It’s Time to Give Detroit Some Respect
After snapping a 6-year playoff drought and tying the Eastern Conference record for most wins by an 8th seed, it’s time to show the Pistons some well earned respect. When the average person who follows the NBA looks at the 2016 Pistons, all they seem to see is a team that was swept in the first round by the eventual champion, the Cleveland Cavaliers, overlooking the fact that 3 of the 4 losses, games 1, 3 and 4, which ended in scores of 106-101, 101-91, and 100-98, respectively, were by single digits; two of the four losses were by five points or less. Not only will the Pistons improve this upcoming season with just their returning players, but they also have massively improved their bench, which ranked last in the NBA in points scored and 27th overall last season, per hoopstats.com. Being one of the few teams to return their whole starting 5, along with being one of the youngest teams in the NBA, Pistons fans have many reasons to be optimistic.
The general NBA fanbase is overlooking the fact that the Pistons were without forward Tobias Harris for a whole season, who, after the trade deadline, helped spark a 17-9 run to squeeze into the playoffs. Returning NBA sophomore Stanley Johnson, who said he was specifically working to improve on his weaknesses during summer league and recently led his Drew League team, BB4L, to the championship, seems to be the best candidate to make a major jump in his game this upcoming year, as he will be the sixth man of the team. 2016 All-Star and Pistons centerpiece Andre Drummond, who also played in the Drew League with Stanley Johnson, although not for BB4L, also seems primed for a big jump. Whether it be in rim-protection or improving his FT%, which he said he’s figured out a way to improve over the off-season, it looks like he’ll be headed for a second straight all-star berth. Also, there should be some improvement in Harris, who’s only 23, on both sides of the floor. Anyone who watched the Pistons post trade deadline could see right away the upgraded versatility that Harris brought over Ersan Ilyasova, who he was traded for. Another player involved in a Stan Van Gundy trade masterpiece, Detroit floor general Reggie Jackson looks to build on his first season as a full time starter in which he averaged nearly 19 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds in only 31 minutes per game, according to basketball-reference.com, low for a starter. Rounding out the starting lineup, Marcus Morris, who was traded for a second round pick that won’t be used until the turn of the decade, looks to have found his niche is Detroit, and who makes you see that Going’ to Work Pistons grind in him. He’s a very serviceable starter who seems slightly underrated and seems to have found his future in Motown but may become a spark plug off the bench if Stanley Johnson improves as much as expected.The bench unit is full of promising talent also.
Reggie Bullock, acquired in the Marcus Morris trade in the offseason last year, is a second unit sniper who shot 41.5% from downtown last season, and might even get an extension with the Pistons. Newcomer Ish Smith, signed to a bargain 3year/$18 million deal, looks to be a big improvement over Steve Blake, who just couldn’t keep up with the pace of the faster NBA guards on offense or defense. Smith is a great playmaker and slasher, but could improve his shooting and defense, but an improvement over Blake nonetheless. F/C Jon Leuer, a stretch big man who played in Phoenix last season, offers not only better shooting, but better versatility and defense than the guy who filled the stretch four role last year, in Anthony Tolliver. Returning backup center Aron Baynes and recently signed backup center Boban Marjanovic will hold down the fort while Drummond is resting or has to be taken out of the game due to free throw issues(fingers crossed). With Drummond, Baynes, and Marjanovic the Pistons arguably have the best depth at the center position in the entire league. Rookies Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije, along with second year player Darrun Hilliard, probably won’t get too many minutes barring an injury, and could spend time in the D-League, but they wouldn’t be major contributors anyway. Overall, this team has the potential to be a 50 win team, if they stay healthy, which in itself is a hefty task.
Did I mention they have a coach by the name of Stan Van Gundy?
There are many people including a major sports media monster like Bleacher Report, who predicted the Pistons to fall out of the playoff race at 9th place in the Eastern Conference and post a record of 42-40. The chances of that happening seem slim due to what the Pistons have done this offseason, and it seems that Detroit will be a criminally underrated team heading into the upcoming season. With upgrades across the depth chart, paired with the in-house improvement, Pistons fans have a lot to be optimistic about in the upcoming years. Detroit is looking to put the NBA on notice, and with the talent they have, they just might be able to.
Featured image: AP Photo/Duane Burleson