Detroit Pistons NBA midseason grades: Young core shining despite losses piling up

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons enter Sunday with a 12-34 record, one of the NBA’s worst winning percentages. As a result, their midseason report card is a mixed bag.

There have been some positives and plenty of negatives this season. Yes, the Pistons are staring at a fourth straight season of fewer than 25 wins, but fans can still feel optimism for the future thanks to the play of several draft picks, and a couple of recent acquisitions.

Let’s take stock of how each player who has appeared in at least 20 games has played this season, along with the coach and general manager who constructed the roster.

Check out the latest episode of “The Pistons Pulse” podcast below, with Free Press beat writer Omari Sankofa II and former Division I player and current analyst Bryce Simon. Listen on Apple, Spotify or wherever you load up podcasts.

G Alec Burks: A-

Stats: 13.8 points, 46.1% shooting, 44.4% from 3

Buzz: Enjoying a career-best offensive season and established himself as one of the NBA’s best reserves with instant offense. He’s third in points per game per 100 possessions among players who have come off the bench for at least 25 games. Among bench players taking at least seven 3s per 100 possessions, he’s third in percentage.

SETTING THE STAGE:Sad Pistons season now defined by Victor Wembanyama, NBA draft lottery positioning

C Jalen Duren: A-

Stats: 7.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 63.4% shooting

Buzz: It wasn’t clear how NBA-ready Duren would be, considering he’s the league’s youngest player, having turned 19 in November. He has quickly proved he belongs, and his strength and athleticism makes him a good rebounder and lob threat.

PF/C Isaiah Stewart: A-

Stats: 11.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 34.2% from 3

Buzz: Other than Killian Hayes, no other Piston has improved more this season than Stewart. He has become a credible 3-point shooter, maintained his versatile defense and strong rebounding, and made strides as a leader. There were questions about his ability to play power forward as effectively as he has played center — he has actually been better at the “four” so far.

F Bojan Bogdanovic: B+

Stats: 21.2 points, 48.7% shooting, 41.5% from 3

Buzz: In the midst of his most efficient season, despite carrying a larger scoring load than he carried in Utah. His two-year, $39.1 million contract extension will be a bargain if the 33-year-old is able to maintain his status as one of the NBA’s best shooters.

COMING UP:Don’t expect the Pistons to be big sellers at 2023 NBA trade deadline

G Killian Hayes: B+

Stats: 10 points, 5.7 assists, 40% shooting, 34% from 3

Buzz: This has been a career-altering season: He’s averaging 12.4 points, 6.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.1 turnovers and shooting 43.2% overall and 36.3% from 3 since Nov. 9 — Cade Cunningham’s final game. Hayes is the team’s top playmaker, and his effort on defense has remained high as his scoring has come along. His cold start is firmly behind him, and he’s showcasing the skillset that made him almost a universal top-10 pick on most mock drafts in 2020.

PISTONS MAILBAG:What does Killian Hayes’ breakout mean for the future?

G/F Hamidou Diallo: B

Stats: 7.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 56.6% shooting

Buzz: In the midst of his best stretch, reaching double figures scoring in eight of his past 10 games as the Pistons have endured the injury bug. Field goal percentage is the best of his career by a wide margin, topping last season’s 49.6%.

G Jaden Ivey: B

Stats: 15 points, 4.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 turnovers, 41.1% shooting, 32.7% from 3

Buzz: It has been an uneven season for the fifth overall pick, but the parts of his game that have immediately translated — his elite downhill speed and first step — have enabled him to be one of the better rookies. He’s leading rookies in assists per game, and third in points and free throw attempts per game. He has largely met expectations despite taking on a larger role because of Cunningham’s injury.

F Saddiq Bey: C+

Stats: 14.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 40% shooting, 32.6% from 3

Buzz: Shooting regression has hurt his efficiency compared to his rookie season of 2020-21. His true shooting percentage of 54.5% is actually an improvement compared to his 52.9% mark last season. He has made strides as an interior scorer, taking a career-high 3.9 free throws per game and making 85.1%, with improved efficiency inside of the arc. Must improve week-to-week consistency and find outside touch.

BEY AREA:Saddiq Bey’s game-winner could become the jolt needed in his uneven Pistons career

F Kevin Knox: C+

Stats: 5.7 points, 35.6% from 3

Buzz: Injuries have forced the Pistons to lean on Knox more than they expected. He has answered the call by shooting a respectable percentage from 3 and giving the team size on the perimeter.

PF/C Marvin Bagley III: C

Stats: 10.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 53.7% shooting

Buzz: Bagley’s first full season here has been marred by injuries. An MCL sprain cost him 13 games at the beginning of the season, and now he’s out through late February with fractures in his right hand. When on court, he has been exactly as expected — an athletic interior scorer and strong rebounder who occasionally provides chippy defense and floor spacing.

G Cory Joseph: C

Stats: 4.6 points, 3.1 assists, 39.2% shooting, 31.3% shooting from 3

Buzz: Shooting his worst percentage since his rookie season, and has slumped as an outside shooter after knocking down 41.4% of his 3s last season. Still a productive game manager who doesn’t turn the ball.

F Isaiah Livers: C

Stats: 5.5 points, 34.9% from 3

Buzz: A shoulder injury cost him 20 games in December and the first week of January. He isn’t shooting the ball as well as he did as a rookie, but is capable, and one of the better defenders on the roster.

G Cade Cunningham: Inc

Stats: 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6 assists, 41.5% shooting, 27.9% from 3

Buzz: Played 12 games before a hairline fracture in his left shin ended his season. His three weeks of action were a mixed bag, as he shot poorly but also had a four-game hot streak — 27.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.5 assists shooting 49.5% — that reminded of his franchise-altering potential.

WHAT’S NEXT:Cade Cunningham’s surgery, shutdown for season leaves Pistons with 3 big questions

G Rodney McGruder: Inc.

Stats: 3.4 points, 39.5% from 3

Buzz: Value comes from what he provides off the floor as a mentor for young players, but has been a capable shooter too.

C Nerlens Noel: Inc.

Stats: 2.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks

Buzz: Wednesday’s four-block, three-steal performance aside, we haven’t seen much of Noel. A positive in the locker room and has given the Pistons capable minutes when called on.

Coach Dwane Casey: C+

Buzz: A glance at the record suggests he has done a poor job. The reality is more nuanced, as Cunningham has missed most of the season and the Pistons don’t have the talent needed to compete in a deep league. Those things aren’t Casey’s fault. There has been positives, such as Stewart and Hayes making mini-leaps. The Pistons haven’t underachieved, but haven’t overachieved either.

OPINION:So much for Pistons taking a step forward. Next season isn’t guaranteed either

GM Troy Weaver: B-

Buzz: Many of his offseason moves have looked good, and he was rewarded with a contract extension before the season. Bogdanovic and Burks have been nice scorers. Ivey and Duren were worthwhile picks at five and 13. But the Bagley signing hasn’t worked so far, and the bottom line is the Pistons aren’t winning. Because of Cunningham’s injury, we won’t know if the “restoring” is on the right track until next season.

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

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