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2015-16 Detroit Pistons Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Detroit Pistons’ 2015-16 season.

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The first year under head coach Stan Van Gundy did not yield the instant success some had hoped for, but with a busy offseason, a solid draft and a chance to tweak the roster more to his liking, Van Gundy and the Pistons should be on a better path.

Basketball Insiders previews the 2015-16 Detroit Pistons.

Five Thoughts

Since the NBA went to six divisions in the 2004-05 season, last season was the first time that all five teams from the same division qualified for the playoffs. We saw that in the Southwest Division and may see it happen again this year in the Eastern Conference’s Central Division. As a coach, Stan Van Gundy will bring a 403-258 win-loss record into the 2015-16 season, giving him a 61 percent career win percentage. The man can coach. It seems so long ago that Van Gundy made the decision to waive Josh Smith and eat the final three years of the four-year, $54 million contract he signed with the Pistons in July 2013. The Pistons became better overnight and would have made the playoffs last season had Brandon Jennings not suffered the ruptured Achilles tendon that ended his season. Now, entering 2015-16, Van Gundy has had a very productive summer. Yes, the Pistons lost Greg Monroe, but this will be the quintessential “addition by subtraction” situation, as Andre Drummond will be the unquestioned anchor in the middle and he now finds himself flanked by pieces that fit better in Ersan Ilyasova and Marcus Morris. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is one of my favorite young guards in the entire league and I am in the minority of thinking that Reggie Jackson will actually live up to the five-year, $80 million he signed this past summer. It’s tough taking the Pistons to best the Pacers in the Central Division, but I’ll take my chances there.

4th Place — Central Division

— Moke Hamilton

The Pistons’ core is going to be very exciting to watch for years to come. Andre Drummond has star potential, Stanley Johnson is one of my favorite players in this rookie class, Reggie Jackson has shown he can be a very solid point guard and they have very good complementary pieces like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Jennings. Stan Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the NBA so I believe this young core is in very good hands. I also like the addition of Ersan Ilyasova this summer, as I think a stretch-four is exactly what Drummond needs alongside him. The Pistons, much like the Orlando Magic, should show improvement and be a very good team down the road, but it’s just tough to imagine them making the playoffs this season in the improved Eastern Conference.

5th Place – Central Division

– Alex Kennedy

On the surface, it would be easy to assume that losing Greg Monroe for nothing would actually hurt a team that already was not very good a year ago, but a full season of Reggie Jackson and better floor spacing with Ersan Ilyasova at the four should help this team see some big improvement in the coming year. Aron Baynes, Stanley Johnson, Marcus Morris and Steve Blake all are respectable additions to the club, but this still is a young team likely to struggle. They play in the Eastern Conference’s toughest division, so they still could end up in the basement, but with Andre Drummond on the cusp of All-Stardom and an unpredictable Eastern Conference, they could finish fifth in the Central and still sniff at the playoffs.

5th Place – Central Division

– Joel Brigham

The Pistons believe point guard Reggie Jackson has star potential and they’ll need him to deliver in order to fully maximize this roster’s potential. Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes and Steve Blake were value additions, but Jackson and center Andre Drummond are the two players in Detroit being counted on to take their games to the next level. The Pistons look much better headed into training camp than they did a year ago but the problem is the Central Division will be tough to navigate. Cleveland, Chicago and Milwaukee are better and Indiana will improve with the presence of former All-Star Paul George. The on-court product will be better in Motown, but a playoff trip may come further down the line.

5th Place – Central Division

– Lang Greene

When it comes to rookies, some can be hesitant once they hit the NBA stage. Don’t expect that to be the case for Pistons first-round pick Stanley Johnson. The forward spoke confidently throughout the entire draft process and has made it clear he believes he is ready to contribute at the next level. Johnson will bring a young spark to a Pistons team that lost one of its top players, Greg Monroe, in free agency this summer. They still have Andre Drummond to be a double-double threat in the middle. The Pistons also added Marcus Morris from the Phoenix Suns. One of the biggest storylines on the team this season will be Brandon Jennings’ return from injury (Achilles). The Pistons inked Reggie Jackson to a long-term deal to be their backcourt leader, and Jennings has told the media he would be okay with coming off the bench once healthy.

5th Place – Central Division

– Jessica Camerato

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: Reggie Jackson

A year ago there may have been an actual debate between Jackson and Greg Monroe had the two played a full season together, but with Monroe off to Milwaukee, it’s pretty clear that Jackson is far and away the best offensive player on the Pistons this season. In 27 games with the team last season, Jackson averaged 17.6 PPG and 9.2 APG, showing the sort of flash and aggressive scoring ability that made him such a hot commodity in Oklahoma City whenever Russell Westbrook was out. He clearly is ready to shoulder the responsibility of being Detroit’s top scorer.

Top Defensive Player: Andre Drummond

As one of the best defensive players in the league, let alone his team, Drummond is a burgeoning rim protector that sat near the top of the league last season in both rebounds (13.5 RPG) and blocks (1.9 BPG), while also chipping in 73 steals over the course of his 82 games. An absolute physical specimen, Drummond is capable of being even better defensively and could seriously challenge DeAndre Jordan for the league lead in rebounds.

Top Playmaker: Reggie Jackson

While his 27 games is a pretty small sample size, Jackson’s 9.2 APG after his trade would have placed him fourth among all NBA players in assists per game. Part of his offensive proficiency is his ability to distribute, and his quickness is such that he’s able to penetrate and kick the ball out at will. He’s not working with a great three-point shooting cast, but he absolutely will find the open man. That, in fact, will be his job.

