When the Detroit Pistons set their sights on losing, no one has been better in the past decade, but they’ve outdone themselves by recklessly assembling one of the worst examples of an ill-suited roster in a league based on on spacing, efficient scoring at the rim or behind the arc, and adaptable lineups.
Detroit’s 26th straight loss over the holiday weekend against the Brooklyn Nets tied them with the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers for the longest single-season losing streak in league history. They have even deeper depths to plumb. Two more losses would snap the Sixers’ 28-game hitting streak spanning the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. With their next three games against the Nets, Celtics and Pistons. They will likely smash that milestone by the New Year.
The aforementioned Cavs were peeling themselves off the carpet after LeBron James trotted out for Miami in a prime-time TV event. The Sixers were in the first season of their most difficult process seasons. This losing streak is the most relevant the Pistons have been since their last playoff win in 2008.
When Pistons owner Tom Gores hired Troy Weaver as the architect of their reconstruction, he plucked away a veteran Thunder executive who had spent a decade learning the dark art of evaluating prospects from Sam Presti.
“Troy is an outstanding executive with an exceptional record for identifying and developing talent,” Gores said in a statement.
Jim Boeheim lavished praise on Weaver, who was instrumental in Syracuse’s identification of Carmelo Anthony, before exploding on the recruiting trail.
“Anybody can spot LeBron and know he’s good, but not everybody knew Steph Curry was going to be really good. Troy has an eye. He is a good evaluator of both players and people,” Boeheim said The Athletics after Weaver was introduced as the Pistons GM.
Unfortunately, it didn’t play out that way. Today, Presti presides over a mine full of diamonds in the form of players approaching their prime scores. While the Thunder are flying high, Weaver’s Pistons are floundering. The Motor City’s Little Caesars Arena is a nightly professional basketball doomsday bunker. The Charlotte Hornets, owners of the second-longest active losing streak, have lost just seven in a row.
The San Antonio Spurs are just 30 games into their French Revolution, but have a cornerstone to build around and a head coach whose system rang in five championship parades between 1999 and 2014. The Washington Wizards have been in limbo for one season too long, but are invested in Tank Jordan and Tank Pippen, aka Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma for the foreseeable future.
However, the Pistons have lost nearly 75 percent of their games dating back to the start of the pandemic. Since 2019, they have declined 40 more games than the Wizardsthe NBA’s worst team in that stretch.
This is not a matter of tinkering. Their entire blueprint is flawed. The Crash Brothers, Cade Cunningham, Ausar Thompson and Jaden Ivey are the league’s coldest shooting guards. Overall, the Pistons are shooting the NBA’s lowest percentage from downtown while racking up the fewest attempts per game and starting their season with a two-big lineup including Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart.
For some bizarre reason, they have become a willing repository of other teams’ lottery trash. Their list total includes eight recent top-10 picks.
Kevin Knox quickly fell out of favor in New York, eventually being pushed out of the rotation and signed with the Pistons in 2022 before Detroit subsequently traded Knox to the Portland Trail Blazers at the deadline in the four-team James Wiseman deal. During the offseason, Knox re-signed with the Pistons. Jaden Ivey has been in and out of the rotation, but he is a Bugatti that thrives when he drives the track. Veteran Bojan Bogdanovic is the only above-average shooter in Monty Williams’ rotation, but at 34, he doesn’t figure into their long-term plans.
Jumbo guard Killian Hayes is still in development hell, posting a career-high .467 effective field goal percentage. At his best, he’s cementing his status as an under-30 shooter in the league. Hayes’ playmaking ability as a jumbo guard is what pushed him into the lottery, but his severe limitations as a bucket player played a big role in driving the Pistons to draft Cunningham number one overall in 2020.
During the 2022 offseason, they outdid themselves for Marvin Bagley by offering a three-year, fully guaranteed deal to a former no. 2 pick who isn’t a threat out of the lane, completely devoid of playmaking ability and is a negative defender.
Ausar Thompson is a jaw-dropping athlete, but anyone who watched him build mansions in Overtime Elite knew he was one of the prolific masons in the draft. For what it’s worth, Thompson is a bouncy slasher who can fill up the stat sheet on both ends without a functional jumper. But Weaver making a future all-around defender who now makes just 20 percent of his attempts from downtown with one of the worst shooting lineups in the modern NBA only adds to the deformities of this roster. Throw in a quartet of one-dimensional bigs, and you have the spark for a basketball Chernobyl.
Trading Wiseman months after receiving Jalen Duren in a Draft Day trade to pair with Isaiah Stewart was incomprehensible given the makeup of this team. The latter is more of a perimeter threat than Duren or Wiseman, but defensively he puts the Pistons at a disadvantage whether he’s patrolling the paint or eating steams as faster forwards zoom through him.
Three years after taking Cunningham first overall, Detroit is digging themselves deeper into a hole. Having lost the Victor Wembanyama sweep, despite owning the league’s worst record by five games, they will have to be lucky in a draft devoid of top-level prospects.
If the Pistons don’t find a lifeline in the draft, their fate rests on the development of Cunningham. On the plus side, Cunningham is a versatile point guard in a small forward’s body, who plays a cerebral brand of basketball.
Cunningham recently became the sixth player in NBA history to record 1,800 points, 600 assists and 500 rebounds in his first 100 games. Luka Doncic, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, LeBron James and Steve Francis round out an impressive list. Here’s the rub though. Of those six players, Cunningham’s true shooting percentage tells the story of a talent more suited to being a lieutenant than a heliocentric five-star floor general.
Through their first 100 games, Cunningham sticks out like a sore thumb when you examine how he stacks up to the group according to their respective effective field goal percentages, which weight 3-point shooting, and true shooting percentage, which factors in free throws.
His .312 career 3-point average ranks 139th out of 140 worst among high-volume shooters who has taken at least 500 triples since entering the league. He leads the league in turnovers, and in year three he lags behind getting to the free throw line, slamming irons behind the arc at a prolific rate and finishing atrociously in the lane despite his immense size and length. This season, through 29 games his shot was rejected more than any player in the league except for Jaren Jackson. Detroit has a conundrum on their hands. Sometimes Cunningham just fades into the background.
There is no way Weaver survives this structural disaster. Inevitably, he will leave behind an irradiated grid. When the Pistons finally win a game, someone will have to dig them out of this rubble and Cunningham is incapable of doing it alone.