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NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Detroit Pistons

Following another average season, the Detroit Pistons have some room to grow with limited options. Did the franchise pull off the right moves? Matt John explains.

Matt John

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Welcome back to another edition of “Grading the Offseason.” So far we’ve evaluated those whose seasons ended collectively on April 10. Today we’re changing it up a bit and looking at those who managed to make it into the playoffs. First off, we’re heading up to Motown to take a look at the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons might just be the most strictly average team in the league right now. They have one of the most talented frontcourt duos in Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, and there are worse starting point guards then Reggie Jackson – but outside of those three, their roster is paper-thin.

What makes it worse is that – despite the moves they’ve made leading up to this past season – the Pistons have remained roughly the same since 2015. Was there anything different about this past season, and did this summer make their outlook brighter?

Overview

If you technically improved record-wise and made the playoffs, does that mean your season was a success? Ask the Detroit Pistons.

Detroit improved its win total from the previous season by two and made the playoffs for the first time in three years. The Pistons didn’t have much time to celebrate their playoff berth, as the Bucks swept them not too long after that. A 41-41 record and a quick out in the postseason is as far from remarkable as it can get.

For the Pistons, there was more to it than that. Blake Griffin was getting his first full season with the team. Reigning Coach of the Year Dwane Casey was getting a fresh start in Detroit. Reggie Jackson was coming back fully healthy. The roster wasn’t exactly boasting much talent, but the Pistons had higher expectations on their hands.

Even though their record was as average as average can get, they never had a full month where they played like an average team. The Pistons were pretty hot and cold throughout the entire season. If that sounds weird, check out their monthly totals.

October: 4-3
November: 8-4
December: 4-11
January: 6-10
February: 7-3
March: 10-6
April: 2-4

They never seemed to capitalize on their good stretches, but never let their bad stretches get them down either. It’d be hard to come up with a better word to describe those totals than inconsistent. However, among all fluctuating results that came about, there was one consistency throughout the season: Blake Griffin’s return to prominence.

Rampant injuries and declining athleticism have made Blake Griffin’s stock decline a tad over the past few years. Detroit gave up a respectable haul for Blake last year, but they didn’t exactly give up the farm for him. Many thought Blake was in the twilight of his career. When the season was over, he proved that he was far from it.

Griffin averaged 24.5 points on 46/36/75 splits this season, with a special emphasis put on the 36 percent from distance. Now Blake is not the leaper he was during his younger days, but he compensated for it with an improved three-point shot. While he has taken a fair amount of threes over his career, he’s never taken them at the volume he did this past season. Blake has shot 1112 threes since entering the league. 522 of them came from this season alone.

The fact that he shot his best percentage from there (36.2) since 2015 made him that much more of an all-around threat, as the Pistons’ offense was plus-6.9 with him on the court. Griffin’s efforts did not go unnoticed, as he made both the All-Star team and an All-NBA team for the first time since 2015.

Outside of him though, there’s not much else to say about the Pistons. Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson were fine given what was expected of them, but those are just two guys. Beyond them, there wasn’t a whole lot that stood out from their players individually.

The most intriguing player besides them this past season was the play of sophomore Luke Kennard. Detroit is going to hear it from everyone about taking Kennard over Donovan Mitchell in the 2017 draft. The skeptics are probably going to be right seeing what Mitchell has been able to do compared to Kennard. Even so, Detroit has something good in the 23-year-old.

The season started a little slow for Luke. Detroit didn’t give him much time right off the bat. Then, on December 10, Luke’s fortunes changed. The Duke alum had a breakout performance against Philadelphia, putting up 28 points on 61/62/50 splits. There were a few more growing pains along the way, but by the 28th of that same month, Kennard was firmly in the rotation.

From there on out, Luke proved himself valuable. He averaged almost 11 points on 45/41/85 splits, which are promising numbers for a young guard. Those only got better when the playoffs, as he scored 15 points on 48/45/62 splits. Those statistics would be a lot more encouraging if they didn’t occur in four consecutive blowouts.

