The Detroit Pistons top scorer from a year ago, and the one player who could be most critical to helping the team end its franchise-record 15-game losing streak, could be nearing a return.
Bojan Bogdanovic, who averaged 21.6 points and shot 41% from three on six attempts per game one season ago, is nearing his return to the lineup, according to multiple media reports.
For the first time this season, the Pistons are listing him as questionable on the injury report, and The Athletic’s Shams Charania is reporting he could return as soon as tonight against the New York Knicks. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meanwhile, is reporting that sources say he is more likely to return Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
You could argue whether Bojan is the Pistons’ best player, most important player, or both, but it’s clear that he is the only significant ingredient that could help the Pistons escape the current tailspin they find themselves in.
Detroit has lost a franchise-record 15 in a row, and the losses are only getting more lopsided. These players look, frankly, shook. Their coach is saying they are having trouble dealing with adversity, and they are so young (and so flawed), they can’t lock back in and get out of their own way.
Enter nine-year veteran Bogdanovic who, while far from perfect, can be a steadying influence, a floor spacer, a small-time ball-mover, and, frankly, one of the only members of the Pistons who help make things easier for his teammates on the offensive end.
Bogey can give Cade Cunningham some space to work, he can be a reliable outlet on a kickout, he can help prevent long scoring droughts, and he could form a nice pairing with rookie Ausar Thompson as cross-matching defensive and offensive specialists that help cover up the most glaring flaw of the other wing player.
How head coach Monty Williams would deploy Bojan is an interesting question. Bogdanovic is clearly earmarked as a starter for this team, especially now as its offensive flaws are so clearly on display. The question, then, is whom he displaces in the starting lineup.
There are as many as four candidates — center Jalen Duren, power forward Isaiah Stewart, small forward Ausar Thompson, and shooting guard Jaden Ivey.
Either Stewart or Thompson could be fully replaced or they could be shifting positions in the starting lineup. Stewart could start at center to help keep some defense on the floor or Thompson could replace Ivey with Stewart keeping his power forward spot and shifting Bogdanovic into Thompson’s former home at small forward.
If I had my pick, I’d opt for keeping Ivey and Thompson the floor. Ivey has been the team’s best overall player and Thompson hasn’t been too far behind. He can’t shoot at all, but he does consistently make winning plays, and his ability to block and rebound helps cover up for what Bojan can’t do.
The easiest thing to do would be to bring Stewart off the bench, which is likely his ultimate destiny in the NBA. He can still shoot from the perimeter and play quality, switchable defense, and he could even find himself in closing lineups, but I just don’t think he has the size to hold up as a starting center.
The caveat there is how much leeway they want to give Duren, who is barely 20 and struggles regularly figuring out how to execute defensively. If they want to allow him to play through some mistakes because of his size, vertical gravity and rebounding, then Duren stays your starting center.
If Williams wants to put Duren in less stressful matchups or have the freedom to play and sit him freely based on his defensive lapses, he could opt to bring him off the bench.
Something about these Pistons need to change and finally being able to add Bogdanovic into the mix is certainly one of the welcome changes the fans, and even the team, would want to see.