The Detroit Pistons didn’t make any splashes in free agency but there were several ripples — and it might have a big impact on who starts and who finishes games in the 2019-2020 season.
Additions came in many forms — trades (Tony Snell), free agency (Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Tim Frazier), waiver claims (Christian Wood) and the draft (Sekou Doumbouya, Deividas Sirvydis, Jordan Bone).
The team also lost some rotations mainstays both good — Wayne Ellington, Ish Smith and bad — Glenn Robinson III, Jon Leuer, Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon.
The team certainly added talent and cut some dead weight but there are still plenty of questions and concerns heading into the 2019-20 season.
PG — Reggie Jackson
SG — Bruce Brown
SF — Tony Snell
PF — Blake Griffin
C — Andre Drummond
The starting line up has only one big question mark — and it’s not at point guard. While the combination of irrational Reggie Jackson haters and irrational Derrick Rose stans have created a perfect storm of Whining On the Internet.
But Rose’s injury history makes Jackson look like an iron man, and Jackson has complementary play making that meshes better with Blake Griffin. Griffin will have the ball in his hands a lot, and Jackson can be a reliable off-ball shooter that Rose just cannot be — despite a hot shooting couple months from deep last year.
No, the one big question features two of the lowest-paid players on the team — Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. Kennard was Detroit’s deadliest weapon in the playoffs (read: only weapon), has been a consistent deep threat, and the team will need him more than ever with no Reggie Bullock or Wayne Ellington. But Bruce Brown is a multi-positional defender and, based on summer league, maybe a secondary ball-handler, too, which will help mitigate his lack of a jump shot.
Jackson had a healthy year, can be a serviceable catch-and-shoot player, and can bring the ball up the floor so it’s not literally all on Griffin’s shoulders.
Snell, meanwhile, doesn’t do much, but he’s replacing a player who did even less, on the offensive end anyway, in Stanley Johnson. Snell has the added benefit of being a legitimate 3-point shooter. He should be able to fill the void of the Bullock, Ellington duo capably.
Drummond is the key to success. He’s going to get huge minutes because he has even less big-man support than he had last year. If he can put together an entire season like he did from December on, Dre will be great and the Pistons might be ... well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Key Bench Players
PG — Derrick Rose
SG — Luke Kennard
SF — Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
PF — Markieff Morris
The Pistons are looking at a core rotation of eight players with positional versatility a must among the core as well as spot minutes for a few players we’ll get to soon.
Derrick Rose is the key to this group, as he’s going to be put in the Ish Smith role of being the straw that stirs the drink. The ball will be placed almost exclusively in his hand for every second he’s on the floor without Blake Griffin.
Rose has the ability to get his own shot and score at the rim, so he might play heavy minutes with Drummond on the floor, and the Pistons are hoping that his penetrating ability opens up the perimeter for players like Kennard, Morris and another big man (could be Blake as a small-ball five, Thon Maker or Christian Wood).
Snell, Brown and Kennard can all play either wing position and the Pistons will likely rely more on three guard lineups than they did last year, if such a thing is possible. I can envision more two point guard lineups, too, with Rose and Jackson on the floor. Dwane Casey tried it sparingly last year with Ish and Jackson, but Rose is a potent scorer in a way that Ish is not, so it could be just as fast and even more dangerous than last year.
Defensively, Morris is going to be relied on quite a bit — and he could be pressed into action at the three, four or even the five depending on the matchup. What he lacks in size at 6-foot-10 he makes up in girth and in a nasty streak.
Morris suffered through an injury-plagued year, and the hope will be he can offer up that defense and the kind of stretch on the perimeter that he did in Washington when he shot 36% from 3 the past two seasons.
Kennard, meanwhile, will be maybe the most important wildcard on the entire team. He started to trust his instincts and his shot more as the season went on, and by the playoff series with the Bucks, he was Detroit’s most reliable and dynamic player.
He could form a dangerous combo with Rose. D Rose as the downhill attacker and playmaker, and Kennard as the 40-plus-percent perimeter sniper who can also drive and dish enough to find other catch-and-shoot options. With those two playing off of each other it opens up opportunities for the more limited members of the remaining rotation.