Other than Kennard’s progression, not much else of note happened. The Pistons traded Reggie Bullock for Svi Mykhailiuk, who did nothing. They also traded Stanley Johnson for Thon Maker, who did next to nothing. After making those trades, they brought in Wayne Ellington, who much like Drummond and Jackson, was fine. That’s better than nothing…?

Overall, the Detroit Pistons were sufficient. Not good. Not bad. Just passable. The real question is whether they could do better next season. That starts with what they would do in the summertime.

Offseason

Now, there have been teams that just got so much better this summer just as much as there have been teams that just got so much worse. When you look at Detroit, you can’t help but shrug.

Props to them for going for the long-term project in Sekou Doumbouya. The Guinean native has a raw skill set that has garnered comparisons to Pascal Siakam. Given his raw age, don’t expect him to get much playing time right away. If the Pistons play the long-term game with Sekou, they should be optimistic about his future.

Not be a broken record here, but outside of the draft, the Pistons did fine this offseason. They added some nice players when you look at how much they paid for them. They didn’t get any world-beaters, but none of their moves would be classified as dumb.

First, they traded Jon Leuer for Tony Snell. A solid move. Leuer wasn’t doing much besides taking up space in the cap, and it wasn’t too long ago that Snell was valued rotation player on the Bucks. He’s overpaid, but he does have a solid track record and was forced out of Milwaukee’s rotation because they had guys who were better than him. Now that he’s on the Pistons, it’s feasible that he returns to the player he was in 2017.

Then there’s Derrick Rose. Rose was fantastic in the sixth man role he played in Minnesota and doesn’t have big shoes to fill since he’s replacing Ish Smith. His newly-minted three-pointer should give the league’s 21st-rated offense another potent option. For $7.5 million a year, the 2011 MVP is a good value addition.

Then there’s Markieff Morris, who for all intents and purposes should be a good third big to put behind Blake and Andre. Tim Frazier is an adequate fifth guard. Christian Wood is someone who could be turning heads should he be given the opportunity.

All in all, they could have done a lot worse, but they haven’t really done a whole lot to improve on where they are.

PLAYERS IN: Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Tony Snell, Tim Frazier, Sekou Doumbouya, Deividas Sirvydis, Jordan Bone (two-way), Louis King (two-way), Christian Wood

PLAYERS OUT: Wayne Ellington, Ish Smith, Glenn Robinson III, Jon Leuer, Jose Calderon, Zaza Pachulia

What’s Next

The word fine has been mentioned a lot in this article because frankly, that’s what the Pistons are. Just fine. Ironically, being just fine in the NBA is not fine. Basketball Purgatory is the worst possible situation to be in. You’re not going anywhere near the championship, and you’re most likely not getting a franchise cornerstone in the draft following a merely okay season.

Following what was one of his best seasons as a pro, it’s clear that the remainder of Blake Griffin’s prime should not be wasted. Hence, the pressure’s on the Pistons to choose between building the best possible core around Blake or trade him while his value is at its absolute highest. They can’t be just in the playoff hunt year-in and year-out with this squad.

The one upside is that Detroit will have plenty of cap space next summer. The downside? It’s one of the weakest free agent classes we’ve seen in quite some time. DeMar DeRozan and Paul Millsap would make things better, but how much better?

The fact remains that the Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in over a decade. They could roll with this core and get over that hump, but if that’s all they accomplish, then it wouldn’t really be worth it.

If the NBA is to see some real “DEE-TROIIIIIIT BASKETBALL!” in the near future, then more changes should definitely be in order.

OFFSEASON GRADE: C+

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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The Career Evolution of Vince Carter

At the height of his game, the man known as Half Man, Half Amazing was must-see TV. Now in his 22nd year in the NBA, Vince Carter is proving his worth as he elevates one of the brightest young teams in the league. Chad Smith writes.

