Last season, the Detroit Pistons went through the growing pains that young teams go through.
Detroit’s franchise point guard, Reggie Jackson, missed the first 21 games of the season after undergoing treatment on his knee, and never played to his abilities after returning from injury. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a player that many, including myself, defended, struggled to play with any consistency. Stanley Johnson, who came into his sophomore season with high hopes after such a promising rookie season, was never in the physical shape he needed to be in to contribute to a team that needed him. Jon Leuer played as a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate in the first half of the season, but after the ALl-Star Break struggled to make an impact on the court. Andre Drummond, Detroit’s centerpiece, failed to make the strides necessary for the Pistons to succeed.
Yeah, and that was just some of what went wrong.
But let’s move on.
There is some reason for optimism in downtown Detroit at the new Little Ceasers Arena, the new arena the Pistons will play this season.
Let’s start with their biggest acquisition of the offseason, Avery Bradley.
Avery Bradley is going to have a career year with the Pistons. Stan Van Gundy was so committed to getting Avery Bradley that he traded one of his favorite players ever in Marcus Morris. He also allowed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to walk for nothing, clearing the way for Bradley to come in and start. Bradley took a career-high 14.1 field goal attempts per game last season in Boston, and will likely raise that number, even more, this season. He averaged a career-high 16.3 points, which will also likely rise, and was a consistent threat from the three-point line. Offensively, Bradley is capable off more than either Caldwell-Pope or Morris is, and is a hand-in-glove fit in Stan Van Gundy’s system.
Defensively, he is an upgrade over Caldwell-Pope, and there is hope that his defensive mentality, along with Stanley Johnson’s, resonates amongst the team, most significantly with Andre Drummond. Bradley is all over the court on defense and can guard point guards such as Kyrie Irving, while also being able to hold his own against bigger shooting guards in the likes of Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson.
In the preseason, Bradley fully displayed what he can bring to Detroit. He averaged 19.3 points on 55.6 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from long range. He also averaged 2.3 assists and two steals per game.
Avery Bradley is not only a Stan Van Gundy style player, but a city of Detroit style player, and this year he will be able to fully showcase his vast array of talents.
All signs point to this being a rebound season for Stanley Johnson. First off, he is in much better shape compared to last season, and Stan Van Gundy has shown a newfound confidence in what has always seemed to be his personal project. Van Gundy inserted Johnson into the starting lineup for all four of the preseason games Johnson played in. Johnson played a particularly strong preseason, as he averaged 8.8 points on an important 43.8 percent from deep. If he can knock down threes at a consistent rate, then Johnson will truly help unlock the full potential of the Pistons’ offense.
Johnson’s defense is the key here. He came out of Arizona in 2015 known as a defensive ace and has been a consistently good defender throughout his career. If he and Avery Bradley can become a cohesive defensive duo on the wing, Detroit’s defense will instantly become a tough one to score against.
Speaking of players that had a good preseason, how about Andre Drummond. He averaged 16 points and 16 rebounds along with 3.7 assists per game. Most importantly, he shot 80 percent from the free throw line on 20 attempts.
He also showed some improvement defensively. Drummond’s defense is critical to Detroit’s overall outlook, and it seems as if he has taken a step in the right direction on that end.
The Pistons still have Tobias Harris, their leading scorer from last season. He has the great ability to score in isolation, catch and shoot, and transition situations. Last season he averaged 16.1 points on 34.7 percent shooting from the three-point line. His scoring ability was fantastic, but his long range shooting effiency could certaintly use an uptick, which is something he is capable of.
Stan Van Gundy went out and addressed multiple key areas of need in the offseason: three-point shooting and veteran leadership.
Anthony Tolliver instantly becomes Detroit’s strongest presence in the locker room. He is a quality player and fantastic teammate who will help guide a young Detroit team throughout a pivotal year in their development. It is no coincidence that Tolliver played meaningful minutes on the Detroit team that made the playoffs just two seasons ago.
Langston Galloway is another player that can shoot the ball but maybe even more importantly will bring a veteran voice to the locker room. He is still a young player, but his path throughout the league will make his voice a much-respected one in the locker room. On the court, he can score the ball and shot over 39 percent from deep last season.
Let’s not beat around the bush when it comes to Luke Kennard. He can flat out shoot the ball. Kennard averaged 19.5 points on 43.8 percent shooting from the three-point line in his sophomore season at Duke. Kennard may force his way into Detroit’s rotation, something that is very hard to do for a rookie on a Stan Van Gundy team.
Overall, Stan Van Gundy has put together a much more complete and well-rounded roster this year. With the valuable additions of shooting, defense, and veteran leadership, Detroit is in a much better position than they were at this point last year. That is… if one player is able to stay healthy and return to the exciting and flashy player that he was before going down with a nagging injury.
Obviously, Reggie Jackson is that guy. The Pistons desperately need him to be healthy. He was arguably their best player in the 2015-2016 season, as he averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game while being an emotional leader for his ball club.
Jackson was near All-Star level point guard two seasons ago. He brought an excitement to Piston basketball that has not been seen since the “Going to Work” Pistons in 2004.
His chemistry with Drummond is also very important. Those two players were the true definition of a dynamic duo. A healthy Reggie Jackson will hopefully help that duo make a reappearance after seemingly being missing in action last season.
There should be optimism for a big season from Reggie Jackson.
The Pistons have undergone a hefty dose of changes throughout the offseason, and the moves they made are encouraging. Comparing them to the rest of the East, if Detroit is healthy, then they should have no problem making a run into the playoffs. There are truly only four to five locks to make the playoffs in the East: the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and likely the Milwaukee Bucks. After that, it is wide open, and a healthy Detroit team could even battle with the teams mentioned above in a best-case scenario type season for them.
This is a team that can battle for a top-five seed in the East but is more likely the 7th seed than the 5th seed.
Tonight begins a new season for the Detroit Pistons. They have quite the cult of doubters, but with Stan Van Gundy at the helm of the best roster he has had in his time with Detroit, the Pistons will make the NBA Playoffs.
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