Troy Weaver didn’t mince words when describing just how good Thursday was for the Detroit Pistons.
They exited the 2022 NBA draft with a guard widely considered the best in the class, Jaden Ivey, and a big man, Jalen Duren, who could end up being the best center. They’re both explosive athletes in their own way — Ivey has elite speed and leaping ability, and Duren is built like a brick house and can catch and finish nearly any lob from Detroit’s guards.
The Pistons got significantly more athletic and more talented. Their front office is very happy.
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“Throughout the process we had about seven guys we really liked, and these two were at the top of the list,” the Pistons general manager said during an introductory news conference at Rouge Park on Friday. “I’m thrilled. You can’t see it because I’ve probably had six hours of sleep in the last 14 days, but I’m more excited than I’ve ever been.”
That’s high praise, considering the Pistons selected Cade Cunningham No. 1 overall less than a year ago. But it speaks to the upside that Ivey and Duren bring. They have star power, and their sheer athleticism gives Detroit an element it hasn’t had in years. Andre Drummond and Ben Wallace were both strong and could jump, like Duren. But who was the last guard who could get to the rim like Ivey?
Now head coach Dwane Casey and his staff have to figure out how the pieces fit together. Detroit has now drafted a guard with its top pick three straight years, including Killian Hayes in 2020. Isaiah Stewart spent most of his time at center last season, which is Duren’s natural position. Some adjustments will be required, but there’s optimism.
Hayes, Cunningham and Ivey all bring different skills to Detroit’s guard rotation. Hayes was the Pistons’ best perimeter defender last season and could be the best natural passer on the roster. The rest of his game is still progressing, but this year’s NBA Finals matchup showed the value of defense-minded guards. Derrick White and Marcus Smart logged heavy minutes for the Boston Celtics during their playoff run, and Gary Payton II was a key contributor for the Golden State Warriors.
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All three of Detroit’s guards will have to improve their shooting next season. Ivey was inconsistent at Purdue and Cunningham shot just 31.4% last season — a percentage that should improve if Cunningham’s workload decreases. But Cunningham’s all-around versatility, Ivey’s ability to get downhill and Hayes’ defense could give Casey an intriguing three-guard lineup, which he intends to explore.
“They can play together,” Casey said Friday. “You noticed in a lot of games, we finished with three-guard lineups. Jaden gives us speed and quickness, Killian gives us a defensive presence and size for bigger guards. And Cade gives you a little bit of everything. Those three guards, you probably will see them a lot as the year goes on, just because of that. That’s one reason why we wanted Jaden in that group, because he added a skill that Cade and Killian weren’t born with. This young man here is one of the quickest in the league. That’s one reason why he fits with that group.”
Detroit also sees upside in pairing Stewart with Duren. Stewart has spent time at power forward during his two seasons, and last season he showcased an ability to stay in front of smaller forwards and guards on defense. That versatility, along with his developing outside shot — he was 11-for-18 on 3s during the Pistons’ final 18 games last season — suggests he could eventually become a full-time power forward.
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“I mean, they’re different,” Weaver said of Stewart and Duren on Thursday. “(Duren’s) bigger, his presence is more pronounced. Isaiah has shown to be able to play out on the floor shooting the 3. They can play together easily. Horford and Robert Williams played together (for Boston) and they have two big kids in Cleveland playing together. I don’t see it as a challenge either way. Two different players, but both guys bring hard hats and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Since the Pistons are still in rebuild mode, they can afford to experiment and be patient. Ivey is 20, and Duren, who doesn’t turn 19 until November, will be the NBA’s youngest next season. They will bring the rookies along as fast, or as slow, as needed.
But one thing is certain — the Pistons will be much faster and much more athletic next season. And that could make life easier for not only the coaching staff, but Cunningham and the rest of the young core as well.
“To say they’re going to come in and conquer the world right off the bat, we don’t want to put that pressure on them,” Casey said. “We’ll start with the fundamentals, and yes, we will utilize that. We do want to play faster and utilize Jaden and also Jalen’s ability to run the floor. There’s a lot of different combinations we can play with. But we do want to take advantage of their strengths and do what they do.
“I just told them, ‘I don’t mind mistakes, because all young players make mistakes. But do it hard. Make hard mistakes. I don’t care if you miss 10 shots, just play hard and do it hard and good things will happen,’ and these two young men play the right way. They play extremely hard. That’s going to help their growth process.”
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