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The Atlanta Hawks have quietly become the darling team of the NBA. After three excellent years of drafting, the Hawks appear to be headed in the right direction. The dynamic duo of John Collins and Trae Young is one that every team would love to have, but it goes deeper than that for Atlanta.

Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish are all part of the sensational young core that the Hawks have put together over the past few years. Balancing that youth and inexperience can be difficult as many veteran players would rather get the playing time or join an established championship contender.

Mentoring young players is not the most desired role for many guys in the league. It takes a special breed of player to accept and savor the opportunity to shape the next wave of stars.

Not only has Vince Carter taken on that role, he has excelled in it. The fifth overall pick from the 1998 draft is the last remaining active player from the 1990s era. In fact, Carter is set to become the first player in NBA history to play in four different decades, should he see the floor after December 31st.

Carter is entering his 22nd season which breaks a tie with Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Robert Parish, and Kevin Willis for the most in league history. Parish, Willis, and Nat Hickey are the only three players that have ever appeared in an NBA game at 43 or older. Vince will turn 43 years old on January 26.

Often referred to as Vinsanity, Air Canada, and Half Man Half Amazing during his career, Carter was one of the most athletic guys to step on the hardwood. He knows that he is a far cry from the spry shooting guard that made his NBA debut on February 5, 1999. The eight-time All-Star has learned a lot in his time, and he is now able to pass it along to the younger generation.

The art of teaching is one thing, but doing it while also keeping your own body prepared to play is another. Carter has played for eight different organizations and three of them in the last three seasons. After stops in Memphis and Sacramento, the veteran landed in Atlanta last year where he played 76 games. He is not just sitting on the bench or just there to be a presence in the locker room. Carter has played an average of 71 games per season over the last seven years.

The average age of the Hawks roster is 23.72 years without counting Carter. Adding him brings that up almost a full year. What he means to this team cannot be measured by analytic data or eye-popping statistics. His savvy experience and professionalism are two of the reasons Atlanta wanted him back this year, along with his production on the floor.

Carmelo Anthony is a name that is brought up quite often. Many people question why a team still has not signed the popular ten-time All-Star. Unlike Carter, Anthony has been unwilling to make the sacrifices and accept the role that he is given. Not only has Vince embraced it, but he has found value in contributing in a variety of areas.

It is very fitting that Carter has decided to spend the final season of his illustrious career as a tutor. He doesn’t want the farewell tour that many other stars have had in recent years. Known to many as the guy who dunked over a 7-foot-2 defender and shut down an entire dunk contest, Carter views himself as a guy that owes it to the game to give back.

Carter spent the first seven years of his career in Toronto, where his 23.4 points per game average is still the highest in franchise history.  He played 403 games with the team and led them to their first playoff series win in 2001 where they came up one win short of the Eastern Conference Finals. Carter had the opportunity to head back to Canada last season, in pursuit of a title – which they captured. He could have done it, and everyone would have understood the move. He stated that he would only consider it if the organization “wants and feels they need my services.”

In Carter’s mind, his job was to focus on helping develop Atlanta’s young squad.

The 1998-1999 Rookie of the Year has played many roles over the course of his career. He has gone from a rim-attacking superstar to a solid perimeter scorer. The two-time All-NBA wing has always been a high-flying scorer, even in the latter stage of his career. He has a wealth of knowledge and perspective that he can offer to Atlanta’s rising stars.

Speaking with USA Today’s Dan Wolken, Carter elaborated on his role with the young Hawks players.

“I want these guys to understand their importance,” Carter said. “This is the foundation of what you want to be a part of in a couple of years. So, okay, after two weeks maybe we lost four in a row. Are you tired of losing? Let’s fix the problem. Let’s fix our approach. Let’s go a little harder, whatever the case may be, that’s what we’re trying to change, which will hopefully roll over.”

