Detroit Pistons – Off Season Report

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Detroit Pistons2015/16 Record: 44-38 (1st Round Exit)

Ins:

Boban Marjanovic FA – 3 Years / $21mil
Ish Smith FA – 3 Years / $18mil
Jon Leuer FA – 4 Years / $42mil
Henry Ellenson DR – Pick #18
Michael Gbinije DR – Pick #49
Ray McCallum FA – 1 Year / $980k (Non Guaranteed)

Outs:

Spencer Dinwiddie TR – Bulls
Steve Blake FA – Unsigned
Joel Anthony FA – Unsigned
Jodi Meeks TR – Magic
Anthony Tolliver FA – Kings

Off Season Analysis:

“Form a fucking wall!”

That is what Stan Van Gundy not so subtly demanded from his team (as the internet cheered with glee) during a last second time out. And this was the challenge he faced in continuing the makeover of the Detroit Pistons this offseason. How to build a wall high  enough to keep out the bottom half of the East that got stronger/more interesting/potentially healthy (Knicks, Wizards, Nets Bucks) and strong enough to stop better teams from knocking it over.

After a promising 2015/16 season (never mind the sweep), the Pistons have a clear and solid base with which to build off. Marcus Morris worked better than anyone could have hoped after arriving in the off season, traded for a 2020 2nd rounder. Tobias Harris was a steal (Jennings and Ilyasova don’t play for Orlando anymore) and is great value on his current deal. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Top 5 name in the League) turned into Bruce Bowen lite with a dribble game, a jump shot and (so far) less dirty plays.

Harris is basically a 2016 FA acquisition. The cap space that would have been created by Jennings and Ilyasova leaving was used on acquiring Harris, who is now locked in on a team friendly deal. He showed solid growth in most offensive statistical categories and looked to be a great front court fit next to Drummond.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 10.26.44 pmScreen Shot 2016-08-23 at 10.28.17 pm

Speaking of Drummond; he looks like the real deal. And SVG smartly locked him up on a monster extension which will keep him in the Motor City into the peak of his physical prime. His post game can only get better, and he is already an top flight rebounder. Coupled with Reggie Jackson, they form a dynamic pairing of big and small that can lead them into the future. 

But once you move past the strong foundation, cracks in the wall rear their heads. An awful bench last season helped turn Playoff Cleveland into one of the greatest shooting teams of all time. And President Van Gundy has set about replacing loose bricks, patching defenceless holes and trying to avoid Steve Blake playing back up PG minutes.

So what does SVG have to show for himself?

  •   Ish Smith. Smith on $6mil per is a huge steal. He can get in the lane, showed he can slow down enough to finish in the paint, and can make simple reads out of ball screens. Massive coup.
  •   The BFG. Boban Marjanovic provides a huge switch up when Drummond has to come out. A per-minute savant (higher WP48 than Steph Curry), Boban should be a great offensive hub for the second unit. $7mil is a bit much, but would you prefer Boban or Mozgov?
  •   John Leuer. Looks like he could be working check-out at a Walmart, but he showed 3 point range and the beginnings of a show-and-go game. He should complement Drummond or Boban from the 4 spot, and can even play spot minutes at the 5 if you don’t mind zero rim protection.
  •   Henry Ellenson. Great pick up at 18 in the NBA Draft, Ellenson was predicted to go top 10 by many #sauces (hello, Bucks!). He will likely be stuck behind more established players to start, but don’t be surprised if he cracks the rotation by the end of the season.

A trio of high value signings show that coach Van Gundy and President Van Gundy seem to be on the same page. All 3 players signed are on similar #careerarcs and offer something different to their predecessors. Marjanovic offers a safety net for the likely departure of Baynes  (opt out clause) and protects against injury. Smith was great for a terrible Philly team and offers an option other than Steve Blake. Leuer allows Van Gundy to keep his spacing aligned in the front court without having to play either Morris or Harris and gives them an intriguing 5 out option to go small.

But, there is still a glaring lack of shooting from the backcourt. Caldwell-Pope shot just 30.9% from 3 last season, and Stanley Johnson (30.7 % from 3) looks like he might be playing back up 2 unless Reggie Bullock shows he can handle the responsibility. Jackson only shot 35% from distance and teams know he isn’t passing out of the pick and roll; the Pistons had the 3rd highest usage rate in the league with the ball handler finishing the play.

Drummond needs more assisted scores, and that is hard if teams only defend 2 players outside of the paint. Drummond had only 53% of his scores assisted (DeAndre Jordan had 78%!) per nba.com/stats, and that resulted in a good-not-great 57% shooting within 5 feet of the rim. Better shooting from the guards will be crucial to create more space for the AD/RJ ball screen, and this is where Van Gundy hasn’t produced. And if they can’t keep defences honest, then Drummond becomes a VERY expensive rebounder and screener.

The ace up the sleeve is KCP. He is due for an extension this October or he hits restricted free agency next July. Detroit would love to lock him up for $15-18mil per, but KCP’s agent is likely to want low to mid $20mil per as a starting point. It’s not clear where they could go to trade him for an upgrade, but SVG has won more trades than he has lost. I’m not saying he will be shopped, but stay tuned.

Ultimately, SVG’s wall might not be big enough for Trump’s liking, but it’s looking more and more likely to keep out enemy teams. Now they just need to start raining fire on the opposition instead of shooting bricks.

Grade: B

2016/17 Prediction: 44-38

League Pass Meter: 6/10.

Make sure you watch when they play Cleveland (James vs Johnson II), OKC (they still hate Reggie) and GSW (because why would you not watch the Dubs?!). They are a fun team, but the threat of Drummond bricking 20 FTs makes it hard to place them any higher.

Depth Chart:

PG Jackson Smith McCallum* Brown*
SG Caldwell-Pope Bullock Hilliard
SF Harris Johnson Gbinije
PF Morris Leuer Ellenson
C Drummond Baynes Marjanovic

*Salary Guarantees Jan 10, 2017

Future Assets:

Incoming:
2019 2nd (ORL/POR/CLE/HOU – less favourable than Orlando and Portland, more favourable than Cleveland/Houston…sort of)

Outgoing:
2017 2nd (UTA – unprotected).
2019 2nd (BOS – unprotected)
2020 2nd (SAC – unprotected)

2016/17 Questions:

Will Drummond improve to even 55% from the FT line?

Can Detroit finish in the top 15 in 3pt %?

Can SVG convince KCP to sign a team friendly extension, or will he look to deal?

Will Reggie Jackson pass out of a Ball Screen ever?

Can Stanley Johnson develop a consistent mid range game and 3 ball?

 

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