Detroit Pistons: 2 measurable goals for success in the 2021-22 season

(Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports)
(Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports) /

The season outlook for the Detroit Pistons is at least somewhat optimistic, justified mainly through securing the first overall draft pick, Cade Cunningham. Still, this does not mean they are all of a sudden competing for a playoff spot, far from it. They are only one year removed from being one of the worst teams in the league, so expectations must be set accordingly.

In fact, bookmakers have set the total win projection at a paltry 24.5. Only Orlando and Oklahoma City are lower on the list. In last year’s season of 72 games, the Pistons won 20 of them, which roughly calculates to 23 wins in a standard year. An extra win or two would hardly be considered much growth.

While progress may or may not be reflected in the standings, there are some measurable differences to hope for or even expect in this upcoming season. Troy Weaver’s first draft in November 2020 was the genesis of this new era of Detroit Pistons basketball. This will be another year of trials for the young organization, which will hopefully show they are on the right track.

Win or lose, there are two minor yet critical improvements that may show the Pistons are going to have a better season than last year, even if it is by a minimal amount.

Here are two measurable goals for the Detroit Pistons in 2021-22.

The most noticeable enhancement the Pistons could make is if they start to rebound the ball better–on the defensive end in particular. The Pistons finished last season in the bottom five for both total and defensive rebounds.

Maintaining possession on the offensive end was only marginally better; they were 19th in the league. Leading the team were Mason Plumlee (6.7 DRPG) and rookie Isaiah Stewart (4.3 DRPG).

It is apparent why defensive rebounds are essential to a team’s success. A defensive rebound both begins a new scoring opportunity and prevents opponents from getting another chance. This bears out.

The Pistons had a pace of 97.9 possessions and gave up 13.4 second-chance points per game. Both of these rank in the bottom third of the league. Furthermore, they will now have to make do without Plumlee, now a Charlotte Hornet.

This means there may be more riding on Stewart in just his second year, as he will probably be the primary center. Already in preseason games, he has shown off some rebounding prowess under the defensive basket, which could project well for the regular season.

Kelly Olynyk will be a good upgrade at the forward position in terms of rebounding, especially if he picks up where he left off last season, getting major minutes on an admittedly bad Houston team. In 27 games for the Rockets, the eight-year veteran grabbed 8.4 rebounds per game, nearly seven of which came on the defensive end. This is far and away from a career-high for Olynyk.

Another factor the Pistons need to address is their high rate of turnovers–and the defensive play following a turnover. They still turned the ball over 14.9 times per game, the sixth-most in the league. For a team that already plays slowly, they cannot afford to give away points.

Now, turnovers alone do not doom a team, but the points allowed afterward can and do. Take the Lakers, for instance. They actually turned the ball over more than Detroit but gave up fewer points off turnovers because they have one of the best defenses in the league.

How do the Pistons limit turnovers? For starters, Killian Hayes, the team’s biggest culprit at 3.2 per game, may naturally see less time at the point guard spot. Instead, Hayes could be more of a recipient of plays, where he seems more adept, rather than having to make them.

Cory Joseph and Saben Lee may shoulder more of the primary role, as they started to near the end of last year. Cunningham as well, when healthy, should assume some of the primary ballhandling tasks. The downside? Cunningham has been known to try and force passes when they are not available.

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After last season, there are sure to be at least a few desirable improvements on the year. The above two are quantifiable, and their importance is obvious: limiting opponents’ possessions will lead to fewer points allowed.

For a team like the Detroit Pistons that struggled to win games, every point helps. While the above improvements might not necessarily translate in the wins column, they may still be an indication of what is to come.