Additions: Aron Baynes, Steve Blake, Reggie Bullock, Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris, Anthony Tolliver
Three years ago, it looked like the Bucks were ready to build their team around Ersan Ilyasova. He was a 24-year-old, 6’10” power forward that could not only rebound but could spread the floor with his shooting. He appeared to be one of the better young fours in the league and a big part of the Bucks future… Of course that was three years ago, and the team also hoped to build around Brandon Jennings. Now they’re both in Detroit. What happened? The Bucks drafted guys like John Henson, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, etc. and decided to take the team in a different, more successful direction. Sadly, Ilyasova hasn’t looked like the player the Bucks once thought they had recently. He shot the three-ball at a 45.5% clip in 2011/12 (second best in the NBA), but shot 28.2% and 38.9% in 2013/14 and 2014/15 respectively. Ilyasova’s rebounding numbers have also slipped. After grabbing 8.8 RPG in 2011/12, Ersan’s rebounding fell each subsequent year (7.1 in 2012/13, 6.2 in 2013/14, and 4.8 in 2014/15). Adding insult to injury (pun intended), Ilyasova has struggled to get on the floor as well as he’s only played in 113 games over the last two years. However, Illy is just 27 years old and there’s no reason to think he can’t restart his career in a new place. Undoubtedly, he’ll get minutes in Detroit, and if he can stay healthy, he should be able to contribute to a team searching for an identity.
Subtractions: Caron Butler, John Lucas III, Cartier Martin, Quincy Miller, Tayshaun Prince, Shawne Williams
Wow! In fairness, the Pistons didn’t lose much. Caron Butler and Shawne Williams were sent to Milwaukee in the Ilyasova deal, and Lucas, Martin, and Miller are glorified D-Leaguers. Which leaves Tayshaun Prince. Truth be told, I was thinking Prince was gonna retire this summer. Not because he’s a bum or anything like that, he can still contribute to an NBA team. I just didn’t think he wanted to prolong this thing. Although he was never an All-Star, he was a major contributor to the Pistons during their glory days helping them win a ring and playing in all 82 games in six of this first seven seasons. Prince is perhaps best known for his length that allowed him to guard bigger forwards throughout his career. In his heyday, he routinely averaged 14 points off 46% shooting on a team that didn’t really run any plays for him. Outside of veteran leadership, he may not be able to offer much to the Timberwolves, but from an organizational perspective, the Pistons will miss Tayshaun Prince.
Rookies: Darrun Hilliard, Stanley Johnson
A lot of people thought Stanley Johnson was a steal when the Pistons selected him 8th overall last June—I’ve even heard some rookie of the year talk. Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Stanley Johnson will not be Rookie of the Year; Emmanuel Mudiay will be (or god willing, Jahlil Okafor). I just know it won’t be D’Angelo Russell. Back to Johnson, he’s just not polished enough on the offensive end to win the award—but that doesn’t mean he’s not gonna make a positive impact. Johnson already has a great NBA body; he’s exceptionally strong for 19 years old and has great length (6’11” wingspan). He can utilize his size to guard positions one through four, and most guards will find it difficult to muscle up with him. He’s got a strong motor and he doesn’t quit. Johnson’s jumper is still improving and he’s a slasher, so he should be able to contribute in an offense that can create opportunities for him. Some are comparing him to Kawhi Leonard in hopes that he can become a legitimate two-way player, but again, his offense has a way to go before that happens. Right now, he’s gonna earn his minutes through tough defense and aggressive rebounding. Luckily, the Pistons have plenty of other scoring options allowing Johnson to come along at his own pace.
