2016-17 record: 37-45. 10th in the Eastern Conference.
Transactions: Stan Van Gundy entered the off-season after a disappointing year and falling short of the play-offs with three priorities – first, finding shooters create spacing and help to open the floor for the Reggie Jackson-Andre Drummond pick-and-rolls which are a hall-mark of the Detroit offense. The second priority was to secure an elite play-maker who could help Jackson out on the floor. The third was to find an elite defender.
The Pistons were one of the worst three point shooting teams in the NBA last year and that was a major contributor to why they missed the playoffs. They were 22nd in three point percentage, 26th in three point attempts and 27th in three point makes. It’s not possible to succeed in the league anymore without consistent shooting from downtown. It makes it difficult to space the floor and you get caught in the math problem of trading twos for threes, which never ends well if you’re on the lower end of that equation.
The first major signing the Pistons made was landing guard Langston Galloway who really fits the Pistons needs. The 25 year old guard has had some difficulty catching on with an NBA team, but it’s not for lack of skill. He spent two seasons with the Knicks and appeared in all 82 games for them in his second season on the team. Galloway spent most of last season as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans before being shipped to the Sacramento Kings, but kind of got lost in the shuffle on a team with a ton of guard depth so he exercised his free agency option and now he’s got the chance to bolster a weak Detroit bench unit that craves the very skills that he offers.
Galloway is an excellent three point shooter. He shot 39% from beyond the arc last year which included hitting a blistering 47.5% of his threes in 19 games with the Kings last year. He’s also shown that he’s a very good defender and can give Detroit the tough on-the-ball defense that they desperately need from the bench.
At 3 years and $21 million, this is a quality signing for Detroit as they get an incredibly underrated reserve player whose skills fit perfectly into Stan Van Gundy’s system which uses perimeter threats to flank the pick-and-roll. I’d expect a very good year for Galloway in a system that plays to his strengths and under a coach/GM who really wants to use him.
The Pistons then made a major move in the wake of the Boston Celtics needing to shed salary after signing Gordon Hayward, which meant one of their key rotational pieces would become available. In a major coup for the Motor City, they sent Marcus Morris to Boston for Avery Bradley and a 2019 second round pick.
This was a huge coup for Stan Van Gundy as Bradley is one of the league’s best two way guards. He’s coming off a season where he averaged 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists (all career highs). He also shot 46.3% including 39% from three point range. He’s the answer to a lot of Detroit’s prayer on the offensive end.
On defense, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone better. For a team that was 20th in opponent field goal percentage and 21st in in opponent three point percentage adding a tenacious and athletic defender like Bradley is a godsend. He’s got a career defensive rating of 101.7 (for perspective Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who was regarded as the Pistons top defensive guard last year has a defensive rating of 104.5) and is absolutely lethal guarding rollers on pick and roll and being able to guard screens, which are dire areas of need for Detroit.
The best indicator of what an elite defensive talent that Bradley is would be to simply look at the reactions of opposing players when he was left off the all-defensive teams. When elite opposing guards like John Wall and Damian Lillard who have to deal with Bradley’s smothering defense are saying he’s one of the hardest players to play against, that’s really all you need to know.
This is a huge win for Detroit. They got an elite talent who is on a bargain $8.8 million salary. It could, however, go sideways if the Pistons aren’t able to work out a deal with Bradley next summer. Especially when you consider that in addition to giving up fan favourite Morris who was on a very team friendly deal, they also had to part ways with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who isn’t the player Bradley is but would have committed to the team long-term.
A playoff appearance would go a long way toward determining Avery Bradley’s future in Detroit.
In the wake of back-up centre Aron Baynes declaring free agency and signing with the Boston Celtics, the Pistons signed 25 year old centre Eric Moreland who at 25 is looking to bounce back from an injury plagued start to his career that saw him bounce around the G-League with the Canton Charge after a stint with the Sacramento Kings. The 6’10”, 240 pounder looked really good in Summer League play and has the type of grit, work ethic and energy that should endear him to Stan Van Gundy and get him in the rotation.
The Pistons brought back 10 year veteran Anthony Tolliver on a one year, $3.3 million deal. The 32 year old was a fan favourite during his first stint in Detroit from 2014-16 and offers the Pistons veteran leadership off the bench. The 6’8”, 240 combo forward is coming off a season where he averaged 7.1 points on 44.2% shooting including 39.1% from three point range and can help the Pistons stretch the floor and improve their three point range. Never hurts to add a quality veteran role player. Especially one who meets your immediate needs.
Detroit also signed guard Louis Montero to a two way deal and waived Michael Gbinije.
2017 NBA Draft: With the 12th pick in the NBA Draft, the Pistons continued to address their three point deficiency by drafting sharp shooter Luke Kennard out of Duke.
Kennard first made national headlines by passing none other than LeBron James on the Ohio high school scoring list. He followed that up by amassing an impressive list of accolades during his collegiate career including being named to the John R. Wooden Award All America team, MVP of the 2017 ACC tournament, being named a finalist for the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year award and also leaving Duke as the fourth highest scorer in Blue Devils history behind Jason Williams, Art Heyman and Johnny Dawkins.
The last time the Pistons picked a Blue Devil in the first round, it worked out really well. While I don’t expect Kennard to have a Grant Hill-style impact in the Motor City, he will be a constant threat for Detroit from beyond the arc. He hit on 44% of his threes last year for Duke and averaged 19.5 points per game. Kennard is able work off screens and has the play-making ability to function as a combo guard which will help make Detroit’s offensive attack much more dynamic when he’s on the floor. Stan Van Gundy sees him as a J.J Reddick type player which I think is a very apt comparison.
