Detroit Pistons Are Building Something Worth Keeping

In some expert’s eyes, the 2015-16 Detroit Pistons overachieved. Through heartache and frustration in year’s past, the sum of Detroit’s assembly finally functioned in unison for one season. Despite a first-round exit to the top-seed Cleveland Cavaliers, which occurred in sweeping fashion, the brass of the Pistons have reached a pinnacle.

Now, after many periods of agony, Detroit finally has something to look forward to and savor for years to come. Throughout the process, the organization has numerous questions to attain, but in return contain pieces that are so, so valuable.

They’ve found their All-Star center in Andre Drummond

In order to compete in today’s NBA, you must have at least one superstar comprised on your roster. Fortunately, Detroit has that in Andre Drummond. In only three full seasons, Drummond has metamorphosed himself as one of the league’s most imposing centers.

This didn’t all occur at once however, it took several years of persistence, hard work, failure, and maybe even a little luck for Drummond to develop into a franchise centerpiece. The 6’10” freak of nature has evolved into the Piston’s first option down low, netting an average of 16.4 points, an absurd 14.8 rebounds per game, both career-highs.

According to Hollinger Stats, a metric that measures each NBA player’s efficiency rating for each individual position, Drummond lands as the 12th most efficient out all of the league’s qualified centers, carrying out a PER of 21.30 — higher than the likes of Al Horford, Festus Ezeli, and Dwight Howard.

It’s worth nothing how Drummond’s game has come around full circle, further explained in this section.

Drummond’s insane rebound ability and craftiness to work

Don’t simply peek over at the 14.8 rebounds Drummond accumulated per game. Because, although that’s damn near remarkable, there’s more to those numbers that meets the eye.

For one thing, not all rebounds are gathered-in equally. The reason I say this is because depending on the size of a player, this can actuate to their rebounding rate. In Drummond’s case, listed at 6-foot-10 and playing center provides him a distinct advantage against other front-court players.

Sure, you need some bit of size to secure a large amount of rebounds, but in the same sense you also need effort. In these two GIFs provided by SBNation, Drummond literally “outworked” everyone to not only snare a rebound, but have the strength to turn the missed shot into a Pistons’ basket.

In the first one, SG Reggie Bullock slashes to the basket and puts up an errant shot. Drummond notices the missed shot and gets into position to make a play by sealing his man below the free throw line, sadly Myles Turner was his victim. Ultimately, Drummond’s enormous 7’6.25″ wingspan extends and bats the ball into the basket.

drummond_tip_in.0

The next clip, also against the Pacers, Drummond takes advantage of Indiana’s forwards who lose sight of him along the interior. Detroit’s Spencer Dinwiddie posts up and attempts a highly tested turnaround jump shot. Dinwiddie’s shot is off-line and nobody boxes out on the weak side, leaving Drummond to swing around into the paint and SLAM IT HOME!!!

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Plays like these shows how much of a force Drummond has become. No other center in the league held a better overall rebounding rate (24.5) and defensive rebounding rate (34.2) this season than Drummond. The biggest factor for Drummond and the Pistons organization is that he is only 22 years old, meaning that he’s in the twilight years of his career and his ceiling still hasn’t been reached. Drummond will be entering the final year of his contract next season worth $4.4 million, but odds are that Detroit will hand him a max deal sooner rather than later.

Building up the point guard spot

There’s no question that the Pistons have found their point guard of the future in 26 year-old Reggie Jackson. Before his time spent in Detroit, Jackson made do as Oklahoma City’s 6th man for three full seasons, piggybacking off the likes of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. While Jackson’s role was rather luxurious, he only played a restricted number of minutes, which in turn limited his development.

So when news broke of a three-player trade back on Feb. 20, 2015, that sent the raw, unheralded Jackson to Detroit. Head coach Stan Van Gundy knew in an instant of who he was receiving.

“Reggie is a young player with good size and length at the guard position,” Van Gundy said. “Once he gets going he’ll be a star for us.”

It was at that time, when the Pistons landed a point guard that supplemented change for a franchise that was otherwise rebuilding. Since his arrival to Detroit, Jackson has further extended his name, and in addition has seen his NBA career revolutionized. In his first full-season in Detroit, Jackson broke through with career averages in points (18.8), 3-point percentage (35.3), and eFG% (48.2). With the exception of Drummond, Jackson may very well be Detroit’s key focal point: living or dying with his productivity. But even as assertive as he was last season, Jackson can’t do it all and the Pistons know it.

