The Detroit Pistons have split their first two preseason games with a close loss to the Phoenix Suns and a big comeback win vs. the OKC Thunder.
Most of the preseason talk has revolved around injuries and the starting lineup, as the Pistons have already seen Cade Cunningham, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jalen Duren and Monte Morris on the bench with “minor” injuries and Jaden Ivey yanked from the starting lineup.
Fans are rightfully suspicious about the injury status of Cade Cunningham, as he is coming off a missed season and is already dealing with tendinitis. He did take part in drills in the open practice yesterday, so hopefully that is a sign that the team is just being cautious.
So there have been some disturbing trends and developments, but there have also been some numbers to get excited about through the first two games of the preseason.
Killian Hayes’ field goal percentage
Obviously, Killian Hayes has work to do to secure his spot in the rotation, but if he plays like he has so far, it’s going to be difficult to keep him out. Hayes has looked more aggressive going to the rim, has played tough on-the-ball defense (3 steals per game so far) and leads the team in total assists while taking care of the ball.
He’s averaged 14.5 points per game, but more importantly, has shot 57.1 percent from the field overall. His 3-point shooting hasn’t been great, but it doesn’t need to be, as the Pistons have other players who can spread the floor around him. If Killian can continue to use his size to aggressively get to the rim, good things will happen, especially if he is a threat to actually finish as he has been so far. We know he can pass, and being able to consistently finish drives will only help open things up for him.
Isaiah Stewart’s blocks
The Pistons need someone to step up as a rim protector and so far that person has been Isaiah Stewart. Detroit didn’t have a single player average at least one block per game last season, which is wild considering how many bigs they have. While they are looking for a big leap from Jalen Duren defensively, Stewart is the anchor of the defense right now, as he has averaged two blocks per game through the first two preseason games and has defended all over the court. Fans love to nitpick Stew’s game, but one thing you can’t deny is that he brings defensive effort 100 percent of the time, which is going to play for Monty Williams.
He needs to cut down on the fouls and stop biting on so many pump fakes, but so far he’s been the Pistons’ best shot blocker by far, and I expect him or Ausar Thompson (yep, him) to lead the team this season.
Ausar Thompson’s rebounds
If you are going to play big, you had better dominate the boards, which the Detroit Pistons certainly did not do last season, especially on the defensive end. Part of the problem was that none of their forwards grabbed rebounds, as Saddiq Bey (4.7) and Bojan Bogdanovic (3.8) were below average for forwards.
Enter Ausar Thompson.
Not only has he been flying around on defense and making plays on offense, but has averaged nine rebounds per game through the first two so far. This will not only help the Pistons close out more possessions defensively, but get more easy buckets, as Ausar can get a board and unleash a long outlet pass or start the fast break himself. We are going to see a lot of transition buckets this season that start with a rebound from Ausar Thompson.
It hasn’t all been easy sailing so far for the Pistons, but these are numbers they can build upon.