The 2016-17 season was an incredible disappointment for the Detroit Pistons, especially the way the season finished, losing 12 of the final 16 contests.
Last season, the Pistons made the playoffs and played the Cleveland Cavaliers very close despite being swept. Most thought the Pistons were on the way up but this proved not to be the case.
The Pistons were dealt a very tough blow before the season even started when it was revealed starting point guard Reggie Jackson would miss significant time with knee tendonitis. Even after Jackson returned from missing 21 games, he was never the same and just didn’t have the jump to his step that Pistons fans are used to seeing. Without Jackson, the Pistons simply could not piece together any streak of consistent basketball.
The injury to Jackson was just one of the Pistons many struggles. The roster seemed to have misfitting pieces and the guys really did not seem to enjoy playing together.
At the forefront for the Pistons struggles was the regression of their best players. As mentioned above, the injury to Jackson was a major factor in his regression. But one player who couldn’t blame injuries was center Andre Drummond. Fresh off a brand new contract that made him one of the league’s top paid players, Drummond had a very poor season for his standards. The Pistons were counting on Drummond to become a star player for them and he certainly was not that. On the defensive end, he struggled mightily to protect the rim like the Pistons expected him too and he also could not switch out onto the perimeter to contest shots. On the offensive end, Drummond has not added any moves to his arsenal. He relies on getting the ball deep in the post and either dunking it or throwing up a floater. In addition, teams will just foul him from time to time and force him to make free throws which he does not do well, only making 38 percent on the season. There is no real explanation for Drummond’s drop off but on many night it seemed as if the energy level simply was not there
Saying that Drummond and Jackson were the Pistons only problems would not be remotely fair. The Pistons had an odd build to their roster in 2017. Their team is built around many players who cannot shoot three pointers which gives them poor spacing. They rely heavily on mid-range jumpers which is not at all where the league is going. The Pistons basically have one reliable three point shooter in their starting five and that is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. While both Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris have shown the ability to knock down three pointers, they are both much more comfortable shooting the mid-range jumper. This may not have been an issue years ago, but in today’s NBA, team’s must be able to shoot three’s and spread the floor. It used to be no one expected their power forward to knock down three pointers, but now it feels like a power forward who can’t hit three’s won’t be able to see the floor.
The Pistons also struggled to move the ball, ranking 23rd in the NBA in assist per game. It becomes very evident when you watch the Pistons that they do not have a true distributor. The only one who could even kind of claim this role is reserve point guard Ish Smith, who seemed to give the Pistons a jump when he saw the floor. Smith was tied for the team leader in assist with 5.2 dimes per contest, this while coming off the bench. The Pistons really need to add some passing to their roster this offseason. The fact their leading assist man has just 5.2 assists per game really says a lot about the team’s lack of ball movement.
Similar to the Pistons lack of ball movement showing up in their assists, you can look at the Pistons leading scorers to find they really don’t have a star player. Their leading scorer was Harris with 16.1 points per game. If a team does not have that star player, a guy who is going to go out and score 25 plus points per game, then they better be unbelievably good at moving the ball. Even the Golden State Warriors, widely recognized for their unselfishness and passing, have three players who score over 20 points per game. So in other words, the Pistons have neither the high scorers or the passing, while the Warriors have managed to find a way to do both.
Pistons coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy tried fiddling with the roster throughout the entire season but many of these moves were unsuccessful. Van Gundy tried bringing Leur into the starting lineup and placing Harris in a bench role. Although Harris did provide a jump to the bench scoring, the changes were not enough to make a real difference for the Pistons.
To be frank, the Pistons may have to get lucky in order to truly turn things around. Everyone knows about the draft lottery, which is 100 percent based on luck. The Pistons have the 12th best odds of landing the first pick in the draft, which in other words means they have virtually no chance. However, they could slide up in the draft just enough to land a key player. A guy like Dennis Smith Jr., the point guard from North Carolina State could potentially fall to the Pistons. A pick like that could be massive if he panned. Or, the Pistons could hope to get lucky like the Suns did when Devin Booker somehow fell to the Suns when they were picking 13th in 2015. Booker scored 71 points in a game this season and appears to be a franchise caliber player for the Suns. If the Pistons do end up with a pick in the 12 range, there is always the possibility the player they select could turn into a guy like Booker, but anyone would admit that would take a significant amount of luck.
Regardless, the Pistons certainly have their work cut out this summer as they have still not resigned KCP and have Drummond and Jackson on the books for the long term. Pistons fans will be hoping Van Gundy decides to shake some things up this offseason and they can get lucky in the draft lottery. If not, the 2017-18 season will likely bring many of the same issues for Detroit.