Can Cade Cunningham ascend to stardom?

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Training camp is just over a month away for the Detroit Pistons, set to open during the first week of October. Basketball games will follow shortly after, as they’re slated to open their preseason slate at home against the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 8.

This has been a quiet, depth-focused offseason, as the Pistons traded for Joe Harris, Monte Morris, and 25th overall draft pick Marcus Sasser. But to improve on last year’s 17-65 record, they’ll need better play from several of their young players. Here are Detroit’s five players who have the most to prove next season:

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2022-23 stats: 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6 assists, 41.5% overall, 27.9% from 3 (12 games)

After a season out of the spotlight, Cunningham has re-arrived. The 2021 first-overall pick was reportedly the best performer on the USA Select Team in Las Vegas earlier this month. That, along with his highlights from various basketball runs — most recently longtime NBA assistant Rico Hines’ runs in UCLA — suggest he’s fully healthy after missing all but 12 games last season due to a left shin stress fracture.

Cunningham will have to firmly establish himself as one of the NBA’s brightest young stars for the Pistons to make a leap. He’s largely been as advertised thus far, dazzling fans during his rookie season with his playmaking, offensive bag and clutch tendencies. But there’s still a lot of room for improvement, namely his efficiency.

Though he was hobbled by his shin injury during the games he did play last season, he still only shot 41.6% overall 31.4% from 3 as a rookie. Flanked by multiple ball-handlers, shooters and lob threats, he should have all of the tools necessary to put together the best season of his young career.

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2022-23 stats: 11.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 blocks, 44.2% overall, 32.7% from 3 (50 games)

The fourth-year big man’s future in Detroit is secure after inking a four-year, $64 million extension with the franchise in July. Stewart has filled necessary roles for the Pistons as a rebounder, rim protector and emotional leader. But his extension isn’t just a reflection of what he’s accomplished thus far — it’s a vote of confidence for what the front office believes he will.

Last year was Stewart’s first as a full-time, floor-stretching power forward. It produced mixed results, as he started the season hot from 3 before cooling off during the second half, but maintained his effectiveness on defense. But his initial 29-game stretch to open the season, during which he hit 38.1% of his outside shots, suggests he has untapped upside as a shooter. Perhaps that percentage was unsustainably hot, but he’s put significant time into mastering the shot. Next season will bring another opportunity for him to show off his work.

2022-23 stats: 6.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 41.7% overall, 36.5% from 3 (52 games)

Livers is optimistic that his new offseason approach — prioritizing his body rather than excessive skill work — will lead to his healthiest NBA season thus far. After being drafted in the second round of the 2021 draft, the Michigan alumnus has missed 93 games due to injury. A stress fracture in his right foot cost him most of his rookie season, and he missed 30 games last year due to various maladies.

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When healthy, he’s been one of the Pistons’ better 3-and-D players. He has hit 37.8% of his 3’s thus far, has a good understanding of defensive rotations, and is also an effective communicator on both ends of the floor. Extension-eligible and a year away from restricted free agency, Livers just needs a healthy campaign to secure his future.

2022-23 stats: 10.3 points, 6.2 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 37.7% overall, 28% from 3 (76 games)

Now entering his fourth season, Hayes’ place in the rotation has never been less clear. He’s facing significant competition at the point guard position from not only Detroit’s last two top-five picks, but from newcomers Monte Morris and 25th overall pick Marcus Sasser as well. Set to enter restricted free agency next summer, Hayes will have to battle for minutes next season.

Nothing has changed — for Hayes to establish his place in the NBA, he’ll have to improve his shooting percentages. His marks from last season are right in line with his career averages, despite a hot stretch in December, and he remained one of the least efficient players in the league. He’s a skilled passer and one of the better defenders on the roster, but he’ll at least have to reliably knock down 3-pointers to be able to thrive alongside Cunningham and Jaden Ivey.

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2022-23 stats (with Pistons): 12.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 53.1% overall (45 total games, 24 with Pistons)

Similar to Hayes, Wiseman’s place in the pecking order remains to be seen as he approaches restricted free agency next summer. He was productive, stats-wise, for the Pistons after arriving from the Golden State Warriors ahead of February’s trade deadline. But as we saw last season and in the summer league, he still has a ways to go as a screener and post defender.

The Pistons are well-covered at center, with Jalen Duren and Marvin Bagley III on the roster. It’s also conceivable that Monty Williams could deploy Stewart at center, depending on matchups. Wiseman was a focal point down the stretch last year as the Pistons shut down their injured and aging players, but he isn’t guaranteed such a role this year. He’ll have to fight for his minutes in training camp and prove that he can be the defensive anchor this team desperately needs.

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

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Cade Cunningham among five Pistons with most to prove in 2022-23

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