During the 2018-19 season, the Detroit Pistons finished 41-41 and were bounced in the first round of the NBA playoffs. After years of middling records along these lines, the team’s brass decided it was time to tear things down before building back up.
Since then, they’ve gone 20-46, 20-52, 23-59, and 17-65, with last year’s bottoming out punctuated by the loss of former No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham to a shin injury 12 games into the season. But Detroit had a busy offseason, making Monty Williams the highest-paid coach in the league, selecting versatile swingman Ausar Thompson and high-scoring guard Marcus Sasser in the first round of the draft, and trading a future second-rounder to Washington for veteran point guard Monte Morris.
All of this seemingly positive activity helps explain why, once again, futures bettors have been bullish on the Pistons’ season win total, which opened at 25.5 at Caesars Sportsbook and has since been bet up to 28.5.
“We took a lot of over bets on them early on,” explained David Lieberman, Caesars’ lead NBA trader. “We moved it up a win each time we took some heavy action. Once we hit 28.5, we started taking some money on the under and that’s why the juice is where it is (-130 on the under, +100 on the over). We’ve been seeing some buyback, so there’s a little bit of a middle there. Ultimately, they’ve been one of the most popular season win total overs for us.”
Thompson, the fifth pick in the draft, has looked like the real deal this preseason and could log big minutes for Detroit when it opens the regular season Wednesday night in Miami, where Caesars lists the Heat as 8.5-point favorites. Caesars has Thompson as a 25/1 fourth choice to win Rookie of the Year behind Victor Wembanyama, Chet Holmgren, and Scoot Henderson, although there’s some precedent for a solid all-around player like Thompson winning the award.
“[Malcolm] Brogdon would be a good comparison for sure,” Lieberman said of the current Portland point guard’s 2016-2017 campaign with Milwaukee. “Andrew Wiggins, when he won it — bad team, good stat line. His stats across the board were pretty good. He got a ton of minutes that year.”
A chase in the crowd
Understandably, the Pistons are an extreme longshot to make any noise in the postseason, with their odds of winning the Central Division set at 150/1 and the Eastern Conference at 250/1. (They’re at 500/1 to win the NBA title, tied for worst in the league.)
But in addition to Thompson’s longshot Rookie of the Year prospects, there are a pair of individual markets where some Pistons are expected to contend. Caesars has Cunningham at 8/1 to be named Most Improved Player, while second-year forward Jalen Duren is at 20/1 to lead the league in rebounding.
As for Cunningham’s MIP candidacy, Lieberman said, “I’m pretty sure he’s No. 1 in tickets. The odds reflect the betting we’ve taken on him. I think he has a great shot. I could see Cade coming out of the gate strong and having even lower odds than he does now. We’ve been taking money on [76ers guard Tyrese] Maxey with people assuming Harden will be gone. I think [Washington guard Jordan] Poole has a great chance because he’s going to put up ungodly numbers on that team.”
The clearest path for Duren to contend for a league rebounding title is for Detroit’s crowded situation at the four and five spots — where Isaiah Stewart, James Wiseman, and Marvin Bagley will also compete for minutes — to clear a bit. The 19-year-old Duren averaged 9 rebounds in just 25 minutes per game in his rookie year, and Lieberman thinks he can be among the NBA’s most prolific glass cleaners if that latter figure nudges up to 30.
“I’m guessing he’d have to play starter’s minutes to win the award,” said Lieberman. “I was assuming the Pistons would unload Bagley or at least one of the guys who are part of that logjam. I think Duren has the most upside. He could put up huge numbers in even a little bit less minutes.”
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