The Detroit Pistons signed only one player (Glenn Robinson III) this offseason that is a sure bet to be in the team’s primary rotation. Still, a team stuck in neutral for the past several years had what was probably its most consequential offseason in years. Not only because of who is on the court, not just because Dwane Casey has replaced Stan Van Gundy on the sidelines, but because of a complete organizational shift and a lot of quality front office hires.
The Pistons have poached top executives and coaches from Philadelphia (Sachin Gupta), Golden State (Sammy Gelfand), and Atlanta (Malik Rose). Reigning Coach of the Year Casey has spent his first summer in Detroit saying all the right things about high-efficiency shots, pace and the value of three-pointers. Heck, he’s even given Andre Drummond the green light to shoot threes.
Yeah … your mileage may vary on that last one.
Team Name: Detroit Pistons
Last Year’s Record: 39-43
Key Losses: Stan Van Gundy, Anthony Tolliver, James Ennis, Eric Moreland
Key Additions: Staff: Dwane Casey, Ed Stefanski, Malik Rose, Sachin Gupta, Sammy Gelfand; Players: Glenn Robinson III, Jose Calderon, Zaza Pachulia
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
The Pistons were completely capped out and trying to improve off a disappointing season outside of the playoffs. Only armed with exceptions, Detroit instead decided its best move would be to ditch the guy who got them into this mess. Stan Van Gundy was fired as both president and head coach and was replaced by Ed Stefanski and Dwane Casey.
Stefanski’s hiring underwhelmed an anxious fan base at first, but the dude definitely hit the ground running. He secured the services of coach of the year in Casey, then he hired Malik Rose as a GM in waiting, added Warriors’ analytics guru Sammy Gelfand as an in-game analyst on the bench, and Sachin Gupta, a protégé of Sam Hinkie in Philadelphia and THE INVENTOR OF THE NBA TRADE MACHINE.
On the court, the Pistons took a flyer on Glenn Robinson III, who missed nearly all of last season in Indiana to injury, as a player who might be able to push Stanley Johnson and add some more reliable offense to the small forward spot. The team also added two cagey vets in Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon.
The Calderon move is bigger than it might seem, as the team might turn to the floor-spacing Calderon as a starter instead of Ish Smith if oft-injured starter Reggie Jackson goes down again this season.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Detroit has two intriguing big men in Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. Drummond has been taking incremental steps forward every season, but he still hasn’t taken that big leap. He didn’t get the credit he deserved last season for his improvement as a facilitator and free-throw shooter last season. As for Blake Griffin, it seems like there is some star fatigue there. Griffin was overrated and injured for a couple years, and so when he was traded away from Los Angeles it seems like everyone was just relieved to be rid of him.
In truth, he remains one of the best big-man facilitators in the NBA, and the team should legitimately be able to run the offense through him. While he doesn’t dunk quite like he used to, Griffin is slowly refining that perimeter shot, which fits right in with what Casey wants. He shot nearly 35 percent on more than five attempts per game from three last season. If he can nudge that up to the 38 percent range, he becomes much more dangerous.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
The Pistons three most important players -- Jackson, Griffin and Drummond – are all relatively inefficient offensive players. It will be hard for the Pistons to have an elite offense unless the team can somehow get these guys better shots. Speaking of efficiency, the team will also greatly miss Anthony Tolliver, who provided crucial depth and elite shooting at the power forward spot. Nobody in the rotation came close to his .663 true shooting percentage. His spot in the rotation will be filled by Henry Ellenson, who has yet to prove he is an NBA contributor, and Jon Leuer, who missed nearly all of last season to injury and isn’t nearly the three-point threat Tolliver was. This lack of depth might force Detroit to explore a lot of three-guard lineups, which could unlock hidden potential...or decimate the team’s defensive ability.
4. What are the goals for this team?
At media day, the message was clear – “The time is now.” The Pistons want to make the playoffs, and feel like they have the talent to make it happen. The team hasn’t won a playoff game in a decade, so I suppose as long as they can eclipse that, the season can be considered a success. If Detroit struggles again, the hope will be this newly revamped front off can be smart and aggressive in seriously exploring radical changes going forward.
5. Is Andre Drummond really going to shoot threes?
I’m confident the answer is yes. Perhaps that seems crazy when you’re talking about a player who, until recently, was literally the worst free-throw shooter of all time, and someone who shot 28 percent beyond 10 feet last season. But Casey talks about the importance of three-point shooting, in terms of both accuracy and volume, once every 10 seconds. Last year in Toronto, Casey’s Raptors had the second best offense in the NBA despite DeMar DeRozan shooting 287 threes at a 31 percent clip, Norm Powell shooting 186 (28.5 percent) and big man Pascal Siakam attempting 132 (22 percent!!!!).
When I asked Drummond at Pistons media day how many three-pointers he was going to shoot this season he asked for a number. I tossed out 200 (that’s about 2.6 per game). He said it was possible. If I had to make an official prediction I’d say 96.
6. Can this team survive an(other) injury to Reggie Jackson?
Last season the Pistons began the season 19-14, then Jackson suffered a major ankle injury and the team couldn’t recover. The year before, Jackson dealt with persistent knee issues that limited his effectiveness and caused him to miss the first 21 games, but they had nobody who could replace him. Ish Smith has been the backup point, but his lack of an outside shot was unworkable in an offense that featured Drummond and Stanley Johnson.
This season the Pistons are attempting to actually install a contingency plan – Calderon. The best days might be behind the Spanish point guard, but he started 32 games last season in Cleveland and shot 50 percent overall and 48 percent from three. Calderon could work as Jackson insurance and allow Smith to stay where he belongs.
7. What does success look like this season?
I mean, sure, playoffs. Everyone wants to make the playoffs. Fans love the playoffs and the players think they are good enough to not just secure a spot but advance a round. But that is every team’s mission every year, and we’ve seen the glory of the playoffs (and a first-round sweep) in the SVG era, along with the backsliding that went along with it.
For me, success is pretty simple — defensive improvement from Andre Drummond, a modern NBA offense that prioritizes 3-pointers and shots at the rim while letting maybe three players use their mid-range jumper strength, healthy seasons from one or more of Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson and, finally, indications from the front office that it will be bold, smart and analytical in its approach to improving this team through signings and trades.
Is that too much to ask? Probably, but we’re going on 10 years of irrelevance, and I’m getting awfully thirsty.