The Detroit Pistons went 39-43 last season and missed the playoffs for the second straight year. That caused owner Tom Gores to fire head coach Stan Van Gundy after the Pistons only made the postseason once in SVG’s four years in the Motor City.
The organization, and fans, are hoping that bringing in a new face to run a once proud franchise, which has been floundering in mediocrity for around a decade, will change that. That new face is Dwane Casey.
Casey, the 2017-2018 NBA Coach of the Year, led the Toronto Raptors to a 59-23 record last year, which was the best in the Eastern Conference. But after getting swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs, Toronto decided to go in a different direction.
That decision definitely benefitted the Pistons as they got to hire one of the best coaches in the NBA after leading his team to one of the best seasons in franchise history.
As for the roster that Casey will be coaching, it is led by three players that will make or break the season. Those three are Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond.
The first player I’ll talk about is Griffin. After signing a massive 5-year, $171 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers in the summer of 2017, they shipped him to Detroit for quite the haul. The Pistons gave up Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick to receive Griffin, along with Willie Reed and Brice Johnson. Those two are no longer with team and were basically just salary cap throw-ins.
Last year in 25 games with the Pistons, Griffin averaged 19.8 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game and 6.2 assists per game. For his career, he has averaged 21.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 4.3 APG. So while his stats were solid and a welcome addition to a Detroit team lacking a superstar, his skill has never been the problem. The issue with him has been injuries.
His professional career started off with a major injury. After being taken by the Clippers first overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, he broke his kneecap in the preseason and missed the entire 2009-2010 season.
But he went on a nice streak, on the court and health-wise, for the next five years. From 2010-2011 to 2014-2015, Griffin made five consecutive All-Star games, won the Rookie of the Year Award and made four All-NBA teams.
In the three seasons since his last AS appearance, however, he has been plagued by injuries. In those seasons, Griffin has played in 35, 61, and 58 games. That is not something you want from an aging player making $30+ million a year over the next four years who relies on athleticism, which generally declines as you age.
The next player I’d like to bring up is Reggie Jackson. The point guard falls into the same category as Griffin: he just cannot stay healthy. Last season, in 45 games, Jackson averaged 14.6 PPG and 5.3 APG. In his three full seasons with the Pistons after coming over in a trade with Oklahoma City in early 2015, he has averaged 16.5 PPG and 5.7 APG. But in those three years, he has played in 79, 52, and 45 games due to various injuries.
So while Jackson is a nice player and a solid distributor at the PG position, he just hasn’t been healthy since arriving in Detroit. The Pistons will need both of these players to play at least 70 games or so if they want to make any noise this season.
The last player that I want to talk about is big man Andre Drummond. Health isn’t a concern for the Pistons center as besides his rookie season (in which he still played 60 games) in 2012-2013, he has played in 78 or more games every year. The biggest thing for Drummond this year is continuing improvement on the offensive end, especially at the free-throw line.
He made huge strides at the charity stripe last season as he shot 60.5% from the line last year. The year prior, he shot 38.6% and is a career 42.1% shooter from the FT-line. There is no way that Drummond improves over 20% from the line this year, but I think a small improvement of four or five percent to hover around 65% would be a nice sight to see this year.
Besides improving his shooting (at least from the free-throw line), Drummond improved in two other areas: rebounding and passing.
After leading the league in rebounding in 2015-2016 with 14.8 per game and being one of the best in the business, he took it to another level on the glass. He averaged a career-high 16 rebounds per game last season. He also averaged a career high three assists per game after only racking up less than one assist per contest in his first five years. His passing improvement will allow coach Casey to expand his playbook and move Drummond around instead of having him play exclusively in the paint.
Besides those three, Detroit will also need some other players to step up if they want to make the postseason. Young bucks Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard will need to show improvement. Johnson is solid on defense but is a liability on the offensive end. Kennard can contribute with his shooting, but is a poor defender. A healthy Jon Leuer, who only played in eight games last season, can provide some solid depth in the frontcourt.
A problem, at least one I believe, that could occur with this team is the lack of veteran leadership. Last year they had Anthony Tolliver, a ten-year vet now with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who was a nice presence in the locker room. This offseason they signed vets Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia. I don’t think those two will provide the leadership or spark on the court that Tolliver brought last season.
But anyway, the season will ride or die with Detroit’s “Big 3”, if you can call it that, of Griffin, Jackson and Drummond. If Griffin and Jackson can stay relatively healthy and Drummond can continue to improve, this team will make the playoffs. I think their ceiling is around 46-47 wins in the Eastern Conference.
If those things do not happen, though, and Casey can’t work some magic, I think this team has a floor of around 32-34 wins.
They open the season tonight against the Brooklyn Nets at home at Little Caesars Arena. I think they will win that game and look forward to see how this team performs the rest of the way.
Who’s ready for some DEEEE-TROIT BASKETBALL?
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.com.