Thursday, October 15, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Detroit Pistons

DETROIT PISTONS
[] 32-50
[] Offensive Rating: 106.2 (14th)
[] Defensive Rating: 107.4 (20th)
[] Net Rating: -1.2 (20th)
[] Last playoff appearance: 2009
[] Coach: Stan Van Gundy

Stan Van Gundy's second season as the Pistons head man could go in a variety of directions.  On one hand, the Pistons only won 32 games last season, finishing under .500 for the seventh straight season.  On top of that, they lost their best offensive player, Greg Monroe, to the Milwaukee Bucks.  He'll be replaced by Ersan Ilyasova, who has either been frequently injured or ineffective for large swaths of the last two seasons.  To make matters worse, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the team's long-term option at SG, was wildly inconsistent in his sophomore season.  If Ilyasova can't at least be a decent replacement for Monroe and the Pistons offense fails to gain a foothold, the 2015-16 season is likely to be no better than a repeat of last year's 32 win finish.

On the other hand, Stan Van Gundy has one hell of a track record as a coach, and has come close to assembling the kind of roster he wants to run the spread pick-and-roll offense he desires.  Reggie Jackson is one of the league's better pick-and-roll PGs, and there isn't a better young big man than Andre Drummond when it comes to setting a screen and rolling towards the basket.  The next step at this point is finding the shooters to space the floor around this action.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (34.5%) made strides as an outside shooter last season, Ersan Ilyasova is a career 37% shooter, and Marcus Morris is, if nothing else, more reliable than the trio of Tayshaun Prince, Caron Butler and Shawne Williams, who owned the SF minutes after Reggie Jackson was acquired last season.  If the outside shooting is there, a Pistons offense that finished in the top half of the league last year in efficiency will be even better.  Also providing hope that the Pistons can put an end to their playoff drought is the fact that the team finished 27-27 after cutting Josh Smith loose.  Not starting at a 5-23 deficit this year will be important, you guys.
Projected Starting Five

PG: Reggie Jackson - 6'3, 210 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
77
14.5
17.2
24.6%
51.1%
29.9%
.242
83.0%
.219
34.8%
14.6%

After being acquired at the 2015 trade deadline, the Pistons' offense featured heavy doses of Jackson running the pick-and-roll, specifically with Andre Drummond.  No other player in the league had a pick-and-roll frequency anywhere near Jackson's when he was in the red, white and blue, where his pick-and-roll frequency was a shade under 62%.  The closest non-Piston on the list was Dennis Schroder, who checked in at a rate of 53.3%.  It's clear that Stan Van Gundy has hand-picked Jackson to be the man who helps exploit the advantages Andre Drummond presents in PnR action.  I went into full detail on those advantages here, if you want the full explanation.

Jackson remained a somewhat inefficient scorer when he went from OKC to Detroit, although he did improve in that regard.  The real change in his game from Thunder backup to Pistons starter came in the development of his abilities as a playmaker.  Jackson mustered a mediocre 24.5 AST% in 50 games with OKC, which jumped to a staggering 51.2% in his 27 Pistons contests.  Part of that is a lack of other solid playmaking options in Detroit, but the vast majority of it is Jackson cherishing the opportunity given to him by Stan Van Gundy to be the key piece in his offense.  He obviously won't continue at that rate over a full season, but in an offense that suits his abilities, Jackson may well post an Assist Rate in the low 40s, which should find him solidly within the league's top ten, and possibly in the top five.  A 17 PPG/8 APG/4 RPG season in a high-usage role seems possible.

SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - 6'5, 205 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
82
12.7
11.2
19.5%
50.1%
34.5%
.457
69.6%
.163
6.8%
8.3%

Caldwell-Pope continuing his development and finding more consistency is key to the Pistons becoming a better, more competitive team over the next few years.  You can see that the consistency thing reared its ugly head last year when you look at KCP's home/road splits:

Home
15.5 PPG
44.5 FG%
55.8 TS%
39.4 3P%
109 ORtg
111 DRtg
+4.7
Road
9.9 PPG
35.0 FG%
43.2 TS%
28.0 3P%
88 ORtg
108 DRtg
-3.6

If you project it over a full season, KCP's Offensive Rating of 88 would have only topped that of Lance Stephenson's last year, among players who saw at least 1,200 minutes.  There are lots of words to describe that kind of performance, and none of them are kind.  Whatever caused those road struggles, they need to come to a halt this year.  Home KCP has the statistical profile of one of the better two-guards in the Eastern Conference.  Road KCP might have had a hard time cracking any starting lineup in the D-League.

