The 2023-24 season for the Detroit Pistons has finally arrived.
Media day will take place Monday, when general manager Troy Weaver, head coach Monty Williams and players will lay out their expectations and hopes for the season. After winning an NBA-worst 17 games last year, there's optimism the fortunes will be dramatically better.
The preseason schedule begins Oct. 8 when the Pistons host Williams' former team, the Phoenix Suns, at Little Caesars Arena. The regular season will begin two weeks later, when the Pistons fly to Miami to face the Heat on Oct. 25.
Here are five storylines to follow this season:
Will Cade Cunningham take off?
Cunningham’s readiness after missing most of his sophomore season with a stress fracture in his left shin will be the determining factor in the Pistons’ success. He’ll command much of the attention during media day on Monday.
The signs have been positive thus far. Cunningham was the biggest story to come out of the USA Select Team’s scrimmages in Las Vegas with the national team ahead of the FIBA World Cup in August. He led his teammates to a victory over the more-experienced squad, thriving in a Luka Doncic-esque role. His worrisome shin is no longer bothering him.
"Cade looked great," Steve Kerr told reporters in Vegas. "The injury is clearly behind him. It's just great to see him healthy, and he's a guy who can really control a game from that point guard spot with his size and physicality, and it's good to see him looking so healthy."
If Cunningham makes “the leap” this season, we’ll have to reevaluate everything. The Pistons finally have the depth and shooting necessary to compete nightly. All they’re missing is a superstar to tie it all together. No pressure, Cade.
Can the restricted free agents make a case for themselves?
The Pistons are walking two paths — pushing for more victories after a disappointing 17-win season, while still trying to develop their young players. Killian Hayes and James Wiseman have more pressing timelines since both will enter restricted free agency next summer. And it’s unclear if there’s room in the rotation for either of them.
Despite already having Hayes, Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, the Pistons identified point guard as a position of need this offseason. They traded for Marcus Sasser in the first round of the draft, and then traded for veteran guard and Flint native Monte Morris a week later. They now boast tremendous point guard depth. And Hayes has become expendable.
It’s not surprising that things have gotten to this point with the Pistons’ 2020 seventh overall pick. While Hayes is a capable ball-handler and one of Detroit’s better perimeter defenders, his poor efficiency from every area of the floor has severely capped his upside and made him a poor fit next to the other guards. It’s tough to see how he’ll get consistent minutes barring an injury, and he’s an obvious candidate to be moved in a trade.
Wiseman, who the Pistons traded for in February, should have an easier path to playing time. Assuming Monty Williams starts Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren, Wiseman could come off of the bench as the third big. But he’ll be competing with Marvin Bagley III for minutes. And if Wiseman doesn’t grow as a paint protector and pick-and-roll finisher, Williams may look elsewhere to round out his center rotation.
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Will Ausar Thompson’s electric summer immediately translate?
The Pistons’ 2023 fifth overall pick had one of the franchise’s more memorable summer league performances in July. He quickly compiled a highlight reel of electric dunks, homerun passes and instinctive defensive plays. The Swiss Army knife skillset that separated him from the pack at Overtime Elite was on display.
On paper, he’s the defense-minded connective wing the Pistons have lacked in recent seasons. But he’s still a rookie, and Detroit’s depth at the forward positions means he may be the Pistons’ first top-seven pick to not begin the season as a starter since Troy Weaver took over in 2020.
That’s not inherently bad. Thompson’s blend of rebounding, transition ball-handling and court vision could make him a great fit with the second unit. But the starting lineup could use a lockdown defender, and Thompson was so strong in that area in Vegas that it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll be productive on that end from Day 1. Regardless of whether he starts or comes off of the bench, Thompson should have a substantial role.
What does Monty Williams have in mind for Joe Harris?
Somewhat lost in the offseason shuffle is that the Pistons acquired one of the NBA’s best shooters. And it speaks to their newfound depth that he may not be guaranteed a role on opening night.
Harris is a career 43.7% marksman from outside — the fourth-highest career average in NBA history — but was limited last season after undergoing two left ankle surgeries in 2021-22. After starting for four consecutive seasons with the Brooklyn Nets, he was demoted to a bench role and averaged 20.6 minutes per game — his lowest since his second season in 2015-16. But even in a down year, he hit 42.6% of his 3-pointers and tallied a true shooting percentage of 62.1%.
A 6-foot-6 wing, he’ll compete with Bojan Bogdanovic, Thompson, Isaiah Livers and Alec Burks for playing time. Bogdanovic and Burks are both strong shooters who hit around 41% of their 3-pointers last season. Livers and Thompson should be two of the better defenders on the roster, and Livers is also a skilled shooter.
The Pistons have multiple wing shooters — a good problem to have. Harris is the most accurate of the group, but he may have to offer more to stand out.
Will Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren take off in Year 2?
After Cunningham, the Pistons’ 2022 rookie duo will likely have the biggest impact on their season. Both showcased flashes of stardom last season — Ivey with his electric speed and improved shooting and playmaking, and Duren with his dominant rebounding and verticality.
There’s still plenty of room for both of them to grow, especially on defense. Ivey frequently got lost on screens, and Duren was often out of position when contesting shots. They’re typical rookie problems, but problems they’ll have to iron out nonetheless.
Defense was a priority for Ivey this offseason: He recently said he has all of the physical tools to be competent on that end of the floor. The learning curve is typically greater for centers — especially in today’s NBA, which rewards bigs who are nimble enough to step outside of the paint. Isaiah Stewart is the only positive defender among Pistons centers right now. Duren will have every opportunity to prove himself.
For (preseason) openers: Suns
Matchup: Pistons (17-65 in 2022-23) vs. Phoenix (45-37 in 2022-23), exhibition opener.
Tipoff: 3 p.m. Oct. 8; Little Caesars Arena, Detroit.
TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit; WWJ-AM (950).
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 5 Detroit Pistons storylines that matter for 2023-24 and future