Shortly before the start of the current NBA season, sports bettors and bookmakers alike were bullish on the prospects of the 2022-2023 Detroit Pistons.
Back in early October, FanDuel trader Bobby Kara told MI Bets that “Pistons to make the playoffs was probably the most bet-on team” at his sportsbook, while PointsBet’s Sam Garriock gushed, “We’re bullish on Detroit. Getting [Bojan] Bogdanovic is a signal of intent, that they’re trying to be competitive this season and not throw in the towel really early. The key is that they’re in it long enough so they don’t tank.”
They weren’t in it long enough. With a record of 7-22 and having just shut down franchise cornerstone Cade Cunningham for the year with a shin injury that will require surgery, the Pistons’ race to the bottom has begun in earnest.
ESPN Sources: Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham – the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft – plans to have season-ending surgery on his left shin. Cunningham is expected to make a full recovery ahead of training camp in 2023-2024. pic.twitter.com/0OyUkDOtK7
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 12, 2022
At odds of +175, Detroit is currently the favorite at Caesars Sportsbook to finish with the NBA’s worst record. But would winding up with the league’s best odds (14% chance) to land consensus top prospect Victor Wembanyama really be such a bad thing?
Absolutely not! But the problem is what would happen if Detroit doesn’t win the lottery.
“Scoot Henderson is just a supercharged Jaden Ivey,” said Garriock in assessing the other top 2023 draft prospects. “Amen Thompson can’t shoot. He’s kind of a big guard who wants the ball as well. Obviously, Wembanyama is the perfect fit piece for everybody. At the top of this draft, there really isn’t all that much shooting. It takes a little while after Wembanyama to find a skilled big man. [The Pistons] have got plenty of athleticism; it’s just a lack of craft and skill on this roster.”
PointsBet isn’t currently offering a “worst record” market, but Garriock said the sportsbook likely will around the All-Star break.
“It’s a difficult one because you have to be so in tune with not only team quality, but also team motivation,” he explained. “It’s really good at the All-Star break to assess team motivations. As much as you see win totals never really dip below 23.5 before the season starts, you’ll have teams with 15-win totals after the All-Star break when they’re really leaning into the tank.”
Too stanky to tank further?
Detroit’s steadiest hand (and leading scorer) this season has been newly acquired Bogdanovic, a prolific perimeter shooter who’d be a really nice piece on just about any team. Hence, it’s no surprise that the 33-year-old forward has been a mainstay in trade rumors ever since the Pistons sputtered out of the gate.
But he’s not the only one. Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart are both third-year players on rookie contracts that Pistons brass will have to decide whether to extend at season’s end. Both have shown flashes of promise, but not nearly enough to make them shoo-ins to be considered part of the team’s long-term core.
“I think the young guys haven’t really made the steps that you would hope,” said Garriock. “Saddiq Bey, in particular, hasn’t been able to carve out that 3-and-D role. We haven’t really seen a jump from Beef Stew.”
But in looking at which players the Pistons are likeliest to move, Garriock pointed to a pair of veteran reserves who were also acquired in the offseason.
“I think it’s much more likely to be Nerlens Noel, to be Alec Burks,” he said. “I suppose it’s kind of decision time for Saddiq Bey because you have to extend or trade him. You saw it with Cam Reddish being traded to the Knicks because the Hawks didn’t want to pay him. I could see guys like Bey or Stewart on the trade block, but they’re probably more likely to stay.”
Regardless of what happens to that pair of former first-rounders, Garriock isn’t sure that Detroit has the same potential to sell itself for scrap that other stank-tankers do.
“What are the Pistons gonna do to lean more into the tank? They’re already playing all their young guys,” Garriock observed. “When we’re looking at worst regular season record, I kind of wouldn’t want to bet on the Pistons. Outside of trading Bogdanovic and maybe Burks, what kind of leaders can they really move or sit to go further into the tank?”
Photo: Stephen Lew/USA TODAY