Last season was about getting the Detroit Pistons back in the playoffs. This season? Probably doing the same, and hoping for better. The Detroit Pistons have a very good head coach in Stan Van Gundy, and a nice core to build around with Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. But for now, they look like a team that can be good to very good, nothing more.
The Pistons, finishing with a 44-38 record, made the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but got swept in the first round by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Two of those games were very close, but the Pistons, among other problems they have, struggle in crunch time of close games, with just Jackson capable of creating shots for himself and others. He tends to focus on himself in those moments, and defenses that are a bit more sophisticated than one-on-one tend to handle this quite well.
So what did the Pistons do to help themselves out in the offseason? Not much. Henry Ellenson, their 18th overall pick out of Marquette, isn’t going to be getting a lot of minutes this season. The Jon Leuer isn’t that much of a game changer, he just has an impressive salary. Ish Smith? Not bad. Boban Marjanovic? A unique player, but with certain limitations. Overall, the Pistons are deep, especially in the frontcourt, but paying Drummond $26 million a season for the next five years doesn’t make him that much better.
The Pistons are counting on familiarity and player development. That’s not a bad way, with a young team. Van Gundy actually complained that losing players like Anthony Tolliver and Joel Anthony is meaningful. Not because of the numbers they put up, but because teams need veteran leadership. Not necessarily on the floor, but in the locker room and the bench. Stanley Johnson, maybe the ace in the hole on this team because he might take a big extra step next season, maybe needs someone to tutor him.
Acquisitions: Henry Ellenson & MIchael Gbinije (draft), Cameron Bairstow, Jon Leuer, Ish Smith, Boban Marjanovic.
Departures: Anthony Tolliver, Jodie Meeks, Spencer Dwiniddie.
Best case scenario
Winning a playoff series will be great. Can the Pistons actually dream of anything more? Probably, if little things happen. The vision is creating a team much like the Orlando Magic of 2007-2011, with a better point guard (at least offensively), without a Turkoglu type player, and hopefully Drummond constantly improving, and actually listening to Van Gundy, something Howard didn’t always do. The key here is Johnson, who averaged 8.1 points per game last season. The main thing with him will be his shooting and decision making. If that actually gets a significant upgrade, than all the depth the Pistons added will pay off in a very short time.
Worst case scenario
The Pistons missing the playoffs with destabilize the entire project Van Gundy has been working on, unless it’s because a Jackson or Drummond long-term injury that gives them a good excuse and another high draft pick. For a team like the Pistons, the worst thing is not improving, developing the young players and getting smarter. If the best thing they can offer in their next big game/playoff series is Jackson taking on three defenders in crunch time, the season is a waste.