That all being said, Home KCP gives you the hope that he can turn into a decent starter for the Pistons.  I don't think he can produce at that level for a full season this year, but he can probably give you something close if everything goes right.  If Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can give the Pistons around 14 PPG in a more efficient manner (a 54.0 TS% or better), it would go a long way towards propping up an offense that runs the risk of turning into a one-trick pony.  If he has another up-and-down season like last year's, he could lose his starting spot to one of Jodie Meeks or Stanley Johnson, and the Pistons may quietly start to look for a new long-term answer at SG.  This is a make-or-break year for KCP.  I honestly don't know what to expect here; I thought a larger leap was coming last year.

SF: Marcus Morris - 6'9, 235 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
81
10.4
13.7
19.0%
52.0%
35.8%
.410
62.8%
.148
10.2%
8.2%

Morris was the banner acquisition of the Pistons' offseason, and you can choose to read that however you would like to.  I delved fully into the Morris acquisition here if you want the full scoop on the trade and all the gritty details on his game.  I'll get this out of the way first: his off-court issues and proceeding legal issues are concerning for obvious reasons.  If we just look at what he can do on the court, Morris should be a significant upgrade on the revolving door the Pistons used at SF last year.  He's not an elite outside shooter, but Morris is solid, checking in at 36.3% for his career.  Considering that makes up a large part of his offense (career .413 3PAr), this part of Morris' game checks out.  He's an okay finisher inside the arc, nothing special, and had his worst year getting to the FT line last year.  It would be much more pleasing if his Free Throw Rate approaches the .244 number he posted in 2013-14.  All things considered, Morris should be a decent safety valve, as he probably checks in as the 3rd or 4th option in the Pistons' offense, depending on what we see from KCP.

At the other end of the floor, Morris seems like a pretty average, to maybe slightly above average, defender, which should make him a huge improvement on the likes of Kyle Singler, Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince.  The Pistons haven't had the kind of physically imposing, tough wing defender you need in a division with LeBron James, Paul George and Jimmy Butler.  At the very least, they now have two guys (Morris and Stanley Johnson) who look the part of physical, capable wing defenders.   The Pistons need Marcus Morris to knock down open looks, body up the talented wings they face and keep himself out of the garbage he seems to get himself in both on and off the court.  I have faith in him doing the first two parts, we'll see on the third.

PF: Ersan Ilyasova - 6'10, 235 - 8th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TRB%
58
11.5
16.8
22.1%
55.4%
38.9%
.341
64.5%
.192
7.4%
12.0%

Ilyasova was acquired for the low, low cost of the non-guaranteed contracts of Caron Butler and Shawne Williams early in the summer.  He'll be tasked with replacing Greg Monroe and giving Stan Van Gundy the true stretch four he didn't quite have in year one with the Pistons (Anthony Tolliver was fine, but Ilyasova's upside is better).  Ilyasova bounced back from an atrocious shooting season in 2013-14 to the more true version of himself he gave the Bucks last year.  If he can give the Pistons what he gave Milwaukee last season, that should be more than enough to satisfy Detroit's needs from this spot.

Ilyasova is a good spot-up shooter, giving the Bucks 1.06 points per possession in the 216 spot-up possessions he used in 2014-15.  As I mentioned when I reviewed the acquisition here, Ilyasova doesn't do much other than the shoot the ball.  The good news is, that should really be all the Pistons need him to do.  He just needs to keep the defense from cheating in on Jackson-Drummond pick-and-rolls; anything else he gives you is gravy.  He figures to be a defensive downgrade from both Greg Monroe and Anthony Tolliver, but that's okay as long as he's connecting from deep.  With his deal only featuring a minor partial guarantee beyond this year, the Pistons gave up little to acquire a piece who could be just what their offense needs.

C: Andre Drummond - 6'10, 270 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
82
13.8
21.4
22.0%
50.4%
38.9%
.380
24.0%
18.3%
30.1%
2.2

Andre Drummond took a few steps back to take a step or two forward offensively last season.  He became a more relevant piece of the offense in his first season under Stan Van Gundy, which had a negative effect on his efficiency.  Drummond used 344 post-up possessions last year, 12th-most in the league, but ranked last in PPP among players who had more than 300 post-up possessions. Drummond had never been used in that role at any level prior to last year, so it's not hard to see why he struggled.  He's only 22 and desperately needs the reps so he can improve, so I would expect Drummond to see 500 post-up possessions or more this year with Greg Monroe out of town.  It would be tough to be worse on those possessions than Drummond was last year, so expect his offensive output to increase this year.  The other way from him to creep closer to the 16-18 PPG range is by shooting better from the FT line.  This is much less likely to occur.

