Through 10 games, the Detroit Pistons are 2-8 and have a ways to go before they accomplish their media day goal of competing in every game. There have been bright spots, however. Here are 10 observations on the season from Free Press beat writer Omari Sankofa II.
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Cade Cunningham thriving from midrange
As a rookie, Cunningham didn’t shy away from the midrange shot. It represented 35% of his shot diet, and while his efficiency didn’t quite justify the volume, the coaching staff supported it. Midrange jumpers still have utility in today’s efficiency-obsessed NBA. It punishes drop defenses and is a counter against strong rim protectors. Good midrange shooters are difficult to slow down, and Cunningham displayed enough potential to be given the green light.
He’s now fully embraced his midrange game, and it’s been a significant factor in his recent surge after a slow start to the season. Cunningham is taking more than half of his shots from midrange (100th percentile among wings, according to Cleaning The Glass) and knocking them down at a 44% clip (72nd percentile). Across the league, he’s third in midrange attempts with 51 according to NBA.com.
Cunningham’s 26-point, eight-assist, six-rebound performance against the Atlanta Hawks on Oct. 26 birthed his transformation. In that six-game stretch, he’s averaged 23.3 points on a healthy 46.7% overall clip with 7.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists. He’s been taking fewer 3-pointers than last season, and is making them at a lower percentage. But his efficiency inside has propped his overall efficiency up – since the Hawks game, he’s hit 56.8% of his 37 midrange shots. It’s the best accuracy of any player with at least 30 attempts.
It should become a staple of Cunningham’s game. Rather than challenge defenders at the rim, he can find pockets in the defense and avoid the opposing big entirely. He’s taken full advantage of his greatly-improved pull-up midrange shot. It’s paid dividends for Detroit’s offense.
Isaiah Stewart’s 3-point embrace worthwhile, despite mixed results
Nearly all of Stewart’s outside shots look good in the air. His form is mechanically sound, and his release is quicker than you’d expect from a man his size. He gets good arc on the ball. They miss gently, rather than violently. He just has to get more of them to fall.
Stewart has taken 38 attempts through 10 games. By the midway point of the season, he will likely exceed the 109 attempts he took through his first two years. Ten of those attempts have fallen this year, giving him a 26.3% clip from outside. It’s not good enough for defenses to respect him, but it’s good enough to show that the effort put into Stewart’s development as a shooter is bearing fruit.
Bojan Bogdanovic is worth his extension
Compared to the rest of the roster – and the majority of the NBA – Bogdanovic has been in his own tier as a scorer. He’s averaging 20.2 points on 50% overall shooting and 48.6% shooting from 3. He’s met, if not exceeded, expectations and showcased why the front office was extremely excited to trade for him. And his high IQ has already begun to rub off on his teammates.
“He’s a great vet for us to have out there,” Stewart said after Friday’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I think he’s one of the first vets I’ve had that’s been so vocal out on the court, even if he’s playing good or bad. Vocal and always suggesting things. And respect Bogey. “
The Pistons were smart to lock Bogdanovic into a two-year, $ 39.1 million extension last Sunday. At age 33, he’s still one of the NBA’s more underrated offensive players and a viable second overall option. And the second year of his deal is only partially-guaranteed for $ 2 million, giving the Pistons extra flexibility.
Killian Hayes needs to get back to preseason form
There’s no sugarcoating it – Hayes has struggled after an encouraging preseason performance. The aggression he played with during preseason is gone, as he declined from 20.6 shot attempts per 100 possessions to 14.7. He’s shooting 18.2% overall and 16.7% from 3, after making 42.4% and 33.3% during exhibition, respectively. The lefty hook he showcased hasn’t been brought out since, and his revamped 3-point form has yet to produce positive results on the floor.
Hayes entered his third season with something to prove, given his inefficient start to his career. He’s one of Detroit’s best passers and defenders, but it’s difficult to become an impactful guard in the NBA without an offensive game. The second unit lacks shooting, and Hayes needs maximum spacing to be able to find lanes to the rim. But his woes can’t be blamed on his teammates. Hayes has to bring something consistently, whether it’s outside shooting, finishing at the rim or getting to the line.
What’s the solution? The Pistons can simply opt to let him play through his struggles in case he eventually finds a rhythm. But longterm, Hayes has to show he can become a player they can build around. With Cunningham and now Jaden Ivey in tow, Hayes is playing a career-low 17.8 minutes per game. The backup point guard job is still his to lose, but he needs to get back to his preseason form.
