Rooting for an “if” team is a full-time job with shitty benefits and only the slightest hope for a promotion. The Pistons - and their fanbase - are unfortunately smack dab in the middle of one colossal if.
Being an “if” team isn’t unique to Detroit as most teams throughout all of sports have their fingers crossed in one way or another. However, with the Pistons there are virtually no certainties of improvement or sustainable elevated play.
As-is, the purgatory positioned Pistons are highly dependent on the plus side of “if.” With zero cap flexibility, it’s the only card they can play without dipping their toes into the trade market.
Not all ifs are not equal, though. In Detroit’s case, there are basically three buckets you can drop their ifs into: injury, overall development, and specific skills. History suggests some buckets own a better chance to come to fruition than others.
Meet your Detroit Pistons Ifs
This section belongs to The Reggies, Jackson and Bullock. It’s also the group yielding the least amount of confidence of turning into a positive.
Jackson had a miserable 2016-17 season; It was painfully obvious to most the sluggish Jackson wasn’t right and either: he shouldn’t have come back so early or should’ve been shut down much earlier. Instead, Jackson embarrassingly lost his starting spot to a journeyman and lost the confidence of a solid portion of Pistons fans. For Stan Van Gundy, the former matters much larger than the latter but neither are healthy.
If Jackson can perform up to his 2015-16 standards the Pistons are back in business.
Odds (of it coming true): 20 percent
I’m quite skeptical of a player with chronic knee issues bouncing back like nothing happened. Even if fully healthy, can you envision Jackson leading the Pistons past the first round of the playoffs? If your answer is no, then what are we talking about?
Reggie Bullock’s future with the Pistons is already murky as a free agent and either performance or injury have limited Bullock’s on-court minutes during his four-year career.
If Bullock can stay healthy he could be the shooter the Pistons need coming off the bench.
Odds: 40 percent
My expectations aren’t high and I can list almost 420 reasons why in the big picture it doesn’t matter but I’m sure there are greener pastures for Bullock somewhere else.
This is the fun group but also the most polarizing.
Andre Drummond’s production plateaued but his daydreamy potential is still a talking point and rightfully so since he’s just 23 years of age. Drummond catches heat from smug, know-it-all bloggers, fans, coaches and everyone in-between mostly because everything is all right there for the taking but he has yet to fully grab the bull by the horns.
If Drummond can put it all together he can become a dominant two-way player.
Odds: 30 percent
This is the biggest question mark surrounding the franchise. His talent is without question but talent alone does not equal success. Dre has been anointed cornerstone status but with a light tool box it’s impossible to build around him.
21-year-old Stanley Johnson checks most of the physical boxes teams look for, but his sophomore season was a bit of a let down. In and out of the rotation, fluctuating minutes and even a trip to the D/G League headlined Johnson’s frustrating campaign. Not exactly what most had in mind.
If Stanley Johnson continues to develop he could hold down the 3-spot for the next five to six years.
Odds: 60 percent
Before Johnson can continue to develop he must start to develop. The difference in feasibility to meet his “if” than Drummond lies in simple basketball cliches. Johnson enjoys basketball while Drummond seemingly plays because he’s tall and, well, that’s pretty darn convenient. Lighting a fire isn’t the problem for Johnson, aiming the fire in the best possible direction remains the issue.
Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard both have a long way to go before they crack the rotation. Not much is expected next year but that could change if the Pistons move some pieces around.
If Ellenson can knock down the three ball he could steal minutes at power forward.
Odds: 30 percent
If Kennard can hold his own on defense he could see meaningful minutes.
Odds: 20 percent
Both odds are solely in regards to the 2017-18 season. While we witnessed a taste of Ellenson late last year it was hardly enough to build a strong case for maneuvering into the rotation. Kennard will have a lot to prove on the defensive end before he sees the court. If nothing else, Summer League should be fun.
Focusing on improving one or two facets of their game is the theme here.
Jon Leuer’s first half of this past season surpassed most expectations but it didn’t hold true for the second half. Leuer’s inability to knock down an open three-pointer, a contested three, or pretty much anything beyond the arc gave defenses one less thing to worry about.
