Williams Gives Pistons Much-Needed Bedrock


Franchise turnarounds and Monty Williams go together like bread and butter. Look no further than his former team in the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns won 19 games in the 2018-2019 season, the second-worst record in franchise history since its inaugural season in 1969. The Steve Nash era wore down with no clear direction to bounce back after reaching the Conference Finals in 2010, missing the playoffs for nine straight years.

But, Williams assumed the role of coach, and from there, the Suns returned to its former glory. Phoenix went 194-109 (.640) under Monty’s leadership, reached its first NBA Finals since 1993 and completely turned the franchise around.

Was the ending pretty? Not really, especially with the combination of internal tensions and back-to-back postseason flameouts. But was it a surreal comeback story? Absolutely.

Now, Williams possesses the chance to take charge of another, albeit more difficult, franchise rebuild with the Detroit Pistons.

Williams secured a six-year, $78.5 million deal as coach for Detroit, the largest coaching deal in league history. A franchise stuck between the NBA’s no man’s land and the cellar found itself a culture-setter and foundation to build the team around.

It could not have come at a better time.

Detroit has clinched a .500 record or above only two times since 2009. Williams becomes the team’s seventh coach since that point for a team with more seasons below 25 wins (four) than postseason appearances (two first-round sweeps in 2015 and 2019) in the last 14 years.

A team needing direction of some kind got its wish with hiring Williams.

Now comes the fun part for Monty: how to turn this franchise around.

Embracing patience

First, Williams’ six-year deal implies a longer-term mindset for the franchise. Don’t expect the Pistons to make a Blake Griffin-type trade or mega Andre Drummond-like deal just to go all-in for 35-40 regular-season wins.

Detroit shot itself in the foot in recent years with questionable moves that positioned the franchise in a stuck between a rock and a hard place situation. The Pistons, now with Williams, can embrace roster development and thinking ahead rather than the immediate.

That starts at the draft, where Detroit can still acquire a notable youngster with the fifth pick. The Pistons possess a multitude of intriguing, high-upside prospects to take a flier on.

But Williams also needs to see what he has with some of the younger talent on the roster.

Several years worth of finishing at the bottom of the barrel did land the Pistons with the Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey backcourt. Statistically, there’s some promise there:

  • Cade Cunningham (career): 76 games, 17.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists per game
  • Jaden Ivey (career): 74 games, 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists per game

However, a few important things to note. Cunningham played just 12 games this past season before a season-ending shin injury derailed him. The Cunningham-Ivey backcourt played sparingly in 2022-2023. Neither Cunningham (31%) nor Ivey (34%) is an elite shooter from three either, or has proven to be an efficient on-ball creator in general, at least to date.

Detroit’s offense, or specifically the lack of it, plagued this franchise the last two seasons. In 2022 and 2023, the Pistons ranked third-worst in offensive rating and bottom-three in the league in points per game.

In Phoenix, Williams guided the development of Devin Booker. However, Booker proved to be an elite on-ball creator and shot-maker by the time Williams was hired. Cunningham and Ivey both showed flashes, but neither was consistently good at that.

Putting both those players in more stable, opportune positions will allow Detroit to have some notion of direction moving forward.

Figure out who makes the cut

On that note, the other debacle for Williams is figuring out what to make of Detroit’s current roster.

The depth chart is promising but incredibly young: (Note: ages calculated for 2023-2024 season, per Basketball-Reference).

Immediately, Williams will see three glaring problems. First, there’s the current young center by committee of Duren, Wiseman, Stewart and Bagley. Can even one of them be a legitimate anchor on defense? Detroit ranked bottom-five in the NBA last season in opponent field-goal percentage (26th), blocks (27th), opponent two-point percentage (28th), opponent free-throw attempts (30th) and opponent free-throw makes (29th).

The Pistons’ perimeter defense actually limited opponents to the middle-of-the-pack or so in steals, opponents assists and opponent three-point percentage. So, all eyes on what happens to Detroit at that center spot.

Additionally, Detroit’s depth chart at the wing is incredibly thin and lacking young talent. There’s legitimately no one promising at that spot, and Bogdanović will be 34 this upcoming season. That’s another major hole Williams will look to solve somehow. With approximately $30 million in cap space, maybe the Pistons can land a veteran or two to provide some roster stability.

This team needs to figure out what it has. The current roster is a mixed of disappointing top-10 picks (Wiseman, Bagley, Hayes), inconsistent younger players (Stewart, Hampton) and high-upside prospects with incredible ceilings that aren’t certain to be reached (Cunningham, Ivey, Duren).

Figuring out the state of the roster this upcoming season will be Williams’ most important priority. Detroit finally possesses a figurehead for a rebuild and a theory for a legitimate rebuild.

Yet, the Pistons squandered under those same circumstances in the past. It can’t make the same mistake again.

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About Dominic Chiappone

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