The last time the Detroit Pistons won an NBA playoff game, George Bush was still the president and the team’s leading scorer from their 2004 title run — led by Richard Hamilton, Tayson Prince, Chauncey Billups and Rashid Wallace — was still in place. . Since that ill-fated trip to the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, the Pistons have regularly been one of the NBA’s most unlucky franchises.
It feels like that is starting to change.
In just a few years, the Pistons have assembled one of the best young cores in the NBA. It starts with Cade Cunningham, Detroit’s franchise player when he won the 2021 NBA Draft lottery. The Pistons landed another potential blue chip pick in guard Jaden Ivey in the 2022 draft and swooped in to steal one of my favorite draft prospects , center Jalen Duren, in a late lottery trade. The two promising rookies will bolster a group that already featured the Pistons in the 2020 draft – Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart.
Landing talented young players is only part of the equation to building an eventual winner. Teams also need to add the right veterans around them to give the youngsters a chance to succeed. Detroit did, too — and made another brilliant move in that regard, acquiring Bojan Bogdanovic in a trade with the Utah Jazz earlier this week.
Here’s why the Pistons should be set up for huge success in the near future.
Cade Cunningham is the key motivator every team needs
It was easy to see that Cade Cunningham was well on his way to becoming a future NBA star from his high school days at Montverde Academy. I spoke with Cunningham for a feature ahead of his senior year, and he’s since met and lived up to the hype.
Cunningham is the type of big-time leadoff hitter every team wants. At 6’6, 220 pounds, he pressures defenses with the ball in his hands as both a scorer and passer. He can also play off the ball as a quality three-point shooter, even if his shooting ability didn’t really show in the numbers as a rookie at 31.4 percent from deep. Given his success as a shooter at the college level at Oklahoma State — where he hit 40 percent from three — you can expect him to be a better shooter in his second season with the Pistons and beyond. Oh, and he’s also a plus defender.
The most difficult and important piece to find for any NBA prospect is the primary initiator. The Pistons have a bright future because Cunningham has a bright future — and he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot. How high the Pistons’ ceiling ends up being should mirror how high Cunningham’s ceiling is. It’s not crazy to think he should be an All-NBA caliber player during his peak years.
Jaden Ivey is a terrific complement to Cunningham in the backfield
If there’s one downside to Cunningham’s skill set, it’s his lack of top-notch speed. That’s why Jaden Ivey is a great fit alongside him in the backfield.
Ivey was our No. 3 overall prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft, but fell to the Pistons at No. 5 on draft night. The turbo guard will be one of the fastest players in the NBA from the moment he steps on the court. His ability to pressure the rim is a great complement to Cunningham’s more deliberate playmaking and gives the Pistons a blitz and blitz style approach that should be incredibly difficult to defend against and awesome to watch.
Ivey will likely be tough defensively to start his career … but Cunningham may take on the toughest assignment in the backcourt. Ivey isn’t a reliable catch-and-shoot threat yet… but Cunningham can space the floor around his drives. Cunningham doesn’t have the added gear to create rim pressure whenever he wants … but Ivey’s best skill is just that. We can’t wait to see how this pairing goes.
Pistons put shooters and rollers to put their two guards in position to succeed
Let’s take it one by one, starting with my favorite addition to the Pistons’ core.
- Jalen Duren – Big roller: I had Duren as my No. 5 pick in the 2022 NBA draft because he was the youngest player in the class, had terrific physical tools, plays with a high motor and had a promising skill set. With long arms, great leaping ability and man-child strength, Duren will carry heavy weight as a vertical splitter with a huge catch radius. Having a great roll is one way to make life easier for your guards, and Duren will be just that. Landing him via trade at the No. 13 overall pick was a stroke of genius by chief executive Troy Weaver.
- Sadik Beys – Wing shooter: Bay is a big 6’8, 215-pound wing who lacks elite athleticism and crafting skills, but fits this frame because he’s a good shooter and rarely turns the ball over. Year 3 is a big one for Bey, but adding another ball handler in Ivey will help clarify his role going forward. The Pistons really need him to hit threes and hold his own defensively.
- Bojan Bogdanovic – Wing shooter: The 33-year-old is a high-volume three-point shooter who can also create offense off the dribble with a pinch. He’ll be able to make room for Cunningham and Ivey while improving Detroit’s wing depth. This is a great fit in terms of skill set, position value and makes life easier for your young stars.
- Killian Hayes – defensive guard: I had Hayes as a top-three prospect in the 2020 draft and he certainly didn’t live up to it. Hayes just struggles to score the ball and isn’t a good shooter from the crease. At the same time, he’s still only 21 years old, has great size for a guard, and is already very good defensively. I like the idea of Hayes leading the second unit alongside Ivey when Cunningham needs a breather.
- Alec Burks – Shooting guard: The Pistons used their cap space to land Burks and Nerlens Noel this offseason. Burks is another shooter who dots Cunningham’s perimeter — he’s hit at least 40 percent from three in each of his last three seasons. Like Bogdanovic, Burks can also get you a bucket and should take the pressure off the young guards in the half court.
- Marvin Bagley III – Big roller: Don’t write off the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft just yet. The second and third jump king, Bagley is a super bouncy roll man who gives Detroit another vertical splitter and offensive rebounder.
- Isaiah Livers – Wing shooter: Livers had a great four-year career with the Michigan Wolverines before the Pistons took him in the second round of the 2021 draft. All he did as a rookie was 42% of his threes. While he’s a little undersized and slow for a four at 6’7, 230 pounds, he can shoot the rock from deep consistently and generally plays with a high IQ.
The Pistons will be awesome… eventually
It will take time in Detroit. Cunningham has to learn how to be the guy, and going from good to great is the hardest step in the league. Ivey may need a few years to improve his defense and get any semblance of a mid-range game. Duren is so young that it’s hard to expect him to contribute right away, but I love his long-term potential.
The Pistons will be one of the most exciting young teams this year. Ultimately, I think this team will be a viable winner. For the first time in a long time, things are turning around for the Pistons.