The en vogue seemingly unstoppable NBA lineup is one that scan score at multiple levels and be a collection of defenders who can guard any position, making endless switching possible and eliminate defensive breakdowns. Logically, that means a team full of traditional wings ranging from 6-foot-8 to 6-foot-10 who can move well laterally, have plenty of hops, are reliable 3-point threats, and can move and pass. Ben Golliver of the Washington Post calls it interchangeaball (he’s a fan of hokey names), others call it a death lineup. Call it whatever you want.
Why do I mention all this up top? Because the Detroit Pistons are pretty much the opposite of that approach. Last year, their wings not only didn’t have that varied skillset, at some point they just ceased to exist.
When the team traded away their only traditional small forward in Stanley Johnson, and their pretend small forward in Reggie Bullock, their cupboard was bare.
Luckily, Detroit was able to convinced Wayne Ellington to sign on after being released by the Miami Heat, but that still left the team with a whole lot of shooting guards and no real small forwards.
Ellington moved on to greener ($$$) pastures in New York, but Detroit was able to finally address their gaping hole at small forward with a trade for Tony Snell. Snell got buried on a deep Milwaukee team, but he’s just what Detroit needs on the wing. He shot 40% from 3 on roughly 800 attempts the past three seasons in Milwaukee. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan and he can guard his position.
Snell is likely shoot more than half his shots from the catch-and-shoot variety, mostly from 3, and can be expected to hit 40% of those shots. Roughly 40% of Johnson’s shots last year were catch-and-shoot 3s. He hit 30% of them. Advantage Snell. Advantage Pistons.
Three Guard Lineups Here to Stay
But Snell also can’t play 48 minutes a night. That means that Detroit is going to once again rely on a lot of three-guard lineups, and that likely means a lot of 6-foot-5 (with a smaller wingspan) Luke Kennard for offense, and 6-foot-5 Bruce Brown for defense.
Kennard played 82% of his minutes at “small forward” last season, which means he was sharing the floor with a point guard and Bruce Brown and was probably hidden on whoever the worst offensive player was on the perimeter. It might not be quite that extreme this season but it’ll be a pretty solid balance between the shooting guard and small forward position for Luke. For those interested, the split for Brown was 53% at shooting guard and 47% at small forward.
It’s hard to gauge how successful those lineups were last season, but a little digging indicates that when Kennard was on the floor and none of Bullock, Johnson or Glenn Robinson III was on the floor, Detroit outscored their opponents 2,1176-2,170 in 963 minutes.
The Pistons are much better prepared for these three-guard rotations this season because it now has two point guards who should be capable of actually playing alongside one another. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds on this, but check out Justin’s breakdown of the point guards to see just how much Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose should be able to complement each other and share the floor (as long as you don’t care about defense).
Svi the Wildcard
Still staring at little depth and little size, the Pistons wildcard at the wings will be second-year forward Svi Mikhailiuk. He’s projected to be a catch-and-shoot 3-point threat and the Pistons hope he can also develop some handles. Svi shot 44% from 3 on 6.6 attempts per game his last season at Kansas, and hit 40% on 7.5 attempts in limited action in the G League.
If Mikhailiuk can fight his way into the rotation on the back of reliable 3-point shooting, he can replace what was lost with the departures of Bullock and Ellington. But that’s a big ask of a player who entices but still has only 440 minutes of NBA action on his resume.
Joe Johnson the Vet
It is unclear whether Johnson, the 16-year NBA veteran, will stick in Detroit. Dwane Casey and management obviously brought him in for a reason, but every game that Christian Wood establishes himself as someone who has to stay the harder it is to see how Johnson stays, too.
Assuming Johnson either beats out Wood, the team cuts Khyri Thomas or finds a trade partner for Thon Maker or Langston Galloway, he would play a role in Detroit as a bigger option on the wing or a small-ball power forward.
The miles on Johnson’s body point toward him playing the less physically demanding power forward position, but if Casey finds he has nobody that can hold their position against some of the bigger small forwards in the league, Johnson could get pressed into action.
If he can hold his position on the block, hit some 3s and use his ... ahem ... veteran guile to help when the offense gets bogged down, that’s about all could be hoped for.
Enjoy Grand Rapids, Sekou
That only leaves 18-year-old raw as a fishmonger’s catch at the Pike Place Fish Market Sekou Doumbouya. If Sekou, the youngest player in the NBA Draft, sees a lot of minutes in his first season things have either gone very, very right or very, very wrong.
Doumbouya is likely to get heavy minutes in Grand Rapids to get some hands-on learning of the team’s core concepts as he splits time between being a bouncy small forward and a lithe power forward.
He’s an above-the-rim talent with a solid foundation and potential as 3-point shooter. I was thrilled when the Pistons took the risk and drafted him, but I go into this season expecting absolutely no contributions from him in year 1. The only way I want to see him on the floor for the Pistons is if his play in practice and for the Drive is so excellent, the team literally can’t find a reason to keep him off the floor.
Otherwise, let him learn, get acclimated to the U.S., to the NBA game and teach him good habits. Can’t wait for next year, Sekou.