Despite a breakout season that saw Jerami Grant average 22.3 points per game as the team’s focal point, the Detroit Pistons struggled to an unsightly 20-52 record during the 2020-21 NBA season. Detroit underachieve when compared to its point differential, meaning they were probably a bit better than their record indicated, but the losses helped to pave the way to a lottery win and Cade Cunningham coming to the Pistons in the 2021 NBA Draft. Elsewhere, the Pistons churned through their roster a bit, but they will now build around Cunningham, with intriguing veterans like Grant and Kelly Olynyk to go along with youngsters in Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, and Killian Hayes.
Projected Vegas Win Total: 25.5 wins
Biggest Addition: Cade Cunningham
When a team adds the No. 1 overall pick, this answer becomes easy. The Pistons aren’t in “win-now” mode for the 2021-22 season, and they didn’t break the bank elsewhere, so there isn’t much competition for Cunningham in this space other than from Kelly Olynyk. Beyond that, the Pistons are hoping beyond hope that Cunningham is the franchise player that can lead the next generation in Detroit, and he profiles as a top pick that should translate relatively quickly given his shooting, high-end feel and defensive aptitude.
Biggest Loss: Miles Plumlee
No player started more games (56) for the Pistons last season than Plumlee. While it would be fair to point out that he isn’t a dominant starting center by any stretch, Plumlee is easily the best player that left Detroit in the offseason, and it isn’t a lock that they will fully replace his production. Isaiah Stewart is clearly the center of the future for the Pistons and Kelly Olynyk provides valuable offensive versatility, both of which should help to soften the blow.
Biggest Question: What’s happening with Killian Hayes?
Before Cunningham arrived, the Pistons used a 2020 lottery pick on a lead guard prospect in Hayes. His rookie season didn’t go according to plan, both with on-court performance and injury, and Hayes struggled during the Las Vegas Summer League in August. That isn’t a death sentence for his prospect status by any means, but he isn’t the most natural fit with Cunningham, and it could be a big year for Hayes. If he doesn’t show something, the Pistons could find themselves asking questions about his future.
What Makes This Season A Success
Cunningham looking the part would be the single biggest thing that could happen in Detroit this season. In keeping with that theme, the Pistons could also benefit from Stewart, Bey, Hayes and others flashing intrigue for the future. Because they already have Cunningham, ping-pong balls aren’t quite as necessary as for some other rebuilding teams, but progress is more important than wins.
What Makes This Season A Failure
This is a learning year for Detroit, so the downside isn’t terribly low outside of injury or enormous struggles from Cunningham. Aside from that, the Pistons could be worried if their other young pieces scuffle, or if Grant cools off from his explosive statistical showing last season. Patience is a virtue in Detroit, but there are still a few things that could go wrong, particularly with the non-Cunningham prospects.