Additions: Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas, Zaza Pachulia
Subtractions: Anthony Tolliver
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Reggie Jackson
SG: Reggie Bullock
SF: Stanley Johnson
PF: Blake Griffin
C: Andre Drummond
Key Bench Players: Luke Kennard, Ish Smith, Langston Galloway, Zaza Pachulia
With Stan van Gundy out and Dwane Casey now in as the Detroit Pistons head coach, can the Pistons return back to their glory of the early 2000s? Sadly, this is not the year. Outside of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, there is just not enough talent for the Pistons to make a decent run. The team does not have enough shooters surrounding their big man duo, not enough bench depth to give the starters any meaningful rest, and no true shot creators on the roster.
Blake Griffin, when healthy, is one of the best big men in the league. The only problem is he has missed more than 15 games per season since the 2013-14 season, maxing out at 47 missed games in 2015-16. Griffin hasn’t scored less than 20 PPG since the 2012-13 season and is shooting three pointers and free throws at a career high. For a power forward, he averaged well over 5 assists per game. When healthy, Griffin is still a top five power forward in the league with just Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, Draymond Green, and Kristaps Porzingis in front of him. The Pistons need Blake to stay healthy if they have any chance at making the playoffs.
With Andre Drummond, what you see is what you get. A monster of a man at 6’11, 280 pounds, Drummond makes his money by leading the league in rebounds (16 per game), converting put backs and lobs into points, and providing above average rim protection. He still is not a reliable scorer outside of 3 feet, but upped his assist average to 3 per game last season as well as his free throw percentage to 60.5% (up from 38.6%). Dwane Casey’s predecessor, Stan van Gundy, tried his Dwight Howard-Orlando Magic 4-out style of play with Drummond solely manning the paint but it simply did not work with the personnel at his disposal. Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard are two of the only players on this team who shot the three at an above average clip while Blake Griffin cannot be turned into strictly a stretch-4 and both Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson shoot the 3 at a 30% success rate.
The Pistons have a huge point guard problem and they need substantial change at the position to compete in the East. Reggie Jackson is an inefficient score-first guard that is also a below-average defender. He does not have the resume of an even average shooter and rarely averages over 6 assists per game. Ish Smith is not much better, although he is a pass-first guard and shot the 3 at a respectable 34.7% clip last season as opposed to Jackson’s 30.8%. The fact of the matter is that neither of them are starting point guard caliber. Rookie Khyri Thomas out of Creighton may end up stealing some minutes from both of them as he was a proven shooter at the collegiate level (40% in three consecutive season) and was back-to-back Big East Defensive Player of the Year. While not a true point guard, Thomas has the build and ability to at least be better than Jackson and Smith in the long run.
Outside of Khyri Thomas, the Pistons do not have a lot of young talent in their system. Stanley Johnson is heading into his third campaign with the team and still can’t shoot, although he is still an insane physical specimen at 6’7, 245 pounds with explosive athleticism and quickness that benefits him on the defensive end. Bruce Brown was a versatile two-way player at Miami University the last two seasons but does not have a specific skill that he thrives in to make a name for himself early in his career. Henry Ellenson, the 18th overall pick in the 2016 Draft out of Marquette, has been disappointing to say the least. He’s unathletic, inconsistent, and a poor defender. The Pistons have a huge need for young talent as Blake Griffin will be 30 in March and Andre Drummond is entering his athletic prime at the age of 25.
The Pistons could realistically be in a battle for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference with Chicago, Cleveland, and Charlotte if all goes well. That means Blake Griffin plays a full season, one of Reggie Jackson or Stanley Johnson improve in the shooting department, Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard continue to knock down 40% of their threes, and the bench has a miraculous season where Zaza Pachulia is good for more than turnovers and tripping people. Could it happen? Sure. Am I expecting the Pistons to make the playoffs? I do not.
Picture Courtesy of Sports Illustrated (Drummond and Griffin)
*For yesterday’s article on the Denver Nuggets click here.
Up next tomorrow: Golden State Warriors
University of South Carolina ’21