The 21 year old does have to work on his defense and his lack of reach, average size and lack of lateral quickness put him at a disadvantage on the back-end, but he does have an ability to anticipate plays and has shown a willingness to attack the glass and get deflections. He should improve with time and maturity and working under a coach like Van Gundy who will help him with his approach to defense.
Still Kennard is a solid pick who offers the Pistons a skill that they have desperately lacked and gives them some line-up flexibility with his play-making skills. Anytime that a team can address a deficiency through the draft it has to be considered a win. The former Blue Devil should be a good fit in the Motor City.
Outlook: The Pistons have definitely gotten better and have addressed their biggest weaknesses from last season with some savvy moves. But they are going to need their existing pieces to step up and rebound from what was a pretty underwhelming season for the most part and Van Gundy is going to have to use the new additions in ways that play to the strengths of his core.
Andre Drummond saw a dip last season in his per game numbers including his minutes which dipped under 30 for the first time since his rookie season. The 24 year old big man suffered from a deviated septum which was repaired this off-season. You can imagine the negative impact that a lack of sufficient oxygen would have on a 6’11”, 280 pound frame. Fixing this issue has allowed him to engage in a vigorous off-season training program that has seen him drop 20 pounds will hopefully keep his energy level up throughout the season.
Drummond also suffered from just trying to do too much on offense. He does his best work within three feet of the basket. He’s not a particularly good post player but the Pistons had him in post up plays on 27% of his touches. He also operated within three feet of the basket on only 49.4% of his touches which was a decrease from 59.2% the year before. He’s got to get back to what works for him and that’s working inside where he’s absolutely dominant.
His control of the paint is unquestioned as he’s lead the league in offensive rebounds for four consecutive seasons and counting. The Pistons need to maximize their use of Drummond in the paint. This might mean that has usage rate drops again as more plays are run on the perimeter to create space to allow him to get inside and that’s fine. It’s better to use Drummond in situations where he can be optimal than to try to force him to be something he’s not.
Drummond will never be a modern NBA big who can spread the floor and create spacing with his shot. That’s fine. Van Gundy took the Orlando Magic to the Finals that was built around a centre with very similar deficiencies but also very similar strengths in terms of his dominance of the paint.
Prime Dwight Howard should be an example to Drummond on the back end as well. The Pistons’ 24 year old big has all the tools to be an absolutely dominant defensive player and challenge the likes of DeAndre Jordan in terms of the league’s defensively dominant big men. He’s got the athleticism and length that should be able to move opposing players across the floor. He’s already a historically great rebounder and if he can make an even bigger leap on the back end this year (he posted an NBA best defensive rating last season so the potential is definitely there), the Pistons will reap the rewards.
Reggie Jackson’s health will also be a huge determinant in how the Pistons’ do next season. Last season really was a disaster for him. After an incredible first full season as the Detroit’s starting point guard in 2015-16, Jackson was plagued by knee issues all last season and statistically fell off a cliff. He’s been rehabbing all summer and all signs point to him being back to form for this year.
If he is ready to go, he can work his old pick and roll chemistry with Drummond and anchor what should be a much better Detroit offense. If Jackson can be closer to the borderline all-star form he showed two years ago rather than the shell of himself he was last season, Detroit will make the play-offs.
Even if they’re better positioned to handle any absences by Jackson with much better back-court depth, a healthy Jackson offers the Pistons’ blow by speed and an ability to finish inside. Before last year’s regression, he was also a good distributor and play-maker who could also use that driving ability to create looks for his teammates. If Jackson finds that form again, he will find himself with an array of options on the perimeter.
Ish Smith was excellent in relief of Jackson last year and will continue to provide the Pistons with second unit depth. He lead the team to an 11-10 record last season when Jackson missed the first 21 games of the season and offers the team an ability to push the pace and create excellent transition opportunities. He also has excellent pick and pop chemistry with Tobias Harris which will add a lot to the Pistons attack when he’s on the floor.
Expect a big leap from Stanley Johnson who is also coming off a disappointing season but absolutely dominated the summer league, the Drew League, the OVO league and I’m sure every court he showed up on in his summer training. He looks like a new man and is playing with increased confidence and a new jump shot. With the departure of Marcus Morris, Johnson will have a much bigger role on the team – especially in small line-ups when Harris moves over to the four. His punishing style of defense and improves offensive touch will make him an invaluable piece of Stan Van Gundy’s rotation.
Second year man Henry Ellenson will also look to work his way into the rotation likely behind Jon Leuer who will continue to provide the Pistons with reliable defense and steady offense and along with the returning Anthony Tolliver will give Detroit a lot of options at the four.
Tobias Harris should return to the starting line-up this season after spending a good part of last season bolstering a weak second unit for Detroit. He is still one of the more reliable offensive players for the Pistons and also gives them the opportunity for different looks due to his chemistry with Ish Smith and the productive unit he had going with Smith and Stanley Johnson last season. He averaged 16.1 points on 48.1% shooting for Detroit last season and if he can equal that performance this year will continue to anchor the offense in different situations.
If none of that is enough for you, Stan Van Gundy has promised an increased role for Serbian folk hero Boban Marjanovic. Plan accordingly.
The biggest determinant of Detroit’s success will be the addition of Avery Bradley who on top of his elite defense will thrive in an increased offensive role for the first time in his career. Bradley is poised to explode offensively with the Pistons. He’s going to be a huge difference maker and stabilize a team that lacked in all the areas that he know strengthens. I think he will end up on the all-defensive team after his snub last season and could have a strong enough performance in a featured role with the Pistons to get some all-star consideration.
The Pistons have gotten better in all the ways they needed and also have the benefit of a much weaker Eastern Conference. Barring any major injuries to key players and with a nice bounce back year from Jackson and Drummond, I think they are back in the play-off picture.
Prediction: 42-40. 8th in the Eastern Conference.