By Ryan Collins
The Detroit Pistons are in the midst of an up and down season, currently ranked ninth in the Eastern Conference and 1.5 games back of the eighth spot. The Pistons are 25th in attendance in the NBA, which is unacceptable for a team moving into a new arena. Coach Stan Van Gundy and owner Tom Gores are both desperate, which led the Pistons to take a chance on Blake Griffin regardless of his injury history and big contract.
The Pistons made a splashy move last week trading for Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson, and Willie Reed. The Pistons, after starting the season 13-6, have completely plateaued, falling out of the playoff picture. After losing eight straight games, it looked as though the Pistons were planning to tank for a high pick in this talent-rich draft, but Van Gundy decided to take a chance. The Detroit Pistons were mediocre and being mediocre in the NBA is like being in purgatory. The Pistons are now more talented but their rotation has been gutted. With Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris going in the trade it will give an unproven guy like Reggie Bullock opportunity to become a starter in the NBA. The Pistons and Clippers both got a decent haul but no one wins a trade after a week, It’s going to take time to understand who got the better half of the deal.
The Pistons will be more exciting than they’ve been since the 2008 Chauncey and Rasheed team. Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin will present matchup nightmares for the Eastern Conference, but it’s time to look back before we look forward. Here are the mid-season grades for the Detroit Pistons.
Going into the offseason, Andre Drummond was called out by head coach Stan Van Gundy to improve his free throw percentage. In the first half of the season, he has fulfilled his coach’s wishes, improving his free throw percentage from 38.6 percent to 62.9 percent. The drastic improvement has allowed Stan to keep Drummond in tight games, which is a huge improvement from having to play an inferior player like Eric Moreland in late-game situations. Andre leads the league in rebounding, averaging 15 a game, but his willingness to share the ball is he will be in his second All-Star game, averaging 3.9 assists a game compared to only 1.1 per game game last season. Drummond has finally realized that he’s not a back-to-the-basket player, so he has not been forcing shots down low like previous seasons. Andre’s struggles defensively against elite big men still hold him back, for his talents he should be a better rim protected.
Mid-Season Grade: A-
Coming off a very disappointing year last season, Reggie Jackson has looked like his old self. Jackson has had his critics in Detroit due to his big $80 million contract, but I have liked what he’s done this season. He’s taking less shots, averaging 12 a game. That has led the Pistons to stray away from the hero ball, which Reggie has been accustomed to doing. The 5.5 assist a game don’t represent his willingness to play within the offense. Reggie has been good in late-game situations while in Detroit, and his absence the last 13 games has proven his importance at the end of games. The Pistons struggle to run their half-court offense with Ish Smith, as Smith cost the Pistons Jazz games on January 24 . The Pistons are 3-10 since Jackson went out with a third-degree ankle sprain on December 26. Reggie Jackson might not be a player you can win a title with, but the Pistons won’t make the playoffs if he isn’t in the lineup.
Mid-Season Grade: B
After a promising start to his Piston career,Johnson has regressed. In all three of his seasons with the Pistons, he has been a solid defender, and that has not changed. The thing that is worrisome is his inability to make open shots. His three-point percentage is a career worst, shooting 28.7 percent from beyond the arc. There should be no panic, as he’s only 21 years old, but there is some buyer’s remorse Detroit, as players like Devin Booker who were taken after Johnson in his draft class have produced big numbers for other teams. After coming back from his hip injury, he put up a 19-point game against the Nets and the first game since the Trade put up his best game of the season putting up 26 against the defending Eastern Conference Game. That game showed some adjustments to his jumper which looked much better than what he was doing before the hip injury. It’s crucial that he improves, especially now that the Pistons have dealt away their best two perimeter players.
Mid-Season Grade: C
Stan Van Gundy hasn’t had an consistent knock-down shooter in Detroit, as he did in with J.J. Redick in Orlando. The front office looked to change that by drafting Luke Kennard in this year’s draft. The rookie has shot the ball well, shooting 43 percent from the three-point line, but he has not been as assertive as he needs to be, only shooting about two three’s a game. Kennard has been better than expected on the defensive end but still struggles , which was his major concern coming out of Duke. He is getting 18.1 minutes per game, which is good considering SVG doesn’t like to play rookies, as seen with Henry Ellenson last season. Luke has showed he’s capable of contributing positively to the Pistons. Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that this grade would likely be better if Donovan Mitchell wasn’t having a Rookie of the Year-caliber season after being passed over by Detroit. The trade opens up a huge opportunity for Kennard gto major minutes which is exciting.
