Can Ausar Thompson slide through roster logjam, start on Day 1?

new balance

Now that we’re past summer league, we’ve reached the dog days of the offseason. The Detroit Pistons, after swinging trades for Joe Harris and Monte Morris on the first day of free agency, still have a roster spot available. More moves could come before training camp opens, but it’s been a quiet July so far.

This mailbag, fittingly, is heavy on questions about the rotation and Ausar Thompson, who is coming off of a strong summer league performance after being selected fifth overall. Thanks to everyone who sent one.

How deep would you expect the rotation to be? Seems like so many guys can get minutes right now and people like Livers could be the odd man out (but pretty sure the team is high on him) — @AllDayPistons

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Nine or 10-player rotations are standard in the NBA, but Monty Williams may have his work cut out for him figuring out who to play every night. This is the deepest Pistons roster in years, featuring multiple ball-handlers (Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Monte Morris, Killian Hayes, Marcus Sasser), ample playmaking and shooting on the perimeter (Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Harris, Isaiah Livers, Ausar Thompson, Alec Burks) and athleticism in the frontcourt.

Detroit Pistons rookies Ausar Thompson (9) and Marcus Sasser (25) pose for a portrait during the NBA rookie photo shoot at UNLV on July 13, 2023 in Las Vegas.

Detroit Pistons rookies Ausar Thompson (9) and Marcus Sasser (25) pose for a portrait during the NBA rookie photo shoot at UNLV on July 13, 2023 in Las Vegas.

I think Livers’ place in the rotation is safe, given that he’s one of Detroit’s better defenders and shooters and can also play power forward, the one position the team lacks depth at. But if his 3-point shooting goes cold, Williams will have options.

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We all know that Cade Cunningham is the floor general for the starting lineup. Assuming that Ausar Thompson starts day 1, do you think that he could run the second unit as the facilitator similar to his role in summer league? Or is that more of a down the road type of thing? — @NVRSettle313

Thompson was Detroit’s best playmaker in Las Vegas, and I think he showed enough for us to believe that he’ll be a plus-passer as a rookie as well. He was particularly good in transition, delivering on-target crosscourt passes. Expect the Pistons to lean into that next season. He’ll almost certainly share ball-handling responsibilities with one of Cunningham, Ivey or Morris at all times, but he should mesh well with whichever unit he plays with.

Cunningham, Ivey and Hayes were all Day 1 starters as rookies. I’m curious to see if Thompson becomes Detroit’s first top-10 pick to start his career coming off of the bench. Starting him would likely force either Bogdanovic or Isaiah Stewart to the bench, and I expect Williams will prioritize spacing. Thompson might eventually play himself into a starting role due to his defense and passing, but his lack of a consistent outside jumper will hurt him.

Give me a player comp for Ausar after watching his Summer League performance- do you think him having a Jimmy Butleresque ceiling is accurate? — @hottakehomie

I like the Jimmy Butler comparison — they’re both athletic wings who excel both defensively and as playmakers. It’s not a perfect comparison, as Butler was among the NBA’s most efficient scorers last season and it’s too early to say how Thompson will look offensively next season. But if it all clicks for Thompson, I do think he could reach stardom.

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Butler is obviously a lofty bar to reach. He doesn’t take many 3-pointers, but shot 53.9% overall last season thanks to his interior and midrange game. Butler can also hit 3-pointers when necessary, as we saw during the Heat’s Finals run. He’s among several players Thompson should be taking notes from.

I’ll throw out another comparison — Nicolas Batum. The 34-year-old French wing has long been one of the league’s most well-rounded forwards, and I think Thompson can be similarly impactful for Detroit. The big difference is that Batum is a career 36.5% 3-point shooter. Thompson will have to prove he can knock down shots.

Assuming the current roster, who is in your closing lineup of a close game to end the season? I like the idea of a big/defensive lineup of Cade, Ausar, Livers, Stew, Duren, that lineup has great switchability and rebounding. — @BeefStewDude

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I’m a fan of that lineup as well. It can switch one through four, and Duren also flashed some defensive chops on the perimeter last season. He’d have to make some strides defensively to hold his own in that lineup, though. While he’s had good defensive moments, he’s still learning the nuances of protecting the rim.

My lineup would be Cunningham, Ivey, Bogdanovic, Livers and Stewart. It’s a small lineup, but Stewart is Detroit’s best defensive big and it also puts at least four shooters on the floor (assuming one of Cunningham or Stewart improves their 3-point percentage next season). Cunningham and Ivey both have the tools to be at least average defensively, and Livers is already a plus on that end of the floor. There’s plenty of scoring. It checks every box.

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James Wiseman #13 of Detroit Pistons shoots a free throw against the Orlando Magic during the third quarter of a 2023 NBA Summer League game at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 8, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

James Wiseman #13 of Detroit Pistons shoots a free throw against the Orlando Magic during the third quarter of a 2023 NBA Summer League game at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 8, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Could you see them move on from Wise prior to the season and opt for a vet big? Either Bagley or an FA signing? 

If Bogi gets traded for a young wing (fringe rotation player) and a pick, who could you see absorbing his minutes at the three? Stew and Harris? Ausar wouldn’t start — @Caverj02

I would be surprised to see Wiseman traded this offseason, but anything is possible. He has a fan in Weaver, who had him first on his draft board in 2020 prioritized trading for him at the February deadline. Unless he’s included in a larger deal, it’s tough to see the Pistons pulling the plug before they have to.

With that said, the Pistons have a crowded frontcourt. It’s tough to see more than two of Duren, Stewart, Wiseman and Marvin Bagley III getting consistent minutes every night. They could balance their roster out with a trade before the season. Of that group, Wiseman and Bagley appear to have higher odds of being traded.

Wiseman, 22, is extension-eligible and a year from restricted free agency. He hasn’t played much basketball — only 33 more career minutes than Duren despite playing two more seasons — and it’s unclear if the minutes will be there for him next season to audition himself. If he can’t crack Williams’ rotation, perhaps a trade will become more likely.

As for who would replace Bogdanovic’s minutes in the starting lineup, I could see Livers being promoted. His outside shooting and perimeter defense would make him a great fit. I also wouldn’t count out Thompson, who impressed in summer league and could make a case for himself if his defense and passing translates.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons mailbag: Will rookie Ausar Thompson be Day 1 starter?

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