Detroit Pistons have 30 games left in miserable season. Here’s what to watch down stretch

Detroit Free Press

Only 30 games remain for the Detroit Pistons, who are 13-39 overall and in the midst of a season that many are eager to look past. Few would’ve guessed that the team would be on pace to finish with its worst record in nearly three decades before the season. But a season-ending shin injury shut down Cade Cunningham after 12 games, and the rest of the team has struggled in an NBA season defined by historic offensive performances and parity within both conferences.

Though some fans have begun to tune out, there are still storylines to follow as the season winds down. The trade deadline is less than a week away, and despite the record, there have been improvements made by Detroit’s young players.

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If they stay pat at the trade deadline

This is the most immediate question pressing the Pistons, who sources say are in no rush to move Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks and likely to carry both veterans into the offseason. That’s true for the rest of their core as well. They will listen to offers, but it makes sense for the Pistons to keep their chips until the offseason. Then, they will have another high lottery pick, attractive assets and more than $40 million in cap space to remake the roster and push for the playoffs next season.

However, it feels like this team could use a jolt sooner than that. It’s understandable that the Pistons, sans Cunningham, haven’t made the big leap forward many anticipated. Still, the rest of the roster has done little to give assurance that this team will be ready to compete when Cunningham returns next season. As of Thursday afternoon, the Pistons have the NBA’s worst record. Their .250 winning percentage is currently the third-worst in franchise history, and worst since the 1993-94 season. They aren’t just bad. They stink.

Logically, the Pistons have every incentive to ride this season out without any major shakeups. They are well on track to secure the best odds for the No. 1 pick in this summer’s draft. Victor Wembanyama (or Scoot Henderson) would do more for Detroit’s rebuild long-term than anyone they can realistically acquire before the Feb. 9 deadline. But if the front office decides even a smaller move is warranted just to send a message that the Pistons aren’t getting complacent, I don’t think anyone would complain.

Ivey and Duren’s ongoing development

One of the lone bright spots of this season has been the rookie duo of Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren living up to, if not surpassing, lofty expectations. Ivey has made an impact from Day 1, continuing to make strides in processing the speed and nuance of the NBA game despite having to handle increased playmaking responsibility with Cunningham out. Duren has already secured a starting role, pushing the youngest player in the league ahead of schedule.

In his last 11 games, Ivey is averaging 15.6 points, six assists and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 44.4% overall and 33.3% from 3 — solid percentages considering his usage and that he was an inconsistent outside shooter in college. In that span, he’s also taking nearly five free throws per game, making 75% of them. He’s been a reliable all-around scorer and is getting better, as those percentages are an improvement over his season-long marks of 42.5% overall and 31.8% from 3.

Ivey is still learning how to run the offense, but his playmaking awareness has improved. In that same 11-game stretch, his six assists per game are an increase over his season mark of 4.5. While his assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t starting point guard-level yet, he’s developing good chemistry with Duren and has been consistently generating easy looks at the rim for the big man in recent weeks. Duren, who has also improved his awareness when attacking space, is benefitting from Ivey’s willingness to get him the ball and is averaging 14 points, nine rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals while shooting 81.6% overall and 81.8% at the free-throw line over the last seven games.

Isaiah Stewart’s emerging 3-point presence

Through his first 29 games this season, Stewart knocked down an outstanding 38.1% of his 4.1 3-pointers per game. He quickly established himself as one of Detroit’s best outside threats despite it being the first time in his basketball life having the shot be a focal point of the offense.

But it appears that his early stretch was unsustainably hot. In his last 12 games, his percentage has slumped to 16.7% on 3.5 attempts. Because of Detroit’s Paris trip and Stewart missing four games with left shoulder soreness, that 12-game stretch goes back to Dec. 28. Still, it’s jarring to see that he hasn’t hit a 3-pointer since Jan. 6. He’s only hit three of his last 27 tries.

His 3-point percentage on the season is currently at 32.5%. Stewart isn’t quite as good a shooter as the first two months of the season suggested, but he also isn’t as bad as he’s been this past month. His injury and the Paris trip, which featured one Pistons game in an eight-game stretch, could’ve impacted his rhythm. He and the team would certainly both like to see him find his comfort level as a shooter again.

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

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