313 Thoughts: Bagley’s dominant return, Diallo playing himself into an extension and more.

Detroit Bad Boys

Welcome to the latest installment of my 313 Thoughts, your weekly recap of all things Detroit Pistons. Each week Jack Kelly highlights all the relevant news, rumors and on-court play while embracing Detroit’s 313 identity. The formula is simple—I’ll detail; 3 Things to like, 1 Thing not to like and 3 Things to monitor.

Following another winless week in Detroit Pistons basketball, the silver-linings are becoming more difficult to find. Detroit have now lost seven consecutive games. Their last victory occurring almost a month ago against the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 10. Injuries to key young players have made the past couple of weeks feel like aimless basketball, however, there are still some things worth highlighting in the Pistons 3 games last week. Such as Marvin Bagley’s dominant return to the lineup, Hamidou Diallo’s ascension in the rotation and more.

3 Things to Like

LIKE: Marvin Bagley’s dominant return

When the Golden State Warriors officially accepted the three-team trade that saw James Wiseman shipped to Detroit on Feb. 12, Marvin Bagley seemingly became the odd man out in Detroit’s suddenly crowded front court.

The pair of lefty big. men bring similar qualities to table. Each are fleet of foot at their size, do the most damage in the painted area, and struggle to defend. Most notably, though, neither of Wiseman or Bagley has proven they can play alongside an interior force like center of the present (when healthy) and future Jalen Duren.

While the long-term fit question is yet to be answered, since returning from a 20-game absence, Bagley has played his best basketball of the season, putting to rest confusion surrounding his future role (for the time being), and seemingly playing well enough that even if he doesn’t make sense for Detroit, he could make sense somewhere else as a positive contributor and not an albatross contract.

In the four games following the All-Star break, Bagley is posting nightly averages of 17.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. The counting stats have always been there for Bagley, but it’s the effort and energy displayed on the defensive end which has caught my eye.

In the above clip, Bagley does an excellent job staying with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Caris LaVert. Upon containing LaVert on his drive to the basket, Bagley is able to maintain discipline, not falling for any of LaVert’s pump-fakes, before cleanly swiping the ball and pushing the pace in transition.

There have still been ample moments where Bagley finds himself out of position on defense, but a team-best defensive rating (min 3 games played) of 101.3 points per 100 possessions is a tribute to Bagley’s recent defensive play.

LIKE: Diallo making the case for a contract extension

He’s featured multiple times in this column’s short-term existence, however, Hamidou Diallo’s play of late has made it impossible for me to not feature him amongst the positive’s of Pistons basketball. Entering the season, many, including myself, had Diallo pegged as the third-string wing who would be on the outside of the rotation behind Bojan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Livers.

Livers was meant to fill the role of backup wing with Diallo playing sparingly. However, injuries to Livers and other front court personnel have opened the door to more playing time for Diallo. And he’s thrived.

Since Jan. 1, Diallo has lead the team in net rating (min. 3 games played), providing Detroit with 12.7 impactful points and 1.4 steals as a reserve. He’s played solely to his strengths, hustling for his points via cuts, putbacks and baskets in transition. The three-point attempts have almost been completely eliminated from his offensive attack, and his defense has been sound.

With only 18 games left in the season and Diallo becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer, the question now is whether or not Detroit should re-sign the athletic wing.

The lack of outside shot makes it tough to assess Diallo’s value as a 6-foot-5 “big,” however, if Troy Weaver was able to retain Diallo on a multi-year deal valued at around $5-$6 million annually, it’s hard to see such a deal hurting Detroit in the immediate or long-term future.

LIKE: Detroit bigs running in transition

As previously mentioned, each of Wiseman and Bagley are blessed with quickness that is unnatural for players of their heights. Utilizing this speed in the open floor is an area each of the young-bigs can cash in on scoring opportunities. In the past week, both Wiseman and Bagley made numerous plays in transition:

The post-up is now considered an ancient play in the NBA, however, there’s still room for the odd post-up in transition. In the above clip, Wiseman does an excellent job of running the floor and sealing Hornets center, Mark Williams, leaving Hayes no option but to feed the big fella.

