Now that we’re over the summer league, we’ve reached the dog days of recess. The Detroit Pistons still have a cap space after trading for Joe Harris and Monte Morris on the first day of free agency. There could be more moves before training camp opens, but it’s been a quiet July so far.
This mailbag is appropriately heavy on questions about the rotation and Ausar Thompson, who is coming off a strong summer league performance after being selected fifth overall. Thanks to everyone who sent one.
How deep would you expect the rotation to be? Seems like so many guys can get minutes right now and guys like Livers could be the odd man out (but pretty sure the team is high on him) — @AllDayPistons
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Nine- or 10-man rotations are standard in the NBA, but Monty Williams may have his work cut out for him to figure out who to play each night. This is the deepest Pistons roster in years, with multiple ball handlers (Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Monte Morris, Killian Hayes, Marcus Sasser), plenty of playmaking and shooting at the rim (Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Harris, Isaiah Livers, Ausar Thompson, Alec Burks up front).
I think Livers’ spot in the rotation is safe given that he is one of Detroit’s better defenders and shooters and can also play power forward, the one position the team lacks depth at. But if his 3-point shooting goes cold, Williams will have options.
We all know that Cade Cunningham is the floor general of the starting lineup. Assuming Ausar Thompson starts Day 1, do you think he could run the second unit as a facilitator similar to his role in summer league? Or is it more of a kind of thing? — @NVRSettle313
Thompson was Detroit’s best playmaker in Las Vegas, and I think he showed enough for us to believe he’ll be a plus passer as a rookie as well. He was particularly good in transition and delivered passes across the goal. Expect the Pistons to lean into it next season. He will almost certainly share ball-handling responsibilities with one of Cunningham, Ivey or Morris at any given time, but he should mesh well with whichever unit he plays with.
Cunningham, Ivey and Hayes were all Day 1 starters as rookies. I’m curious to see if Thompson becomes Detroit’s first top-10 pick to start his career off the bench. Starting him would likely force either Bogdanovic or Isaiah Stewart to the bench, and I expect Williams to prioritize spacing. Thompson may eventually work himself into a starting role because of his defense and passing, but his lack of a consistent outside jumper will hurt him.
Give me a player comp for Ausar after seeing his Summer League performance – do you think him having a Jimmy Butleresque ceiling is accurate? — @hottakehomie
I like the Jimmy Butler comparison – they’re both athletic wings who excel both defensively and as playmakers. It’s not a perfect comparison, as Butler was among the NBA’s most efficient scorers last season, and it’s too early to tell what Thompson will look like offensively next season. But if it all clicks for Thompson, I think he can reach stardom.
Butler is obviously a high bar to reach. He doesn’t take many 3-pointers, but shot 53.9% overall last season thanks to his interior and mid-range game. Butler can also hit 3-pointers when needed, as we saw during the Heat’s Finals run. He is among several players Thompson should take notes from.
I’ll throw out another comparison – Nicolas Batum. The 34-year-old French wing has long been one of the league’s most well-rounded forwards, and I believe Thompson can have the same impact for Detroit. The big difference is that Batum is a career 36.5% 3-point shooter. Thompson needs to prove he can knock down shots.
Given the current roster, who is in your final lineup of a close game to end the season? I like the idea of a big/defensive lineup of Cade, Ausar, Livers, Stew, Duren, that lineup has great shiftability and rebounding. — @BeefStewDude
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I’m a fan of that lineup too. It can switch one to four, and Duren also got some defensive chops on the edge last season. However, he would have to make some strides defensively to stay in that lineup. Although he has had good defensive moments, he is still learning the nuances of protecting the rim.
My lineup would be Cunningham, Ivey, Bogdanovic, Livers and Stewart. It’s a small lineup, but Stewart is Detroit’s best defensive big, and it also puts at least four shooters on the floor (assuming one of Cunningham or Stewart improves their 3-point percentage next season). Cunningham and Ivey both have the tools to be at least average defensively, and Livers is already a plus on that end of the floor. There are lots of scores. It checks every box.
Could you see them moving on from Wise prior to the season and picking a big vet? Either Bagley or an FA signing?
If Bogi is traded for a young wing (fringe rotation player) and a pick, who could you see absorbing his minutes at the three? Stew and Harris? Ausar wouldn’t start — @Caverj02
I would be surprised to see Wiseman traded this offseason, but anything is possible. He has a fan in Weaver, who had him first on his 2020 draft board, who prioritized trading him at the February deadline. Unless he’s included in a major deal, it’s hard to see the Pistons pulling the plug before they have to.
That said, the Pistons have a crowded frontcourt. It’s hard to see more than two of Duren, Stewart, Wiseman and Marvin Bagley III getting consistent minutes every night. They could balance their roster with a preseason trade. Of this group, Wiseman and Bagley appear to have higher odds of being traded.
Wiseman, 22, is extension eligible and one year from restricted free agency. He hasn’t played much basketball — just 33 more career minutes than Duren despite playing two more seasons — and it’s unclear if the minutes will be there for him to prove himself next season. If he can’t crack Williams’ rotation, perhaps a trade will become more likely.
As for who should replace Bogdanovic’s minutes in the starting lineup, I could see Livers being promoted. His outside shooting and perimeter defense would make him a good fit. I also wouldn’t count out Thompson, who impressed in summer league and could make a case for himself if his defense and passing work.