New Faces: Trey Freeman (R), Ray McCallum, Henry Ellenson (R), Michael Gbinije (R), Boban Marjanovic, Jon Leuer, Ish Smith
2015-16 Regular Season Record: 44-38
2015-16 Regular Season Achievements: 2nd: Offensive Rebounding, Total Rebounding. 5th: Free Throw Attempts
Leading Scorer: Reggie Jackson, 18.8
Leading Rebounder: Andre Drummond, 14.8
The Detroit Pistons playoff drought ended last season after a seven year wait. The playoffs didn’t last long. They were unceremoniously sent on vacation by the eventual NBA champions Cleveland Cavaliers. While the playoffs were a Stan Van Gundy accomplishment, the Pistons have a lot of areas in which they have to improve if they want to make the playoffs an annual rite of passage.
Last season, the Pistons were a terrible shooting team, 25th in field goal percentage. They were 22nd in three-point percentage. Although they went to the line a lot, thanks to Andre Drummond, they were last in makes, also because of Drummond (35.5% free throw bricks). The Pistons were 27th in assists which makes sense since they couldn’t make shots. They lacked quickness on the perimeter, 24th in steals. They were 30th in blocked shots. On defense, they were 22nd in field goal percentage allowed but only gave up 101.4 points a game which ranked 12th.
They were a slow team, 21st in pace.
Coming into this year, with four playoff games underneath their belt, the Detroit offense has to improve. They need to get into quicker sets. They have to move the ball and get good shots. That responsibility falls upon the shoulders of point guard Reggie Jackson who will be out the first eight weeks of the season because of knee tendinitis. Replacing him are Ish Smith and Ray McCallum, both undersized points. Smith is a great mover of the ball. He has lightening speed and can penetrate and dish but can the Pistons make shots? McCallum is a backup, comfortable on the perimeter but he can score and move the ball.
Stan Van Gundy built an identity in Orlando, a dominant center team surrounded by floor spacers. Dwight Howard was his post scorer. Andre Drummond is not as offensively skilled as young Howard so Van Gundy is forcing a round peg into a square hole with his Detroit experiment. It doesn’t quite fit, not yet. On offense, Drummond has to be around the rim which is the good thing about the Pistons. Andre Drummond and his talent in the paint.
Drummond is the face of the franchise but is he a leader? Can he lead at 23?
Drummond is the NBA’s premier rebounder and the Clippers DeAndre Jordan is next. Last year, Drummond was responsible for 24.5% of the Pistons rebounds. Outside of ten feet, he can’t do much of anything on the offensive end and what hurts the Pistons most is Drummond is a mediocre passer. All defenses have to do is sag off him in the mid-post and watch the ball clank against the rim. Or, double team him, he won’t pass. He averaged less than one assist last year.
Surrounding Drummond on the wing is the much improved Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who had a terrific 2015-16. He averaged 14.5 points but his accuracy needs to improve if the Pistons want to be title contenders. Caldwell-Pope only made 30% of his threes, an inept number. He’s not much at passing either, a consistent theme of the Pistons core, an offense of average scorers even if they do space the floor. Marcus Morris will be plugged in as the small forward starter until Stanley Johnson takes his starting job away. Last season, Morris had a good scoring year but he wasn’t an efficient front court player, making 43% of his shots. He was slightly better than Caldwell-Pope behind the arc, 36.2%. The most consistent weapon the Pistons have is Tobias Harris but he has a habit of disappearing in games and not exerting his well. With his athleticism, Harris should be a 20-10 player. He never has been.
The backcourt is where the Pistons have their bread and butter and swag. Reggie Jackson can get his own shot off and he’s a good, if not great, passer. His assist percentage last season was 36.3%. He’s never been a great three point shooter but he can get things done in the mid-range and he has the ability to make clutch shots and miss clutch shots.
Jodie Meeks was traded to Orlando, an admission that their free agent prize of 2014 was a cataclysmic bust. The Pistons won’t miss him nor old man Steve Blake.
The Pistons formula is simple enough, guard play and dump the ball into Drummond. Van Gundy is counting on teams to double Drummond, leaving shooters open except Drummond is a horrible passer. Outside of Stanley Johnson who has to prove he can make shots, no one on the perimeter is hyper-athletic and explosive, there are no drivers with Jackson out the lineup. So the Pistons are an idea (unrealized) more than they are a truth.
photo via llananba