Pistons vs. Pelicans preview: Zion and the streaking Pelicans host Detroit in the Big Easy

Detroit Bad Boys

Fresh off a dominant second-half display against the Miami Heat, the the Detroit Pistons travel to New Orleans to face Zion Williamson and the Pelicans.

The Pistons will play their second game in as many nights while the well rested Pelicans will play their first game since a convincing 121-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

Notable absentees for tonight’s content includes 2019 All-Star Brandon Ingram and last season’s All-Rookie Second Teamer Herb Jones. For Detroit, Cade Cunningham and Isaiah Livers will be sidelined with respective calf and shoulder injuries.

Game Vitals

When: 8 p.m. ET
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons +10

Denver Nuggets v New Orleans Pelicans

Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Analysis

3 Things to watch for:

1. Zion Williamson.

After missing all of last season with a foot injury, Zion returned for his fourth season in the best shape of his life and its showing on the court. The 22-year-old has often been the butt of jokes when it comes to his on-court availability, however through 23 games, Williamson has suited up in all but five contests and is playing the second most minutes per night.

On offense, Zion has been his usual dominant self, scoring 23.6 points on an efficient 59.1% from the field. His playmaking has taken a step forward in Year 4, dishing out a career-high 4.3 assists per game. In recent weeks, Coach Willie Green has empowered his star with more passing reps, resulting in 5.8 assists per night from Zion, a team-high across the past 5 games.

But it’s the defensive end where Zion has shown major improvement.

In prior seasons, Williamson’s endeavour on defense has been often criticised. While he’s subject to a number of mis-communications and missed rotations, his complete lack of effort overshadowed his processing of defensive schemes.

Even though he’s still susceptible to defensive error, Williamson’s renewed focus on defense has been a major catalyst for the Pelicans success.

A locked-in Zion defensively provides the Pels with a big and athletic frame, capable of mucking up opposing attacks. His 2.0 steals and 1.8 blocks across the Pelicans past four games have lead to ample transition opportunities for Zion and company, a major factor for the team currently riding a four-game win streak.

Dallas Mavericks v Detroit Pistons

Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

2. Stew trying new things

Isaiah Stewart at the power forward position is still very much at the experimental stages. After a slow start, it feels safe to assume Stewart is going to be decent outside shooter. Developing a three-point shot was Phase 1 of the 21-year-old effectively playing alongside another big.

However, in today’s wing-driven NBA, the power forward position requires more than a slightly above average outside shot. Particularly when playing alongside a paint-bound bigs like Duren and Bagley. For Stew to thrive at the Four, he needs to be able to make plays when chased off the three-point line. Nothing flashy, just the ability to attack the basket with a dribble or two.

Since returning from a toe injury, we’ve seen a slight shift in approach from Stewart, it feels like an emphasis has been placed on him driving and making passes out of the painted area:

The numbers are yet to reflect any dramatic changes, however it’s been encouraging to watch Stew incorporate more versatility to his offensive game. Even if its looked clunky for the most part.

Denver Nuggets v New Orleans Pelicans

Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

3. Elite bench play

Across the past 15 games, Detroit have the third-highest scoring bench-unit. Quite the turnaround considering the team’s reserves were horrific in the first 10 games. With Saddiq Bey now coming off the pine, the Pistons’ bench has stabilised with a blend of scoring talent, size and veteran guidance. The steady playmaking from Cory Jospeh and bucket-getting ability of Alec Burks has complemented the youthful trio of Saddiq Bey, Kevin Knox and Jalen Duren nicely.

The Pelicans bench mob is lead by; Larry Nance, Devonte Graham and the fearless pickpocket Jose Alvarado. Alvarado has become famous for his sneak-attack steals in the backcourt, but the undersized 24-year-old brings much more than a few highlights swipes.

In only 21 minutes a night, Alvarado is posting 10 points and 3.3 assists on 54.7% shooting. His improvement as an outside shooter has been the major reason for his offensive leap. After shooting 29% as a rookke, Alvarado has returned in Year 2 shooting 40% from beyond the arc. In the Pelicans last outing in Denver, Alvarado’s shooting brilliance was on full display, knocking down a career-high 8 threes in a 38 point performance.

Projected Lineups

Detroit Pistons (7-19)

Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley

New Orleans Pelicans (15-8)

CJ McCollum, Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy III, Zion Williamson, Jonas Valanciunas

Question of the Day

Which wing prospect would you rather for this Pistons roster, Trey Murphy III or Herb Jones?

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