In two years under Stan Van Gundy the Detroit Pistons have taken noticeable steps forward, not only in the talent in the court but the way in which the pieces fit together. Last season the end result was a playoff berth, and while they were ousted in five games by the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers, there’s reason for optimism in the Motor City. They’ve got their franchise pieces in point guard Reggie Jackson and center Andre Drummond, and young talents such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson look promising as well.
But for some young teams taking the next step, going from merely being a playoff team to winning once there, can be the most difficult. With Cleveland still being Cleveland, Indiana expected to improve and Chicago boasting a revamped roster, competition within the Central Division will be tough in 2016-17. But if the Pistons can improve an offense that ranked 25th in field goal percentage, there’s no reason why they can’t build on the progress made thus far.
Here’s a look at the roster:
Pistons Projected Starting Lineup
G: Reggie Jackson (18.8 ppg, 3.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) In his first full season with the Pistons, Jackson produced the best year of his young NBA career. While the shooting numbers could be a little higher, as he shot 43.4 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three, Jackson proved that he is the floor general the Pistons needed when acquiring him from Oklahoma City during the 2014-15 season.
G: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg) Not much of a three-point shooter, as he made just under 31 percent of his attempts in 2015-16, Caldwell-Pope shot nearly 49 percent inside of the arc. A solid slashing option, Caldwell-Pope could stand to get to the foul line more after posting a free throw rate of .238 last season, especially when considering the perimeter shooting issues.
F: Marcus Morris (14.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.5 apg) With the way things ended in Phoenix for Morris, it was anyone’s guess what the Pistons would be getting when they acquired him from the Suns prior to last season. What they got was a productive forward who shot 43.4 percent from the field and also displayed the ability to step out beyond the three-point line on occasion. Now comfortable in Detroit, Morris is firmly entrenched in the Pistons’ starting lineup.
F: Tobias Harris (16.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.6 apg in Detroit) Harris was acquired from Orlando during last season, giving Detroit another combo forward who can make plays both inside and out. That’s key when considering the fact that they have a center best equipped to work from ten feet and in. Harris shot nearly 48 percent from the field and 38 percent from three with the Pistons, and now familiar with the system it wouldn’t be a surprise if those numbers improved.
C: Andre Drummond (16.2 ppg, 14.8 rpg) Yes, Drummond leaves some points on the floor due to his putrid free throw shooting (35.5 percent). But the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to the 6-foot-10 center, who was the NBA’s best rebounder last season. Drummond finished the year with rebounding percentages of 15.6 (offensive) and 34.2 (defensive), with the defensive and total rebounding (24.5) marks leading the NBA. If he could somehow improve the foul shooting, Drummond could very well average 20 & 15 this season.
Pistons Projected Bench
G: Ish Smith (12.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 6.5 apg) Smith, who split time between New Orleans and Philadelphia last season, will be the backup point guard for the Pistons. He shot 41.1 percent from the field in 2015-16, and with his quickness and basketball IQ Smith is a good fit for this particular role on a team that had a need to fill.
F: Reggie Bullock (3.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg) Bullock played in just 37 games last season, not seeing a great deal of playing time until Stanley Johnson was forced to miss six games due to injury in late February. Can Bullock, who earned his spot on last year’s roster with a solid preseason, do what it takes this time around to convince Van Gundy to give him a shot when the regular season begins? We shall see.
F: Stanley Johnson (8.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) With a pro build and some skills to match, Johnson arrived in Detroit with the expectation of being an immediate impact player after being drafted in the first round out of Arizona. All things considered Johnson produced a solid rookie campaign, but the shooting percentages (37.5 percent from the field, 30.5 percent from three) did leave something to be desired. Detroit will need more consistency from Johnson in 2016-17.
F: Henry Ellenson (Rookie) Detroit does have Morris and Harris as starters who seemingly fit well with Drummond, and it’s not that difficult to look at their first round selection out of Marquette and think the same. Ellenson played both inside and out for the Golden Eagles last season, and while the three-point percentage (28.8 percent) is an area some harped on in the pre-draft process it isn’t as if his shooting form is “broken.” Detroit can bring Ellenson along slowly given the veteran options on the roster, which should help in his development.
F: Jon Leuer (8.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg) Leuer played in 67 games for the Suns last season, making 27 starts and shooting just over 48 percent from the field. At 6-foot-10 Leuer gives the Pistons another big body, and with his ability to play away from the basket that will help with the spacing for guys such as Drummond and Baynes.
C/F: Aron Baynes (6.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg) Baynes served as Drummond’s backup last season, displaying a willingness to play physical in the paint. He’ll likely be in a similar role this season, although free agent signing Boban Marjanovic will look to work his way into the fold. Baynes shot 50.5 percent from the field last year, and his offensive rebounding percentage of 11.9 percent ranked second on the team behind Drummond.
C: Boban Marjanovic (5.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg) The 7-foot-3 Marjanovic was a crowd favorite in San Antonio last season, playing in 54 games and making some solid contributions when on the court. It remains to be seen what he can do for the Pistons, but at minimum he’s another big body Van Gundy can call upon when needed. On a three-year deal worth $21 million, Marjanovic is a roll of the dice for Detroit given his lack of NBA experience, but it’s a risk they could afford to take.
Other Players in Pistons Training Camp
G Lorenzo Brown G Trey Freeman G Ray McCallum Jr.
G Beno Udrih
G Michael Gbinije
F Darrun Hillard
F Nikola Jovanovic C Mamadou N’diaye
Of these six players Hilliard and Gbinije are the only ones with guaranteed contracts for this season, although there’s a better chance of Gbinije beginning the year with the D-League affiliate in Grand Rapids in order to get him game action at the two. Hilliard will compete with Bullock for a spot at the end of the rotation on the wing.
The most intriguing battle will be between Brown and McCallum Jr., with both on non-guaranteed deals and the winner getting the third point guard spot. Jovanovic, not drafted out of USC, is a long shot to make the 15-man roster as the Pistons have one just available slot remaining.
Pistons Coaching Staff
Head coach: Stan Van Gundy (Third season; 447-296 career record; 44-38 2015-16 record.)
Assistant coaches: Brendan Malone, Bob Beyer, Charles Klask, Tim Hardaway, Malik Allen
UPDATE (10/17): The Pistons announce that they have waived forward Nikola Jovanovic.
UPDATE (10/22): The Pistons announce that they have waived guards Lorenzo Brown and Trey Freeman and center Mamadou N’diaye.
UPDATE (10/24): The Pistons announce that they have signed point guard Beno Udrih and waived point guard Ray McCallum Jr.