As the NBA season approaches and training camps get underway, we’ll be taking a look at the player on each team that holds the key to unlocking their full potential.
For the Detroit Pistons, this season is about continuing to lay a foundation, with top overall pick Cade Cunningham at the center of it all. There’s a pretty good sense that Cunningham will, at the least, be very good in the NBA, it’s just a matter of what level of star he can reach. That takes time and also requires him to have a quality supporting cast around him. Last year’s No. 7 overall pick, Killian Hayes, had a tough go as a rookie, with early struggles compounded by a hip injury that caused him to miss 41 games. But how he bounces back in his sophomore campaign will be important for how the Pistons evaluate who is part of their long-term vision, which is the most important part of this coming season.
Hayes never really got a chance to get into a rhythm as a rookie, playing seven games before getting hurt and then returned, bouncing in and out of the lineup out of precaution. He averaged 6.8 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.2 turnovers per game on 35.3/27.8/82.4 shooting splits that tell the story of a rookie point guard trying to find his way in the NBA on a bad team, although he showed some flashes towards the very end of the season that produced a bit of optimism for the future. With Cunningham now alongside, Hayes has another ball-handler to play off of and someone who will draw significantly more attention in the backcourt. It’s hard to take too much from Hayes’ rookie season, but the NBA has never been a particularly patient place. The reality of today’s NBA is that moment they took Cunningham, the clock had already begun on the Pistons needing to build a winner around him.
What Hayes is as an NBA point guard remains to be seen, but hopefully he can find a rhythm now that he’s healthy and prove himself as a worthy member of the Pistons young core. If so, Detroit can feel more comfortable at point guard and start looking into the next phase of rebuilding, which is seeking out young veteran talent to fill in the gaps, on top of what figures to be a high draft pick again. If not, then point guard will remain a position of need and it figures to be another summer spent mostly in asset and rookie talent acquisition mode, as they try to piece together a group around Cunningham that can grow together into, hopefully, an eventual playoff contender.