It’s been a rough go of it for the Detroit Pistons lately. Last year’s team won just 32 games, and, yet, that was the high-water mark for the team in the last six years.
They started last year with a little buzz as Stan Van Gundy was around to build the team. Finally, a man with vision took over the Pistons roster, and surely that would pay dividends.
Then the team started 3-19. And any sort of national interest the Pistons garnered was quickly gone. Nobody noticed Detroit was close to a .500 team the rest of the way (29-31). And there was minimal interest when Van Gundy finally started to shape the roster in a way that fits his style.
That was one of the most painful things about the Pistons. The team hasn’t had a clear identity the past few seasons, with parts that just didn’t fit. Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond didn’t go together. Van Gundy’s system likes spacing around the pick-and-roll, so it normally allows just one big man on the floor that can’t shoot. Detroit had three who needed playing time.
Van Gundy made the obvious and correct decision to build around budding star Drummond. With Smith waived last season, and Monroe allowed to leave this season, Van Gundy centered his offense around Drummond rolling to the rim and sucking in all the defensive attention with his athleticism.
Detroit may have overpaid for Reggie Jackson, but he’s a good pick-and-roll point guard and has thrived for Van Gundy. Ersan Ilyasova was the perfect floor-stretcher to play next to Drummond, and Stanley Johnson’s toughness fit in well. The Pistons got Marcus Morris in a salary dump, and now he’s starting.
All the pieces of a solid Stan Van Gundy team are finally in place. And the Pistons, who lacked an identity for so long, finally have one. An offense built around a solid system played the ultimate system team on opening night and throttled them. Detroit’s pick-and-roll bothered Atlanta all night, and the extra passing left the Hawks scrambling. With the defense not in good position to rebound, Detroit was able to constantly sneak in and steal their own misses. The Pistons had 14 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone!
Detroit regularly gave the ball to the open man, and each starter had at least 15 points. The team knocked down 12 of its 29 threes, and every starter other than Drummond launched at least four of those.
It’s not going to be like this for the Pistons every night. It won’t always be like clockwork, and this team still faces an uphill battle to get into the playoffs. But, after so many years of being a team whose whole was never as good as the sum of its parts, Detroit finally has an identity. The spaced pick-and-roll offense will continue to be effective, and Van Gundy has the right players in place to run it. Both the present and the future are brighter in Detroit than they have been in a long time.