After a promising 2-1 start, the Detroit Pistons have dropped five straight heading into a Wednesday night tilt at Milwaukee, where they are 12.5-point underdogs at SI Sportsbook.
Same ol’ same ol’, right? Yes and no. The Pistons are still very young and inconsistent, and they’re far likelier to wind up in the draft lottery than the NBA playoffs. That’s a familiar feeling for Detroit loyalists, but a pair of abundantly athletic youngsters who aren’t yet old enough to drink provide cause for optimism.
Heading into the season, Caesars Sportsbook’s lead NBA trader, David Lieberman, said that Pistons center Jalen Duren would need to log “starter’s minutes” to overcome odds of 20/1 to claim the league rebounding title. While he’s been hampered by an ankle injury that’s forced him to miss two of the team’s eight games, Duren has done just that, averaging 11.5 rebounds per game, which is good for eighth in the NBA.
Duren’s ability to clean the glass was plainly evident in his rookie season, but his ability to do more than just pick and roll on offense is what has him in the running for Most Improved Player honors as well. Duren is averaging 14.3 points per game on 66% shooting from the field while sprinkling in 2.8 assists per game, and his defense has been good enough to draw Ben Wallace comparisons.
In the MIP market, Duren’s odds range anywhere from 20/1 at DraftKings to 40/1 at BetRivers, putting him a few slots behind third-year teammate Cade Cunningham, who’s priced anywhere from 10/1 at BetMGM and DraftKings to 16/1 at BetRivers and FanDuel. Cunningham has turned in a reasonably impressive campaign so far, pacing the team in scoring (22.9 ppg) and assists (7 per game), but Philly’s Tyrese Maxey (+230 at FanDuel), Toronto’s Scottie Barnes (6/1), and Brooklyn bench gunner Cam Thomas (10/1) have cranked things up a little higher.
Selected one spot behind his brother, Amen, in the 2023 NBA draft, Ausar Thompson was thought at the time to be the lesser of the identical Thompson Twins. That hasn’t proven to be the case, as Ausar has stepped right into Detroit’s starting lineup at small forward and done a little — and, in some cases, a lot — of everything.
The 6-foot-6 Thompson is 12th in the league in blocked shots, averaging 1.9 per game. He’s also averaging 1.5 steals, 3.8 assists, 9 rebounds, and 12 points per game, and is already considered to be the team’s best wing defender.
Thompson has 8 steals combined in his past two games, and his stat line in the first of those contests — 14 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 4 blocks in a 120-106 loss to Phoenix — brought him tantalizingly close to becoming the first NBA player in a decade to notch a “five-by-five,” as Defector put it.
San Antonio phenom Victor Wembanyama has gotten off to such a hot start that only a season-ending injury seems likely to deny him the Rookie of the Year crown, so Thompson’s odds in that market — ranging from 16/1 at BetRivers to 45/1 at FanDuel — should be taken with a grain of salt. If Wemby weren’t in the race, he’d be right in the thick of things.
However, if a sports bettor were to have faith in Thompson continuing to put up monster defensive counting stats while guarding the best player on the opposing team night in and night out, the 140/1 price FanDuel is offering for him to be named Defensive Player of the Year is as juicy as they come.
Photo: Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images