Jaden Ivey is already a downhill force
When asked about Ivey, Dwane Casey and players always mention his speed first. It’s electric. He’s established himself as one of the league’s quickest players. But what separates him is not how fast he moves, but how quickly he gets to his top speed. He only needs one step to turn into a freight train. It’s been a positive for Detroit.
Per Cleaning the Glass, Ivey is taking 46% of his shots at the rim (in the 92nd percentile among combo guards) and making shots at the rim at a 66% clip (69th percentile). He draws fouls on 12.8% of his shot attempts, which ranks in the 83rd percentile. Ivey is Detroit’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 15 points per game on 44.2% overall shooting. He’s a tough cover, and it’s opened things up for his teammates.
The rest of Ivey’s numbers suggest he’s a rookie still figuring out the NBA. He’s dished nearly as many turnovers (22) as assists (30), is shooting 31.6% from 3 and has work to do defensively. Those were expected growth areas for him this season, and he’s shown enough as a passer to suggest he could eventually become a true lead playmaker. His ability to get to the rim is what propelled him to the top half of the lottery, and that skill has immediately translated.
Jalen Duren is ahead of schedule
The Pistons have missed Duren, who missed their last three games with a left ankle sprain. His block percentage (3.3%), and offensive rebounding percentage (13.7%) are both elite. He creates opportunities around the rim as a putback and lob threat. With Duren and Marvin Bagley III in street clothes, Detroit just didn’t have quite enough size to match up with the Milwaukee Bucks and Cavaliers this week.
The 18-year-old center has been as advertised. Despite still being raw, Duren has proven himself to be a key rotation player and fan favorite.
The second unit desperately needs help
Detroit arguably has the worst bench in the NBA. It’s averaging 23.1 points per game – only the Brooklyn Nets’ second unit is producing fewer points. And it’s shooting 35.2% from the floor, the worst mark in the league. Injuries to Bagley and Alec Burks sapped the unit of its two most proven offensive players. The rest of the group has struggled to pick up the slack.
Isaiah Livers, who is shooting 40.6% from 3, has been a bright spot. It’s otherwise been a challenge for Casey to find combinations that work. It’s difficult to stay in games when only the starters have been able to score the ball with any consistency.
“We have a big piece that went down earlier with Marvin Bagley, we have some other guys that are banged up, too,” Livers said on Friday. “But we have guys on the bench, that’s not what it is. We have a great second unit. It’s just a matter of how we’re going to play. Are we going to share the ball? Play like how we did against the Magic and Warriors? Or are we going to put our head down and ignore the game plan? At the end of the day, it’s the NBA. Everybody’s talented. We’ve gotta stay together, especially moments like this. “
Detroit is winning small, losing big
The Pistons’ two wins against Orlando and Golden State were by a combined 18 points. Five of their eight losses were 20-plus point blowouts. They trailed both of their wins by double digits, closing a 10-point gap against the Warriors and a 15-point deficit against the Magic.
Unsurprisingly, the Pistons have the NBA’s worst plus-minus by a significant margin. They’re a minus-11.6. As of Saturday morning, the 29th-ranked Houston Rockets were a minus-8.7. They’ve trailed by double-digits in all 10 games thus far.
It goes without saying, but they need to do a better job of not letting opposing teams build momentum.
Saddiq Bey finding success in slightly reduced role
Those who expected a big breakout season for Bey might be disappointed thus far, but he’s playing the most efficient basketball of his career thus far. His shots per game have decreased from last season, from 13.9 to 11.1. But he’s shooting a career-high 45% from the floor, knocking down a respectable 35.7% of his 3-pointers, hitting half of his midrange attempts and averaging roughly the same amount of points as last season despite taking nearly three fewer shots. Thanks to Bogdanovic, Bey hasn’t had to carry as big a load. He’s been better for it.
And Bey still has room to grow, as he’s developed a habit of second-guessing open 3-pointers. The coaching staff has given him room to create his own looks, but he appears to be overthinking the simpler shot opportunities.
“He’s attacking more,” Casey said Friday. “He’s reading the closeouts. But unfortunately he’s turning down some good shots. He’s got some wide-open shots. And now he’s gotta find that balance of ‘I’m wide open, he’s not close enough to me to affect my shot. Let me get it off and shoot it. ‘”
Tough schedule won’t ease anytime soon
The Pistons have already played the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks twice each, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. The next few weeks will bring the Boston Celtics (twice), Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets.
The NBA has great parity, and it’s a tough time for rebuilding teams to find wins. Detroit won’t find any reprieve anytime soon.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ten Detroit Pistons observations 10 games into the season