The Pistons are riding a 10 game losing streak. But at least they are not drunkenly weaving all over the road to their typical end-of-season destination of a high draft pick. Instead, they are riding at a steadily increasing speed and have clear eyes that are focused on a predetermined destination of gaining more experience for their talented young players.
The hard part for Pistons fans is trying not to always ask, “Are we there yet?”
20, 20, 20, 22, and 27.
These are the ages of the Piston starting five. Cade Cunningham – rookie, and Killian Hayes – basically a rookie because he missed most of last year due to an injury. Also Isaiah Stewart – second year, Saddiq Bey – second year, and Jerami Grant with seven years in the league.
The bench players are not much older or experienced. Most are between the ages of 20 and 24 years old. Cory Joseph, Rodney McGruder, and Kelly Olynyk are the greybeards of the team at 30 years old.
This is a young team that displays the lack of experience youth brings to the hardwood. Bad passes, undesirable shot selections, silly turnovers, bad fouls, and some confusing time management are some of the mistakes. What they lack in experience, these young whipper-snappers are learning to become a hardworking and talented team under Coach Dwane Casey. The team may be losing right now but they are exciting to watch, and to the Piston fans, a reason for hope.
The Pistons played well for most of the games on their latest West Coast road trip against teams over .500. Often they led or would come back from large deficits on a number of occasions to make the game exciting. But in the end, the team’s inexperience reared its ugly head.
Learning on the West Coast
During the recent road trip, the Pistons would play more than 40 minutes of hard-fought basketball each game. Then inexplicably it seemed the team would then go away from their game plan. They started throwing up contested shots, not covering the offensive rebounds, being a step slow defending. If they passed at all, the passes would lose the previous confident zip they had earlier in the game.
The Pistons returned from their West Coast trip to play against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team which lost their last game by an NBA record of 73 points. This was the game where the Piston’s 8-game losing streak would end. But the ugly inexperienced head rose again in the 4th quarter and the Pistons lost a game they were leading until the end.
Coach Casey said in a post-game conference that “At some point, the young players have to become older players. Once the other team ratchets up the pressure, or whatever it is, we have to be able to respond. Same shots you get in the first quarter, you’re probably not going to get, and the same calls you might get in the first quarter, you may not get in the fourth quarter because officials may let it go.”
The Piston’s next home game against the Washington Wizards seemed to show a Piston growth spurt. The Wizards are a good team but the Pistons stayed neck-to-neck with them the whole game, forcing it into overtime. Two things happened in overtime. Cade Cunningham is showing his growth into the player the Pistons thought they would have when they selected him with the number one overall pick. He did his best Dave Bing impersonation of scoring eight of the team’s ten points. More importantly, he looked like he knew just what he wanted to do with the ball and how to do it. It’s like he aged right before our eyes and gave the fans a look behind the curtain at their own wizard in the making.
The other thing that happened was the Wizards won the game by three points.
Where once there was dullness, now there is hope.
This in a nutshell is the 2021 Pistons. They have really good young talent starting with a soon-to-be-great two-headed guard combo that can score, pass, and defend. A young 3-point shooter wing with the growing confidence of scoring at the basket. And a somewhat undersized center who is quick and will out hustle and muscle most centers in the league. All of these players are 22 years old or younger and playing in their first and second years.
The Pistons only won four games this year, have lost ten straight games, and are seemingly headed to the lottery again. But there is a difference between this team and the previous losing Piston teams since 2010. Those past teams offered Piston fans old and injured high-priced players who plodded around the court for another blah and boring season. The present team is offering fans enjoyment over the excitement of young and growing talent with a high ceiling of a much better and fun future Piston team.
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