Mid-Season Grade: B
Tolliver was a part of the Pistons’ bench two seasons ago when they made it to the playoffs. When he was brought back this off,season, No one expected him to be the Pistons’ best player off the bench. He’s made about 40 percent of his three’s and has been the Pistons’ best interior defender. Every time he enters the game, Tolliver brings energy and makes a positive impact on the team. His versatility on defense has helped the Pistons because he can guard the three, four and five, which is huge to have a guy like that on the bench. It’s important his production keeps up with less depth.
Mid-Season Grade: A+
Smith has been really good off the bench for the Pistons. He is great at running the second group and energizing the starters. But the last 13 games have shown his major struggles while in the half-court, basically losing them the Jazz game by taking two ill-advised shots at the end of regulation. Thrusted into a bigger role, Ish has looked uncomfortable. He has been pretty efficient, shooting 45 percent from the floor while only shooting 20 percent from beyond the long line. Smith needs to improve in significant minutes which he will have with the departure of Avery Bradley, Stan will play Ish and Reggie Jackson together once he gets back.
Mid-Season Grade: C+
Another pleasant surprise this season has been Reggie Bullock. Only playing in 31 games, he has been a plus in the minutes he’s played this season. He plays hard on defense and moves really well without the ball on offense, scoring a lot of easy baskets on back cuts. His emergence gives the Pistons a “3 and D” guy off the bench which was a reason for the Pistons felt comfortable letting go of Avery Bradley.
Mid-Season Grade: B+
Langston Galloway was brought in to be a guy who could come off the bench and score, but that hasn’t been the case. The Pistons are paying Galloway $7 million a year to shoot 38 percent from the field. His struggles have made it hard for him to see the floor. This is another a bad contract which will restrict the Pistons from improving pieces around Blake and Andre.
Mid-Season Grade: D+
Playing good hard defense will give you opportunities in the NBA, and that is what Eric Moreland has done. Moreland plays with a chip on his shoulder and isn’t afraid of top players. He’s a good rebounder on both ends but is very limited on the offensive end. Moreland’s minutes
Mid-Season Grade: B-
This season looked like it was going to be Ellenson’s first chance to get playing time in the NBA, but that hasn’t been the case. He has only appeared in 18 games, buried on the bench after a promising pre-season. In the little playing time Ellenson has had, it seems he’s struggled guarding. This looks to be another draft day miss by the Piston front office but he’ll get more opportunity with the trade.
Mid-Season Grade: D
Many players are given opportunity due to injuries, and Dwight Buycks is one of those players. He was picked up when Reggie Jackson went down. Buycks has played in 12 games, playing about 15 minutes each game and averaging 7.6 points in those games. Buycks has proven he can succeed in a pick-and-roll system but has struggled with taking highly contested shots. With the expectation of Reggie playing more shooting guard, Buycks will remain getting his minutes since Reggie’s injury.
Mid-Season Grade: B
Leuer only played nine games before he went down with a season-ending ankle injury. But regardless of the injury, in those eight games, it looked like Anthony Tolliver was going to take his minutes after starting the majority of last year.
Mid-Season Grade: Incomplete
Students who Transferred:
Tobias Harris might have been the best acquisition the Pistons made since Rasheed Wallace. For a bag of peanuts, the Pistons had themselves an efficient scorer whose game works perfectly in SVG’s system. But that’s no longer relevant, as he’s been traded to the LA Clippers. Tobias is having the best year of his young career, averaging 18 points a game while staying incredibly efficient, shooting 45.5 percent from the field. His progression this season is due to shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc for the first time in his career. This improvement comes even as he’s on pace to have over 500 three-point attempts., The most Harris has ever attempted before this season is 314. His ability to stretch the floor has not allowed opponents to help off him while Detroit ran the pick and roll, which allowed Drummond to become more impactful on the glass. With Tobias’s departure, it’s going to interesting if anyone can pick up his production from a wing position.
Mid-Season Grade: A
The Pistons decided to let Kentavious Caldwell-Pope walk in the off-season, which led to the acquisition of Avery Bradley. Bradley was a massive improvement at shooting guard. Bradley was the Pistons’ best perimeter defender since Tayshaun Prince, fitting since he wears Prince’s old number. Bradley’s offensive splits were very similar to his numbers while in Boston, averaging 15 points a game while shooting 41.1 percent from the field. Like a lot of Pistons, Bradley slowed down before the blockbuster trade.
Mid-Season Grade: A
There might not be a more beloved waste of money than Boban Marjanovic. The team loves Boban and the fans do too, but the best thing he’s done this year was learning how to millie wop. Boban can help on the offensive side of the court, but he simply kills them when he’s on defense. Marjanovic is not quick enough to guard any big in the league, which leads to lots of open looks for opponent three-point shooters. He has only played in 18 games this season and the Pistons were paying him 7 million a year. His contract was able to make the money work for the Pistons.
Mid-Season Grade: C-
Stay tuned to Impact Sports for postseason rankings and further hot Pistons takes.