October was a new dawn for the Detroit Pistons. Rookie phenom Cade Cunningham was back for his second year and would be joined by two talented first-rounders in Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. And the team seemed poised to put a competitive product on the court after trading for veteran sharpshooters Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks.
Bettors were bullish on Detroit’s prospects, but the Pistons got off to a slow start before Cunningham was felled by a season-ending shin injury after playing in just 12 games. The prevailing sentiment went from one of cautious optimism to “better luck next year” — a deflating forecast that Pistons loyalists have gotten all too used to in recent seasons.
With a record of 13-38, Detroit is among the favorites to finish with the NBA’s worst record. Should that result in the team landing 7-foot-2 French phenom Victor Wembanyama, all will be forgiven. But with 31 games to play — including a visit to Dallas to face the Mavericks (consensus 8.5-point favorites at several mobile sportsbooks) on Monday night — fans are currently left searching for silver linings.
Thankfully, the aforementioned rookies, Ivey and Duren, provide cause for enthusiasm. While still very young (Ivey’s 20, while Duren is but a teenager at 19) and raw, they are elite athletes who’ve held their own while thrust into the starting lineup for most of the season.
Youngsters have some growing to do
Ivey was the higher pick and has been more consistent this season, leading all rookies with 4.5 assists per game and ranking third with a scoring average of 15.1 points. Duren, meanwhile, leads all rookies with 8.6 rebounds per game while averaging 8.3 points.
The top pick in last June’s draft, Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic, is the runaway favorite to win Rookie of the Year at odds of -700 (DraftKings). Pacers sixth man Bennedict Mathurin is the consensus second choice, with Ivey the consensus third choice at odds ranging from 33/1 (BetMGM) to 40/1 (DraftKings).
Duren is a 500/1 longshot at BetMGM, but the fact that he’s among just a dozen or so rookies to be assigned odds speaks to how much promise he’s shown. Hanging 250 chiseled pounds on his 6-foot-11 frame, Duren is one of the league’s most impressive physical specimens, regardless of age, and he may still have some growing to do.
As one of Detroit’s primary creators, Ivey can be forgiven for shooting just 41.3% from the floor. Conversely, Duren has embraced the role of rim runner, shooting 65.4% from the field on a steady diet of dunks and putbacks.
Neither Pistons rookie is a particularly effective free throw shooter or defender, but they possess the physical skills to improve dramatically between now and season’s end. Once Cunningham returns and establishes some chemistry with Ivey and Duren, the trio could finally form the nucleus of an exciting team on the rise. Hopefully, that will prove to be more than lip service this time around.
Photo: Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY