At some point, we all have to face our demons. Fortunately, the last time the Pistons were thrown into a poll, they were beaten by the Sacramento Kings. This was around August 2nd so things were still very fresh and I appreciated that stoolies did not make me talk about Avery. But, it’s time to face the music. As you can see above the Pistons were far and away the favorites and are actually a pretty confusing team when you look at them closely. In my opinion they should be a lot better than what we’ve seen over the last few years. How much better?
2016-17 Season Highlights
It feels like forever ago the Detroit Pistons were the big swinging dicks of the Eastern Conference doesn’t it? To be exact, they’ve been pretty much trash since the 2007-08 season. Since that season, they have a combined record of 292-430. Over this time period, they’ve made the playoffs twice, both losing in the first round, and those appearances came eight years apart. If we’re being honest, this is one of the hardest falls from grace in the conference, considering they went seven straight years winning at least 50 games, made six straight ECF and made two Finals, one of which they won. Things looked like maybe they were turning a corner during the 2016-16 season in which the Pistons won 44 games and made the playoffs, but they followed up that year by going 37-45 last year, missing the playoffs by FOUR full games in the shitty Eastern Conference.
The thing that makes the Pistons so confusing, is it’s not like they are stuck with a roster that has no talent. There are good players on this team, and they added some additional help this summer which begs the question, how far up the standings can this team go? Well, first let’s look at their roster right this second
There are a couple things that stand out to me looking at this list. I was actually surprised at how young the Pistons are, with only one player on the entire roster over the age of 30. Their big cornerstone pieces are all still young, even though it feels like Drummond/Harris/Bradley/Jackson have been in the league FOREVER. As a group, the Pistons total salary puts them 19th in the league at 115,747,423, which is over the cap but under the luxury tax, which they have about $3.5M to work with. They did enter this summer with a couple exceptions which they used on Langston Galloway (non tax payer mid level $8.4M) and Anthony Tolliver (bi-annual exception $3.29M). They have one more trade exception left for $874K, so it’s not like the Pistons are totally stuck.
When comparing this roster to last year, there aren’t too many major losses. Sure Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is gone, as is Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes, but the Pistons have found replacements for them, so I doubt they miss those guys. The problem with the Pistons last year was pretty simple. They couldn’t score. When you have an offense that puts up 101.3 points a night, good for 26th in the league, you need to find other ways to generate offense. Sadly, the Pistons were one of the worst teams in the entire NBA in forcing turnovers, finishing the year 27th. This is surprising considering they had a top 10 defense in terms of opponents points, they just couldn’t get over that offensive hump. Shooting 44% as a team isn’t going to cut it no matter how bad your conference is, as this put them in the bottom third of the league.
Enter their offseason.
This team desperately needs shooters. Maybe more than any other team that actually has a shot of making the playoffs. In today’s NBA, you can’t shoot 33% from three as a team. To solve this issue, the Pistons loaded up on shooters. Kennard out of Duke had 49/43% splits in college, and made over 2 threes a game. He is a legit shooting option from Day 1 in my opinion. That guy Avery Bradley is coming off the best shooting season of his career at 39% from deep and over 2 a game. The name Anthony Tolliver might not excite you, but he did shoot 39% last year for SAC and made over 1 three a night. Same goes for Langston Galloway who shot 37% as a Pelican and 47% as a King from deep. So right off the bat it’s clear the Pistons identified one of their weaknesses and addressed it through the draft, free agency, and trades.
I would say this is important for a variety of reasons, but it starts with Reggie Jackson. When Jackson first came to Detroit from OKC, he finally became a starter and put up a very solid 17.6/4.7/9.2. His problem was he couldn’t stop turning the ball over (3.5 a night). Over the next two years, while he improved in the turnover department, lowering them each of the next two seasons, his assists dropped each year as well. So did his shooting. Coming off a year in which he played just 52 games, one could argue he’s entering a season with the most offensive weapons he’s had as a Piston and it will be interesting to see how he responds. The reputation of Jackson is he is sneaky a selfish player, a shoot first point guard who thinks he’s better than he is. He wanted out of OKC so he could “be the man”, and since he’s gotten that chance, the reviews are mixed. Pistons fans have seen his ast% drop from 51.2% when he first got there, to 36.3% in ’15, to 30.6% last year. That trend has to stop if the Pistons want to get over the hump in my opinion. With 3/50M left on his deal, he is their point guard for the foreseeable future whether fans like it or not.
One thing for Pistons fans to keep an eye on this season, is it wouldn’t be a total shock if this team changes a lot of how they play on the offensive end based on the players they brought in. Here’s what I mean.
Take Avery Bradley, a guy I’ve seen blossom over the last 6 years. He’s coming from an offense in Boston that was all about sending him through multiple screens and cuts. In terms of scoring off screens, Avery did this with a 13.1% frequency. To put that in perspective, Durant was at 13.5% and CJ McCollum was at 11.7%. Safe to say it’s a big part of his offensive game. The Pistons on the other hand, almost never did this last year. They were 29th in the league in off screen plays, running them just 3.5% of the time. The same thing applies to cutting. The Pistons were 28th with a 5.6% frequency with this play type, something that Avery ran with 9.0% frequency. This is why it’s going to be so important for Jackson to get back to being a more willing passer. The new talent around him almost demands it. Pistons fans, get excited, because this is in your immediate future
You fucking bastards.
But make no mistake, there is no chance Stan Van Gundy is going to fully move away from his post up heavy offense. The guy had Dwight in ORL and now has Drummond, so it’s not exactly a terrible idea. I think this can still work, because now Detroit actually has shooters around him, so he should see more space which is terrifying. Drummond is one of those guys that despite the league becoming more about stretch bigs, there will always be a place for. He doesn’t fit every system, but he is a top 3 center in the league and again, is just 24. At the same time, of the teams that finished in the top 5 in post up frequency like the Pistons did, they had the lowest scoring frequency of just 42%. and had the lowest FG% of 43.1%. I get why they do this, Drummond is a monster, but you can’t convince me this is their most effective form of offense as we enter the 2017 season.
Perhaps this is because I don’t live in Detroit so I don’t hear the local talk radio, but how to Pistons fans feel about Tobias Harris? Sort of underachieving right? I found it interesting that Basketball Reference has Antione Walker as the closest comparison, but I’m not sure Tobias is quite the scorer that Toine was. This isn’t to say he’s been bad by any means, during his 1.5 seasons in Detroit he’s averaging 16/5.4/1.9 with 48/35% splits, but I think it’s fair to say he hasn’t truly established himself as a #1 option since the trade. On the surface he has great size who can play multiple positions, who can step outside and force the defense to actually come out and guard him, and he can put the ball on the floor when needed. To me, for the Pistons to make any sort of playoff push, Tobias Harris needs to be the one leading the charge. I’d like to see him break the 20ppg barrier, and CERTAINLY take more than 13 shots a night. That’s almost insulting. Sure it lead the team, but that’s still insanely low for a team that led the league in FGA per game in my opinion.
So let’s get back to the original question. How far up the standings can this team go? Well I think we all agree there are a couple teams in the East poised to fall out of the top 8 spots (barring injuries obviously) with those being ATL, CHI, IND. I think MIL can get as high as 5th, which leads 6,7,8 open for teams like MIA, DET, CHA to snag. Before this offseason, I would have said MIA is almost a lock for that 6th spot, almost by default, but now I’m not so sure. Detroit has the defense and the rebounding already locked up, and they just got a huge injection of offensive firepower. I’m ready to say this team has the talent and coaching to be a 6th seed.
Official Greenie Prediction: 43 wins