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Can Detroit Pistons Take a Big Step Next Season?

The Detroit Pistons have made a little bit of noise this offseason, and it hasn’t all been positive news. The good news is that they’ve solidified their point-guard position, signing Reggie Jackson to a five-year, $80 million contract. They’ve acquired Ersan Ilyasova and Marcus Morris in trades, and the roster is now deep enough to play nine or 10 legitimate NBA players on a given night.

The bad news is they lost their leading scorer from last year, Greg Monroe, to the rival Milwaukee Bucks. Brandon Jennings, who probably goes to the bench with Jackson starting at the point (or perhaps they start together?), is likely to be able to start the season on time. But he’s going to spend the entire offseason rehabbing his torn Achilles instead of trying to improve his shooting, which has been his biggest flaw over the course of his career.

Overall, the Pistons have improved their roster, some of it by adding new players and some as “addition by subtraction.” Banishing Josh Smith was a fantastic move. Turning D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler into Jackson was a coup. This team went 9-7 down the stretch last year and started to really play better basketball. Check out the stats of the Pistons’ Big Three (if you want to call them that) over that stretch:


Monroe, interestingly enough, only played the final five games of that stretch and averaged 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds, both below his season averages. Monroe is a very good player and should benefit from leaving Detroit and going to Milwaukee, who has a severe lack of post scoring and rebounding. Also, this interesting tweet:

I think the breakup was to the benefit of both sides, and especially Drummond (who’s rumored to be discussing a long-term extension to stay in Detroit). Both Drummond and Monroe are post players, but neither player can stretch the floor to create space for the other. Drummond has taken 75.3 percent of his career field goal attempts within three feet of the basket. Monroe is at 57.4 percent, with just 0.5 percent of his attempts having come from beyond 10 feet in his career.

You’ll probably remember from his time with the Magic that head coach Stan Van Gundy is among those in the league that believes in shooting threes. The Pistons signed Jodie Meeks to a three-year deal last summer to improve their awful three-point shooting, and things are getting better. They went from 29th in the NBA in three-point percentage in 2013-2014 to 17th in 2014-2015.

But that’s still not all that good, and the roster last season wasn’t built for the style of play that SVG likes. With Ilyasova, a stretch four who shoots 22.6 percent of his shots from downtown and hits on 37 percent of them, the Pistons solve both problems of not having enough good shooters and not having good floor spacing for Drummond. With there being two less bodies in the lane, Drummond will often have more space to go to work.

Should the defense decide that they need to double-team Drummond, they’ll have to decide between leaving Morris or Ilyasova open from the outside, which is dangerous on either account. At just 22 years old, Drummond has the opportunity to dominate the Eastern Conference at the center position for years to come.

To say that Drummond is a budding star is certainly an understatement, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope might truly be flying under the radar. Also at just 22 years of age, KCP was drafted eighth overall in the 2013 draft and started all 82 games for the Pistons last year. In 31.5 minutes per game, he averaged 12.7 points and 3.1 rebounds. He’s not a great shooter (at least not yet), posting a 48 percent eFG% and shooting just 69.6 percent on free throws.

But Caldwell-Pope is a good budding defender, has phenomenal athleticism and looks like he might be able to develop into a good shooter. If he can, he could be a strong candidate for a Jimmy Butler-type surge next year or the year after. Check out some of the defensive plays on KCP’s personal highlight reel:

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Pistons are going to be a fun team to watch next year. Their starting lineup should be Jackson, Caldwell-Pope, Morris, Ilyasova and Drummond. Barring any other major moves, their main bench players will be Jennings, Meeks, Anthony Tolliver, Aron Baynes and Danny Granger. So what room is there for real, tangible improvement?

Unfortunately, not a lot. The Pistons went 32-50 last year and finished in last place in the Central Division. The Bucks have improved, adding the aforementioned Monroe as well as getting Jabari Parker back from his ACL tear. The Pacers are getting a full season of Paul George after he returns from his gruesome leg injury, and they’re revamping the way they play to hopefully amp up their scoring.

The Bulls are bringing back essentially the exact same team as last year, and most importantly a fully healthy Derrick Rose. Even if there’s some sort of unforeseen drop off from firing Tom Thibodeau, it shouldn’t be enough to bump the Pistons past the Bulls. And with Kevin Love returning to Cleveland to play with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, it would take some kind of amazing meltdown to bump the Cavs down in the Central.

The Pistons should be more fun to watch next season than they have in the past. Finally having a real point guard playing with Drummond, who should be able to show significant improvement, is worth the price of admission right there. Will it lead them to the playoffs? Maybe, but not anywhere higher than the seventh or eighth seed. I could see a scenario where the Pistons finish around 38-41 wins next year, which would mark a significant improvement.

So while there’s been a lot of roster changes in Detroit over the last calendar year, most of which I would consider to be positive moves, it likely won’t be enough to raise them to contender status. But it’s not unprecedented that an entire division make the playoffs, as it happened last year with every team from the Southwest getting in. If the Pistons make some considerable strides with their young core, it’s possible that playoff basketball is back in Detroit.

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