After about five years of being one of the more depressing franchises in the NBA and a playoff drought going back pre-“Decision” (nice 36-8-13 stat line on the series there for Prawn), it’s finally looking like the Pistons are moving in the right direction on both of those counts. And personally, I think a lot of that credit has to go to head coach and current president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy.
Sure, it’s a little hard to argue that the Pistons got anything if not a little worse since last season, trying to replace the 16 points and 10 boards per game of their second-best player in Greg Monroe with Ersan Ilyasova and the less-disgruntled of the Morris twins. Detroit also shelled out a whole big chunk of 3 years/$20 million to a backup center who was posterized more thoroughly and completely than any single person I can say I’ve seen in a playoff game. Yup, all of those happened in the same quarter. Within about 8 minutes. Baynes practically had to go ask Blake Griffin’s permission to get a drink of water during the break and can’t have made Poppovich feel all too bad about losing him over the Summer. But the point here is the big-picture and Van Gundy trying to grab people who fit his system.
The other huge addition to this team, although that was a mid-season acquisition, was grabbing back-up Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson for spare parts, and then locking him in for robust $80 million paycheck over the summer. Jackson was always going to be a little too good to remain a back-up and never good enough to take over for Westbrook so it certainly seems like a winning situation for both parties involved. Plus he earned that money pretty much immediately with a couple of giant games, including a nightmare 16 point 24 assist (!!!) 5 rebound outing against the Knicks in late February. His lack of three point shooting is going to be a fairly big problem, but he showed some killer charisma with Andre Drummond in the pick and roll and should be a good enough passer to hit open shooters in this system.
I’m just not sure exactly who those shooters are going to be. Van Gundy’s impetus for letting Monroe walk seemed fairly clear at the time. Improve the spacing of the floor and surround Drummond with four jump shooters reminiscent of SVG’s time in Orlando with a young Dwight Howard (and don’t sleep on Drummond this season either!). But, while Ilyasova should be a huge upgrade over Monroe in that department, the Pistons still don’t really have a true knockdown shooter on this roster. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope showed a little flash in his second season in the league, but he’s still regarded a little more for his defense and athleticism and only hit around 34% from range last year. The Pistons have also yet to decide on their SF, Morris was again somewhere on league average from range, but he’ll be in his first year in a new system and the rookie draft pick, Stanley Johnson is intriguing but very unproven. And of course, back to Jackson with that 29% career rate for a point guard. This Detroit offense could definitely get ugly at times if the shots aren’t falling.
Still, it absolutely cannot be any worse than it was with Monroe and (GOD NO!!) Josh Smith clogging up the floor on the way to the team’s 5-23 start last year. Yeah, and if you want depressing again for this Pistons team, think about the fact that they’re going to be paying that scrod basket through the year 2020!! Plus, Brandon Jennings is set to return from a torn Achilles before Christmas and was also having a career year for this team in the period after Smith was waived (COINCIDENCE??) Jennings isn’t a real knock-down either, but it could be very fun to watch this team go small and play him alongside Jackson.
Any way you slice it, this team is on the right path and may be fun to watch for the first time in about three or four years. I’m more than excited for getting the chance to see what Andre Drummond can be with more space to operate and I think that Jackson, along with Morris and Stanley Johnson should give this team back some of the toughness that made them so beloved in their city and grabbed them a couple of back-to-back titles. I can’t say they are absolute must-watch television, but for an Eastern Conference that is just begging someone to improve a little and make a run at that 8th playoff seed, you could do a lot worse than the Detroit Pistons.