Drummond still has some room to grow defensively as well, even with his improvements as a shot blocker last year taken into consideration.  The 0.90 PPP allowed by Drummond on post-up possessions was the league's 5th-worst among players who defended at least 150 post-ups.  It often seemed like he failed the eye test as well.  I remember a game in December (I think it was the first home game against Toronto) where Drummond bit several Jonas Valanciunas pump fakes and otherwise got abused on the block by JV.  That one sticks out because it was particularly frustrating, but it wasn't the only time you were left feeling like Drummond can be much better defensively.  Again, the good news is that he's only 22 years old, so seeing these improvements is something we can expect.  He has the physical tools to be an above average defender, now he just needs to add the mental pieces so it actually translates.

There are a lot of pivotal pieces to this Pistons season (KCP finding consistency, Ilyasova shooting well, Stanley Johnson being passable), but none seem more important to the Pistons' playoff chances than Andre Drummond truly turning the corner.  The last two years have been about seeing flashes of Drummond's dominance, a 20 point night here or a 20 rebound night there.  This year needs to be about Drummond being so good that he pushes for an All-Star spot, or the Pistons just aren't going to be playing past the second week of April.  He's got the talent and the physical tools to be really good, and with a large extension looming, he needs to play to that potential every night.

Bench

PG: Brandon Jennings - 6'2, 175 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
41
15.4
19.7
26.3%
52.2%
36.0%
.389
83.9%
.263
39.9%
12.9%

Jennings was the main driver behind the Pistons' uptick after kicking Josh Smith to the curb, so it really hurt when he tore his Achilles against the Bucks in late January.  Although he mostly received notoriety for his play after Smith was waived, Jennings had shown signs of improvement early in the year too.  His Assist Rate crushed his previous career high of 34.4%, set in his first year with the Pistons.  He shot the three ball better than his career average, and reduced his turnovers too.  All in all, the half season that Jennings played last year was by far the best season of his career.  Now, he'll work his way back from a serious injury that could mean he never regains good form.  The Achilles is so crucial in basketball, and such a delicate injury, that there's always the chance he just doesn't make a good recovery.  If he does, he'll be the team's sixth man and probably play some minutes off the ball as well.

PG: Steve Blake - 6'3, 175 - 13th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
81
4.3
9.5
13.2%
50.7%
35.2%
.670
70.7%
.125
26.2%
23.2%

The Pistons shipped Quincy Miller to the Nets to obtain Blake, who will serve as an insurance policy on Brandon Jennings' recovery, and Spencer Dinwiddie's youth.  Blake's been around the block a few times, so he'll probably be reliable if called upon.  However, it's in the Pistons' best interest if the large majority of the PG minutes go to Jennings and Dinwiddie.

PG: Spencer Dinwiddie - 6'6, 200 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
34
4.3
10.2
21.1%
39.4%
18.5%
.385
91.2%
.201
34.9%
15.2%

Dinwiddie had an up-and-down rookie season as he slowly worked his way back from a torn ACL suffered in his last season at the University of Colorado.  There were more down moments than bright ones, but the bright ones give you hope that Dinwiddie can hit his ceiling.  Those moments included a 20 point, 8 assist, 4 rebound performance in 24 minutes against Washington and a 12 point, 9 assist performance against the Bulls in a start where he also shut down Derrick Rose defensively.  While those two games were great, they weren't frequent enough to make you feel great going into this year.  His summer league performance wasn't sharp either, for whatever that's worth.  He's only 22 and was a really good overall player in his time at Colorado, so it's too soon to panic.

SG: Jodie Meeks - 6'5, 210 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
60
11.1
14.1
20.1%
54.8%
34.9%
.397
90.6%
.300
8.8%
8.6%

Speaking of up-and-down seasons, Meeks had one himself.  After missing the first month or so with a back injury, he returned in December with strong play.  That lasted through the middle of January, when Meeks hit the wall.  He shot under 27% between January and February, before warming back up again in March and April, when he shot over 40% from behind the arc over the last month-and-a-half.  He ended the year with the second-worst outside shooting season of his career and overall ho-hum offensive production by his standards.

Meeks should be better this year, if only by the assumption that a career 37% three point shooter isn't going to shoot under 35% again.  You can also make the safe assumption that he'll continue to get to the FT line regularly, something that's been a staple for him over the last two years.  Meeks' floor spacing is a big piece of the second unit's ability to function, so him rounding back into form and staying healthy will be key.

G/F: Darrun Hilliard - 6'6, 210 - Rookie
GP
PPG
RPG
SPG
FG%
FT%
3P%
35
14.3
4.3
1.8
44.0%
79.6%
38.7%

The 38th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Hilliard will likely bounce back and forth between Detroit and Grand Rapids.  I think he'll play more minutes at the D-League level this year as Detroit sorts out a jam on the wings.

