Detroit Pistons: The necessity of retaining the youth

Detroit Pistons Christian Wood and Sekou Doumbouya. (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons Christian Wood and Sekou Doumbouya. (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

As the Detroit Pistons commitment to the rebuild continues, their focal point must stay locked in on developing and maintaining their youth.

Without question, the most imminent priority and concern for the Detroit Pistons this off season is to secure their breakout performer, 24-year-old Christian Wood. Barely reserving the 15th and final roster spot before the season opener, Wood flourished to becoming the best player on the roster in a matter of months.

In the final ten games before the postponement of the 2019-20 NBA season, he mushroomed in statistical categories like points per game (24.2), rebounds per game (9.8), three-point percentage (37.5) and field goal percentage (57.8). In fact, his tear in March included two 30 point performances against the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers.

The same priority is on the horizon for former Duke Blue Devil Luke Kennard.

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After bilateral knee tendinitis forced Kennard away for nearly three months, the third year guard was set to resume play before COVID-19 struck.

Before flaring knee issues, Kennard was also in the midst of a breakout campaign with career highs in points (15.8), assists (4.1), rebounds (3.5) and minutes (32.9) per game, plus free throw percentage (89.3 percent).

Sekou Doumbouya polished off his rookie campaign with flashes of pure wizardry and sighs of excruciating growing pains. His peak came January 15th in T.D. Garden against the Boston Celtics where he poured in 24 points on 10 for 13 shooting. Practically the whole team had a +/- of greater than 0, but Doumbouya displayed a glimpse of what the Pistons desired when selecting the frenchman.

There were several instances of dismay, however, as he was shipped to Grand Rapids several times. His statistical line for the season isn’t anything to drool over, but undoubtedly retaining Sekou is absolutely necessary.

At one point, there was quite a bit of chatter surrounding Bruce Brown in him becoming the future point guard. Although that has become more of a whisper, Brown improved dramatically in his second season.

The former Miami Hurricane nearly doubled in every statistical category from his rookie campaign, including becoming a somewhat respectable three point shooter. Brown’s defensive ability will continue to be his strength, while his offensive game improves to provide a much-needed jolt in the lineup.

The last piece needed to be retained is third-year sharpshooter Svi Mykhailiuk. The 23-year-old was fast-tracked into the starting lineup this past season and flourished. In 31 games, he averaged 11.8 points per game, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 28 minutes.

Impressively, Mykhailiuk shot 40 percent from behind the long line. All-star Blake Griffin said Svi is in for nothing but success in the future.

"“Physically, right away you can see the things that he brings to the table, but I think he grew this year and sort of his mental approach, and also just his confidence that he can impact the game in more ways than just shooting,” Griffin said. “I think next year will be a big year for him. He’s put in a lot of work and I feel like he’s taking that step.”"

With such evidence in domination, how do the Pistons maintain their most coveted young players as free agency looms into the next two seasons?

Draft Day

Although Detroit had the fifth worst record in the league in this season, there is immense freedom moving forward with their roster. The Pistons will have the seventh draft pick in this year’s draft and an opportunity to add another true play maker to their roster.

With Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk, Khyri Thomas and Justin Patton guaranteed to return next season, it leaves over half the roster empty and unknown moving forward.

Thus the seventh pick is crucial to reinforcement of future success of the team. Although there’s significant speculation as to who will fall to Detroit in the draft, Killian Hayes consensually arrives as the favorite to being a Piston.

After a year in Germany, the 6’5″ point guard has rumored to becoming evolved as a true decision-maker and crafty all-around game. His maturity and on-court awareness have calmed his questioned jump shot and athletic ability, and provides a big room for growth in the NBA. Hayes, only 19, still is a few years away from legitimate contributions.

But with the Pistons desperate need of a lead guard, they can wage high on his upside moving forward. Hayes isn’t the only option at seven, as lanky wing player Isaac Okoro is in consideration, along with Dayton big Obi Toppin and defensive monster Onyeka Okongwu.

Let us not forget that the Pistons have a chance to trade down and be compensated with an additional draft pick or player. Doing so, options in a ball-handler or scorer like Kira Lewis Jr., Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton or Tyrese Maxey all could be available.

Nevertheless, a convincing draft pick would drastically improve the chances of retaining Wood, Kennard and company for the significant future.

Paying up

Wood has made an abysmal $4.5 million in his five years as a pro and is unassumingly searching to cash in with a new contract. The Pistons do have the early-bird rights to Wood which means they’ll be able to give him at least the average NBA salary of $9.7 million per season.

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It’s hard to imagine that Wood will accept anything below $10 million per season, but the early bird gets the worm in certain circumstances. All 30 teams will be closely monitoring Wood’s situation into the off season and will surely be willing to throw cash his way.

Detroit’s wide open cap space will easily give them a chance to fire back any offer another team gives Wood. Wood’s versatility, proven capability and utmost potential all are tall tale signs to secure him in Detroit long term.

Kennard’s situation should ease Pistons fans’ minds moving into next season. He’ll be entering his fourth season as a pro and is in prime position to sign a long-term deal. Good news is, Kennard is eligible to sign a rookie-scale extension starting this off season. That rookie-scale extension can run up to five years, starting in 2021-22.

However, if Detroit fails to sign Kennard this off season, he’ll be eligible for restricted free agency next season.

No matter what, the Pistons will be spending soon and should use it within the team first and foremost. Trusting in the performances of young talent will solidify the process of postseason hopes moving forward. No question that’s what you’ll find with players like Kennard, Wood and company.

Strategic offseason acquisitions

With the second most cap-space entering the off season (over $30 million), the Pistons, Troy Weaver and Ed Stefanski should be willing and ready to spend. The 2020 free agent class isn’t as loaded as the 2021, but has plenty of hidden talent Detroit can take advantage of.

The overall number one target has to be Brandon Ingram. However, the Pelicans would be foolish to let him walk. This could be the year the Pistons lay low and spend intelligently, while gearing up for future free agents.

Strategical, tasteful acquisitions like Harry Giles or even a modest splash in recruiting Fred VanVleet over would put the Pistons in position to really gear up for future assets.

Currently, the roster still has two very relevant stars in Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose. Those players motor the squad to competitiveness and playoff consideration. But the driving focus has to be directed towards recruiting and maintaining a successful youth movement.

Coach Dwane Casey’s track record in Toronto is substantial evidence in what is being implemented in Detroit. Executing the draft, securing and paying the right players, and strategical off season moves will put the Pistons in position to going from competitors to contenders in a rather expeditious fashion.

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