As the Pistons season continues to spiral, it’s been a common topic on Pistons Twitter and the DBB comments: tank! We’ll get Zion! It’ll be great!
Some are tongue in cheek, I know. But Mike Valenti of 97.1 The Ticket apparently read my article on breaking up with Andre Drummond and used it to prop his his own opinion that the team should tank. Well. Again...no.
To be clear, tanking is a terrible idea for the Pistons this season. It isn’t always a terrible idea, there are times for it. I’ve even been on the record for the Pistons to tank, way back in 2012. Hm. Well. That certainly makes me feel old.
The problems with the Pistons jumping in the tanking pool should be pretty obvious, but sometimes it takes spelling them out.
1. It’s too late
We’re at the midway point of the season. That’s not the time to decide to start making a run for the number one pick. The conversation really ought to be done here. You’re not going to out-tank five teams that started on game one when you’re in game 43.
2. This draft sucks
Zion Williamson is an incredible talent. But after that, there’s nothing but question marks.
R.J. Barrett is an inefficient chucker who doesn’t play defense. Nassir Little isn’t even averaging double digits scoring. If Drummond’s energy annoys you, have you seen Cam Reddish play? And Bol Bol made it nine games into his NCAA career before he was out for the year with a foot injury. Not that there’s a history of huge players with such unique frames struggling to stay healthy or anything...
This draft does indeed have a lot of talent, so saying that it sucks is a bit of an overstatement. There will be some really good players that come out of it. But something more similar to the 2011 draft, where the top player was obvious in Kyrie Irving but everything afterwards was a big mess. The other three top players came at 15 with Kawhi Leonard, 30 in Jimmy Butler, and 60 with Isaiah Thomas. And so there will be a lot of teams that come away from it and feel like it sucks because they drafted Brandon Knight at 8, then see Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson turn into Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson at 9 and 11. A team may be really excited on draft about landing Derrick Williams, but, eh, not so great once Derrick Williams is playing for your team in the NBA.
For the Pistons, they may be just as well off at 15 as they are at 6 or 7. But even if they’d hit on their pick...
3. The Pistons are terrible at developing young talent
Who is the last player that the Pistons drafted and maximized their potential? Jason Maxiell? Tayshaun Prince? No even worse...the answer legitimately is probably Kyle Singler.
In all likelihood, whatever player the Pistons draft will have some warts. Without major changes, the Pistons can’t develop players with warts. Even a player without major warts like young Andre Drummond (yes his free throw shooting sucked, but he was still at least an efficient player), they enabled him to manufacture warts.
But when you look at Stanley Johnson to Rodney Stuckey, there were a lot of players between that time period with some solid spots to their games. Whether it was over-exposure like with Rodney Stuckey and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, underexposure like with Khris Middleton and Spencer Dinwiddie, the Pistons have just been awful at turning picks into good players.
And it’s not something that we can say was left behind with the previous regime. Dwane Casey is clearly struggling to figure out how to bring Luke Kennard along, which came to a head when Kennard lost his temper after being pulled against the Kings.
Then Ed Stefanski’s crew lost any credibility of improvement on this front when they decided his player option after they had seen him play a NBA game exactly one time.
Ellenson is the gut-check type of player for whether your team can pull off a tank. Yeah, he’s not great. But he has some aspects that make him a legitimately interesting player. Not a lot of guys with his size can do stuff like this:
Ellenson is 21 years old, is probably going to eventually figure out how to get his three point shot to fall, and has the kind of mentality you want for a guy with his role. He needs to figure out how to be efficient at this league and to not be a disaster defensively. That’s all it’ll take for him to be a useful rotation player and he has the tools to make those two things happen. And the Pistons have done nothing to develop that, plus Stefanski’s crew gave up on him immediately.
Why should we believe these are the guys that will get R.J. Barrett to play defense? And if you can’t trust your organization to get R.J. Barrett to play defense, you’re probably not going to manage much with anyone not named Zion.
So much about prospect development is about ironing out warts. The Pistons have this amazing knack of amplifying them. So perhaps the next worst thing they could do behind tanking would be opening a day spa.
4. The East is terrible
The top ten players in the league are LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, and...I don’t know, that tenth spot is definitely up for grabs. I’ll give it to Boban.
That makes 8 of the league’s top 10 players in the West (ok, 7 of the top 9 if you aren’t buying on Boban).
The Miami Heat are the 6 seed in the East despite not having a point guard. Seriously, we complain about Reggie Jackson and Jose Calderon around here, but they legitimately don’t have a point guard on the roster except a Goran Dragic who has been injured for most of the season.
The Blake Griffin/Andre Drummond combination has been a disaster. Drummond, of course, is second on the team in shot attempts and has an abysmal 51 percent true shooting percentage, driving the second lowest TS in the league for the team, blah blah this is obvious by now.
You don’t have to have a ton of talent in the East, you just have to have the right fit. And there’s quite a bit here that fits. Reggie Bullock has proved himself as an elite three point threat. The Reggie Jackson/Bruce Brown duo has made some sense. Jon Leuer has been pretty good, so long as he’s not playing next to four guards (that Jose Calderon, Bruce Brown, Reggie Bulllock, Luke Kennard lineup still has me shook). The theory of Luke Kennard should work well, even if it hasn’t yet.
Dump Drummond for an expiring contract, and this team is immediately better than the Heat. No, it’s not a matter of competing to get swept in the first round. It’s a matter of trying to improve the team and not waste Blake Griffin while he’s here.
But also, it touches on a particularly perplexing take with Valenti. He spent all of this time talking about how bad Drummond is, then equated getting rid of him to tanking. If Drummond is so bad...then...doesn’t getting rid of him make the team better? I don’t know, whatever.
5. Blake might lose his mind
This picture, yo.