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The Detroit Pistons: Monoliths of the NBA

Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but monoliths are popping up everywhere. These odd structures first popped up in Utah, followed by Romania, then in California, seemingly without reason. Currently, nobody knows what to make of them. Are they installments in Banksy’s newest art piece? Alien lifeforms? The latest in surveillance technology? 

I’m not sure– but I can tell you that they make a great analogy for the Detroit Pistons offseason, which was defined by one confusing event after another. Though I can’t take you through the reasoning of the monoliths, let’s untangle the absolute mess that was Detroit’s November. 

HEAD COACHDwayne Casey
2019-20 RECORD20-46  (.300)
4th in the Central Division
13th in the Eastern Conference
DRAFT PICKSKillian Hayes (7), Isaiah Stewart (16), Saadiq Bey (19), Saben Lee (38)
FREE AGENCY GAINSJerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Josh Jackson, Rodney McGruder, Jahlil Okafor, Wayne Ellington, Delon Wright

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM 2019-20: The Pistons franchise is starting to mirror the city they call home. Both are a far cry from their glory days, and with each coming year, a little bit more of the foundation holding the two together. Last year, the victim of the curse was Blake Griffin, who seemed to be headed for a Motor City renaissance in 2018. However, one knee surgery later, and the outlook is unsure for Griffin–the forward is on the wrong side of 30 and has already missed a significant amount of time rehabbing the same knee, including a stint that forced him to miss his entire rookie year. Detroit has got to get younger, and though they’ve taken their first steps, the franchise has a long journey ahead. Sekou Doumbouya only played 38 games last year, he showed flashes of potential, including dropping 24 in a win against Boston. Other than that, the Pistons are going to have to get creative this year to drastically turn their trajectory around.

GRADING THE COACH: Dwayne Casey is solid enough for what the Pistons need right now. Though his playoff record is certainly a stain on his legacy, Casey is a great hire for culture and development. He made a habit of elevating the performance of several Raptors teams that were lacking in on-paper talent, and I’ve never heard a player or assistant say a bad word about him. Plus, he was recently honored by Focus: Hope for his social justice work in the region, including volunteering his time to deliver groceries in the early days of the pandemic. 

GRADING THE DRAFT:  Ready for some optimism? I think that Killian Hayes and the Pistons are a perfect match for each other. Hayes is a true diamond in the rough–at 6’5”, his ability to create off the bounce is unparalleled in this draft. If you squint hard enough, he’ll give you visions of Manu Ginobli, D’Angelo Russell, even James Harden at times (he has the stepback J down to a tee). The Frenchman is only 19 however, and will need a few years to adjust to the pace and style of the NBA. If the Pistons are patient with Hayes’ development, he has the chance to develop into the best player in this draft class. 

On the other hand, what on earth were the Pistons thinking with their selection of Isaiah Stewart at 16? Stewart’s the definition of an uninspiring center prospect. He’s undersized, has subpar athleticism, and his defining skill is his ability to score in the post–not exactly the most valuable ability in today’s NBA. I like his motor, but you can’t get by on hustle alone. Fortunately, the Pistons made up for the pick at 19, where they selected Villanova’s Sadiiq Bey, one of the best three-and-D prospects in this year’s draft. Detroit needed an injection in wing talent after losing Bruce Brown, and Bey will at least be a stopgap for the next few years. 

GRADING FREE AGENCY:  What can you do with 30 million dollars? Well, you could feed nearly 150,000 people for a year. You could buy Detroit’s Pontiac Silverdome, a stadium which was home to some of the largest events in American history. If you wanted to, you could even buy yourself about 60,000 years worth of ice cream. Instead, the Pistons elected to ink Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, who will probably help the franchise just as much as owning that much Ben and Jerry’s. Grant is coming off the best stretch of his career in Denver where he showed his worth as a playoff-worthy role player, playing a pivotal role in overcoming a 3-1 deficit to the Los Angeles Clippers. But at 20 million bucks a year? Yeesh. Grant’s standout abilities are on the defensive side of the ball, where he’s able to guard everyone on the floor–but he’s not elite at containing a specific position. While his shooting splits are fine enough, he’s never shown that he’s capable of creating his own shot, which he’ll need to do on this Pistons team.

As for the Plumlord, it’s a wonder he was able to fetch a three year deal for 25 million considering he was already overpaid. He’s the basketball equivalent of white bread, with one notable exception. Plumlee has one notable skill on the basketball court–fouling people. This year, he ranked 13th in fouls per minute. The season before, he was fifth in total fouls committed. If this were the age of Shaquille O’Neal, maybe the contract would be worth it in order to have a Hack-a-Shaq specialist on the roster. In reality, on a team that has four bigs more worthy of playing time in Griffin, Stewart, and Jahlil Okafor, the contract is nothing short of insanity. 

STRENGTHS:  Give the Pistons credit, they’ve zigged while pretty much every other team has zagged. Unfortunately, the decision to logjam the roster with a million bigs has left them with few conventional strengths. I guess they should be a strong rebounding team? But even with Andre Drummond (the best rebounder in the NBA) in tow, look where that got them. Instead, their lone compelling strength is their capability to pump nostalgia into fans’ veins–Griffin and Derrick Rose are among the signature players of the 2010’s, and they should provide a sufficient amount of highlights for their fans to get by.

OPPORTUNITIES:  An NBA season consists of a fair amount of time, and hopefully the Pistons can use that time to establish a sense of direction. As of now, this franchise has middled between the playoffs and early lottery for far too long. It’s time for Detroit to fish or cut bait. Whether they look towards the future or try to sneak towards a tanking campaign, the Pistons need to sculpt a long-term vision. Fortunately, the state of the roster may very well force their hand towards the latter option. This season will be defined by the development arcs of Hayes and Doumbouya, and should they look to be ahead of schedule by season’s end, that might have to be Pistons’ fans definition of a success.  

PREDICTED FINISH (DIVISION/CONFERENCE): This season may not have the ability to be a Malice at the Palace, but it certainly will be a Griever in Little Caesars (it’s a working title). The Pistons finish 18-54, placing them 15th in the Eastern Conference, and granting them the title of worst team in the NBA. 

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