If Leuer can at least hit the open shot it’ll open up the offense.
Odds: 30 percent
He’s a career .338 three-point shooter and more than likely it should remain true.
Anyone can be a three-point shot taker but the Pistons need a three-point shot maker. This is where Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should throw his hand up. KCP attempted nearly six a game last year at a 35 percent clip and assuming a new deal is around the corner that percentage must creep closer to 40.
If KCP can consistently nail the long ball, his contract is worth every penny.
Odds: 60 percent
He was playing well before a shoulder injury early in 2017 put a damper to a decent start. As with Stanley Johnson, no one has to implore KCP to work as it’s hardened in his DNA. Consistency - for the entire year - is the target and although I wouldn’t bet the entire house on it, I’m comfortable betting most of the furniture and appliances.
For Boban Marjanovic, the necessary skills are already in play but the opportunity hasn’t been there. That should change assuming Aron Baynes doesn’t come back. Boban has been a per minute hall-of-famer since his San Antonio days and actual meaningful minutes are just around the corner.
If Boban secures all the back-up minutes he’ll put up good numbers.
Odds: 75 percent
The only thing that scares me is health. Marjanovic has been relatively injury free during his career but significant minutes, back-to-backs, and that whole playing defense thing could put some wear and tear on the tires rather quickly. For a man of Boban’s, um, stature, the slightest ouch in a foot or on the back could easily compound on each other.
Tobias Harris proved to be Detroit’s most reliant scorer and the evolution of his offensive game relies on an improvement of playmaking. Harris is doing himself a disservice by not yet adding “playmaker” to his resume.
If Tobias Harris can start to get others involved he’s an All Star.
Odds: 75 percent
All Star may be a stretch simply because there are so many solid front-court players in the East but I like his chances to earn the numbers to be in the conversation. Harris was fantastic putting the ball on the floor to score and it only makes sense to see those attempts rise. Doing so should open the door to largely upgrade his Fiat-sized average of 1.7 assists per game from last year.
Too many times last year the default offense became an iso Marcus Morris mid-range attempt. It wouldn’t surprise me if Mook still had a membership to Blockbuster Video because he’s a dying breed of mid-range lovers.
If Morris can limit his highly contested shot attempts then he can become a dependable scorer.
Odds: 20 percent
At this point, I think he is what he is. I’d love to seem him punish smaller defenders and scoot past the leisurely ones but I don’t have the balls to say it to his face.
Speaking of field goal percentages that need a facelift, Ish Smith’s ability to hit the long ball or finish at the rim could use some love.
If Ish Smith could upgrade his shot from horrible to bad he could start in this league.
Odds: 10 percent
Like Morris, he is what he is and as president of the Ish Smith Fan Club, I don’t care. You do you, Ish.
Wow Debbie Downer, is there any hope?
Of course! And it starts with (drum roll) Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Shocker, I know.
The Pistons should look to eliminate an entity with the least amount of upside while considering salary assuming their “if” comes true. Given a chance to re-do one contract or move a single player on this team, for me, that one entity is Jackson. As former president of the Reggie Jackson Fan Club (I wear a lot of hats) it hurts me to say that.
You could easily argue there is a good chance Jackson regains form and all will be well. But is he good enough to find out? Talented, yes but we’ve seen the best of Jackson and he’s far from a franchise altering player so why not move on? Pennies on the dollar? Sure, whatever man, as long as you take him. They can never take that Portland game away from my memory. Drummond, at the very least, can dangle that potential carrot for a wee bit longer.
I’m buying into the KCP and Stanley Johnson work ethic everyone loves to echo. You sold me, I hope you’re happy. Tobias Harris was under-used and under-appreciated. To this I say: no more! And if SVG doesn’t want a nasty, 800+ word, already hand-written letter heading his way that under-used part better change.
Ellenson and Kennard (probably not Hilliard or Gbinije) could be a big part of the future but, at present day, I have no clue and neither do you.
If everything from above comes true then the Pistons are a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Odds: 5 percent
So now what?