The Pistons are currently an under-.500 playoff team, with no All-Stars, in a middling TV market. So when ESPN’s Zach Lowe makes them the subject of one of his signature 1,000-word pieces, you know it’s not going to be full of praise (because this team hasn’t earned it) or blame (because despite everything, they’re still a playoff team). So what did Lowe have to say about Detroit?
Stuff We Knew:
Detroit shoots a lot of inefficient shots:
An open corner 3 -- the shot Detroit never gives up on defense, but also can't squeeze from an offense that belches up more pull-up 2s than any other team.
Steve Hinson talked about this in January; the Pistons’ offensive shots are the same ones they try to coerce teams into on defense. Pull-up midrange shots also don’t lead to a lot of free throws - and the Pistons are second-worst in the league in free throw attempts and dead last in free throw rate.
This adds up to an underachieving offense, which, if you watch the Pistons consistently, you are all-too-familiar with.
Detroit is willing to move on from Reggie Jackson:
The Pistons could target a distressed young point guard like Elfrid Payton or Emmanuel Mudiay, and snag a rental wing to make up the salary gap. Mudiay is available, per several league sources, though it appears Denver has no interest in Jackson.... Jrue Holiday could ignite another point guard shuffle if he indicates he won't re-sign in New Orleans; the Pelicans have kicked the tires on Jackson, league sources say, though nothing ever got serious.
Asked and answered, your Honor. The best play for the Pistons remains holding on to Reggie Jackson and hoping his health improves over the course of the season, heavily aided by the week-long All-Star Break.
Andre Drummond isn’t where the Pistons want him to be defensively:
Van Gundy pushes Drummond hardest on defense, and the progress there just hasn't come. Drummond sags back in his comfort zone, but he's not the imposing deterrent he should be. He doesn't have the same intuitive sense of angles and timing as Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, and other behemoths who prefer to hang near the rim. Point guards pick him apart with pocket passes, and screeners slip behind him toward a naked rim... On too many nights, Drummond flat doesn't try hard enough. When Drummond parks himself in the paint, point guards just drive right at and around him.
Literally any of our wonderful High-Lows will show you that. Lowe - and the Pistons staff - mentions a solution Mophatt1 (Mophatt1? M_Snyder? Mike?) has brought up before: Letting Andre close hard on PNR’s instead of sagging back.
Lowe also mentions that Drummond “can’t commit to that style” of defense. Can’t or won’t, the results are not where they need to be for the Pistons to succeed defensively.
Stuff We Didn’t Know:
San Antonio tried to swipe Stanley Johnson:
Several teams, including San Antonio, tried to steal Johnson on the cheap after Van Gundy suspended Johnson and questioned his practice habits. The Pistons were almost deadlocked between Johnson and Devin Booker in the draft room in 2015, and they grew more frustrated with every Booker 30-point eruption.
Johnson has come on over the last six weeks... In the modern NBA, you don't trade wings who can defend four positions and dish smart passes when the ball swings their way.
It made a lot of sense for teams to inquire about Stanley Johnson while he was in the Pistons’ doghouse. Now that he’s made his way back into the rotation, though, hopefully there’s no more trade talk revolving around him. Stanley’s too valuable an asset to the Pistons’ long-term plans to be given away - no matter how poorly he played earlier this year.
(As an aside, San Antonio is No. 1 on the “Be nice, but don’t trade them anything, because it will haunt you for years” board. If they wanted Stanley, that’s a good sign for his outlook.)
Everything is not always great between Stan and Andre:
Both are close with Tom Gores, the Pistons' owner, and each freely admits they talk with Gores about the other in terms that might not always be the most flattering.
It is usually not a good look for the head coach and de-facto star to be talking to the team owner about each other in unflattering terms. Am I glad they admit it publicly and not privately? Yes. Am I glad that Gores has that kind of relationship with both star and coach? Yes.
However, this brings out shades of the prior relationship between Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard. The situation between Stan and Andre is, of course, different: Stan has more control over his fate, and Andre is, by all accounts, less petulant than Dwight was.
On the other hand, if a breakup were to occur, it portends poorly for the Pistons. Orlando has never truly woken up from their Dwightmare - and he was traded FIVE YEARS AGO. The Pistons have just emerged from a six-year playoff-less odyssey - they can’t go back to being a bad team this soon. That way lies madness.
Detroit is willing to move on from Andre Drummond - for the right price:
Usually, when a President of Basketball Operations says “Everybody is available” he doesn’t REALLY mean it. We really ought to take Stan Van Gundy literally, though.
The Pistons think Drummond still has a leap in him, but they're getting antsy.
“Antsy,” combined with the aforementioned defensive dissatisfaction, with a dash of pressure to sell tickets in a brand-new arena downtown, is the recipe for a Drummond trade.
Do not misunderstand Lowe (or DBB) - a Drummond trade is unlikely, at best.
Even so, any Drummond move now would be a shocker. There aren't many teams with a glaring long-term need at center.
But “a shocker” isn’t the same thing as “never going to happen,” and we shouldn’t pretend it is.
The team is as frustrated with Reggie Jackson as the fans are
Yes, the December players-only meeting was spurred by frustrations with Reggie Jackson. We knew that. But the Lowe piece really lays out a harsh condemnation of Jackson from all sides in surprising fashion.
The Pistons usually hide Jackson on the least-threatening wing player, a reprieve that draws shade from teammates -- including during an infamous players-only meeting in December, when a few guys hammered Jackson for his desultory play.
"Reggie came back," Van Gundy said, "and we've struggled ever since."
Jackson has met privately with Van Gundy and wondered why he doesn't have the ball more in the fourth quarter, and whether he still has the confidence of the coaching staff. "Reggie and I talk every day," Van Gundy said. "I understand this is uncomfortable for him. But when we get a Reggie who is attacking and finishing better, the ball will be in his hands more."
They might even flip Jackson for an extra wing -- Mario Hezonja and filler, perhaps? -- ride out the season with Smith, and fill the point guard hole later. But wings are in demand, and teams aren't going to flip proven ones for Jackson right now.
Tobias and Boban could be moved to avoid the luxury tax
Chalk this one up to informed speculation, but Lowe writes that if the Pistons are set on matching a max offer for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this summer, the only way to avoid the luxury tax is to shed salary. He identifies the “likeliest” candidates as Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic.
While it’d be easy to move both players, they also happen to be two of the more effective offensive players on an offensively challenged team. However, if Aron Baynes opts out the team should be able to avoid any luxury tax. So fans can breathe at least a little easier.