• Jonathan Ennis

Tanking Teams: The Detroit Pistons

The Teams that Tank: A look at six NBA Teams that seem to have already thrown in the towel.

We aren’t even to Christmas yet and it appears that 6 NBA teams are already looking forward to placing their hopes on the ping-pong balls of the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery. As of December 7, 2021 Lottery odds have the following teams in the highest order: The Detroit Pistons, The Orlando Magic, The New Orleans Pelicans, The Oklahoma City Thunder, The Houston Rockets, and the San Antonio Spurs who are all under ten wins on the season so far. Unsurprisingly, all six of these teams found themselves in the lottery last year with Detroit, Orlando and Houston all securing top 5 picks, New Orleans traded out of the lottery in a bid to build around Zion Williamson who, yet again, finds himself in street clothes rehabbing and leaving the Pelicans without clear direction for the future.

The inverse of the relative sadness of teams setting themselves up for short term failure in efforts to procure better lottery odds is the myriad of young talent vying to be selected with those precious draft picks. Names like Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr., and Paolo Banchero top a list of prospects who have absolutely stunned the college ranks with their skills. Lesser known names like Patrick Baldwin Jr., Jalen Duren and Kennedy Chandler seek to get their names into the illusive top five by playing the NCAA’s game and searching (in some cases extremely unsuccessfully) for a tournament bid and a rise to pre-draft stardom. There are also foreign prospects and those who haver forgone the college rout for the NBA G-League or other developmental programs like Serbian star Nicola Jovic, speedy point guard Jean Montero from the Overtime Elite team and the G-League Ignite’s Jaden Hardy.

For the most part the goal of a team drafting this high is to draft the best player available, however some teams (specifically Houston, New Orleans, and San Antonio) already have invested in young players with all-star upsides so they may be more wary of team fit in these exercises. The goal of the next series of posts here will be to break down how each of these teams could be currently evaluating talent, both on their own rosters and the prospects of whom they could draft.

THE DETROIT PISTONS:

The State of the Franchise:

While the Pistons have been a staple NBA franchise for what feels like forever, having dominant streaks in the late 80’s and early 90’s as well as the early 2000’s, more recent years have not been as kind. In the 10 years that Tom Gorres has owned the team they’ve only made the playoffs twice, being swept both times, and only had a winning record during the 2015-16 campaign under coach Stan Van Gundy. Current head coach Dwayne Casey is in his fourth year with the team and they’ve regressed every year he’s been there. Most of the regression could be placed on the fact that GM Troy Weaver has purposely tried to rebuild thought the draft though. The only major free agent acquisitions of his tenure have been journeymen big man Kelly Olynyk and the obviously payday seeking Jeremi Grant. The whole team building philosophy seems to have started off with a balk in the drafting of 2020 Lotto pick Killian Hayes who can’t seem to stay healthy or find ways to produce when he can get on the floor. Coach Casey’s days feel numbered and someone else is probably going to have to try to right this rebuild next year.

As far as pieces to build around the Pistons aren’t completely out of talent by any means. 2021 Number 1 pick Cade Cunningham leads a group that, while spacing deprived, still has some really useful players involved. The Pistons have found some gems in post lottery drafted guys from 2020 in Saddiq Bey and Isiah Stewart who both feel as though they could factor into a rebuild. The current starting lineup has serious spacing issues led by the fact that Cunningham and Bey may be the only people who have a career progression towards league average three point shooters in their primes. Kelly Olynyk and Corey Joseph have both showed signs of shooting in the past and could return to the mean but they don’t really factor into this teams future much. Killian Hayes is the only player shooting above 35% from three on the roster (outside of Jamorko Pickett who has yet to eclipse 20 minutes of total playing time). So the need is glaring.

As with every rebuilding team the thoughts immediately go to “who should they trade?” And luckily the team seems to have a few players that could net them a decent return if they try to move them. Jeremi Grant, Corey Joseph and Kelly Olynyk have extremely movable deals if the team desires a change or they could hold on to them through the rebuild and trade them as they become expiring deals. Veteran Josh Jackson is currently expiring and may provide some boosts to another play-in seeking team. The team could also try to move second year player Killian Hayes who doesn’t feel like a fit at the point guard spot and with the existence of Bey and Cunningham on the wings would be forced there in the foreseeable future.

What does the team Need?:

When Drafting this high everyone needs talent, let’s just get that out of the way. This draft features three players that none of my tanking teams should pass on for lower prospects, they are, in no particular order, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Duke’s Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith Jr. out of Auburn. Each of these players is probably a natural 4, and with the exception of New Orleans that is a position of weakness for all 6 of our teams. Each guy brings something different to the table at that position though.

Chet Holmgren is a 7’2” monster with a wingspan that reminds one of one of those aliens from Space Jam. He’s skinny and doesn’t have the most refined scoring game but his defensive ability is his true calling card at nearly 4 blocks a game in less than 26 minutes a night. He’s shown an ability to hit some catch and shoot three’s and even make some great passing reads on the fast break or even out of the post. His biggest downsides are going to be his ability to play positional defense agains real centers in the NBA and possible durability concerns because of his frame.

The inverse of Chet is Paolo Banchero out of Duke. While Chet is supersized and built like one of those crazy noodle tube blow ups that car dealerships have on the side of the road to distract you Paolo is a little short for a big man but solidly built. He may be a little on the husky side and he has conditioning concerns of his own. He is a really solid inside scorer who’s outside game is a work in progress. Already a professional scorer even at the amateur level he is prone to games where he refuses to pass and can really become a black hole but I promise the good outweighs the bad here. Guys who average about 18 and 7 on over 50% shooting don’t grow on trees.

Lastly for our top three guys we have Jabari Smith Jr. He’s almost the median between Chet and Paolo. He’s a great scoring forward who loves to also play defense. He’s hitting 43% of his shots from distance and averaging almost two steals and a block a game for Auburn. He screams “Swiss Army Knife” but also has the swagger of a future star.

The question becomes “which of these three guys should the Pistons take if they get the top pick?” This all revolves around Isiah Stewart. Beef Stew is a phenomenal Center on a rookie deal but he doesn’t provide some of that rim protection you want out of your guy in the middle. However pairing him with shot blocking wizard Chet Holmgren would absolutely improve the teams defense. Chet’s 30% shooting from deep isn’t great but it also isn’t abysmal either and if high school tape proves anything Chet is probably in a little slump from range himself. If they elect not to go with Chet Jabari is basically “everything Jeremi Grant does but better” He scores in some of the same ways but much more efficiently, he provides the same types of defensive chaos as well. The only way I think they should draft Paolo is if they fall to three, He’s a bit of a clunky fit beside Stewart and would inhabit much of the same floor space that Cade and Saddiq are looking to thrive in himself, however he’s not a bad consolation prize for missing on the other two.

Names to look at if the Pistons fall out of those top three spots are: Perdue guard Jaden Ivey who could be an upgrade on Killian Hayes, Tennessee Point Guard Kennedy Chandler who could provide a lot of stability and ball handling to a team that desperately needs it and if they want another wing sized guy Jaden Hardey out of the G-League Ignite is a great option as well. The Pistons have probably hit what could be considered rock bottom for a franchise but the good news is they’ve got some pieces and flexibility moving forward and that all precious lottery pick is going to be one of the most tantalizing options there for sure.

** All NBA Stats curtesy of basketball-reference.com and all NCAA stats curtesy of sports-reference.com

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