As with the Lions this past summer, Detroiters and sports bettors alike were brimming with optimism when it came to the Pistons’ odds of improving in Cade Cunningham’s second season with the squad. In fact, backing the Pistons to make the playoffs at anywhere from +880 to 12/1 was one of FanDuel’s most popular futures wagers heading into the season.
The Pistons being a team from Detroit, however, they have stumbled out of the gate, opening the season with a 2-7 record. But the good news is there are 73 games left to go, whereas the 1-6 Lions only have 10 contests left.
Since the season began, Caesars has adjusted the Pistons’ season win total from 29.5 to 26.5, while their odds to make the playoffs are now 14/1. Offensively, the team has been solid, with every starter averaging in double figures and new acquisition Bojan Bogdanovic among the league leaders in 3-point shooting with 3.7 makes per game. (His preseason odds ranged from 90/1 to 100/1 at most of Michigan’s mobile sportsbooks to lead the NBA in 3-pointers per game, while Caesars had him around 30/1 to lead the NBA in total 3-pointers converted.)
Averaging nearly 22 points per game, Bogdanovic has been so good that Detroit recently signed the sharpshooting forward to a two-year extension, good through the 2024-2025 season, at his current annual rate of $19.5 million. But does that mean the 33-year-old is a keeper on a very young team that doesn’t seem quite ready to contend?
“I was kind of surprised about that two-year extension,” said David Lieberman, lead NBA analyst for Caesars Sportsbook. “He’s started off the year really well. If someone like the Lakers comes calling and offers a decent amount for him, they have to listen. They could always keep him and plan to compete over the course of that contract. I could see it going either way.”
Creaky D, promising backcourt
The defense has been a different story, with the Pistons, who host division rival Cleveland on Friday, giving up the fourth-most points per game of any NBA team (behind the Warriors, Grizzlies, and Pacers). That’s good for the worst point differential (-10.2) in the league.
“The defense has let them down,” Lieberman said on Wednesday afternoon. “They’ve come around [in some of their recent] games, but it looks like they just might need another year to grow and work on the defense. They’ll definitely improve as the season goes on, but there’s a lot of parity this season and every night’s pretty tough. The current win total is attainable, but it’ll be tough for them to even reach that mark.”
On the plus side, the Pistons’ young backcourt, featuring Cunningham and rookie combo guard Jaden Ivey, has been quite fearsome, at least with the ball in their hands. Ivey is averaging 14.6 points, 4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game, playing a team-high 40 minutes in their Halloween night loss to Milwaukee. And Cunningham has posted a downright gaudy stat line, averaging around 22 points, 6 assists, and 6 boards.
Good as they’ve been, though, they’re not currently considered serious contenders for Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player, respectively. For Ivey, whose ROTY odds (15/1 at Caesars) are now twice as long as they were before the season, the reason is simple: Orlando rookie Paolo Banchero, the top pick in the draft, has been so sensational that he’s already at negative money (-275) to claim the honor.
“Ivey’s had a pretty decent start to the year, but compared to Banchero and even [Indiana guard Bennedict] Mathurin, he’s just a little bit behind those two guys,” explained Lieberman.
Cunningham opened the year with odds ranging from 20/1 at PointsBet to 33/1 at FanDuel to win Most Improved Player, an award that’s recently been given to a player who makes a significant leap to all-star consideration. From a statistical standpoint, Cunningham’s definitely done that, which makes his lack of movement in the market — he’s a 20/1 shot to win MIP at Caesars — a bit puzzling, although Detroit’s won-loss record certainly hasn’t helped.
“I don’t necessarily think the Most Improved Player has to be on a team that wins a bunch of games,” said Lieberman. “I just think it’s a wide open field. Cunningham didn’t quite get as much preseason hype, which I actually was surprised about. I went in and cut that (MIP) number a little bit. We haven’t taken too many bets on him, but we could if he keeps scoring and putting up numbers at this rate.”
Photo: Michael McLoone/USA TODAY