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  • Writer's pictureSteve Hinson

Patience is the key for this year's Pistons

So far this season, fans on Pistons Twitter have lamented Dwane Casey, were sure that Killian Hayes is a bust, doubted Cade Cunningham, decried minutes for Frank Jackson and Corey Joseph, foot stomping over losses to some of the league's best teams, and I'm sure there's been even more that I've missed.

No big deal, part of being a fan is riding the highs and lows of the team. But also. Keep those takes in perspective.

We knew going into this season that the Pistons would be one of the worst teams in the league. Probably bottom four, along with Oklahoma City, Houston, and Orlando. That's been as expected, except the Pelicans are astonishingly bad as well. The Spurs too, but I'm skeptical that will last.

At the quarter mark of the season, let's take a breath into the paper bag and defuse some of the angst.

No, the Pistons shouldn't fire Dwane Casey

This is perhaps the most hilariously stupid of the takes out there. Reasoning has ranged from complaints about rotations and offensive sets to some strange belief that the team should have won more games than they have.

After doing extensive digging through film, roster construction, plugging in simulations with alternative coaches, consulting with the mystics, engaging in a three day peyote-fueled stint in the desert where my conscious left my body in pursuit of the highest truth of the Pistons coaching situation, I believe I have the answer: the Pistons are starting a rookie and three second year players.

Why is the offense often flat? The Pistons are starting a rookie and three second year players.

They sure aren't very good at closing games though, right? The Pistons mpg leaders are a rookie and three second year players.

C'mon, Dwane Casey sucks doesn't he? The Pistons are starting a rookie and three second year players.

But what about the [interrupts] the Pistons are starting a rookie and three second year players.

There may come a time when the Pistons outgrow Casey like the Raptors did. But for now, he's perfectly fine. He's well-respected, has gotten young players on the court, doesn't actively sabotage the team like Jason Kidd in Milwaukee. He's a perfectly fine placeholding developmental coach.

No, that's not particularly inspiring. But that's fine. Not particularly inspiring is one thing, but the worst thing this franchise could do would be to jump back on the coaching carousel. No good comes from that, even if you happen to find that one unicorn coach who has magical sets and rotations.

There was this one time the Pistons had a coach like that. He went on to win a title, he's currently 15th all time in wins, he's considered one of the best active coaches out there. The Pistons fired him.

Sure, the next guy won a title for them, but Rick Carlisle could have too. He won 61 games with his team that season. Two years later they fired the dude they replaced him with, Larry Brown. Then they fired Flip Saunders, another highly respected coach after three seasons. One season for the next one. Two years. Two years. Half a year and half a year.

It wasn't a good time for the franchise.

Teams that fire their coaches at the drop of a hat aren't healthy franchises. They send bad messages to players, that when things aren't going well all they have to do is disrespect the coach and initiate a firing.

They've finally found a franchise player in Cade Cunningham. Troy Weaver seems to have a good plan to build this team into the future. And Casey is respected.

There's a ton of value in stability.

Kinda burying the lede, but also most importantly: Casey is one of the most well-dressed coaches in the league. That's pretty much all that matters. Though, still needs a tie clip.

The kids are alright

Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes are just fine.

Cade has superstar potential. He's going to absolutely fill the box scores every night, which is cool. He also has the mentality of a winner, which is even cooler.

The shooting numbers still aren't looking great, but that's fine. A friend on Twitter asked, "When should we start worrying about Cade's shooting?" My answer: 2023.

If 2023 rolls around and Cade still isn't able to score efficiently, well, ok. Expectations might need an adjustment. But I don't think that'll be the case. He's shooting 88 percent from the free throw line, and after some ugly misses on his ugly shooting nights early on, his misses have at least looked better.

I like his aggressiveness and willingness to keep shooting. Being able to generate more than 7 three point attempts per game is particularly intriguing, especially if they start falling at the 40+ percent clip that I think he's capable of.

I think he's capable of going 25/6/6 or 19/10/10, depending on how the team grows around him. He's a high level player who, even at 20, sees the game as well as anyone on the court.

And let's acknowledge that he was the only person on the court able to slow down Isaiah Stewart from beating LeBron James into retirement. It's reminiscent of the passion of former Pistons big men like Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Dennis Rodman, and Bill Laimbeer combined with the steady leadership of Chauncey Billups and Joe Dumars.

He's not enough to mark the end of the Pistons rebuild on his own, that was never the idea. But along with another top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, he's a big part of it.

Hayes certainly lacks that superstar upside, but he could still wind up as a solid long-term player next to Cade.

He's all over-thinking and good intentions, but those things can go a long way.

It was really weird, some of the commentary about Hayes. I'd hear national commentators talk about giving up on him, that he wouldn't be a fit with Cade. I never really understood it. The guy was drafted as a teenager, but they should give up on him after about 40 games? And these weren't dumbass commentators, but folks like Sam Vecenie, who does a terrific job (definitely go listen to his work with the Game Theory podcast and his writing on The Athletic).

I was never the biggest fan of Hayes coming out of the draft, he fit the bill of just "a guy." Too often we project things onto international players, even when the evidence isn't there. But some of the things projected onto Hayes is legit. He can shoot. He can defend. He does have a nice handle and court vision.

Of course, he also can't finish with the right hand and doesn't have great touch inside the paint. And he's definitely not a primary creator. That's ok.