After winning five more games last year than they did the previous season, the Hawks aim to continue their upward trajectory. They may not be anything like the 60-win team from 2014-2015 that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they could very well get there in a few years. Developing the talent they have will be vital to their future.

Lloyd Pierce is entering his second year as head coach after spending four seasons as an assistant in Philadelphia. He knows how Carter operates, and how he is able to get through to the rest of the team. Pierce played with Steve Nash at Santa Clara, where he learned how to get a barometer of the team chemistry. He stresses “staying connected” with each other, through high-fives and individual presentations – a concept he carried over from Philadelphia.

Coach Pierce stresses having a nurturing culture that is built upon team and player development. Carter has been leading the charge in both of those areas since the start of last season.

Carter needs to play in 19 games this season to join the exclusive 1,500 game club. Parish, Nowitzki, John Stockton, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only guys to have played more games. The only other players currently on a roster inside the top 40 in games played are Joe Johnson (30th), and Pau Gasol (38th). We know that Father Time is undefeated, but no player has made more use of his time than Carter has.

Carter may never get the title that so many star players yearn for, but he knows that will not define him. Carter would rather prepare the young stars for a better opportunity to earn a ring than chase one himself. That is the epitome of being a role model and a mentor.

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Should The Knicks Pick Up Options On Young, Unproven Talent?

The Knicks have three young players whose third- and fourth-year options must be decided on before Nov. 1. Should they pick them up or continue amassing salary cap space in hopes of chasing Anthony Davis? Drew Maresca analyzes the pros and cons of hanging on to young talent for another year.

Drew Maresca

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NBA teams face all kinds of decisions and, of course, most major decisions teams face have underlying financial implications. Naturally, Oklahoma City would have loved to re-sign Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka following the 2012 season, but the prospect of paying the luxury tax seemed too prohibitive to ownership and general manager Sam Presti.

And like most other teams, the Knicks have plenty of big financial decisions to make very soon – namely, whether or not to offer long-term extensions or merely pick up their respective team options.

For context, teams must decide on rookie-scale extensions by Monday, Oct. 21 — the night before the beginning of the season — and they need to weigh fourth-year options for players with two years of experience and third-year options for those that signed their rookie deals last year by Oct. 31. Rookie deal third-and fourth-year options are still affordable enough that it makes sense to pick up most team options regardless if a player plays a major role or not – and if they do, the option becomes all-the-more affordable.

Now, most lottery picks see their third and fourth-year team options picked up. But the Knicks are in the unusual position of having to decide on all three prior to any of them demonstrating consistency or overly-productive play. The three currently eligible for extensions or team options are Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox. None have set themselves apart as a long-term starter. None of them are seen as a complete player. And each has his own well-documented limitations – but still, do the pros outmeasure the cons?

Ntilikina is a rock-solid defender — butut his production on the offensive end has been inconsistent and unreliable. He shot a mere 28.7 percent on three-point attempts last season with a 39.5 percent effective field goal percentage. Unfortunately, he has proven to be a non-factor in terms of scoring the ball consistently and he disappears entirely at times.

Smith Jr. can absolutely get buckets. His athleticism is a major positive and he’s a better defender than most people believe. But Smith Jr. has efficiency problems, too. In 2018-19, Smith Jr. shot only 32.2 percent on three-pointers and 63.5 percent from the free-throw line — both are far below what teams expect from a starting guard. Worse, those season totals are better than what he demonstrated in two and a half months in New York. Beyond that, his assist-to-turnover ratio (2.07) was below the league average for point guards last season.

Knox is younger and has less experience, so he deserves a little extra slack. Still, there are a number of knocks on Knox – specifically around defense and efficiency. According to cleaningtheglass.com, Knox’s assist percentage was in the sixth percentile among players at his position and his turnover percentage was in the tenth percentile. Somehow, he posted an equally horrid defensive rating and effective field goal percentage. Knox has lots of potential, but he also needs to make major improvements and make better decisions with the ball and on defense.