G/F: Reggie Bullock - 6'7, 205 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
36
1.9
6.2
10.9%
46.6%
32.6%
.657
66.7%
.129
3.2%
9.8%

Bullock came to Detroit in the same deal that brought Marcus Morris to town.  He hasn't shown much to this point in his career, but if he's going to stick, it'll be because his defense got him on the floor and his outside shooting kept him on it.  One of Cartier Martin, Danny Granger or Adonis Thomas could make the roster instead, although they're not listed here.  My money is on Bullock though, because he's got more upside than Granger and Martin, and he's more established than Thomas.

SF: Stanley Johnson - 6'7, 245 - Rookie
GP
PPG
RPG
SPG
FG%
FT%
3P%
38
13.8
6.5
1.5
44.6%
74.2%
37.1%

The Pistons surprised most by passing on Justise Winslow and taking Stanley Johnson with the 8th pick in the draft.  After a strong showing in the Orlando Summer League, arguably the best performance of any rookie there, his pro career is off to a strong start.  It's a very brief start though, and it's important to remember that Johnson is going to have his fair share of struggles in his rookie year.  He still needs to refine his ball-handling and some think his outside shot will take some time to translate.

The optimistic view is that those issues will be minimized by his physicality at both ends, and that he'll keep himself in the Rookie of the Year race through the whole season.  If things go really well, he'll knock one of KCP, Marcus Morris or Ersan Ilyasova out of the starting lineup.  I don't think that will happen this year, but Johnson has enough talent and drive to get it done.  That would be ideal, but it's not necessary for the Pistons to have a good year.  They just need him to shoot somewhere around 35% from three and play good defense in the 20-25 minutes per night he'll likely see.

PF: Anthony Tolliver - 6'9, 240 - 8th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
76
6.3
11.1
14.7%
56.9%
36.6%
.738
78.3%
.176
6.3%
10.8%

Tolliver was an excellent role player after the Pistons picked him up from the Suns on Christmas Eve.  He knocked down his open threes, played aggressive, if not always effective defense and did the little things, like taking charges, that teams need to win games.  For every bit of good that waiving Josh Smith did, there was no coincidence that the Pistons were better with Tolliver in town than they were before picking him up.

C: Aron Baynes - 6'11, 265 - 4th NBA sseason
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
70
6.6
15.9
17.8%
61.8%
86.5%
.318
16.1%
11.2%
20.7%
0.7

Baynes was the Pistons' lone free agent acquisition this summer, and the Pistons drew plenty of criticism for the deal he signed.  I get that.  Three years and $20M seems like a lot for a player with only one solid season underneath his belt.  I'm fine with the amount though; the player option on the third year is the part I didn't care for.  Either way, Baynes will be looking to build on an excellent season with the Spurs last season.  He scored efficiently, rebounded the ball alright and, despite low block numbers, did an excellent job defending the rim.  Opponents only shot 48.4% at the rim against Baynes last year.  Another strong point is that Baynes is an excellent FT shooter, which makes him the perfect alternative to Andre Drummond in late-game situations.  Regardless of the dollars or the player option, Baynes should prove to be a solid addition.

C: Joel Anthony - 6'9, 245 - 9th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
70
6.6
15.9
17.8%
61.8%
86.5%
.318
16.1%
11.2%
20.7%
0.7

The Pistons grabbed Anthony from the Celtics for Will Bynum before the start of last season, and that trade worked out pretty well, considering the small magnitude of the deal.  Anthony was a steady, if unspectacular, backup big when he got minutes behind Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.  He's not going to win you any games, but his defense is good enough to keep you afloat while the starters are on the bench.

Outlook

Whatever ire the Pistons may have drawn for letting Greg Monroe walk, signing Reggie Jackson to an $80M deal and giving Aron Baynes a large contract, I don't see any way that this roster isn't better top-to-bottom than last year's.  Monroe is a better player than Ilyasova, no doubt, but Ilyasova's a much better fit in the offense.  Additionally, the SF position has been upgraded at all three levels of the depth chart.  Morris/Johnson/Bullock is infinitely favorable when compared to whatever iteration of the Pistons' SF depth chart you want to look at from last season.  They also bring back last year's starting PG, but off the bench, a shiny new starting PG, last year's starting SG, but a year older, and a more developed Andre Drummond.  This team should be better than last year's; the questions is, how much better?

It's going to take improvements from Andre Drummond on the offensive end, and better consistency from KCP, but I think this team gets to 39 wins this season.  Whether or not that's going to be enough for a playoff bid depends on if Indiana can thrive without Hibbert and West, and if Miami can stay healthy.  I think the Pistons finish a game back of a playoff berth, but that this team is going to be very fun to watch.  Andre Drummond is finally getting the chance to be an offensive cornerstone, and he could even challenge for an All Star bid this year.  Plus, the Pistons have a truly dynamic rookie to develop for the first time since drafting Drummond in 2012.  This should be the most exciting Pistons season in years.  That you can say that about a team who may or may not make the playoffs tells you where Stan Van Gundy is trying to bring this franchise back from.

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