The Detroit Pistons have become the means by which we judge mediocrity over the past few years in the NBA. This again proved to be the case last season as they finished with a 41-41 record and without wanting to end this preview early, there is not much hope they improve significantly on that.
Dwane Casey has himself a well-coached team with a top heavy roster. Blake Griffin has established himself as one of the premier forwards in the league and his partnership with Andre Drummond has provided the Pistons with a formidable frontcourt. Unfortunately for Detroit, injury concerns and a general talent deficiency means they have a limited ceiling. Detroit’s long-term plan, if they even have one, has yet to reveal itself but their off-season moves should at least provide us with more entertainment.
Dwane Casey’s first season in Detroit went largely as expected. A record of 41-41 was enough to earn them the third spot in the Central Division and more importantly enough to beat Charlotte to the eighth spot in the playoffs.
The Pistons have made the playoffs three times in the last decade and all three ended in first-round sweeps. This time it was down to the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks. A big factor for this was the injury to Blake Griffin at the end of last year which caused him to miss the first two games of the playoffs and play the rest of the series hurt.
Griffin set a new career-high last season averaging 24.5 points per game. There were yet more signs that Griffin was moving away from the flashy, athletic dunker of old as he upped his three-point attempts to seven per game while maintaining a healthy 36.2 percent shooting. Griffin has also continued to showcase himself as one of the best playmaking big men in the league as he averaged 5.4 assists per game, making it seven straight seasons of averaging four or more assists per game.
Griffin’s playmaking ability went some way to compensate for starting point guard Reggie Jackson’s inefficiency in this area. Jackson’s 4.2 assists per game are the lowest he’s averaged since becoming a starting point guard in Detroit. It must be noted that he has matched this with his lowest turnover rate since becoming a Piston, however, he needs to become a bigger provider if Detroit are to kick on this year, and that is certainly possible. Jackson has a long injury history for a relatively young player but he managed to appear in all 82 games last year. If this can serve as a building block then we may see the best version of Reggie Jackson this season.
Detroit performed as we have come to expect from a Dwane Casey team. They ranked 12th in defensive rating and 6th in opponent’s field goals made. Casey is not renowned for coaching offense and this was echoed again as Detroit finished 27th for field goals made and 29th for field goal percentage. A remedy for this is second chance opportunities provided largely in the way of Andre Drummond. The 6-11 center has led the league in offensive rebounds for six straight seasons, total rebounds in four straight seasons, and rebounds per game in the last two seasons. Drummond is massively undervalued by the league as he averaged 17.3 points and 15.6 rebounds per game as well as providing 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals per game.
Usually, if a playoff team adds a former MVP and a former seven-time All-star their name would automatically be included in championship conversations. Unfortunately for Detroit, there will be no certainty that they even make the playoffs.
That former MVP, of course, is Derrick Rose. The 6-3 point guard is coming off a solid season in Minnesota and arguably his best season since he won MVP in 2011. In fact, he only averaged 0.4 points less per 36 minutes than when he was crowned MVP in Chicago. Rose comes with a lot of injury concerns but Detroit managed to sign him to a two-year, $15 million, team-friendly contract. Rose will replace the out-going Ish Smith (who signed with Washington) and will likely see minutes at both point guard and shooting guard. Detroit finished 25th in points per game last season so Rose will likely be given the green light on offense in an attempt to rectify this.
Instant offense is almost certainly also the motivation behind the signings of Markieff Morris and Joe Johnson. Morris struggled last season in-between playing for Oklahoma and Washington, which is why the Pistons were able to get him on a two-year, $6,560,000 contract with a player-option on the second year. In short, the Pistons have picked up a reliable big man who is going to feature heavily in their rotation. It is unlikely that we will be saying the same about 38-year-old Joe Johnson. Iso Joe left the league on a little bit of a whimper but has since made news playing in the BIG 3 league. Johnson will be a veteran presence who will feature in the right spots but beyond that, his role will be limited.
The only other notable addition this year is draft pick Sekou Doumbouya. The French forward was both the youngest player in the draft and the one with the most professional experience. The 18-year-old became a pro at the age of 15. He’s been blessed with athleticism and can already guard four of the five spots on the floor. Doumbouya has already drawn comparisons to Pascal Siakam, so who better to nurture his development than Siakam’s former coach Dwane Casey.
In short, the Pistons have upgraded from last season. They’ve lost Ish Smith and Jose Calderon but Rose and new signing Tim Frazier should be able to fill their shoes. Meanwhile, they have added Morris to a previously weak frontcourt rotation. The issue for the Pistons will be, like it so often has been in previous seasons, being able to keep players healthy. That will likely prove to be the difference between a first-round sweep and the Pistons winning their first playoff game in a decade.
Blake Griffin’s health
When Griffin was traded from sunny California to the old Midwest many believed this was a death sentence for his career and notoriety. Griffin has proceeded to channel this anger and become a leading player in the league. Very few players have been able to reinvent themselves with the success Griffin has and he will undoubtedly prove to his value again this season. The issue for him and Detroit is he has now missed ten or more games since 2013 so dependability may be an issue.
Luke Kennard’s minutes must translate to on court impact
The former Duke guard has obvious ability and could be poised for a breakout season. Kennard averaged 39.4 percent from three-point range last season, roughly in-line with this rookie numbers despite increasing his attempts by 1.6 per game. He also saw an increase in his minutes but this did not correlate in points like the Pistons would have wanted. However, in a tough series against the Bucks, Kennard averaged 15 points per game shedding light on what he could achieve this season.
None of Detroit’s free agent additions have been based on the player’s defensive ability. Rose, Morris, Johnson and Snell are all players who should be able to add something on offense. Casey is not an offensive coach so being able to plug-in experienced players who can create on their own will help.
Blake Griffin | 24.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.4 apg
Griffin is still able to carry an NBA offense and he will again be given free-reign to do so. He increased his three-point attempts again last season so it will be interesting to see if the trend continues and Griffin continues to stretch the floor.
Andre Drummond | 17.3 ppg, 15.6 rpg, 1.4 apg
Drummond has continued to prove himself to be Detroit’s Mr Reliable. He is undoubtedly one of the best centers in the league and will be given the opportunity to opt out of his contract next season to test free agency. His offensive rebounding alone is a huge asset to any team.
Derrick Rose | 18.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.3 apg
Everyone in the league is rooting for Rose considering his injury issues. We saw glimpses of the old Rose last season and Detroit will be hoping he can build on that.
Reggie Jackson | 15.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.2 apg
Jackson has yet to prove he can be a starting point guard for a successful team but next season may give him the best opportunity to change that view.
Markieff Morris | 9.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 apg
When you think of Detroit you are automatically reminded of the Bad Boys era. They were embodied by hard-nosed, physical basketball with very few niceties. There are few players who fit that description better in today’s NBA than Morris, so this seems to be a match made in heaven.