Because there’s much more to the Pistons’ lack of point guard depth. For one, Detroit all-together carries just three active point guards on its roster. Only one of them played more than 20 minutes per game this season (Jackson). Also, when your second option off the bench is 36 year-old Steve Blake, who averaged 4.4 PPG this year, then you need to worry.

Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) brings the ball up court against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Photo Courtesy of USA Today.
Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) brings a toughness and calmness that’s invaluable. Photo courtesy of USA Today.

From a fluctuation standpoint, Detroit’s roster is as complicated as it gets. As it stands, only five out of the 15 players on its roster are listed as guards. Meaning, there’s an excessive amount of forwards and centers that Detroit really doesn’t know what to do with — for instance seven-minute per game SF Justin Harper and five- minute per game PF Joel Anthony.

Loading up on one specific position and straying away from another isn’t always an inimitable choice: case in point this year’s Toronto Raptors, who also carry twice as many forwards as they do guards. However, the reason why the Raptors can navigate past their conundrum is simply because they have players, even as third or fourth options, that contribute in a prudent amount of minutes.

It’s clearly evident at this point that Detroit must head into this summer’s draft determined to land a guard of any kind — because there’s going to be loads of candidates available. With that being said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Detroit shouldn’t develop the players they already have (even if it’s a meager amount). Colorado product Spencer Dinwiddie was drafted initially in 2014 to grow into a role as a “plug and play” bench player. The plan worked scantily, as it saw Dinwiddie average 4.3 points while playing 13.4 minutes per game as a rookie. However this season, rarely any progress was amassed, with Dinwiddie bouncing in-and-out of the D-League.

For what it’s worth, the Pistons’ most reputable roster decision could be in-house, by transferring over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from shooting guard to point guard. A move like this will keep Detroit’s cap space low while also using Caldwell-Pope’s contract as a filler down the road. The third-year man out of Georgia has increased his production every year that he’s been in the league, averaging 14.2 PPG and manifesting himself into a slasher for the Pistons.

The core is intact to compete for years to come

For a brief moment, ignore the inelegance of the roster, disdain of the lack of depth. Begin peeling back the layers and you’ll find that deep down in Detroit’s core there’s a sump of talent. Hidden behind it all there’s SF Tobias Harris, a mid-season trade acquisition from Orlando who averaged 16.6 PPG during his small Detroit stint, is still vying to become a sharp-shooter. Harris by all accounts, was the Pistons’ best perimeter shooter, drilling 37.7 percent of his long-range shots.

Dig deeper and you’ll unearth PF Marcus Morris, a player that GM Jeff Bower took a chance on. Morris, like past acquisitions Detroit has made benefited off of a ‘free from harm’ environment that otherwise wasn’t there in his previous time spent in Phoenix. Morris started every game for Detroit and turned into a staple on the glass, gobbling up 5.1 rebounds per game, not to mention he saw an uptick in points averaging 14 per game. Based off his production in just one year, Bower and the rest of the Pistons’ front office should be pleased over the progress that 26-year old Morris has made. Morris has utilized his game as a savvy stretch four and is a reliable complement to the strength and tenacity of Drummond.

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The versatility of Marcus Morris made the Pistons better in 2016. Photo courtesy of mlive.

Rookie small forward Stanley Johnson has taken small steps on to the path of prominence. The 6’7”, 245 pound athletic freak pioneered the Pistons’ pick-and-roll offense soundly, by employing length and staying power to engineer a robust 8.1 PPG outburst in 23 minutes of action.

The Pistons understand that promising talents like these are mandatory for success long-term. This is why it’s vital to carry All-Stars such as Drummond, even Jackson to make the run of a championship essential. Jackson expressed how Detroit isn’t there yet as an organization that can win now, but maintains parts that can make it possible.

“Teams get a small window, so you got to capitalize on it,” Jackson said. “We don’t know how big ours is, but I think we have a chance to be a special team coming back next season. So we have to grasp the moment, the opportunity, and make the most of it because you never know. You really never know what tomorrow brings, and you never know what your opportunities are. We had a great one this year, of course we want to progress. That’s what it probably looks like, obviously, from the outside looking in to the rest of the world, is [that] we’re young, we got a chance to progress, but you can’t take it for granted. Health isn’t guaranteed, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, so you got to make the most of each moment and chase success and greatness.”

After all, it took six years for Detroit to get back to the playoffs, a spot where this franchise is so accustomed to be in. With the pieces in place and a head coach that knows what it takes to get it done, another six-year wait likely won’t materialize.

Because the Detroit Pistons are building something…something that is worth keeping.

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