Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State athletics
As a franchise, the Detroit Pistons are in the best place that they’ve been since Joe Dumars traded Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets in 2008.
That move began the demolition of the “Goin’ to Work” squad that won the NBA Finals several years prior. Over the last decade, there have been some very dark days for the franchise; however, general manager Troy Weaver has started to turn things around.
He drafted Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, and Isaiah Stewart last year. Even though Hayes spent much of his rookie year hurt, Bey and Stewart both exceeded expectations. Both were named to the All-NBA Rookie Team.
Weaver added even more talent in the 2021 NBA Draft, headlined by the No. 1 overall pick, Cade Cunningham. Pistons’ fans have every reason to be excited about their young core, who should dominate the Las Vegas Summer League.
Summer League Starting Lineup Prediction
Killian Hayes, G
Drafted seventh overall in 2020, Killian Hayes has already showcased elite playmaking ability. He has also showed that he can defend at a high level. Hayes’ main weakness is his shot. He has a smooth, left-handed shot, but he only made 28% of three-pointers last season. That mark has to improve. His shot is far from broken. When asked about Hayes’ shot, head coach Dwane Casey acknowledged the need for improvement, and said, “It’s coming along.” Hayes should be putting up many threes in Summer League, hoping to build confidence.
Cade Cunningham, G
Cade Cunningham has much hype to live up to, as a first overall pick. It will be interesting to watch him gel with the team in Summer League. When asked about Summer League, Cunningham said, “We want to win Summer League. We want to go undefeated.” One of Cunningham’s strengths is making everyone around him better. It will be interesting to watch him elevate the squad in Summer League.
Saddiq Bey, F
After being drafted 19th overall out of Villanova, Saddiq Bey had a great rookie year. His 175 three-pointers were good for third most all-time by a rookie. He would have been on pace to break Donavon Mitchell’s rookie record of 187 if the 2020-21 season had been the standard 82 games. Bey was on the Team USA Select squad that worked out with Team USA this summer in Las Vegas. He has nothing to prove in Summer League and should put up some big numbers.
Sekou Doumbouya, F
Sekou Doumbouya was the 15th overall pick in 2019. He was just 18 years old when he was drafted. Now, at 20, Doumbouya is the longest tenured player for the Pistons, after Weaver cleaned house. Doumbouya has shown some flashes of potential, but has yet to emerge as an NBA first-team player. Doumbouya’s strength is cutting to the basket. He has elite timing and vision for backdoor cuts, which allows him to get easy baskets around the rim. He needs to improve his three-point shooting and his defense as well. Summer League is a great opportunity for Doumbouya to earn a role coming off the bench this season.
Luka Garza, C
Drafted 52nd overall in the 2021 draft, Luka Garza will make a big impact on the Pistons’ Summer League team. Garza won the Wooden Award for the best collegiate basketball player for the 2020-21 season. Scouts question if he will have the speed to play adequate defense on the NBA level; however, nobody questions Garza’s offense. He made 44% of his three-pointers last season, which can help his team’s spacing. He should be very good during the NBA Summer League, even if that only translates to a two-way or a G League contract for Detroit.
Saben Lee, G
Saben Lee is fresh off a new three-year contract for the Pistons. He was drafted 38th overall in 2020. Lee handled the role of backup point guard well for much of last season. He even started seven games. Lee is set to make a big impact off the Summer League bench.
Spencer Littleson, G
An undrafted free agent from Toledo, Spencer Littleson is an elite three-point shooter and solid defender. His battle to earn a contract with the Pistons is certainly uphill, but he should be a valuable piece for this team.
Deividas Sirvydis, F
Deividas Sirvydis is a Lithuanian shooter that Pistons’ fans know all too well. He wasn’t projected to get selected at all in the 2019 draft, but the Pistons puzzlingly traded three second-round picks to select him 37th overall. It later came out that Sirvydis’ agent is Michael Tellum, son of Pistons’ vice chairmen Arn Tellum. Sirvydis was recently waived by the Pistons, but he still appears on the Summer League roster. He provides the ability to shoot off the bench.
Tyler Cook, F
Like Sirvydis, Tyler Cook is also on the Pistons’ Summer League Roster, less than a month after getting waived by the Pistons. He most likely wanted to play with Garza, a former Iowa teammate. Cook is an athletic forward who will add some bounce to the bench.
Balsa Koprivica, C
Weaver drafted Balsa Koprivica 57th overall this year, out of Florida State. His main strength is his athleticism for his size. He moves well for a 7-foot-1, 240-pound man. He rounds out what is a strong Summer League bench.
Isaiah Stewart and Isaiah Livers are listed on the Pistons’ roster, but are not cleared to play. Stewart suffered an ankle injury while working out with Team USA this summer. Livers has not been cleared from a foot injury that held him out of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan did well without him, but UCLA upset the Wolverines in the Elite 8.
None of the other guys are expected to make any big impact on the team. The following players make up the rest of the roster: Blake Francis, Grant Jerrett, John Petty Jr., Jamorko Pickett, Chris Smith, and Anthony Tarke.
Game 1: vs. Oklahoma City Thunder — Sunday, Aug. 8 at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The Pistons will face off against a fellow tanking team — the Oklahoma City Thunder. Oklahoma City has yet to announce an official roster, but should have two key participants in Summer League: guard Theo Maledon, and rookie guard from Australia, Josh Giddey. Giddey was somewhat of a surprise selection at No. 6 overall, although not necessarily a reach. He is only 18 and is a 6-7 playmaker. The Thunder hope that they can develop him into the cornerstone piece of their franchise. It will be interesting to see how the teenager performs.
Game 2: vs. Houston Rockets — Tuesday, Aug. 10 at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
One of the premier Summer League games, Cade Cunningham faces off against the second pick in the 2021 draft, Jalen Green. The Houston Rockets haven’t officially released their roster; however, it is expected that all four of their first-round picks this year will play. Alperen Şengün (16th) and Josh Christopher (24th) should definitely be participants. The Rockets are optimistic that Usman Garuba (23rd) will also participate, but he is travelling from Japan after playing for the Spanish Olympic team. Houston has a solid squad that will give the Pistons a real challenge.
Game 3: vs. New York Knicks — Friday, Aug. 13 at 8 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
This is another game that could cause the Pistons some trouble. The New York Knicks’ roster has some NBA guys, including Kevin Knox, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin. Knox is looking like a bust after being selected ninth overall in 2018. He doesn’t have much time to turn things around in New York. Even though Toppin was rated higher after getting selected eighth overall in 2020, it was Quickley who emerged as the top Knicks’ rookie last season. Joining those guys on the roster are the four rookies that the Knicks drafted this year in Quentin Grimes (25th), Rokas Jokubaitis (34th), Miles McBride (36th), and Jericho Sims (58th). Luca Vildoza is an Argentinian basketball player who recently signed an NBA contract with the Knicks. He is set to make an impact on this Summer League team as well.
Game 4: vs. Los Angeles Lakers — Saturday, Aug. 14 at 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Even though the Los Angeles Lakers are stacked, their Summer League team is not. They are headlined by undrafted free agents, Mac McClung and Joël Ayayi. McClung is more renown of the two. McClung’s fame grew as a high schooler, posting ridiculous highlight reel dunks. After seasons at Georgetown and Texas Tech, McClung decided to go pro. He hopes to make a good impression on the Lakers in Summer League. The Pistons should be able to handle this Lakers squad. The schedule of the Summer League postseason will not be announced until these games are completed. Detroit has high hopes of going undefeated in these four games and coming home with a Summer League championship.