Five Questions Entering the Offseason
The Detroit Pistons’ season has come to an end. After making the NBA Playoffs for the first time in six seasons, Detroit was swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Detroit’s rebuild has come to form over the last two seasons. After finding prospects in past NBA Drafts, such as Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Then, in 2014, Owner Tom Gores made a major NBA personal change. He hired Stan Van Gundy to not only be the coach of the Pistons, but the President of Basketball Operations. While as coach Van Gundy would still be a part of acquiring players, he would not have the final say, but as President of Basketball Operations, he has been able to make the decision on which players to keep or acquire.
Since taking over Detroit, Van Gundy has overturned the entire roster. In his first season, he bought out struggling forward Josh Smith. He traded Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin to the Oklahoma City Thunder for now franchise point-guard Reggie Jackson. Now, fast forward to the 2015 offseason.He allowed big man Greg Monroe to walk in free agency, to pave the way for Andre Drummond and his dominant 2015-2016 campaign. Monroe signed with the Milwaukee Bucks, who after making the playoffs last season, missed them this season. He traded away a 2020 second round pick to the Phoenix Suns for Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock. He also traded away Shawne Williams and Caron Butler to Milwaukee for Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings would then be sent to the Orlando Magic for Tobias Harris.
The Pistons won 44 games this season compared to winning only 32 in the 2014-2015 season.
While Detroit made enough improvement to make the playoffs, they were swept by the Cavaliers shortly after achieving the feat. The Pistons still have much work to do in order to become a true force not only in the Eastern Conference, but the NBA as a whole. There are questions that stand in the way of Detroit becoming a team to beat, and those questions must be answered.
1) Can Kentavious Caldwell-Pope become a consistent offensive threat?
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made major strides in the 2015-2016 campaign. Entering the season, Caldwell-Pope was not a lock to be the starting shooting guard. Instead, critics believed that either Jodie Meeks or rookie Stanley Johnson could be a better option for the then playoff hopeful Pistons. But boy did Kentavious Caldwell-Pope prove them wrong. He improved in all major statistics besides the one area of his game that has held him back from being one of the best two-way players in the game, three-point shooting. While KCP, as he’s called, averaged nearly two more points per game than the season before, his deep shot, digressed. In his sophomore season, Pope shot 34.5% from deep. Then, in the 2015-2016 he shot 30.9%. This was the only part of his game that regressed, but it is one of the most important aspects of his game.
Caldwell-Pope is already one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. His lateral quickness and ability to jump in the passing lanes makes him the type of player any coach would dream to have. While the NBA is often wrongly criticized for “not playing defense,” all a critic would need to see is a tape of Caldwell-Pope playing defense to be proven wrong. Pope rarely takes a play off, and when he does it is likely on offense. If Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can become a legitimate threat from behind the arc, he will easily be one of the best shooting guards in the NBA.
2) What position will the Pistons’ draft for?
The Pistons hold the 18th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. While Detroit has six core members on their team, they will still look to improve at multiple positions. Steve Blake and Anthony Tolliver will be unrestricted free agents this offseason. Blake reportedly said he would like to play one more season in the NBA.
The Pistons already have Spencer Dinwiddie and Lorenzo Brown as potential backup point guards on their roster. While Dinwiddie and Brown are better options than Blake, Van Gundy rarely played Dinwiddie throughout the season, and Brown never appeared in a game. Blake will be 36 at the beginning of next season. Detroit should look elsewhere for a backup guard, if Van Gundy does not trust Dinwiddie or Brown. Blake just is not capable of being a 2nd string point guard anymore. In the draft, the deepest position might be point guard. There are many guards that should be available come the 18th pick.
One other area of need is at the power forward position. Tobias Harris is the starting power forward of the Pistons’ future, but Detroit was exposed in the playoffs for not having a mobile big man. Harris is only 6’8, and while that is fine because he is a good player, Detroit needed a bigger body to counter Cavs’ forward Kevin Love at times. Love was able to beat Detroit inside and out. When Detroit would put Harris or Marcus Morris onto Love, Love would take the ball inside and work in the post. Then, if Detroit would place Andre Drummond or Aron Baynes onto Love, he would go outside to the arc, where he dominated Detroit from.
For Detroit, finding a player that is ready to contribute is necessary when making their pick.
3) Is Andre Drummond worth a max contract?
Andre Drummond dominated the NBA this season when he broke the Pistons’ all time double-doubles record with 66 in the regular season. He averaged over 16 points per game, led the league with 14.8 rebounds per game, and also averaged over a block and steal the season. The problem?
He shot 35% from the free throw line.
He is the worst free throw shooter in NBA history. Drummond was constantly hacked throughout the season and in the playoffs. This would force Stan Van Gundy to take Drummond out of the game. “Hack-A-Drum,” as it is called, has become the worst part of a growing NBA. League commissioner, Adam Silver, plans to change the intentional fouling rule in July. The rule change will Benicia Drummond and other poor free throw shooters. It will ease the problem of Drummond’s poor free throw shooting.
When teams are not hacking Drummond he is clearly one of the best bigmen in the NBA.
The Pistons must max Drummond, one of the best centers in the NBA.
4) Where does Stanley Johnson fit?
Stanley Johnson was selected by the Pistons with the 8th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. He came into the league as a 19-year-old, but do not let his age fool you. Stanley Johnson is a grown man. He averaged 8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game in 23.1 minutes in his rookie year. He showed he is already a very capable defender, and it is known league wide that he is more confident that almost anyone in the NBA. Johnson had a good, and even underrated rookie season. He flew under the radar compared to most rookies who played meaningful minutes this season. Johnson is often compared to fellow rookie, Justise Winslow. Winslow was selected 10th in the draft by the Miami Heat. While Winslow has drawn national attention for his play over the season, Johnson did not, and Johnson may have had a better season that Winslow. Winslow averaged 6.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 28.6 minutes per game this season. Johnson while scoring more and assisting at a higher rate, he also shot better from the free throw line and three-point line compared to Winslow. Johnson had a very impressive season, but Stan Van Gundy already has two forwards that are currently better than him. This creates a logjam and the jam could keep Johnson on the bench next season. Is Johnson okay with coming off the bench, or is he good enough to start?
5) Can the Pistons compete?
The Pistons made large strides throughout the 2015-2016 season. They made the playoffs, but were eventually swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The growth was evident, but Detroit ultimately was not a very large challenge for Cleveland in the playoffs.
There are still areas on the roster that need to be improved. GM Jeff Bower and Stan Van Gundy must be willing to pay for the positions that Detroit needs to fill. Detroit already has their core, but need to border their roster with the necessary role players to make the Pistons a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.
The future is bright for Detroit, but they cannot be legitimate contenders unless they finish building their promising roster.
Featured image via: Duane Burleson/ AP