When the Detroit Pistons face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday for their 2020-21 season debut, it will mark 287 days since Detroit’s last regular-season game.
After a front office overhaul and a roster revamping, the Pistons will look vastly different compared to their last meaningful contest. Eight of the 10 players who logged minutes in the loss to Philadelphia in March are no longer on the team, including four of the five starters from that night.
Preseason games have given a glimpse into how this season’s roster could mesh, but with players sitting out and effort levels always questioned for meaningless games, Wednesday will be the first true indication of what fans in Michigan might expect from a Detroit team oddsmakers project as a longshot.
Sportsbooks have released sports betting lines for the NBA’s opening set of games, and the Pistons, not surprisingly, will start the season as an underdog. Minnesota is favored at -5 for Wednesday's matchup set to start at 8:05 p.m.
No one needs to tell a Detroit fanbase not to take anything in the preseason too seriously. Twelve years ago, the Detroit Lions went 4-0 in the preseason, winning their games by an average of 12 points. Then, they made history, the wrong kind of history. Detroit became the first team to go 0-16 and was just the fourth to record a winless season.
The stain of the Lions will have Detroit fans cautiously optimistic about any of their pro teams during meaningless games. And while wins and losses in the preseason have never been indicative of future success, for the Pistons, it has at least shown what kind of identity and style the team is attempting to develop.
In his first offseason, new general manager Troy Weaver put an emphasis on getting bigger and more athletic defenders on the roster. He signed the 6-8 Jerami Grant from Denver, and the 6-11 Mason Plumlee, who have each been defensive stalwarts for much of their careers. In the draft, he selected 6-5 Killian Hayes at No. 7, and he added the 6-5 Delon Wright as part of a three-way trade.
Weaver’s new-look roster and identity started to take shape in Thursday’s 97-86 preseason win over the Washington Wizards. Detroit forced 24 turnovers and held Washington to 39.7% shooting, including 26.5% from 3-point range.
“That’s how we want to play,” Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “We want to have that as our identity. Our defense is ahead of our offense right now and that’s where we want it to be.”
So far, Hayes has struggled on the offensive end. He’s just 2 of 12 in 3-pointers and is shooting 6 of 24 overall in the three preseason games. Hayes has yet to score double figures and is averaging 6.6 points.
Saturday could be a “welcome to the NBA” moment for Hayes. Washington’s Russell Westbrook is slated to play, and it will be Hayes’ first test against a perennial All-NBA guard.
Saddiq Bey played well in Detroit’s first preseason game, recording 14 points and knocking down three 3s in the 90-84 loss to the New York Knicks. But since then, he’s scored just two points and missed all three of his 3-point attempts against the Wizards.
Isaiah Stewart has seen limited minutes this postseason, and as it stands, it seems unlikely he’ll make the regular-season rotation with established veterans already in Detroit’s frontcourt.
With the NBA moving to a shortened 72-game schedule for this season, sportsbooks have gone away with the traditional over/under for team win totals and instead decided to use team win percentage for preseason futures wagers.
Bettors can take the over or under on what a team’s win percentage will be for the season. Detroit has the third-lowest line with its win percentage set at 32.5 (-110). Only the Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers at 30.5 have a lower win percentage projection.