2016/17 Record: 37 – 45 (10th in the Eastern Conference)
2017/18 Salaries: $117,378,653 (Over The Cap Team) – full DET salary cap situation – here.
Incoming Draft Picks: POR/CLE/HOU/ORL ’19 2nd (Most favourable of HOU/CLE/ORL)
Outgoing Draft Picks: SAC ’20 2nd
It would surprise very few if Detroit Pistons Coach and President Stan Van Gundy sang himself a little Dido/Eminem when he woke up each morning:
“My teams gone cold I’m wondering why, I got out of bed at all. There’s no Hedo-type on the roster, and Reggie won’t pass the ball. And even if he would it would all be bad, coz Drummond can’t shoot at all. But I think of Dwight and remember that it’s not so bad, it’s not so bad.”
Since being hired by owner Tom Gores to take the Pistons out from the doldrums of the Joe Dumas era, SVG has mostly been given a free pass. The Pistons were devoid of assets, paying Josh Smith to be a Small Forward, and trying to figure out whether it was better to build around Greg Monroe or current Center, Andre Drummond.
Fast forward to the present, and Detroit hasn’t really gone very far. It’s been two steps forward (build around Drummond) then one step back (swallow Josh Smith’s contract), then one step forward (trade for Harris, make 2016 Playoffs) then two steps back again (Reggie Jackson dribbling for what feels like two hours a game, injuries, Drummond’s FT shooting). Incremental progress has consistently been met with impediment, resulting in a team that looks dangerously close to a multi-season pass for the treadmill of mediocrity.
For the Pistons to move forward, this team needs to become what it feels like Van Gundy always envisioned them becoming: the 2009 Orlando Magic. That squad was built around a star Center, an underrated Point Guard, a Stretch Four who could interchange responsibilities with a play-making Small Forward, and a 3-&-D Shooting Guard. Looking at the roster SVG has assembled, it is clear that was the blueprint he was following.
’08/09 Magic vs ’17/18 Pistons (stats from ’16/17):
Dwight Howard – 20.6 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 2.9 BPG, 60 TS%, 21.8 TRB%, 5.9 BLK%, 25.4 PER, 13.8 WS
Andre Drummond – 13.6 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 51.8 TS%, 25.2 TRB%, 3.1 BLK%, 20.9 PER, 6.7 WS
Rashard Lewis – 17.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.6 APR, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 2.8 3GFM, 58.0 TS%, 4.5 VORP, 16.8 PER, 9.5 WS
Jon Leuer – 10.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 0.7 3FGM, 55.1 TS%, 1.0 VORP, 14.2 PER, 4.5 WS
Hedo Turkoglu – 16.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.9 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 1.7 3FGM, 54.1 TS%, 22.5 AST%, 14.8 PER, 7.3 WS
Tobias Harris – 16.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 1.3 3FGM, 56.8 TS%, 8.8 AST%, 16.9 PER, 6.8 WS
Courtney Lee – 8.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 1.1 3FGM, 55.6 TS%, 1.5 DBPM, 10.7 PER, 4.4 WS
Avery Bradley – 16.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 2.0 3FGM, 54.8 TS%, -0.4 DBPM, 14.4 PER, 3.1 WS
Jameer Nelson – 16.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 2.0 3FGM, 61.2 TS%, 32.1 AST%, 20.6 PER, 6.0 WS
Reggie Jackson – 14.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 5.5 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 1.3 3FGM, 51.0 TS%, 30.3 AST%, 14.9 PER, 1.9 WS
For Stan’s plan to be successful, it has to start in the middle. Drummond is no peak Dwight, but he has the tools to be a reasonable facsimile, and he needs to play better than he did last year.
Fortunately for Detroit, Drummond has acknowledged as much. Saying it is one thing, but actually doing it is entirely another. Andre’s shooting percentages jump out as a huge red flag, as do his low block numbers and relatively mediocre Win Shares. Simply put, Drummond needs to translate his obvious skills and physical gifts into a positive impact on the floor. Drummond ranked only 34th in the league in contested 2 point shots, and had a net rating of -6.3 last season, according to nba.com. Advanced stats aren’t everything, but in Drummond’s case they corroborate the eye test. Andre needs to be a Giant for this team, for all 82 games.
The next must have is a better Reggie Jackson. Injuries severely hampered Jackson last season, and the team performed much better with Ish Smith on the floor; which is a bad sign. Detroit were a -8.7 points per 100 possessions with Jackson on the court, compared to +2.6 with him off, per basketball-reference. Anyone who watched five minutes of Jackson playing could see he lacked the explosion towards the rim, or any sort of burst to create separation last year.
Despite this, Reggie still ate up possessions, ranking 9th in the league for possession out of ball screens and a usage rate of 26.4%. Unfortunately, he was turnover prone, shot poorly and didn’t get to the line. A healthy Jackson with an improved jump shot and more of a willingness to share the ball should be a superior version of Stan’s Orlando Jameer Nelson, but the Pistons need Reggie to move the ball earlier and to lock in on D for them to have a shot at being an upper echelon team in the East.
Perhaps the most underrated component of that Orlando team was Hedo Turkoglu. His ability to be a secondary (sometimes primary) play-maker and knockdown shooter is something this Pistons team doesn’t have. Tobias Harris is the closest approximation, but he has a long way to go as a passer. Turkolu assisted on 22 percent of made field goals while in the floor, compared to Harris only averaging 8.8 percent.
Harris actually grades out better as a Rashard Lewis comparison, and he spent a large chunk of time playing the four spot with Marcus Morris assuming more of the wing responsibilities, particularly on defense. But this means Detroit has to start Stanley Johnson, who has yet to prove himself ready for the responsibility.
