury? — @Joey_Nolan_
▶ A: Saddiq Bey suffered a rare injury last Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers when he rolled his right ankle. The third-year guard, who appeared in 152 consecutive games at that point, did not return to the game. He tried to test his ankle for Detroit’s following game against the Sacramento Kings, but was held out for precautionary reasons.
It is unclear how long the Pistons will be without Bey. However, the Pistons are 2-1 since Bey suffered his injury. The improved play of Kevin Knox, who’s getting more opportunity to play in Bey’s absence, is a big reason why. Knox scored a season-high 21 points and connected on a career-best six 3-pointers in Detroit’s recent win over the Utah Jazz. As long as the Pistons are able to fill that offensive void left by Bey, they should give him as much time as he needs to recover from his latest injury.
▶ Q: With Cade likely to miss significant time, what will be the plan moving forward? — @oppsopps
▶ A: Pistons guard Cade Cunningham is currently weighing options to determine if surgery is needed to treat his lingering left shin injury, which has bothered him since the preseason. Rest is the preferred option, but if surgery is needed and Cunningham needs to be sidelined indefinitely, a blanket of opportunity arises for Detroit rookie Jaden Ivey. The rookie guard is handling more point guard responsibilities in absence of Cunningham and has averaged 17.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists through eight games as the lead facilitator.
Cunningham’s injury expedites Ivey’s first year and gives him more experience to lead the Pistons. Ivey is figuring it out in real-time through the team’s six-game west coast swing. There are times when Ivey is weighing when to use his speed to get to the basket, and other moments when he’s looking to get his teammates involved. Killian Hayes, who’s battling a left calf injury, will need to maintain his offensive assertiveness in order for the Pistons to remain competitive.