The Pistons have run into an injury problem.
Jodie Meeks injured his foot in the second game of the season, and recently underwent a setback in the injury. He was rumored to be able to return near the All-Star Break. Now, as Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press tweeted out, Meeks will not participate in basketball related physical activity until at least March 1st.
The Pistons have already learned to play without Meeks, but against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night, Detroit lost another player, one of their most valuable pieces on the team.
Shooting guard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, was injured late in the third quarter of the Pistons-Celtics game on Wednesday. He and Jae Crowder slipped on the same spot on the floor. While Crowder appeared to be okay after falling, Caldwell-Pope was not. He had to come out of the game, and he did not return that night.
Then on Thursday night against the New York Knicks, Caldwell-Pope missed his first game since he was a rookie. He was replaced by rookie Stanley Johnson in the starting lineup. Johnson played magnificently, nearly notching a doube-double. He finished with 22 points on 7/8 shooting, along with 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and a block. He played a career high 44 minutes and was a +11 in the game.
There is no doubt that Johnson was fantastic in the game, but he is a rookie. This was only his 2nd start of the season. Johnson has had his ups and downs to the season, and expecting him to come out and put up 20+ points and grab rebounds and the rate he did last night are not realistic.
Johnson is not the answer for the Pistons. He is not the guy to replace Caldwell-Pope and Meeks until they come back. This move also hinders Detroit’s bench.
Johnson was a key contributor of the bench in the first 49 games(-1 the game he started in against the Brooklyn Nets, game 51 was against the Knicks. So, Johnson has come off the bench in 49 out of the 51 games the Pistons have played in, in this season.
In his 49 games off the bench, Johnson has averaged 8.8 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game. This was solid production from what has been a lackluster bench unit the entire season.
Here’s Johnson’s numbers in the two games he started:
These numbers by Johnson are not bad, besides his ridiculously low three-point shooting percentage, but besides that, they are good numbers.
The problem is, Johnson can not play 40+ minutes per game.
No player, whether a rookie or 12 year veteran, is able to play 40+ minutes on a consistent, let alone perform at a high level.
Johnson is a rookie, and the expectations for him to compete at the same level of players such as Marcus Morris or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are not realistic.
Detroit may need to go out of house to find a replacement for Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks.
With another rookie, Darrun Hilliard currently receiving the backup wing minutes, Detroit needs another player to take a combination of his and Johnson’s minutes.
Before the Caldwell-Pope injury, Hilliard was not even a part of the rotation. To think that Hilliard will be a viable backup is hopeful, but not likely. I like Hilliard and think he will be a good wing down the line in his career, but he is not ready to play serious minutes yet.
Depending on how long Caldwell-Pope will be out, will determine if the Pistons need to add a rest of the season option, or a body to play just a few ticks per game.
If Caldwell-Pope could return right after the All-Star Break, than the Pistons may not even need to sign another player.
But, if Caldwell-Pope will miss time after the break, Detroit should sign another player.
They could go in multiple directions. There are a slew of talented players in the NBA D-League that should be on one of the 30 best professional basketball teams in the world. Another positive with going to the D-League, is that the D-League is most loaded at the two guard spots.
With Stan Van Gundy at the helm, Detroit will also take a good long look in the trade market. Can Gundy has been great at bringing in a player in which he gives away little to no value. He sent a 2020 2nd round draft pick to Phoenix in the summer for three players, including Marcus Morris. Depending on who is available, the Pistons will most likely make a move in the trade market.
Bottom line, the Pistons have a problem with their wing rotation. Caldwell-Pope is out for an unknown amount of time, and Meeks is not expected to contribute to Detroit this season. Van Gundy has not shown enough trust to either Darrun Hilliard or Reggie Bullock this season, which makes the likelihood of Detroit singing another wing probable.
What is most important now for the Pistons is that they do not rush back either guard. Will the Pistons stay pat at the wing, or will they make a move for another guard?