His three point shot is falling so far this season, and I think he has the chance to settle in as a reliable 40 percent three point shooter. He's been excellent from the free throw line, his form is solid, and he's flashed excellent stepback three point abilities - you don't get that as a poor shooter. He can defend any guard in the league. He can help initiate the offense and help with the load for Cade.

It's not the potent offense of a Trail Blazers backcourt, but balances the attributes you need. Getting 50 points per game from your guards doesn't mean much if it kills your defense. Cade and Killian could potentially handle both sides of the court in a plus fashion.

That's not to say that Killian will be a part of some future Pistons title-contending team. That's too far ahead to look. It's that he's an entirely solid prospect who can continue to grow with the team and we should be pleased to have as part of it.

Beef Stew

Since I've started on this, folks have doubted Isaiah Stewart. That he lacks the size to be a center or the shooting to be a power forward. Ok.

But also, he's younger than Cade Cunningham. And he's scored, rebounded, and blocked shots at an above league average level given his position.

Not to mention, he's a complete badass. The guy fights above his weightclass, and not in just a "going to deal it out to LeBron James" kind of way. On a night in, night out kind of way.

This guy wasn't blessed with Andre Drummond's body. But if Drummond had been blessed with Stewart's mentality, he would have been one of the best players in the league.

Stewart is the embodiment of the Detroit Pistons. He's reminiscent of Jason Maxiell, but more talented. And not just because of that time Maxiell terrified that dude who took a cheap shot in the Chinese league.

No, Stewart probably won't be a long-term star. But he makes life extremely easy for the Pistons moving forward. Chet Holmgren is too skinny to be a full time center, but has a terrific wingspan and outside game to be a partner next to Stew. Paolo Banchero needs an enforcer next to him, he's not a center despite his size. With Patrick Baldwin Jr., the Pistons could run some ridiculous five out offense that could make it so that the perimeter guys actually have room at the rim. Jalen Duren is the only guy where the fit gets iffy.

I respect LeBron James' career. He's had moments of being a jackass - The Decision is one of the most pompous things outside of Donald Trump. But overall, he rows the right direction. Still, he deserved Stewart's reaction. Few people other than Stew would give it to him.

We supposedly believe Detroit vs. Everybody. So many people have stolen that saying, not knowing that, fuck you, no, it's Detroit vs. Everybody. For real, there's this small town in rural Colorado called Longmont that sells shirts with the same font of Longmont vs. Everybody. Yes, Longmont vs. Everybody. Ok. Smh.

Hell, I'm from rural Indiana. I'm not going to claim to know what it's like to grow up in Detroit. But I do love the city, and I think I know it well enough to understand. And I think regardless of his shooting, his sophomore progression, whatever, I want Isaiah Stewart as part of my team.

The offense

Yes, I get it. It blows.

The Pistons have the 28th worst offensive rating in the league. They're 29th in offensive rating.

They're starting a rookie and three second year players. Do we need to dive deeper?

The fans

Omg. I've been writing about this dumb team for more than a decade, and folks have always been hollering for a tanking.

There's a few ways to build a team. Through free agency, which fans hated - rightfully so; Josh Smith, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon. Through trades, which fans kinda hated - rightfully so; Blake Griffin, Allen Iverson.

(Though Blake wasn't such a bad trade, more the product of because Tom Gores wouldn't let Stan Van Gundy trade Andre Drummond, which made it the best of a horrible situation, but I digress)

All the while, fans called for "TANKING!!" Gifs of tanks after each bad loss have extended back since Steve Blake in 2015, maybe earlier. I wrote about it in 2012, which is depressing af and makes me feel super old, BUT.

It's happening. It's happening now. The Pistons are auditioning young players. They've found promising young players, whether that is Hamidou Diallo or Josh Jackson, or Trey Lyles.

I don't know if this way of building the roster is right, but I don't mind it. I'll take it over the Magic, who have some nice young players but are even lower in the standings. Or the Rockets, who are spending this season giving no fucks. Or the Pelicans, who are just depressing. Or the Thunder, who just feel cynical, wasting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

If Cade gets to SGA's age of 23, balls like SGA is balling, and the Pistons are still losing as much as possible, I'll call malpractice.

But for the Pistons here and now, it's ok and appropriate.

LeBron James is in no hurry to play against the Pistons again any time soon, after barely getting a win on Sunday. They played the Warriors as closely as any team in the league. They held the Nets to one of their lowest point totals so far this season.

Yes, the stinkfest suck, especially when we carve that night to watch them. But it's part of paying the dues. When they're good in a few years, you can't be a bandwagoner paying the dues, am I right? ;)

Looking forward

This draft fucking rocks for the Pistons. Tons of big dudes who can shoot, make plays, and are competitive.

Even if the current core isn't the long-term core, the whole roster is moving the right direction.

Joe Dumars will always be a Pistons legend. But toward the end of his career, he became a cancer. Andre Drummond started his tenure as a potential legend. But after year two, he became a cancer.

Now, this franchise doesn't really have any cancers. Even Blake Griffin's contract will be off the books after this season.

They have plenty of young talent, no toxic assets, good draft picks. They're in a great position.

There are going to be nights when they're tough to watch, I know. When those come up, watch this. Or look at Chet or Jabari Smith Jr. There are some great fits in this draft.

Hopefully it all leads to a competitive team. I don't know. But the strategy makes sense. Let's see it out.

In the meantime, no, Casey shouldn't be fired. Cade, Killian, and Stew don't suck. This is just how it goes.

Let's enjoy what we can and know the best is yet to come.

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