Before the start of last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers boasted a roster filled with promising youngsters and a few steady veteran hands — and a season win total projection of 26.5. But the Cavs wound up vastly exceeding expectations, finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 44-38.
Could something similar be in store for the 2022-2023 Detroit Pistons?
“What’s working against them is the East is very strong,” said DraftKings trader Julian Edlow. “But at the same time, I think there’s no reason why they can’t be this year’s Cavs. Nobody had any hope for the Cavs last year, but that young core got it together and made a push.”
FanDuel trader Bobby Kara told MI Bets that “Pistons to make the playoffs was probably the most bet-on team” at his sportsbook. They’re still a longshot, to be sure, but their odds have dropped from 12/1 to +880 — and are even shorter at DraftKings (7/1) and PointsBet (+850).
Detroit’s season win total is a consensus 29.5, but FanDuel wants sports bettors to wager on the under, which is priced at +100, as opposed to -122 on the over.
“The play-in gives these younger teams a chance to go for it,” said Kara. “The bettors do really seem to like the over there and for them to make the playoffs.”
Cade’s improvement key to success
Any conversation about the Pistons’ chances begins with former No. 1 draft pick Cade Cunningham, whose odds to win Most Improved Player range from 20/1 at PointsBet and DraftKings to 33/1 at FanDuel after he steadily progressed during his rookie campaign. (His teammate, small forward Saddiq Bey, has odds ranging from 40/1 to 65/1 to win the same award.)
“Cunningham started his rookie year kind of dinged up,” said Edlow. “It took him a while to knock the rust off, and once he did, he was pretty firmly in that three-man Rookie of the Year conversation with [Evan] Mobley and [Scottie] Barnes. If you redraft, every GM still takes Cunningham No. 1 overall. I think him staying healthy and showing he can become an all-star would be huge in terms of the win total.”
Whether it’s on opening night (Oct. 19 at home against Orlando) or a few games into the regular season, rookie Jaden Ivey is expected to join Cunningham in Detroit’s starting backcourt. Both Ivey and fellow Pistons first-rounder Jalen Duren lasted longer than most draft prognosticators expected, going No. 5 and 13, respectively. In fact, in a poll of NBA general managers released Tuesday, Ivey and Duren were both voted among the top five draft-day steals.
Ivey’s odds to win Rookie of the Year range from 5/1 at PointsBet and FanDuel to 7/1 at DraftKings.
“We actually see [Rookie of the Year] as a total four-horse race, with Ivey, [Keegan] Murray, [Paolo] Banchero, and Jabari Smith,” said PointsBet trader Sam Garriock. “We feel like Ivey should get really strong usage.”
No intention to tank
Unlike many teams in rebuilding mode, the Pistons don’t seem intent on tanking. Offseason trades that fetched useful veterans Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, and Bojan Bogdanovic (90/1 at FanDuel to lead the NBA in three-pointers made) for a relative pittance seemed to make this clear.
But does the presence of these old hands mean the Pistons really think they have a puncher’s chance of making the play-in round, or does it have more to do with mentorship?
“I think it’s a little bit of both. When you have a young team, you don’t want to just have a bunch of young guys,” said Kara, pointing to peak-Process Philadelphia as an example of what not to do.
“Bogdanovic is a top 10 shooter in the NBA,” observed Garriock. “Young teams are willing to take on older players if they can shoot it because it makes the development of young guys a lot easier. This is just going to make it easier for Cade and Jaden Ivey.
“We’re bullish on Detroit. Getting 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.”
Photo: Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY