The Detroit Pistons have not been a competitive team since the face of their franchise was Chauncey Billups and their head coach was Flip Saunders. That was in 2007-08. After seven consecutive losing seasons, the franchise is ready to turn things around.
The year before the Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy as their head coach, three other coaches failed to produce any desirable progress. Lawrence Frank was fired at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season and replaced by Mo Cheeks, who was fired eight months later. Assistant John Loyer was then given the keys and led Detroit to a disappointing finish of the 2013-14 season.
Pistons owner Tom Gores realized that the team needed a change so he hired Van Gundy as head coach and President of Basketball Operations on May 14, 2014. Van Gundy handpicked Jeff Bower to be the team’s GM, and the pair has worked together for the past year and a half to form the NBA’s best young core.
Upon their arrivals in Detroit, the team had two young players who had displayed exceptional potential. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, though individually talented, played the same similar style in the paint. In order to use cap space to build a complete, balanced roster, one of them had to go. They elected to keep Drummond, the younger and cheaper option, as Monroe signed with Milwaukee this offseason as a free agent.
Van Gundy and Bower then traded for Reggie Jackson in exchange for DJ Augustin, Kyle Singler, and two second-rounders. After impressing the front office, Jackson was signed to the most lucrative deal in franchise history this offseason, finally accelerating a promising rebuilding effort.
Van Gundy’s hope was that Jackson would join Andre Drummond to become a dynamic duo. They had different skill sets, and would thrive in pick-and-roll sets. Van Gundy was right. Jackson and Drummond have meshed well while also putting up great individual numbers.
The duo also has a thriving relationship which is a vital factor (just ask James Harden and Dwight Howard).
“We’re going to help each other get this whole organization where it hasn’t been for a while,” Jackson said in an interview with NBA.com’s David Aldridge. “[We] try to maximize the other to the best of our ability and really help lead this team.”
Jackson is 25 and Drummond is 22, so they will continue to grow together.
To begin the season, the starting lineup besides Drummond and Jackson, was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marcus Morris, with 2015 draftee Stanley Johnson coming off the bench. This formed a solid lineup but not one that would be making deep postseason runs. As a result, Detroit’s front office brought in more youthful talent ahead of the trade deadline.
The Pistons acquired 23-year-old standout Tobias Harris from Orlando in exchange for a 26-year-old coming off a torn Achilles (Brandon Jennings) and 28-year-old forward Ilyasova. Harris fits into the lineup like a glove and is already under contract until 2019. He enhances Van Gundy’s youth movement and as Bower puts it, “we’ll be able to keep [the core] together due to contract certainty.”
Detroit sits at 31-29. They just clobbered the Raptors at home. They have won four in a row. They are 1.0 games out of the playoffs 8th seed. With Harris joining the squad, Detroit will look to claim one of the last spots. But it is the future, not this season, that has Pistons fans excited.
Every member of the Pistons’ starting lineup is 26 or younger. Leading the team in minutes is 23-year-old Caldwell-Pope. The Pistons have been molded together without sacrificing any future first-round draft picks; Van Gundy and Bower will have the option to keep building through the draft, or use their picks as trade bait.
The average age of the top six players in the rotation is 23 years. For a team that is top-10 defensively and right in the playoff hunt, that is rare. Detroit’s nucleus possesses every important factor that teams look for: a strong inside presence (Drummond, the best rebounder in the NBA), a slasher that can create shots for himself and teammates (Jackson), players who can stretch the floor (Jackson, Harris, Morris), and lockdown defenders (Caldwell-Pope, Harris, Drummond).
This core is versatile and complete, which is what makes them unique. The Lakers, Suns, Bucks, and Timberwolves all have young potential, but have to overcome chemistry issues. As an example, Milwaukee’s Greg Monroe and Khris Middleton had to be separated by teammates after frustration boiled over in last week’s loss to Boston.
Teams such as Orlando have young talent, but do not have a face of the franchise player like Drummond to rely on. Utah has an elite defensive team with a youthful lineup, but is one of the league’s five worst offensive teams.
The most formidable young group other than the Pistons is the Trail Blazers. Portland’s young nucleus is headed by proficient scorers Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who form one of the NBA’s premier backcourts. However, this team noticeably lacks frontcourt talent. With Noah Vonleh, Mason Plumlee, and Al-Farouq Aminu in the starting lineup, the Blazers have a definite weakness that can be exploited.
The Detroit Pistons have six young players that collectively can do it all on the court. Because of contract security (Drummond will be a restricted free agent this summer), look for this team to continue to develop from year to year. The Pistons will be making postseason appearances on an annual basis if they continue to build around their new, young core.
photo via llananba