The past year for the Detroit Pistons can be summarized in one word – change. Whether you look at the new front office or the vast number of new faces on the roster, it’s apparent that this franchise has completely reshaped itself from the Andre Drummond-era. Gone are the days of hoping that the team can scrap its way to a back-end playoff spot led by borderline all-stars and middling veterans; youth will be the story of the Detroit Pistons for the foreseeable future. In what looks to be a transition season in a multi-year rebuild, what is there for the Pistons to accomplish this season? Despite what this franchise might have shown us over the past decade, there is much more to building a competitive team than getting swept in the first round – the bare minimum to “succeed” won’t take you anywhere in professional sports. With the youth movement finally in full swing after years of mediocrity, the real building starts now.
Get the Most Out of Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin
Only four players remain from last year’s team, only two of which are not on rookie contracts – Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin. Despite being the oldest veterans on the roster and being out of their athletic primes, both of these former all-stars have shown they have plenty left in the tank to contribute – although the jury is still out on Blake Griffin after he struggled mightily with a knee injury before being shut down last season. However, all signs are pointing towards the pair of veterans being fully healthy through the first few games of the new campaign – a pleasant surprise, considering their injury history.
While it will be great to hopefully watch a healthy Griffin and Rose this season, the problem is they’re going to help the Pistons win; and while they may not help bring many more victories than the team otherwise would, every game counts in this shortened season. In a season where the Pistons will be bad and looking to add another franchise cornerstone, every loss matters, too. Dwane Casey has made it clear that the Pistons are still trying to be competitive – they aren’t tanking – meaning both Rose and Griffin will play a large role on the court as long as they are in Detroit. Regardless of where the Pistons are sitting in the standings by the trade deadline, the front office should be looking for ways to turn these two veterans into something that correlates more with the rest of the team’s timeline – if they can.
As someone who was a bit skeptical as to why Detroit hung on to Rose knowing they weren’t trying to win, I can say I have come full circle and am excited to see the former MVP’s impact on the youth, especially rookie point guard, Killian Hayes. However, “getting the most” out of Rose means more than just his basketball impact, it also means taking advantage of his trade value. Unlike Griffin, who has a monstrous contract that doesn’t end until after next season, Rose is an expiring contract who has lived up to every penny of his two-year, $15 million deal and will have plenty of suitors at the trade deadline. Rose will be vital in the early development of Hayes, but it should be in the Pistons’ best interest to bring in assets for him when the time is right, rather than lose him for nothing.
Let the Young Guys Grow
This goal seems more like a given than a far-fetched aspiration, yet it is arguably the most important to achieve for the sake of this franchise’s future.
With Troy Weaver and company envisioning the franchise finally beginning a true rebuild, the front office made an effort to bring in as much fresh young talent as they could to begin this new era on the right foot. This talent came in the form of three first-round rookies, an exciting development after previously thinking the Pistons would only have one. With Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, and Isaiah Stewart alongside Sekou Doumbouya, Dwane Casey will have plenty of opportunities to experiment during a season where the only true purpose is development.
Fortunately, Casey has given each of these rookies a very reasonable amount of chances to make an impact for a Pistons team that is trying to discover its identity. Hayes has struggled mightily as the starting point guard through the first set of games, but these are expected growing pains for a 19-year-old rookie experiencing his first NBA action. Both Bey and Stewart have been given chances to prove themselves as well, and similar to Hayes, have shown flashes despite struggling for the most part as well. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this trio of rooks is having trouble adjusting so far, but that’s why this season of development is so important – even if the Pistons don’t touch 25 wins, progress will be made.
Allow Jackson, Grant to Reach Their Potential
Josh Jackson and Jerami Grant both found their way to Detroit in very different ways. Jackson was a disappointment after being a highly-touted prospect with Phoenix, who basically paid Memphis to take him off their hands before he landed back in his home state on a modest two-year deal this fall. Grant, meanwhile, secured a big payday with the Pistons after playing a key role in helping bring the Denver Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals last season. Despite this backstory, Pistons fans seemed much more excited about the untapped potential of Jackson than the abilities of Grant, who could only show so much as the fourth option in a high-powered offense.
Now, with a few games under their belts in a new uniform, it seems that both have the chance to reach their potential in red, white, and blue. Grant, who received the same 3-year/$60 million offer from Denver, knew he wanted a bigger role and had something to prove – and so far, he has done just that. Formerly known as a 3-and-D player who showed occasional explosiveness at the rim, Grant has become a focal point of Detroit’s offense and has impressed thus far. With more ball-handling, rim-running and shooting opportunities to go around, Grant has shown flashes of possessing a well-rounded offensive game, which should continue as the season goes on.
Josh Jackson, meanwhile, has been everything the Pistons could have wanted, and then some, through this opening stretch of games. Looking down Detroit’s roster before the season, it was obvious that the former Kansas Jayhawk, still just 23 years old, would receive ample opportunity to prove himself worth the admittedly small gamble the team took on him. Although it’s early in the year, Jackson swiftly usurped Delon Wright in the starting lineup after just two games, thanks to his impressive ability to finish inside and an inconsistent, but improving, three-point shot.
Jackson and Grant have experienced very different careers so far in the NBA, but playing in Detroit gives them both a chance to blossom that most other teams couldn’t, or wouldn’t, offer.
Start Building an Identity
The themes of this year’s Detroit Pistons include new, unknown, and exciting. With so many new playstyles and talents, it’s going to take some to figure out what the direction of the team will be and how they play. Obviously, this is a rebuilding period, but this season will be vital in helping establish how the future success of this team could look, even if it’s still at least a couple years away.
With only four returning players this season, it’s going to take some experimentation to figure out what players play best off each other. Hopefully, the “French Connection” becomes more than just a nickname for the Pistons’ two brightest young prospects, and the pair of Hayes and Sekou Doumbouya can form chemistry on the court just as they have off of it. The aforementioned Jackson and Grant have embodied the toughness, physicality, and defensive effort early on that the team has always been known for. Saddiq Bey is a product of Villanova, a college that has produced a number of hard-working, two-way players over the last few years, while the undersized Isaiah Stewart has shown a level of effort and intensity that would make Ben Wallace proud. It remains to be seen how much longer their tenure with the Pistons will be, but both Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin have embraced Detroit from day one, and will undoubtedly have an impact on this group even if winning as a Piston isn’t in their destiny.
No one knew what the Pistons were trying to be coming into the season, with a few questionable decisions overshadowing some solid moves. However, this is truly a new era for Detroit, and while one year with this group won’t tell us everything, by the end of the season we should have a better idea of what the future has in store.
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