Re-signing any of the three to long-term deals is probably out of the question from a timing standpoint as there are only three days left to do so. And there’s probably limited desire to do so, anyway. But what about their third- and fourth-year options, should the Knicks pick them all up? The answer is simple – yes, and without hesitation, but let’s explore why:

The options for Smith Jr., Ntilikina and Knox are set at $5.68 million, $6.176 million and $4.58 million, respectively.

While the 2020 free agent class appears limited compared to recent seasons – there are no sure-fire All-Stars other than Anthony Davis –  the Knicks maintained salary cap flexibility thanks to creative team options and one-year signings that cover literally every signing made this past offseason. So picking up all of the aforementioned options represents a commitment of more than $16 million, which will eat into the aforementioned flexibility they smartly invented just recently.

Well, yes — but there should be more space to use. However, the Knicks can’t know exactly where the salary cap will land next season – and it could end up significantly lower than previous estimates due to the current NBA-China beef – but the options represent three contributors to the roster, all of whom they can control for at least one more season. And remember, New York doesn’t have too much depth.

Beyond their young core. Smith Jr., Ntilikina and Knox will all play a role for the team. Looking back to last season, they played 21.0, 29.02 and 28.8 minutes per game as Knicks last season, individually. Those numbers should go up in 2019-20, and paying between $4.5 and $6.2 million apiece to play such large roles is mostly impossible elsewhere.

Thusly, approximately $16 million is a bargain for three contributors — but that becomes all the more obvious when we consider that the average salary was $6.38 million in 2018-19 – more than any of the individual option years. At 21, 21 and 20 years old, these three players should all take leaps forward in their respective development, meaning their salaries could become even more of a bargain than they are now. Further, the salary cap is $109 million this season and none of those options would represent even six percent of the 2019-20 cap.

Even if the Knicks played it frugally and declined their options in favor of cap savings, what would the Knicks even do with them? We’ve already established that the class is less-than-stellar; but what’s more, who’s to say any would be attracted to Madison Square Garden, anyway? The Knicks have had limited (and small) success(es) in free agency. That’s not to say they should give up. But it’s their reality and it’s on them to change it.

New York has suffered major culture setbacks in recent years that landed them exactly where they are. In reverse chronological order, there’s been: The public fallout of them being burned by 2019 free agents, Kristaps Porzingis asking to be traded, James Dolan having Charles Oakley escorted out of Madison Square Garden and all of the damage done by Phil Jackson (e.g., the “posse” fiasco and his public, passive-aggressive war with Carmelo Anthony). That only takes us back through 2014 and ignores the Isiah Thomas-era and the fact that they’ve won one playoff series in the past 18 years.

Having said all that, and despite what Presidential candidate Andrew Yang thinks, there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. But from a cost-efficiency standpoint, as well as to continue building a positive perception league-wide, the Knicks must pick up all three options. Ultimately, they’ll be better for in both the short- and long-term.

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NBA Daily: Hield, Kings Both Have Room To Bargain

Buddy Hield understandably feels as if he’s worth more than the Kings have offered him, but that doesn’t mean he’s worth more than that to Sacramento, specifically. Douglas Farmer writes.

Douglas Farmer

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The emotion in Buddy Hield’s voice Wednesday night made it clear his words were not a negotiating ploy. When the fourth-year shooting guard said he would find someplace else to play if the Sacramento Kings did not properly respect him in contract negotiations, he was sincere.

“We’ll see if they’ll have me here,” Hield said. “Feels home to be here. I love Sacramento, but if they don’t feel I’m part of the core … if they don’t want to do it, then after that, I’ll look for somewhere else to go.”

The Kings have until Monday to reach an agreement on a rookie-scale extension with Hield, who is eligible for a four-year deal north of $130 million or a designated-player extension of five years and $170 million.

