Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was enjoying the best stretch of his career and was a key cog in the Pistons' playoff run when an unfortunate wet spot sent him tumbling to the court in Boston and left him with a core muscle strain that could keep him out for weeks.
What should the Pistons do in his absence? Drew Sharp who is as bold as he is ignorant about most things basketball, says the Pistons need to make a trade for a playoff run. Your mileage may vary on that opinion, but one thing Pistons fans shouldn't do is lose hope.
After all, as fans, we're supposed to irrationally believe that everything will be alright (or maybe that's just me). For those who need a little pick-me-up, I present to you DBB's guide to surviving the KCP injury and making the playoffs.
1. Stanley Johnson is ready to step into the starting lineup and contribute
Caldwell-Pope is a better player than Johnson, but that doesn't mean the rookie can't ball. Johnson has struggled, especially early, with shooting the ball, but he's been a quality NBA defender since day one, and he will likely improve as his playing time increases.
He's also about the farthest thing from bashful as a 19-year-old rookie could be. Johnson isn't afraid to have the ball in his hands in big moments, isn't afraid to take big shots, and doesn't back down on defense. That doesn't mean Stanley is going to become an alpha dog out there, but it does mean that he won't be a liability Stan Van Gundy has to try and hide.
And his offense is coming around. He's making fewer rookie mistakes, the game is slowing down and he is making decisions and moves more confidently.
While his 39 percent overall and 33 percent from 3 shooting don't dazzle, over his past nine games he's shooting 47.4 percent, 37.1 percent from 3, and 17 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per 36 minutes.
2. This provides an opportunity to see a Reggie Jackson-Brandon Jennings backcourt
It's not ideal to have two point guards in the backcourt, and the Pistons are likely to get burned on defense, but the Pistons need to do something to increase their ball movement and pairing Jennings more often with Jackson in the backcourt could do wonders.
The Pistons, frankly, are a terrible passing team. They are on track to have the lowest assist rate since the Atlanta Hawks in the strike-shortened 1998-99 season. KCP did a lot of great things but he's nobody's idea of a distributor. Adding Jennings to the mix gives you a secondary ball handler when the defense keys in on Jackson pick-and-rolls, and Jennings is adept at using narrow passing lanes as he drives to the hoop.
3. Johnson can pass, too
Johnson seems extremely comfortable with the ball in his hands. While he still is turnover prone due to his unfamiliarity with the speed and sophistication of NBA defenses, he has a good handle and has been aggressively cutting to the basket of late. In his first game subbing in for KCP, Johnson had five assists. While he's not exactly Draymond Green out there, Johnson can be the primary ball handler in the pick-and-roll and is skilled enough to find big men or other cutters on the way to the basket.
4. Darrun Hilliard looks like he can play
Hilliard is another player who can handle the rock a little, can shoot from range and in his cup of coffee so far this season, he certainly hasn't looked out of place. He's not going to be super effective, but he can certainly give you stop gap minutes at shooting guard if SVG wants to play Johnson at small forward or Jennings at point guard.
Hilliard isn't going to blow anybody away, but he certainly doesn't seem like he's going to pull the kind of no-show that Tony Mitchell, Luigi Datome or Kim English have in recent seasons.
5. There is still the trade deadline
While I won't be hyperbolic like Sharp and say the Pistons need to make a deal, it's good that this situation reared its head shortly before the deadline. If the Pistons feel like they can't rely on two rookies to hold down the shooting guard spot, they have that flexibility. While they don't have the financial ability (or probably the desire) to swing a significant trade, they can easily put together a deal to take a flyer on a veteran shooting guard. Anthony Morrow, anyone?
6. KCP's absence is happening at the right time
It will be extremely difficult to deal with the loss of KCP, but there are a few things playing into Detroit's favor down the stretch: 1. The All-Star break 2. A home-heavy schedule 3. Weak opponents.
The All-Star break will give all of Detroit's walking wounded some needed time off, will allow Van Gundy to tinker with his rotation and play calling plans, and gives Caldwell-Pope extra healing time without missing games. Also, between KCP's injury and April 1, the Pistons have 16 home games compared to only 10 road games. This includes a nine-game home stand. The Pistons' strength of schedule ranks as the eighth-easiest remaining schedule, according to Team Rankings.
The Piston should be able to weather the storm and, hopefully, get KCP back in time for some end-of-the-season condition and then a Pistons playoff run.