Guards: I know I already called Reggie Jackson “the worst free agent signing of 2015” and that’s a statement I will have to stand by, good or bad. With that said, I never implied Jackson was a scrub, I just thought the price was outrageously high considering his similar skill set to Brandon Jennings and the seemingly poor way he left Oklahoma City. You can read my previous article if you wanna know what I don’t like about Jackson, but for now, let’s concentrate on what he can do… Jackson averaged 17.6 PPG, 9.2 APG, and 4.7 RPG in 27 games with the Pistons last season. His ability not only to score, but to make plays for others should have a positive effect on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson, and Ersan Ilyasova. Last season, Jackson developed an excellent rapport with the Pistons’ best player Andre Drummond. Although he’s only been a Piston since February, Jackson’s going to have to be the team’s de facto leader. He’s not a particularly good shooter—he’s shot less than 30% from three and 43.2% from the field over his career and he’s not a particularly good defender either. Yet, if he can score in bunches and make his teammates better, he might even be able to take Detroit to their first playoff appearance since 2008/09. The Pistons also acquired Steve Blake this summer seemingly as an insurance policy after watching Brandon Jennings go down last season. Blake is what he is—a 35-year old point guard who’s on his eighth team and scored 4.3 PPG last season. If you wanna somehow get excited about him, he’s a good passer, okay shooter, and he’ll add a veteran presence to an otherwise very young locker room. I love Brandon Jennings! I thought he turned the corner last year becoming the Pistons’ leader after they waived Josh Smith. Jennings has often been labeled as a shoot-first, pass-second guard (fairly or unfairly), but his play in January and February of last season showed otherwise. The Pistons were 12-3 prior to the game that he went down with a torn ACL. In his last full game prior to his injury, Jennings scored 21 points off 10-for-21 shooting, and dished out 21 assists. A torn ACL has historically been a tough injury to recover from, but with Jennings being so young, I’m remaining optimistic.
Forwards: Ilyasova will start at the 4 and when he’s at his best, should spread the floor. Backing him up, the Pistons have Anthony Tolliver, a veteran shooter who’s averaged one three and 6.2 points over his seven-year career. Over the summer, the Phoenix Suns attempted to make cap room to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. In doing so, they sent Marcus Morris, Danny Granger, and Reggie Bullock to Detroit for a future second-round pick. Morris is yet another forward who can knock down the three point shot. He can also be an aggressive rebounder. Morris brother #2 may have a breakout season under SVG and his open court system. The aforementioned Stanley Johnson will add some strength at the small forward and Reggie Bullock rounds out the front-court.
Centers: Andre Drummond is a beast and this is going to be his breakout year. Welcome to the All-Star game, Andre Drummond! The 6’11”, 279 lb. center might be one of the most athletic bigs in the league. He’s not much of a shooter, but he also takes 75% of his shots within three feet of the hoop, so he should shoot a relatively high percentage rom the field. Last season, he averaged 13.8 points to go with his 13.5 rebounds. I don’t think there’s any reason to think he couldn’t be a 16/16 guy this season. It appears Van Gundy is implementing a similar strategy to what he used in Orlando. With the Magic, Van Gundy utilized Dwight Howard’s size and strength in the middle and surrounded him with shooters. Similarly, he will look to surround Drummond with shooters such as Reggie Jackson, KCP, Marcus Morris, Ilyasova, etc. The days of Drummond banging with Josh Smith and Greg Monroe are done—for all intents and purposes, this is Andre Drummond’s team. By all accounts, the Pistons overpaid for Aron Baynes, who will back up Drummond. Joel Anthony may see a few DNP-CD’s.
Final thoughts: I really like this Pistons team! I think they’re gonna take the jump we’ve been waiting for over the least three seasons and finally make the playoffs. Are they gonna win a playoff series? Slow down… Like I said before, SVG is gonna implement a similar system to what he ran in Orlando—put Drummond in the middle and surround him with lights out shooters. Although Greg Monroe and his contributions should be missed, they probably won’t be. Monroe’s style of play would not have been conducive to what the Pistons are gonna do moving forward… I’m not sure what’s gonna happen with Brandon Jennings. I love him, but the Pistons have already committed to Reggie Jackson. Because Jennings is in his last contract year, if he’s healthy at the deadline, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got dealt… I think Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is gonna step up this year and become a solid 3-and-D guy… Some people are expecting Stanley Johnson to be an ROY candidate but I don’t see that happening… Andre Drummond will be an All-Star this season.