Top Clutch Player: Reggie Jackson

The Pistons have struggled with clutch shooting over the course of the last few years, as Brandon Jennings never really did come along in Detroit the way the team had hoped and Monroe, while efficient in terms of scoring, wasn’t exactly a fail-safe go-to guy when he was playing in the Motor City. Frankly, Detroit just doesn’t have a lot of options in terms of experienced clutch shooting, which makes Jackson the guy by default. In Oklahoma City, he was given a few opportunities to handle crunch time and did so reasonably effectively. If he’s going to be an All-Star, that’s an aspect of his game he’ll need to exhibit more consistently.

Top Unheralded Player: Aron Baynes

A lot was made about how insane the Pistons were for giving an unproven role player like Baynes $20 million over three years, but money aside, he’s an extremely valuable asset that should make a huge difference for Detroit this year, especially with Monroe having moved on. He’s a bruiser that should bring a ton of toughness to the team, but he’s not just strong defensively; he also can do some damage on the offensive end, and in a number of different ways. This makes him a nice bench complement because he can fill multiple roles, and there are some even suggesting that he could be in at center during crunch time rather than Drummond since Baynes is an average free-throw shooter and Drummond is the worst of his generation. Baynes was a sneaky-good acquisition this summer.

Top New Addition: Marcus Morris

In terms of pure talent, Ersan Ilyasova is the better addition, due mostly to the fact that he’s a stretch-four the front office plucked away for practically nothing, and he’ll be great on the wing for when Reggie Jackson is creating on offense. Morris is an interesting acquisition too, however, as rumors continue to spill forth that his twin brother Markieff Morris (who also happens to be the superior talent) is no longer happy in Phoenix now that Marcus is gone. Detroit has emerged as a possible landing spot for Markieff, which means a Suns salary dump of Marcus could actually lead to them eventually adding another bright young talent for below market value. Even if they don’t, both Morris and Ilyasova are nice additions for this season.

– Joel Brigham

Who We Like:

1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – After making several improvements in his first two NBA seasons, Caldwell-Pope has worked on some things this summer to ensure that he’s a respectable contributing member of what should be a pretty interesting starting lineup this year in Detroit. He’s fine defensively, but has worked on ball handling to be more of a creator and take some of the onus off of Jackson, who obviously can’t be the only person making things happen on offense. Caldwell-Pope should be much improved in year three and will see plenty of success, especially if he’s more efficient from deep.

2. Ersan Ilyasova – Putting Ilyasova at the four spreads out the Detroit offense, which has been clogged the last couple of years with both Monroe and Drummond operating there. He also can shoot from outside, which allows Stan Van Gundy to play around with some wing rotations that work around some players without the innate inability to knock down three-pointers. He’s efficient offensively and should speed things up for Detroit quite a bit. He makes a lot more sense in the starting lineup than Monroe ever did, good though he was.

3. Stanley Johnson – Often compared to a young Jimmy Butler, Johnson is a no-nonsense kid that is itching to take on the weight of the team and shine as a bright young star in the lineup. He’s incredibly confident, incredibly likeable and incredibly good at basketball. Defensively he’ll be a joy to watch, but Pistons fans are going to love his charisma and loyalty, too.

4. Andre Drummond – This probably is the year that Drummond finally makes the All-Star team, but he’s going to have to help his team win some more games in order to get there. The Pistons were brutal a year ago and lost one of their top players in the offseason, so expecting a huge uptick in victories might be naïve. If that does happen, however, chances are strong that Drummond will be a big reason why, and since he sits toward the top of the league in some important categories, that’s all the more reason to think he’ll get the call this year.

5. Steve Blake – While Blake is 35 years old, it’s important for young teams on the verge of breaking out to have at least a few veterans that understand what it takes to win. Blake has been all over the place in his career and has played for some clubs that have gone deep into the postseason, so that should rub off on the young core of this group. He’s the elder statesman on this team now by quite a bit, and he should be a steady backup point guard (who also could make Brandon Jennings expendable, if the team wants to move Jennings to fill other holes).

– Joel Brigham

Strengths

Thanks in large part to Drummond, the Pistons should once again be one of the NBA’s better rebounding teams. Last season they were fourth in the league with 44.9 team rebounds per game, and they were also among the top 12 in team blocks per game with 4.7 a night. Defensively, this is a good group despite their youth, and additions like Stanley Johnson and Aron Baynes should do little to alter that identity.

– Joel Brigham

Weaknesses

Frankly, the Pistons were not an effective or efficient offensive team last season, but large doses of Jennings and Josh Smith probably had something to do with the cumulative numbers. Detroit finished the year 27th in team field goal percentage at .432 and were in the bottom half of the league in three-point percentage and points per game. And that was with Greg Monroe shooting a high volume of shots at about 50 percent, so there’s a chance that the percentages stay ugly this year. Jackson looks legit, but the Pistons need development from some of the other young players to see a substantial change. The bottom line, though, is that the Pistons need to be more consistently effective on that end of the floor.

– Joel Brigham

The Burning Question

Is Reggie Jackson an elite point guard?

A lot was made this past summer about the Pistons overpaying Reggie Jackson with an $80 million deal, particularly in comparison to the $80 million deal that All-Star point guard John Wall is currently earning in Washington, but Van Gundy paid his young floor general all that cash because he really believed that Jackson would be worth every penny. His numbers in 27 games with the Pistons last year were truly elite, but this is his year to prove he can do that over the course of an 82-game season. If he can, there’s a very good chance we’ll be having a conversation in February about whether Jackson or Wall deserves to make the All-Star team as a reserve.

– Joel Brigham

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