Evaluating the Detroit Pistons’ Starting Lineup Possibilities

Luke Kennard

Second-year guard Luke Kennard could make the transition from a shooter off the bench to a full-time starter next season. Image: Brian Sevald/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons have done little to shake up the core of the roster this offseason, adding just three role players since the beginning of free agency, with two-time NBA Champion Zaza Pachulia, former Michigan Wolverine wing Glenn Robinson III, and veteran point guard Jose Calderon – who is reuniting with the Pistons after spending the 2012-13 season with the team – being brought onboard. On the flip side, the Pistons cut ties with both Dwight Buycks and Eric Moreland as corresponding moves to the Calderon and Pachulia signings, while also losing both James Ennis and fan-favorite Anthony Tolliver in free agency.

With that said, however, head coach Dwane Casey still has some tinkering to do in order to figure out the best possible starting lineup for the Pistons. Even with every regular starter post-Blake Griffin trade still on the roster, the reigning Coach of the Year could vouch to change players’ roles from what former coach Stan Van Gundy had in place. That sentiment lies especially on the expected growth of Luke Kennard and – hopefully – Stanley Johnson.

First things first, barring injuries – a serious threat to the Pistons’ success, as we know – or a very unlikely trade going down in the coming months, Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond will start the season as the team’s starting point guard, power forward, and center, respectively, no questions asked. Ish Smith has started in place of the injury-plagued Jackson throughout the past two seasons, and it is evident that he is not a starting caliber point guard, with his short stature limiting his defensive ability, and his inability to shoot effectively putting to rest any chance the Wake Forest alum would have of starting over Jackson full-time. Jon Leuer and Pachulia, obviously, have no chance of taking the starting spot from the All-Star frontcourt of Griffin and Drummond, no explanation needed. However, two of Kennard, Robinson III, Johnson, or Reggie Bullock, whose $2.5 million team option was recently picked up by Detroit, will be in the starting lineup, and that’s what I’ll be taking a closer look at.

Stanley Johnson

Image: Leon Halip/Getty Images

Lineup One – Defensively-Challenging, Offensively-Challenged

Reggie Jackson, Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

This would be Detroit’s best option if Casey opts for a defense-first approach, as Bullock and Johnson are the two best defenders of the four options at the wing positions. However, the inconsistencies of Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin’s three-point shooting, along with Stanley Johnson showing nothing that resembles a future of efficient shooting and Reggie Bullock’s incredible three-point percentage from last season almost certainly on the decline, this lineup doesn’t seem optimal for this pace-and-space era in the NBA. Unless there are significant jumps in efficiency of at least two of Jackson, Griffin, or Johnson’s three-point shooting, a feat that seems unlikely with what we’ve seen over the past couple seasons, this lineup will frequently struggle to score points, which could lead to more force-feeding of Griffin in the post, one of the more inefficient ways to go about using an offensive possession. This lineup went 3-1 in a small sample size last season and would be great for locking down defensively, but the magnitude of this group’s overall offensive downfall over a full 82-game season far outweighs the positives on the other end of the floor.

Luke Kennard

Image: Chris Schwegler/NBAE

Lineup Two – Plenty of Playmaking

Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson both becoming starting-caliber players would be the best-case scenario for Detroit, as Kennard is under team control on a rookie-scale contract until 2021, while Johnson will, regardless of the season he has, command less money than Bullock next summer. This is also the youngest wing tandem the Pistons could utilize in the starting lineup, and as a result, also possess the most upside under the right watch. While Kennard would at times play a similar role to Bullock on the offensive end as a spot-up shooter, Kennard also brings shot-creation into the mix, diversifying the Pistons offense even more with four above-average playmakers for their position already in the lineup, but would now have more room to operate with the ball in their hands if Kennard builds on his flashes of shot-creation that he put on display in his rookie season. Again, this is the best-case scenario lineup for the Pistons, and it would require jumps from both of Detroit’s prized young players to be successful.

Reggie Bullock

Image: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Lineup Three – Now Add Some Shooting

Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Reggie Bullock, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

With the current shape of the Pistons, this is the starting lineup I’m personally hoping Casey rolls out on opening night. The incredible shooting tandem of Kennard and Bullock complements and elevates the games of Jackson, Drummond, and Griffin, who are all more effective with space to operate inside the three-point arc. This is a group that might not be as effective against teams with bigger and/or stronger small forwards, as while Bullock is an above-average defender and 6’7″, he doesn’t carry the strength or athleticism that Johnson does on the defensive end. But, in an era of basketball that is shifting towards smaller, quicker forwards, the times the Pistons would have to worry about that will be few-and-far-between. Another benefit of this lineup would be leaving the wing athleticism to the bench, as Johnson and Robinson – the latter a former Dunk Contest Champion – both possess superior strength and athleticism that will prove key against opposing bench units. Johnson will also be available as a secondary playmaker to Ish Smith, further diversifying the offensive effectiveness of the bench unit. I would rather see Johnson grow into a consistent starter for the Pistons, which would raise the ceiling of the team both in the present and the future, but if the fourth-year forward simply can’t get it going with the starting lineup. This lineup as consolation is far from a disappointment.

Glenn Robinson

Image: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Lineup Four – Enter Glenn

Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Glenn Robinson III, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond 

This lineup is probably the most unrealistic to expect at the start of the season, but it’s a group I’d like to possibly see play significant minutes together throughout next year. It’s hard to gauge exactly what Glenn Robinson III brings to Detroit, as he played in just 23 games for the Indiana Pacers last season, as he was recovering from ankle surgery for the majority of the 2017-18 campaign. However, Robinson has shown to possess the ability to shoot since he settled in Indiana, hitting 37 percent or more of his triples over the last three seasons. In contrast, he is also an explosive athlete, effectively serving as a dual-threat on the offensive end. This would be Detroit’s smallest wing tandem, with Kennard and Robinson standing at 6’5″ and 6’6″, respectively, but Robinson is no slouch on the defensive end and could play a similar defensive role to Reggie Bullock with the Pistons. Even as the second-oldest of the four at 24 years old, there’s a chance that Robinson has the most untapped potential, as he struggled for playing time in Minnesota and Philadelphia before finally finding significant minutes in Indiana, albeit mostly off the bench. In an exclusive interview with Aaron Johnson of PalaceOfPistons, Robinson explained that he is eager to compete for a starting spot on the wing. Kennard and Robinson could provide the best offensive options on the wings for the Pistons, as they both bring more shooting than Johnson and more offensive versatility than Bullock.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t be surprised if coach Casey settled on Lineup One, my least favorite option for the Pistons taking into account what we’ve seen so far. Each of these four wing players will likely have had a shot to capture a starting job throughout the 2018-19 campaign. Regardless who proves to be the most effective with Jackson, Drummond, and Griffin, hopefully, there is a pair of clear choices who will be starting at both shooting guard and small forward for the foreseeable future in Detroit by season’s end.

Featured Image: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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