The Bad Boys are back.
After cracking into the Eastern Conference playoffs last year as the number eight seed, the Detroit Pistons experienced the highs and lows of the postseason. Yes, the Pistons lost to the eventual champion, but Stan Van Gundy has the Pistons on the contending track. Consider his record the past two years. He took his team from a 0.39 W-L% to approximately 0.54 W-L% in one year. Additionally, Van Gundy who is both the Pistons president and coach, is responsible for propelling and rebranding the bottom feeder of the Eastern Conference so that they made the playoffs one year after reconstructing the roster.
Talented, Van Gundy’s acumen for contracts and trades bolster the Pistons depth. His intuition was on display in February. He traded Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova – two wildly inconsistent players – to the Orlando Magic for Tobias Harris, an instant producer and a great fill-in for the empty power forward position on the roster. Although Harris’s sample size with the Pistons is small, he averaged 16.6 PTS, 6.2 TRB, and 2.6 ASSTS in 25 games as a starter, an absolute steal for the Pistons.
On top of that, Van Gundy made power moves in the summer by re-signing Andre Drummond for five years at $127 million, acquiring Boban Marjanović for three years at $21 million, and obtaining Ish Smith for three years at $18 million. Relative to the increase in cap space, the last two contracts are highway robbery.
The team’s frontcourt is now gigantic, both Drummond and Marjanović standing above 7 feet tall. This is a situation that Ish Smith is very familiar with, playing with Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor.
Instead of investing in a proverbial savior-of-the-team, Van Gundy added essential role players to fill empty roster slots and give the starting lineup a supporting cast. Players like Marjanović and Smith compliment their counterparts, and are similar in their playing styles.
For instance, Ish Smith, just like Reggie Jackson, is a hyperactive, offensive juggernaut that dishes out assists and scores. Smith averaged 14.7 PTS and 7.0 ASSTS on the abysmal Philadelphia 76ers. Pick and rolls with Nerlens Noel were the only beacon of hope for the 76ers last season.
Marjanović and Drummond’s pick and rolls with Ish Smith will become an offensive threat and a defensive nightmare in the upcoming 2016-2017 season. Drummond and Jackson have proven to be an effective one-two punch. Van Gundy will recreate that with Smith and Marjanović on the second unit.
However, it is not only recent signings that will help the Pistons advance further into the playoffs. The team’s first-round draft pick in 2013, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, is emerging as a premier shooting guard.
Last season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 14.5 PTS and 1.4 STLS. His contract extension is in flux, but the starting guard has made it clear that he is an offensive and defensive asset.
The key to the Pistons success is this: roster depth. Not only was the team’s starting lineup enough to get into the playoffs last year, but the team possesses vital role players.
Even as the Detroit Pistons look deadly next season, they will fight with various teams – Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers – to achieve a top 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. Drafting, trading, and offseason negotiating is culminating into legitimate Eastern Conference contention.
The Pistons are blossoming and coming into fruition. Though the team barely cracked the 8th seed last season, the Pistons will topple their one and done accomplishment in the playoffs and be a force in the East for years to come.
photo via llananba