Without much of a fight, even with a hobbled Blake Griffin for the final two games, the Detroit Pistons were handily ushered out of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks, who won as they tied second largest point differential (+95) in a playoff sweep in modern NBA history.
If you don’t abide by ties well, the Pistons are now the sole owners of the longest losing streak in NBA playoff history with 14 straight. Yes!! Oh wait that’s not...good.
But, hey we made the playoffs, so we must have gotten something out of that? And and and I mean the season was a success right? Even if you are an optimist on those two there’s the question of “what now?” that is just sitting there, big and elephant-in-room like.
If any or all of those three questions are vexing you well you’re in luck, because we’re about to give you our thoughts on all three.
1. What did we learn this playoffs?
Ben Gulker: The matchup against the Bucks highlighted the shortcomings on the perimeter, defensively and offensively. This is a years-long trend at this point, but the roster needs to upgrade talent on the wings and at least one of the point guard positions.
Steve Hinson: Getting the sense as to what this team is was always tough to gauge this season. Were they the 13-7 team they started out as, the 4-16 team they followed it up with, or any of the other swings that followed? In the end, the playoffs showed that they were just what they finished up as - a .500 team who snuck into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.
Ryan Pravato: The Pistons are not close to being a top 4 or 5 team in the East.
Christopher Daniels: We learned that this team as constructed wasn’t ready for prime time. The loss of Griffin for the first two games was a blessing in disguise in that it laid bare the dearth of talent behind him, especially in the shot making department, but basically in every area top to bottom, offense to defense.
Brady Fredericksen: The Pistons are not “one player away” from contending for anything. It’s no surprise that the Bucks swept the Pistons; that should have been the expectation coming in after Milwaukee took all four regular season games with relative ease. But the lack of competitiveness they showed without Blake Griffin was not great.
I think the Bucks are going to win it all this year. They are the total package: built for success in today’s NBA with long athletes that can create and shoot from outside, and they’re the deepest team in the league. The Pistons are the opposite. They’re big where they need to be, but unathletic everywhere. They can’t consistently shoot, they can’t consistently create non-Blake offense and those are issues. This series illustrated the glaring lack of athleticism/shot creation/shooting on this roster. It gives the front office a road map as to what they need to fix, but that process is not going to be a particularly easy one.
David Fernandez: We learned that the Pistons have a lot of holes that need to be filled if they’re going to be a serious contender in the East, or even a fake contender like the Sixers. They’re not an upgrade from Reggie Jackson away from being a 50 win team who’s favored in the first round - they have to address point guard of the future, back up point guard, starting three, back-up three (maybe Svi?), back-up four and back-up five.
All of these areas, expect for a couple good games from Reggie, were frankly a disaster in the playoffs, and unless they’re able to plug the majority of these holes with replacement level talent, then it’s going to be difficult to win a round or two in the playoffs - no matter if Blake is healthy and Andre is productive, or not. With that being said, it will take Detroit another season before they’re able to address most of those areas.
Justin Lambregtse: We learned that this team is still a long ways away from being a contender.
2. Was the season a success?
Ben Gulker: Overall, yes, especially when you consider the health challenges that plagued the Pistons all season. Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard were in and out of the lineup early in the season, Reggie Jackson clearly wasn’t right until late in the season, and Blake Griffin’s late-season injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. In spite of that, the Pistons finished with 41 wins - and had Griffin stayed healthy, would have pushed 43-44. The Playoff sweep is especially unfortunate in that context, as the Bucks were definitely the most-difficult matchup the Pistons could have faced.
Steve Hinson: Absolutely not. A season where all of your key players are in their prime, you finish .500, in the eighth seed, and get swept in the first round with four straight blowouts can never be called a success. The fact that they did it with a guy who will finish the season as either a first or second team All NBA Team and was the second best player in the conference qualifies it as a shitshow. Ok, so Ed Stefanski was dealt a 13 in blackjack. Not an ideal deal, true. But his response? “I’ll hold.”
Ryan Pravato: Getting swept in a first round playoff series, and getting swept resoundingly at that...I’m going to have to go with a no on if this season has been a success. However, this past series was good experience for a few players -- Luke Kennard, Thon Maker and Bruce Brown. They are young players with skills. They all can be rotational pieces on a good team. While I’m not sure if any are starting caliber guys down the road, they represent some kind of hope if you squint hard enough.
Christopher Daniels: The season was a success in that we saw that Blake Griffin is a player to build around, not a washed up husk of Hollywood pretty boy. It was also a success getting to the playoffs more to show, as I said in the first answer, that this team has a long way to go in terms of roster construction before it can actually do anything in the post season. If we had just missed there may have not been as clear a mandate to move on from this “big three” nonsense.
Brady Fredericksen: I think so. They went into it hoping to make the playoffs and, even after “selling” at the trade deadline, they came out of the scrum as a playoff team. I’d argue that they would have won a game or two against Philadelphia or Toronto with a healthy Griffin. But that’s not the way it worked out. They were never going to tank their way into the Zion Williamson race. The alternative to making the playoffs was just missing it and picking 15th (literally the worst-case scenario) or settling in to their traditional draft position at No. 8, which is a record we’ve listened to way too many times.
