NBA Opening Night Takeaways: Pistons Young Core Thrives

With the first full NBA slate complete, players and teams had their first chance to flash. Get NBA opening night takeaways, including the Pistons, Celtics, Dereck Lively II, Cam Thomas and Jonathan Isaac.

Promising Pistons Young Core

The Detroit Pistons dazzled in their one-point loss to the reigning Eastern Conference champs Miami Heat. Primary ballhandler Cade Cunningham exploded for 30 points and nine assists while shooting roughly 48% from the field. He leveraged his size on drives to get to the basket, but Cunningham also displayed tremendous pull-up jumper growth, especially in the mid-range.

Perhaps most importantly, Cunningham went 4-for-9 from deep and looked more comfortable with his release. If he continues to hit threes at a desirable rate, then he will own a deadly counter to defenders that play the drive. Detroit has to be thrilled with Cunningham’s performance, as he looked like a future All-Star point guard.

Sophomore Jalen Duren became the youngest player ever to produce 17 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, and four blocks in a game. The fact that it came against DPOY candidate Bam Adebayo only enhances the achievement. Duren created oodles of space for Cunningham through his screening, he rolled and slipped at the correct times, and utilized his physical advantages on the glass. Plus, Duren didn’t force up contested put-backs on offensive rebounds and instead passed out to open shooters – a valuable trait that young centers typically don’t possess.

Frontcourt partner Isaiah Stewart added 14 points and 14 rebounds. His ability to both act as a stretch-forward while crashing the boards is extremely valuable. Opponents will struggle mightily to handle Detroit’s all-around size and aggression around the basket.

Finally, fifth overall pick Ausar Thompson flashed tantalizing tools. The 6-foot-6 hyper-athletic wing notched seven rebounds, three assists, and five blocks in his NBA debut. He had a possession where he stonewalled Bam Adebayo in the post, but Thompson also recovered from a ball screen and went stride for stride with Tyler Herro before blocking his shot. The three-point shot has to improve, as defenders were sagging off of him to help on Cunningham drives. However, it’s clear that Thompson is on pace to be a franchise cornerstone.

Overall, Detroit’s young core truly impressed against Miami’s tough defense.

Boston Celtics New Additions Shine

Boston acquired Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis over the offseason, and the results were immediate. Holiday absolutely locked down the Knicks by blowing up ball screens, staying in front of drivers, and contesting jumpers (he had three blocks). His defensive versatility allowed him to neutralize both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle too, so he is not just a primary ball handler defender.

Kristaps Porzingis dropped 30 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and shot 5=for-9 from three. His spacing at the center position created massive problems for New York because Boston’s drivers had plenty of space to operate. Porzingis’ ability to create his own shot also adds another dimension to the offense.

With Holiday and Porzingis on the court, Boston’s play on both ends of the court significantly upgrades. The offense will be less prone to dry stretches, and both their point-of-attack defense and rim protection improve. The Celtics are rightful championship favorites due to these additions.

Dereck Lively II Needs To Start

No. 12 overall pick Dereck Lively II chipped in 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench while shooting 7-for-8 from the field. He was a game-high +20 through his efforts. Dallas has lacked a true center that thrived as a screener, roller, rebounder and rim protector, so Lively’s game is extremely encouraging. His contributions as a lob threat pair perfectly with Luka Doncic’s pick-and-roll passing, and the duo already flashes the potential of their partnership.

Lively contested shots at the rim well due to his 7-7 wingspan, and he moved fluidly on the perimeter – an essential for modern centers. Dallas’ defense doomed them last season, but Lively can be a key piece in dragging them back toward the average. The Mavericks must immediately place Lively in the starting lineup because he finally adds a skilled, physically imposing presence at center.

Cam Thomas’ Scoring Prowess

Cam Thomas cleared 40 points four times last season, and he once again exhibited his explosive scoring in Brooklyn’s season opener. In only 25 minutes, Thomas produced 36 points on absurd 61/40/72 shooting splits. He’s a crafty driver who has a knack for finding angles, but Thomas’ quick pull-up three-point jumper forces defenders to constantly play up on him.

His defense and playmaking are still works in progress, but players that can create something out of nothing are incredibly valuable to NBA offenses. Considering Brooklyn is riddled with 3&D wings but lacks on-ball creators, Thomas’ skill set is desperately needed. He may remain in a sixth=man role, but his minutes will only keep increasing. If Thomas can curtail his inconsistent games, then he’s a breakout player worth monitoring for Brooklyn.

Jonathan Isaac’s Return

Jonathan Isaac appeared destined to be a perennial DPOY candidate; however, over the past four seasons, he has logged only 45 games. Significant injuries have plagued the former sixth overall pick, but he found his old defensive form against Houston. Isaac deterred drivers, locked up in isolation, and provided a massive help defense presence. Jalen Green certainly found out about Isaac’s defense, as he came out on the wrong end of a monstrous block.

Orlando’s core is already special without him, but a permanent Isaac return only enhances their future. He can help cover for a center rotation that lacks rim protection, while his spacing and cutting don’t inhibit the offense. Isaac is still just 26-years-old, so he can grow with Orlando’s young stars too. Overall, Magic and NBA fans should be thrilled to see Isaac back on the court and looking like he never left.

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Braxton has been covering the NBA for Lineups since the 2021-22 season. He's worked with multiple collegiate coaching staffs about analytics and scouting, which has allowed him to understand the game on a deeper level. Braxton is also a contributor at Thunderous Intentions and NBA Analysis Network.

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