The Detroit Pistons will welcome Avery Bradley next season, and he has a chance to be the Pistons most effective shooting guard since the heyday of Richard Hamilton a decade ago.
The downside is that the acquisition of Bradley costs the Pistons two starters -- Marcus Morris in the trade with Boston and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who Detroit opted to renounce once it became clear they would not bring him back in restricted free agency.
Bradley is obviously slated to replace KCP, but who replaces Morris is an open question, with the two most likely candidates are Stanley Johnson or Tobias Harris.
Johnson is a third-year player who has not clicked offensively in Detroit. He’s shown brief flashes and has gotten a heavy dose of minutes for his ability to defend, but also found himself in Stan Van Gundy’s dog house on more than one occasion.
Harris, meanwhile, is somewhat of a tweener who has played mostly power forward in Detroit, and the Pistons need to make sure they put Harris in a position to maximize his offensive effectiveness.
The pro-Johnson argument
Starting Johnson would allow the Pistons to keep their lineup mostly in tact. Andre Drummond as the big man, Reggie Jackson initiating the offense, Avery Bradley as a 3-point threat and defensive bulldog and, most likely, Tobias Harris as the starting power forward as a primary offensive weapon with some stretchy qualities.
Johnson would be the fifth option on offense, mostly asked to space the floor, set screens and look for a timely cut to the basket. Johnson can handle the ball a little bit, but was often guilty of trying to do too much when he was a primary option in bench units.
We can be reasonably comfortable he can play defense against starters and anything he provides offensively would be gravy.
The anti-Johnson argument
Johnson just hasn’t shown he is a good NBA player yet and allowing him to be further exposed against better competition is a recipe for disaster. Further, the Pistons were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA last season and are desperate to add outside threats around the Drummond-Jackson pick-and-roll. Johnson is a career 30 percent 3-point shooter and 36 percent shooter overall. Detroit can’t allow a second offensive non-entity to the starting lineup along with Drummond or spacing will be non-existent.
The pro-Harris argument
Simply put, Harris is Detroit’s best offensive player and needs to be in the starting lineup instead of coming off the bench like he did the majority of last season. Johnson also might be more of a natural small forward despite the fact that he has played power forward almost exclusively in Detroit. As a power forward he doesn’t provide enough defense or rebounding and those issues would be mitigated at small forward.
Harris can handle and initiate at least as good as Johnson and is a far superior offensive player. That would mean he would create easier looks for Jackson and Drummond, and his defender won’t be able to as easily leak off to help, and also create open 3 opportunities for Bradley to take advantage of.
The anti-Harris argument
Harris has been so effective in Detroit precisely because of the team’s commitment to playing him at power forward. As a four, Harris is able to use his speed to come off screens and get to the hoop for easy buckets. He can also more easily take his defender off the dribble for a good look from mid-range or to move the ball in the flow of the offense. Also, Harris hit just 34.7 percent of his threes last season, and that borderline effectiveness is a lot more dangerous from a power forward than from a small forward.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is that starting Harris at small forward means the team needs to start someone else at power forward. And that likely means that Jon Leuer is starting again (unless you’re still drunk off of Henry Ellenson’s summer league performance).
The anti-Harris argument is actually an anti-Leuer argument
I say this as an avowed fan of Jon Leuer, his game, and his performance with the Pistons last season — Leuer should be coming off the bench.
First, his skill set is similar to Harris -- an effective cutter, driver and mid-range threat who is only questionably effective from 3-point range. While Harris had a marginally effective 3-point shot last year, Leuer’s was straight up broken. Leuer shot 29 percent on 3s last season. That means whether you start Johnson or Leuer, you’re stuck with a 30 percent 3-point shooter. Either of the two could improve from distance, of course, but it’s not something Van Gundy can bank on.
There is also the question of just what the hell happened to Leuer last season. He started out the first 50 games, mostly off the bench, as one of the most effective offensive players on the team. In 41 games off the bench, Leuer had a true shooting percentage of 58.6 percent. In 34 games as a starter that number cratered to 51.3 percent.
That was felt most acutely from the 3-point line where Leuer started with a blah number of 33.3 percent through January but then lost his shot and his confidence the rest of the way. He connected on just 23 percent on a paltry 65 attempts the rest of the season.
If Leuer can’t expected to be a 3-point threat and isn’t a great complement alongside Harris then I don’t see how you put him back in the starting lineup.
What is your ideal starting lineup for the Detroit Pistons?
Who should be in the Detroit Pistons starting lineup?
This poll is closed
Drummond, Harris, Johnson, Bradley, Jackson
Drummond, Leuer, Harris, Bradley, Jackson
Drummond, Ellenson, Harris, Bradley, Jackson — SUMMER LEAGUE, BABY!!!
The starting small forward is not currently on the roster — CURVEBALL!