David Fernandez: Detroit held serve this season, they were broken the previous two years, so that in it of itself, is a success. While it’s not the greatest end to the season as one would have hoped, if you would have told me late January, when Detroit was seven games under .500 and looked the worse I’ve seen them since DaJuan Summers was bricking elbow mid-rangers, that they’d make the playoffs - I would have thought you were lying. They made for the most exciting stretch of Detroit Basketball we’ve seen in a long time when they went 12-2 around the All-Star break, and had Blake not been injured for the final two-three weeks of the season, then it’s likely they wouldn’t have ran face-first into the buzzsaw that is the Milwaukee Bucks.
Justin Lambregtse: I think it was. You have to start somewhere and making the playoffs and getting a little bit of experience for a roster with little playoff experience is useful despite most people thinking it was a waste.
3. Where do we go from here?
Ben Gulker: Given the salary profile, expiring contracts, and injury histories, his is a very hard question to answer. By my count, backup PG and backup C have to be addressed due to expiring contracts, and backup SG, starting and/or backup SF, and backup PF could all use an upgrade. Do you use your limited assets to supplement Jackson, Kennard, Drummond, and Griffin and push for 45 wins? Or, do you pursue and on-the-fly rebuild where everyone is on the table?
Steve Hinson: When Stan Van Gundy took over for the Pistons, his direction for a lineup was clear. Next to Andre Drummond as the franchise player, he wanted point guards who excelled in the high pick and roll and for his four to be able to shoot. Like it or not, at least it made sense and was a clear vision. What is Ed Stefanski’s vision? Just trotting out the roster that Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower put together and got fired for? What roster construction will facilitate this team leaving the bottom five in the league in true shooting percentage or even actually being above average in the metric? What’s the right type of roster to put around Blake Griffin?
Let’s be clear: you cannot be successful in the NBA today with a ball dominant power forward and a center that is second or third on the team in usage percentage. The complacency and lethargy of the mentality of continuing to just trot out Griffin and Drummond because that’s what we have is ridiculous and unacceptable. Blake Griffin busted his ass this season for the Pistons. He deserves a front office that is willing to optimize his talent and efforts. That’s where we go from here.
Ryan Pravato: Sign young, cheap players who have some semblance of potential to break out -- and hope one or two actually break out and are able to help Blake. I know this is a very brief and simplistic answer, but as everyone knows this team is talent poor.
Drummond’s non-performance in the playoffs obviously hurts his trade stock, but there’s got to be a team out there (who doesn’t know about the Bucks-Pistons series) willing to bring him on and give Detroit a first round draft pick and starting caliber player in return, at least.
Christopher Daniels: The front office has now been in place for a full year and has seen what it has to work with on the roster. It’s now time to make some tough choices and move pieces any way possible to get a better set up for Blake to succeed. That includes moving on from everyone but Blake. In my opinion moving on from Blake is a nonstarter in that he’s the best player we’ve had pound for pound since Grant Hill and on top of that has Detroit Pistons basketball character in his DNA. That’s not a player you find every day or even every decade.
Brady Fredericksen: Address the issues as best you can. If there’s an opportunity to move Andre Drummond for the kind of athletic wing scorer they need, do it. If you can move Reggie Jackson for a guy that fits that bill, do it. They need to address their backup point guard spot (is Ish Smith worth bringing back after his limitations were exposed in a playoff series?) and on the wing (will Wayne Ellington come back at an affordable price after turning into a pumpkin over the final weeks of the year?) as well as revamping their frontcourt depth (the Zaza Pachulia era is over, so they need to find a traditional backup center and potentially a tweener forward that can play some small forward and some small-ball power forward with Thon Maker at center). There are a lot of moves to make with little money to spend. Trades are their best bet to improve the roster this summer.
David Fernandez: In the sense that we kind of have an idea of what Stefanski is trying to accomplish, we should stick to that route. He’s had two opportunities to make a mark on this team, last off-season - when he signed Zaza and Jose to a one year deal, and GRIII to a prove-it two year deal (second year team option that likely won’t be picked up this off-season). And at the trade deadline - when he didn’t leverage Detroit’s future for Mike Conley, held onto Luke Kennard and parted ways with Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson knowing that the team was not going to re-sign them this off-season.
Patience is key. Research the hell out of the draft, and make smart signings that deliver Detroit back to the post-season without showing your hand too early in a desperate attempt to be seriously competitive before you’re ready.
Justin Lambregtse: The Pistons need to upgrade their wing players, particularly some wing players with more size that can create their own shots. It is easier to defend against one-dimensional wings in the playoffs, and they Pistons have a lot of those. It’s going to be tough to accomplish this in one offseason, but they need to start trying.
So, there you have our thoughts. I am quite sure you have a lot rolling around your collective brains...let it out in the comments.