If Harris can’t round out his game more, then Avery Bradley will have to pick up the slack. Bradley didn’t have a lot of opportunity to be a primary facilitator or play initiator in Brad Stevens’ offense in Boston, but he might be tasked with that responsibility more in Detroit. His first few years in Boston were spent as a Point Guard, so he has some experience, but he has never averaged a 12% assist rating, so expecting him to double his output might be asking too much.
Bradley only averaged 0.83 points per possession from pick-and-roll’s, so a steady diet of ball screens is unlikely to occur. What Detroit will definitely ask for is lock-down defense and shooting out of the drive-and-kick game and off-ball screens. Bradley scored 1.01 points per possession from off-ball screens, so more movement away from the play – which would be a welcome sight in the Motor City – would play more to his strengths.
Stan has been known as a defensive coach who’s teams shoot a lot of 3’s, but this Pistons team shot only 33% from deep last year making just 7.7 per game (his ’09 Magic made ten per game on 38% shooting). Despite finishing 11th in the league in defensive efficiency, their woeful offense eradicated that advantage completely, resulting in a -2.2 net rating. Losing Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could impact that ranking further, as they were two of the team’s best defenders, and were relied upon to generate a lot of offense. Improvement from Drummond on the interior – at both ends – and Jackson from the perimeter – at both ends – are a must for SVG to build an offense that can finish at least in the top half while building on the relatively solid D.
On paper, this Pistons team should compete for a low playoff seed and be a difficult out. There is obvious talent, and the pieces mostly fit. But the avenues for improvement are almost exclusively internal. There are no real trade assets for Detroit to utilize that don’t make the team worse, other than a first round pick or Luke Kennard. Drummond and Jackson were both dangled over the trade deadline and draft time, with no takers. It would be interesting to see if Van Gundy could tempt Atlanta with a Jackson plus pick(s) for Schroder deal, or potentially blow it up and dangle Drummond for Brooklyn’s unprotected first, owned by Cleveland.
For Van Gundy, it could be make or break time. His original five-year contract is entering it’s fourth season. The Pistons are returning to downtown Detroit for the first time in 39 years. The roster is almost exclusively made up of players he picked, either through trades, extensions, signings or the draft. There are only three coaches who double as the head of the front office – one of those, Pop, is not in charge of making all basketball related decisions. Both Doc Rivers and Mike Budenholzer relinquished their President title, and the evidence is starting to build against having a dual role coach.
The Pistons are facing a crossroad, and there is one person responsible above all others for which path is taken. This season, it all comes down to one man. This, is Stan.
Projected Starting Five:
Projected Depth Chart:
Overall Offseason Grade: B-
2017/18 Prediction: 45-37
With the East projecting to be weaker than last season once again, expect Detroit to improve in the standings. Drummond will play better, Jackson will play better, and Bradley will be an improvement on KCP. The loss of Morris will hurt – he lead the team in minutes – but improved bench play should mitigate his absence. The Pistons should challenge for the 5th or 6th seed, anything above that would be a roaring success.
Player To Watch: Stanley Johnson
Stanley Johnson has all the physical tools. At 6’7″ and 245lbs, he is the definition of a man-child. Still only 21 years old, Johnson is fast approaching a possible make or break season. With the exit of Marcus Morris and Caldwell-Pope, there are consistent minutes to be had backing up both Harris and Bradley on the wing. Johnson needs to improve his handle, which should aid the youngster with his ability to make decisions on the fly as well as maintain consistency with his shot off the dribble. If he can make the simple play and hit his shots, he should be in for a big season.
Four Key Questions:
1. Can Bradley prove a long term fit?
Despite his reputation as a defender, KCP was more often below average than not. The same will not be said about Bradley, a persistent and pesky defender who has rightfully earned his reputation as one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. With his ability to knock down open shots, rebound and be a consistent performer, Bradley should play his was into a significant raise next season. Whether Detroit can retain him for anything near the $80 million price tag they reportedly were willing to offer Caldwell-Pope remains to be seen, but if Bradley can play 70+ games this year expect that to be a tough ask.
2. How big an impact can Kennard have?
Luke Kennard rocketed up draft boards as the year unfolded, ultimately landing at 12 to the Pistons. His selection seemed to hint at the departure of KCP, and his play at Summer League must have given Van Gundy some added confidence. Kennard plays a seemingly ‘old man’ game on offense, which should translate well off the bench. The true test will be his ability to defend the elite athletes he will face on the wing, but SVG has expressed optimism in his ability to hold his own on that end too.
3. Will Drummond or Jackson be traded?
There were rumblings of SVG shopping both franchise pillars at the All Star break and draft, and a slow start for the team may force Stan’s hand. Drummond would appear to be the most movable, but the market for Centers was slim this offseason. The conundrum is both players will be more appealing if they’re playing well, and if they are it is reasonable to expect the team to be performing. Coach Van Gundy will likely not be happy if President Van Gundy flips either player for future assets.
4. Can the bench be a weapon?
In theory, this should be a deep Pistons team. Ish Smith was better than expected, posting a positive net rating and routinely outplaying Reggie Jackson last season. Throw in Langston Galloway, Kennard, Johnson, a returning Anthony Tolliver, the Summer League version of Henry Ellenson and Boban Marjanovic and this could be a deep roster. Much will depend on the play of the backup front court; both Ellenson and Marjanovic are untested with regular minutes and Tolliver is getting longer in the tooth. With Galloway also in the fold, Van Gundy might be tempted to play more three-guard lineups than he previously has. The player development staff’s output will be under a microscope this year.