Finally, lets talk about Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. While most Pistons watchers focused on the blossoming passing game and lockdown defense of Bruce Brown, I came away from Summer League most intrigued by Svi.
Mykhailiuk simply looked like a legitimate rotation player in the NBA. Laz covered this well in his Summer League breakdown piece, but the thing that impressed me most was his decisiveness. Sure, he made some ill-advised passes and hoisted some hilariously Steph-like deep 3-point attempts, but overall he looked like he knew what he was doing out there, which counts for a lot in a second-year 21-year-old player.
Svi can obviously shoot the hell out of the ball, and that will be desperately needed alongside Rose. But he also made good reads, good cuts and defended like a small forward needs to in order to survive in the NBA. When the Pistons traded Reggie Bullock for Svi and a second-round pick, most people obsessed over the pick because basketball Twitter is obsessed with “future value,” but Svi looks like a real prize, and a real player.
Spot Minute Players
PG — Tim Frazier
SG — Langston Galloway, Khyri Thomas
SF — Sekou Doumbouya
PF — Thon Maker (hopefully)
C — Christian Wood (hopefully)
While nobody above will be relied on exclusively, can we all just take a moment and reflect on the fact that we are replacing Jose Calderon with Tim Frazier? Thank the lord.
Now, I thought Calderon would work out last season. He had a respectable showing the year before in Cleveland, after all. But at 37 years old, he just had nothing left in the tank. That shouldn’t be a problem who is nearly 10 years younger. If (or when) either Jackson or Rose gets sidelined with an injury, the Pistons should be able to rely on Frazier to provide capable backup point guard play. That is an amazing relief.
Galloway, meanwhile, is a mystery. Detroit’s most ready-made bucket-maker played more than 20 minutes per game last year. As a veteran, he might play ahead of Svi and even eat into Kennard’s minutes. But in a best-case scenario, which is where I choose to reside at the moment, Galloway is mostly out of the rotation.
He doesn’t provide above average defense and while he is an unconscious shot taker, he is an inconsistent shot maker. He made only 35% of his 3s last year after hitting 34% the year prior. He also connected on a truly horrid 51% of his shots at the rim last year. There is a reason more than 64% of his shots came from deep the past two seasons — and if he isn’t hitting those, he isn’t giving you anything else.
In 2019-20, Langston is likely to be known more for his expiring contract than his on-floor contribution.
While I loved the Sekou pick, we all have to take a step back and realize the kid is almost literally still a kid at just 18 years old. If Svi stays in the rotation, we likely won’t see much of Sekou at all in year one. If Svi flames out and the Pistons are once again facing a size crisis on the wing, he might be pressed into action as a defender with length who will do nothing but run the floor in transition and stand in the corner for an open 3 opportunity. There are worse things in the world than that. I look forward to him dominating the G-League, however.
OK, it’s Thon Maker time. I’m not a fan. He’s still an unripe 22 years old, but he just doesn’t provide you much of anything on the floor. He’s like a spider — a bunch of ferocious limbs that put fear into you, but then you realize you can simply brush him out of the way and go about with your business.
The 7-footer weighs just 221 pounds and is stuck between positions at power forward and center. At center, he’s been a defensive train wreck but the team might have nowhere else to put him if they don’t want to play Blake much as a small-ball five. Offensively, he can shoot 3s just well enough to trick people into guarding him but after three years and 331 attempts, he’s still just a 32% shooter from deep.
Christian Wood is also a more natural power forward, but I have to pray that someone would be more effective as a backup center than our good friend Thon. He’s also got a more reliable perimeter shot than Maker, despite the fact that his entire professional career seems to have been spent trying to turn him into a catch-and-shoot option. In other words, I expect Wood to make the team and claim that final roster spot and serve as a legitimate (if not great) backup center option.
Last but not least is Khyri Thomas whose still waiting for his first real shot. I’m not sure it’s coming at all this season, barring a surprise Langston trade. Thomas has intriguing enough skills with solid defensive instinct and a very dangerous jumper. But in the most recent summer league he was giving me some Ben Gordon vibes as an undersized two-guard who was super sloppy with his handle and lacked court vision. Like Gordon, he has the ability to shoot the lights out. Can he do it consistently? Can his defense make up for his other shortcomings? Shrug. But he should be really fun to watch in Grand Rapids.