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Rod Beard: Pistons have direction, but playoffs likely will have to wait

Rod Beard, The Detroit News on

Published in Basketball

When the Pistons started last season, they were hanging on to the last shreds of a roster that they thought could maybe make the playoffs. That group had a slew of question marks about what could go right to help them work their way into the postseason and end their streak of playoff losses.

Could Blake Griffin get back to his All-NBA form of 2019? Would Jerami Grant become a complementary piece to their frontcourt and be a good long-term piece? What were they getting in their three first-round selections, including No. 7 overall pick Killian Hayes?

As the Pistons start gearing up for the start of this season, they have more definitive answers to all of those questions — but more importantly, they have a direction. Last season's dismal 20-52 record yielded the No. 1 overall pick, Cade Cunningham, but the Pistons still likely won't make the playoffs.

If they somehow make the postseason this year, it will be a huge surprise — meaning they're further along in general manager Troy Weaver's franchise restoration than they thought. A chance at the playoffs would entail jumping from last in the Eastern Conference to somewhere near the middle. Even with Cunningham, the Pistons still have a new set of questions heading into training camp in a couple of weeks, queries focused squarely on internal development and lessons learned from last year.

A lot of things would have to go right for the Pistons to be looking at even getting to the play-in tournament, which would be ninth or 10th place.

It could happen, but don't put all the eggs in the postseason basket yet — or any of the eggs, really.

 

The Pistons aren't constructed to make a deep playoff run. There's no All-NBA player on the roster like Griffin. They'll depend heavily on second-year players and Cunningham will play a major role, which could be a roller-coaster ride in his rookie season.

Grant is coming off an important stint with Team USA in the Olympics, a run that was capped with winning the gold medal. That experience will be critical for his own personal development, as well as imparting some of that wisdom and knowledge to the younger players.

Like last season, Grant still will be the focal point of the offense — this year, though, he'll have some help. Cunningham showed in the NBA Summer League that he's capable of carrying the scoring load at times. The nature of Cunningham's game allows him to be a facilitator, and though he didn't get to show very much of that skill set in Las Vegas, everyone knows that it's there.

Since the draft, there has been so much wondering aloud about whether Hayes and Cunningham will fit together on the offensive end that it's become a topic of discussion that really doesn't warrant all the worry. It's reasonable to question whether Hayes' past perimeter shooting and wonder whether he can be the off-ball scorer to play alongside Cunningham. There's no question whether Cunningham can be the shooter and scorer.

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