Much attention is paid to the dynamic duo of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, but the true key to the Pistons this year might be on the wings.
Why so much focus on the wing? Because having those right complementary players could help Dre-Jax reach their full potential. This concept was not lost on Pistons head of screaming into the void Stan Van Gundy, either.
The wing has seen a dramatic transformation in Detroit. Gone are two starters – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris. In their place are Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson. Van Gundy also heavily invested his free agent money in Langston Galloway and his lottery pick in Luke Kennard.
The goals of this dramatic transformation were simple. The need to shore up the most fundamental flaws on the Pistons’ roster – shooting, defense and secondary ball handling.
Before we get into all the new toys the Pistons offense will have at their disposal, we first must consider the most important member of the returning cast – Stanley Johnson. The former top -10 pick has not developed as much as hoped and many are calling this a make-or-break year for Stanley.
Giving Johnson the starting gig makes some intuitive sense. Johnson has plenty of tools in his arsenal, and he wants to do it all while on the court. The problem is various facets of his game are B-level talents in an A-level league. It doesn’t mean that he won’t get better at ball handling, passing, or isolation. But it means that he’s not good enough at any of those things yet to keep defenses honest. Putting Johnson out there with the starters takes the pressure off of him to do too much.
This could finally let Johnson hit a comfort zone. The counterargument, however, is even simpler. Putting a player who up to this point has been bad on offense out there with Drummond is a disaster waiting to happen. Two offensive no-shows in the same lineup shrinks the floor and gives the remaining players no room to operate. And that delivers another bottom-10 offensive showing for Detroit.
If Johnson isn’t up to the task and Van Gundy doesn’t want to shift Tobias Harris over into the small forward role, then this could maybe, finally be the year for Reggie Bullock.
In truth, Bullock is just the player the Pistons are dying for in their starting lineup. A capable defender who can switch on the perimeter who is also a dead-eye perimeter shooter. The problem, as always with Bullock is health.
Every time he seems like he’s about to turn the corner in Detroit he gets hit with another health-related setback. If he can stay healthy Detroit finally might be able to see what they have in the North Carolina product.
Where to start? How about Avery Bradley who comes to Detroit as the team’s best defender since Rasheed Wallace left in 2009. He replaces KCP as essentially a fully realized version of what fans hoped KCP would become – an all-NBA level defender on the perimeter who is also really dangerous from deep.
What Bradley doesn’t bring is much ball handling ability. He’s not going to be a second point guard on the floor, but he could at least do as much as KCP did last season in trying to take pressure off of the point guards.
Perhaps the most intriguing new addition will be Langston Galloway. Much of NBA Twitter roasted Van Gundy for the Galloway signing. The Pistons hard-capped themselves and removed their ability to re-sign KCP with the Galloway move.
Why do all that for a player like Galloway? Shooting, defense and secondary ball handling. I think the gamble Van Gundy is making is that Galloway has been miscast as a point guard in his three-year career. He’s played their about 80 percent of the time, but the truth is he isn’t the facilitator you need at the point. But on the wing, and with his length, he’ll do just fine. Add his great perimeter defense and use him as a ball handling safety valve who could hit 40 percent from deep. That’s a recipe for a great sixth man. In fact, it’d be a lot like the trajectory of Avery Bradley.
Finally, there is Luke Kennard. It’s hard to gauge what to expect from Kennard this year. If it’s anything like what Detroit got out of rookie Henry Ellenson last year, we can end the analysis now. He just won’t play.
And with so many players in front of him on the depth chart that is a distinct possibility. However, he is yet another player that looks to add 3-point shooting and secondary ball handling ability to the lineup. I’d say, barring injury, the more minutes Kennard gets the more success the Pistons are probably having. If they’re playing so well that they can find spot minutes for him to do nothing but sink 3-pointers then that’s a great first year for him.
On Game Night
Bradley is the no-brainer starter at shooting guard this season and will likely play heavy, KCP-level minutes. He will guard the best perimeter player on the opposing team, including many point guards. Anytime you see Jackson out on the floor, you’ll likely see Bradley as well. He’s the defender and 3-point shooting complement Jackson needs. On offense expect him to focus on catch-and-shoot 3s and timely basket cuts. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he develops some pick-and-roll chemistry with Tobias Harris.
I will pencil in Johnson as the starting small forward and obvious fifth option on offense. He just needs to focus on defense, rebounding and taking a couple open 3s per game. If he struggles mightily again it could portend disaster for Detroit so the team can’t afford to give him a super long leash.
Galloway will play a surprising amount of minutes and I just want to toss a crazy idea out there – three-guard lineup. If the Pistons go small a lot this season I wouldn’t be surprised to see Galloway out there playing small forward along with Ish Smith and Luke Kennard. Or even an end-of-game situation with Jackson, Bradley and Galloway. OK. Just needed to get that out of my system.
Johnson will likely start and might slide himself down to a power forward position if the Pistons are looking to experiment with small lineups as Van Gundy has indicated. Whatever role he plays, it’ll be important that he isn’t the first second or third option on offense. If Johnson isn’t up to the task Bullock will likely be asked to assume all the same responsibilities. And anything out of Kennard is likely limited to 3-point specialist territory in year one.
The skillsets of these player are certainly different than what we saw last year. Gone will be a Marcus Morris-iso dominated offense and replaced with a lot of 3-point shooting. Hopefully, that’s just what a team that ranked in the bottom three in most offensive efficiency categories needs.