The Pistons took a step back this year, which begs the question:
For an organization depending heavily on internal growth, the lack of postseason play in 2017 isn’t a good look, especially compared to their relative success the previous year.
In the metro-Detroit pecking order, the Pistons sit fourth among professional teams in terms of interest. Obviously that doesn’t include Michigan State University or University of Michigan athletics, and the countless other options people can spend their money or attention on.
One step forward, one step back is the perfect recipe for the casual fan to take an indifferent approach towards the Pistons. Apathy is the last thing owner Tom Gores wants heading into next year, with Pistons finally moving downtown and playing in the new Little Caesars Arena, but that’s where we’re at.
So how do the Pistons get back on the right track?
Prioritizing team identities should come first: Establishing a concrete direction will help to answer tough questions.
In my book, there is no bigger question mark than what to do with Reggie Jackson.
Jackson was brought here in February of 2015 to run the team alongside Andre Drummond and their PNR quickly became an offensive calling card and a true identity.
However, Jackson didn’t join the club this year until early December due to lingering knee issues. He was then benched in favor of Ish Smith in March, and eventually shut down after coming off the bench twice.
He’ll be 27 by mid-April, by most standards in the “prime” of his career and a few years older than the remaining core. Is he still Stan Van Gundy’s maestro?
If the answer is yes, the Pistons organization better pray his chronic knee pain (among other ailments) becomes manageable, as this years’ version of Jackson simply won’t cut it moving forward.
If the answer is no, how do they rid themselves of the three years and 50 million dollars remaining on his contract? Any trade would garner little value in return.
Answering that question will create a domino effect in determining the status of the remaining roster.
For example: What to do with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?
As a restricted free agent, KCP (and his agent Rich Paul) will command a hefty sum of loot on the market that the Pistons will have a chance to match.
Do they match competing offers? Should they match competing offers?
Keeping Jackson and re-signing Caldwell-Pope will certainly put the Pistons over the salary cap, leading to heavy taxes at the doorstep of Gores. Of course there are salary cap gymnastics the Pistons can use to create room, but it would be at the cost of team depth.
Making a decision on Jackson also paints a clearer picture of Pistons’ options at the 2017 NBA Draft. In a point guard-heavy draft, the Pistons will have an opportunity to replace Jackson, but the new PGOTF could barely (legally) have a drink in Windsor.
Whomever is drafted could be between 4 and 5 years younger than a Tobias Harris, KCP and Drummond core. Can the organization wait for a newly drafted point guard, a developing Stanley Johnson, and the lump of clay that is Henry Ellenson to catch up to the rest of the team?
If the Pistons believe Reggie Jackson is still the man to lead the team, they run the risk of missing out on a top PG, or Jackson’s knee never fully recovering while he remains under contract.
We are still three months shy of the draft, and lottery positioning will absolutely be a factor in their answer, but the question until then isn’t going anywhere:
What to do with Reggie Jackson?
Just as import as roster decisions is an actual blueprint to win games.
As-is, the Pistons rely heavily on the PNR and the derived offense that comes with it. Does the team have to drastically change from their established DNA if they separate from Reggie Jackson?
Not at all.
Jackson was always sold as a PNR point guard, a concept I never fully understood. While he thrived under ideal circumstances, is it really a selling point? Is it a distinguishable feature? Even non-shooting point guards such as Ricky Rubio, Rajon Rondo and Ish Smith can create offense for their teammates via the pick-and-roll.
The PNR is part of every point guard’s skill set and to assume Jackson’s production -especially at the volume he uses it - can’t be duplicated is questionable at the very least. Is Reggie a scoring point guard? Yes. But labeling Jackson a pick-and-roll point guard is rather redundant. They’re ALL PNR point guards.
Not relying so much on a scoring point guard could open the door for Tobias Harris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to shine. Harris has been the Pistons most consistent scoring threat all season. Say what you want about KCP (and I know you will) but he’s improved every season, something we can’t say about Andre Drummond.
The 2017-18 season will be Drummond’s sixth, and the sooner the Pistons accept his limitations the better off we all are. A borderline seven-footer who can rim run and and haul 12-15 rebounds per game would have a place on any contender. Rolling with a purpose, however, would attract more attention and alleviate some responsibility from a new point guard - or a healthy Jackson - more than a Drummond post-up ever could.
There is also the other side of the ball.
The Detroit Pistons - statistically speaking - were one of the better defensive units in the league.
Does anyone who watched the team for 75+ games believe that to be true?
Analytics have come a long way, but grading defensive prowess based solely on faulty formulas is a losing bet. Massaging and cherry picking numbers is an easy way to support a narrative - such as an idea the Pistons are a good defensive unit - but it’s a Swiss cheese argument.
Ask any middle school basketball coach the keys to a successful defense and more than likely, the answers will revolve around traits such as communication, recognition and discipline. Analytics own a place in today’s game, but as a complement to - instead of a replacement for - the eye test, especially on the defensive end.
Save your DRTG and RPM for another day, the Pistons stunk on defense.
Speaking of winning characteristics - communication, recognition and discipline are also words to describe successful point guards; would you use any of those words to describe Reggie Jackson?
The Pistons’ off-season officially starts after a decision on Reggie Jackson has been made.