As of Tuesday, it’s been 24 days since the Pistons won a professional basketball game.
Twenty-four! And with Detroit’s next game not until Friday, the shortest the Pistons can cut off their winless streak is 27 days. The Texas Rangers—whose MLB season ended on Nov. 1—have won three games since Detroit’s last win. The Pistons, meanwhile, have been stuck on two victories since Oct. 28.
Detroit’s losing streak arguably reached its nadir Monday night when it lost to the Nuggets. Normally that wouldn’t be very embarrassing, except Jamal Murray was out, Michael Malone was tossed in the first quarter and Nikola Jokic was also ejected after playing only 15 minutes. The Pistons have now lost a dozen games in a row, and have quickly become the saddest watch in the league.
It’s not like Detroit is a rock-bottom squad, necessarily. Despite having the most losses in the league, the Pistons only have the fifth-worst net rating. Not great, but indicative that they’ve been competitive in some of their losses. The problem is the expectation was for Detroit to be much better than where it is now, not battling with the Wizards for the distinction of worst team in the East.
Even if the Pistons weren’t supposed to be playoff material, this is a concerning start. Monty Williams was made the highest paid coach in the NBA over the summer when he signed a six-year deal worth over $13 million a year. While he’s tried to hold the team’s young players to a high standard and a high level of accountability early this season, it’s hard to say his approach has worked.
Yes, injuries have played a significant part. Monte Morris and Bojan Bogdanovic, two vets who were expected to provide steady leadership, haven’t played yet this season. Other players have missed time as well. But young up-and-comers who were supposed to take leaps simply haven’t.
Cade Cunningham has shown flashes, but he’s currently averaging 21.4 points per game on terrible efficiency, and turning the ball over nearly five times a night. Jaden Ivey was supposed to be his backcourt mate of the future, except he was only recently moved into the starting lineup, and his counting stats are down across the board compared to his rookie season.
Aside from a promising start from rookie Ausar Thompson, there hasn’t been much else to be excited about. Isaiah Stewart remains solid but not spectacular. Flyers taken on young bigs like Marvin Bagley III and James Wiseman haven’t yielded returns on their potential. For a team that’s picked seventh, first, fifth and fifth in the first round since 2020, you’d hope Detroit would be looking more like the Thunder than the Wizards so far this year. Instead, the Pistons’ current second-leading scorer is Alec Burks, who is on his seventh team since ‘18.
This would all maybe feel less worrisome if Cunningham wasn’t struggling so much. The No. 1 overall pick in 2021, Cunningham played in only 12 games last year before a stress fracture in his left shin abruptly ended his sophomore campaign. While his assists have gone to a career high, so have his turnovers. He’s shooting six threes a game, but only hitting 32.2% of them. He’s had some impressive moments, but Cunningham hasn’t looked like a franchise No. 1 to start this year, and now it’s been a long time since he’s put together a consistent stretch of greatness.
Of course, it’s still very early. Returning some veterans should help bring order to the rotation, add a scoring punch and reduce the number of turnovers. Perhaps that’s what Cunningham needs to thrive. And Williams is a good coach even if his contract currently looks scary, and his methods have worked with younger teams before in New Orleans and Phoenix.
For now, it’s a bummer to see a Pistons team that entered the season with potential currently battling it out with the dregs of the NBA. Detroit seems to be headed straight back to the top of the lottery unless it can start putting some days in between its losses rather than marking long stretches of time between wins.