But Hield may not be looking for those outlandish numbers. Per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Hield is looking for a contract of about $110 million, while Sacramento has offered only $90 million across four years.

“It’s not always about less than the max, it’s just something that’s reasonable and is not an insult,” Hield said. “If we respect each other on that level, we’ll come to that agreement.”

Hield shot 42.7 percent from deep last season on 7.9  attempts per game while averaging 20.7 points. He may not necessarily be worthy of a max contract, but his is a valued skill set in the modern NBA. Combine that with the weak 2020 free agent class, and Hield has some ground to dig in upon at the bargaining table. If an extension is not agreed to, Hield would not be free to go wherever he wishes next summer, but he would be free to pursue that which might force the Kings’ hand as a restricted free agent.

Of wings expected to hit the market next summer, Hield would be joined by Otto Porter, Joe Harris and, possibly, Hield’s current teammate, Bogdan Bogdanović (also restricted). It really could be that shallow of a shooting pool. Gordon Hayward is likely to pick up his $31.2 million player option with the Boston Celtics, while DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs are reportedly in discussions. Meanwhile, Caris LeVert has already signed a new deal with the Nets.

That market vacuum could drive up Hield’s summertime price, though Sacramento could still match any offer. If the Kings would match ties into the exact reasons they are risking alienating a core player in the first place. Sacramento has returned to respectability — both in the standings and in perceived approach — by building through the draft. But their bill is almost due.

Hield, Bogdanović, point guard De’Aaron Fox and forward Marvin Bagley are all approaching paydays in the next few seasons. The Kings are almost certainly going to make massive offers to Fox and Bagley in 2021 and 2022, respectively, and those contracts will tie up Sacramento’s books for much of the 2020s. The additional $5 million per year sought by Hield could preclude other moves when combined with Fox’s and Bagley’s deals.

The Kings’ ground is strengthened by holding Bogdanović’s restricted rights, as well. If they lose Hield, they will still have a starting-quality shooting guard to play alongside Fox in Bogdanović. He may not have hit 602 threes in his first three seasons in the league as Hield has, but Bogdanović is currently at 263 through two years, hardly anything to readily dismiss.

Even though Bogdanović will not cost as much as Hield — pondering a $51.4 million, four-year extension — keeping both pieces of the shooting duo may prove too costly for Sacramento owner Vivek Ranadivé. At which point, Hield’s raw emotions Wednesday night may foreshadow Ranadivé’s decision.

Where could Hield go, if for no other reason than to drive up his price?

Any discussion of 2020 free agents must include the Atlanta Hawks, who could have as much as $79.1 million in cap space. Hield would fit both their roster timeline and its general construction, though they did just snag both De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish in the 2019 draft. Hield’s minutes would come from the same pool as theirs, making this pairing a bit redundant.

There would be no such conflict with the Dallas Mavericks, whose centerpieces currently miss a wing with range from deep. The Mavericks would lack the space to sign Hield if Tim Hardaway Jr. opts into his $19 million player option, but that could simply precede a sign-and-trade with the Kings. There are certainly ways to make the space necessary should Dallas owner Mark Cuban want to.

If Hield wanted to be a part of another group that is “getting the team back to where it needs to be,” the Memphis Grizzlies would be a situation very similar to Sacramento’s. Forward Jaren Jackson Jr. will see his first big contract begin in 2022 and this year’s No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant should follow that trend a year later. The Grizzlies, however, do not have an exceptional shooter to pair with their young duo. If nothing else, Memphis could drive up the price on Hield to compromise the Kings’ cap space moving forward.

Those possibilities, among others, give Hield practical reason to stand his ground for what he feels he’s worth, while Sacramento’s long view may make it think twice. As emotional and blunt as he was, Hield understands these realities.

“Some people will get the max and some people won’t get the max,” he said. “That’s how it works.”

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