  • Bagley’s grab’n’go full-court finish:

Here, Bagley is able to take the ball the length off the court after hauling in the lose ball, finishing with a dazzling spin move lay-up. Another display of his unique balance and guile at 6-foot-11.

Watching the pair of bigs fly up-and-down the court for easy buckets has been a joy to watch, particularly because it means less half-court offense from Detroit. An area they rank 27th in the league for, per Cleaning the Glass.

DISLIKE: Injuries to key youngsters

Post All-Star break, the primary focus for Detroit (aside from losing games) is figuring out how each of the young pieces fit going forward. With little to play for aside development, determining whether or not certain players can fill a viable role going forward is a key focus in the final stretch of the season.

Can Isaiah Livers fulfill the role of reserve wing (or starter)? is it possible to play either of Wiseman or Bagley alongside Duren in the front court? Is Killian Hayes able to produce consistently in a reserve role? These are all questions which the Pistons coaching staff can look to answer in the remainder of the season.

Unfortunately, a theme for the season that has hit overdrive lately has been key players missing time because of injury, and that is making evaluation nearly impossible. Livers showed initial promise in the wake of the Saddiq Bey trade, however, an ankle injury sidelined him. Upon the long awaited return of Marvin Bagley, each of Stewart and Duren has been absent. This is depriving Detroit of any chance of playing two bigs together for an extended period. And then in the second-half of Sunday’s contest in Cleveland, Killian Hayes aggravated a left hand injury, potentially sidelining him for future games.

Here is to hoping Detroit can find at least a 10-game stretch to close the season with all of the roster’s ‘young’ players injury free.

MONITOR: Bogey heat-checks

In Wednesday’s contest against the Chicago Bulls, Bogdanovic treated Piston fans to another scintillating shooting performance, scoring 34 points on 8-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.

The crafty wing was dialed in from distance, knocking down threes off the catch, on pull-up attempts and off screens.

In my decade-plus as a Piston fan no former Piston comes close in terms of shooting efficiency and volume. Luke Kennard, Wayne Ellington and Tobias Harris were capable of hot shooting nights, but none of them did it with the consistency and relentlessness of Bogdanovic.

With only 18 games left in the season, it’s reasonable to expect the 33-year-old Bogdanovic to miss a fair chunk of time in preparation for next season. Hence, it’s important we cherish the few remaining nights Bogdanovic is able to put on a shot-making display.

MONITOR: Wiseman’s screen setting

One of the primary criticism of James Wiseman’s offensive game is his screen setting positioning. At 7-foot-1, many simply assume setting stonewall screens to be second nature to a player of this stature. This is far from the case for Wiseman

His slender frame certainly is a factor, however, positioning and timing have often resulted in Wiseman screens which barely draw contact from the opponent.

Per NBA.com, Wiseman is generates 2.1 screen assists per game on the season. Resulting in only 4.6 points via his screens, a low number considering his primary offensive role is setting screens.

But, since debuting for the Pistons of Feb. 7, these numbers have progressed to; 3.1 screen assists for 7.0 points due to plays like the below:

  • Wiseman sets a brick-wall off-ball screen for Rodney McGruder:
  • Wiseman makes decent contact with Caruso and converts on his roll to the rim:

He still has ALOT of room for growth as a screener, but these are the types of incremental improvements worth monitoring with Wiseman.

MONITOR: Two bigs implementation

Dwane Casey elected to start each of Bagley and Wiseman in Saturday night’s clash with Cleveland. The results were mixed.

In the first half the super-sized front-court were able to win the interior battle, with Detroit out-rebounding the Cavs 26-20, whilst holding Jarret Allen and Evan Mobley to a combined 6/16 shooting. The offensive fit was awkward to say the least, however, that was to be expected. Bagley and Wiseman also added a combined 5 steals and blocks in the first 24 minutes, disrupting the Cleveland offense.

After a solid first half, the second half was a complete blow-out, with the Pistons seemingly forgetting how to orchestrate any form of offense. 8 third quarter turnovers provided the home team with numerous transition looks, making it difficult to assess the Wiseman and Bagley pairing in the second half.

Wiseman and Bagley starting was most likely a product of Clevelands 6-foot-11 starting duo in Mobley and Allen, however, I hope Casey is able to find minutes across the next few outings to play the lefty pairing alongside one another.

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