(This was first published in the Pistons Pivot Newsletter. Sign up for it right here, or by using the form at the bottom of the article)
Hey, Pistons fans! Tonight is the night -- basketball season is upon us. The season kicked off last night with a couple of games on TNT, and wow, somehow the Milwaukee Bucks look even better than last year, crushing the Nets. The Warriors beat the Lakers in the late-night matchup.
The rest of the league will start up tonight, with a big slate of games, including our Detroit Pistons vs. the Chicago Bulls at Little Caesars Arena.
The Pistons will be without Cade Cunningham tonight, who is dealing with an ankle injury. It appears the team is in no rush to play him, which is smart. The injury doesn’t sound serious, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing Cade in the next week or two.
Either way, this Pistons team is exciting and I’m looking forward to this season. Here are some things I’m watching and thinking about as we begin the 2021-2022 journey:
📈 Expectations rise
Last year, we knew the Pistons would likely be near the bottom of the league. This year, with a group of promising young guys and the No. 1 pick, expectations are on the rise for Dwane Casey’s team.
The fan poll we sent out on Tuesday showed this. 84% of you said the Pistons would win more than 25 games this year, which is above Vegas odds. In fact, 42% said the Pistons would win more than 33 games (they won 20 last year).
Still, expectations are not sky high. 57.4% of you said the Pistons wouldn’t make the playoffs, but 34% said being in the mix for the playoffs would make the season a success, more than any other option.
I tend to agree with this. I think this Pistons team will take some time to gel, especially with Cade, but there’s no reason they should be at the bottom of the conference again. Will they grab a playoff spot? Probably not. But they shouldn’t be astronomically far from one.
One thing working against them -- their division. The Bucks, Bulls, Pacers and Cavs are arguably better than the Pistons on paper. And the East has a lot power, with the Nets, Sixers, Hawks, Celtics, and Heat. The Wizards, Knicks and Hornets should all be better, too.
➡️ Second-year players
The impressive crop of draft picks from the hands of Troy Weaver are entering a second year under the same system, and it’s fair to expect even more growth from all four of them.
Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart -- likely starters -- and Saben Lee, who the Pistons signed to a new deal this offseason, should all be impact players. But come on, let’s be real, we’re all hoping for the most growth from Hayes.
Hayes got off to a rough start last year, but that was without a normal training camp, summer league or practice schedule, due to COVID. Now, Hayes says he’s seeing the game a lot better with clearer court vision and less over-thinking. He showed some good flashes in Summer League, but the jury remains out on if Hayes can command the NBA game. He’ll have plenty of time to prove it this year.
As for Bey and Stewart, both were already playing like NBA veterans last season, so I’m not worried about them at all. Both should be really strong pieces.
It’s also the second year for Jerami Grant in Detroit, the team’s leading scorer last season. Grant is coming off an Olympic Gold Medal, so we’ll see how he has grown this offseason. Personally, I’d like to see Grant be better in clutch minutes, where he really struggled last season.
➡️ Added bench depth
The Pistons have a lot of depth at the guard position this season, with Josh Jackson, Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson, Saben Lee, Cory Joseph and Rodney McGruder off the bench.
Watch out for Jackson and Diallo to have big years. Both have similar styles and can really, really score the ball. Jackson has looked excellent in preseason and I’m sure Dwane Casey will be using him frequently.
Also, don’t forget the new guys. Kelly Olynyk should be a big part of the offensive rotation for Casey, he can do it all. We’ll see how rookies Isaiah Livers and Luka Garza fit into the lineup, but I wouldn’t expect much early on.
➡️ What’s this offense going to look like?
The biggest question heading into this season -- what does the Pistons offense look like with Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes on the floor?
In Summer League, it looked like Cunningham was playing more off-the-ball than point guard, which Hayes seemed to handle more. And the banter out of preseason and training camp lines up with this, too. Hayes could be running the floor more than Cade, at least to start.
But, it’s a little concerning. Cade was a bonified point guard in college and is a big-time leader on the floor, especially vocally, something a young team can really benefit from. Taking Cade off the ball and making him a scorer is a risky move.
I’m sure Dwane Casey will be tinkering with this a lot, especially early on, but it’s hard to see Cade Cunningham in a Pistons jersey playing shooting guard most of the time. We’ll see how it shakes out.
Either way, expect a lot of three-point shooting.
📅 Pistons notes and dates
- Season openers: Oct. 20 vs. Bulls, Oct. 23 @ Bulls.
- Halloween night: Pistons @ Brooklyn Nets.
- Nov. 2: Champion Bucks come to town.
- Nov. 10: @ Houston Rockets (Cade vs. Jalen Green).