2018-19 Preview: Detroit Pistons

After four seasons with Stan Van Gundy at the helm (152-176), the Dwane Casey (215-103 over the same stretch with Toronto) era has officially begun in Motown. Having qualified for the postseason just once over that same stretch (2015-16), the Detroit Pistons are hoping the change in direction and philosophy at the head coaching position can lead to positive things moving forward.

The Pistons went just 16-17 down the stretch after acquiring Blake Griffin during last season’s trade deadline, but there seems to be optimism surrounding the team of an overall change in culture potentially being the answer for this group. For Casey’s sake, they may very well need that to be the case as the organization does not have a great deal of salary cap or roster flexibility at this stage.

Figuring out how to maximize the potential of a relatively unorthodox dual big man attack in today’s guard-happy NBA will likely be the same challenge to Casey as it was for his predecessor, but having a fully healthy Griffin and point guard Reggie Jackson may ultimately tell the final tale on how well this season goes for Detroit.

2018-19 Pistons Guards Wings Bigs
Returners Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock, Langston Galloway, Reggie Hearn Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Henry Ellenson, Jon Leuer
Newcomers Jose Calderon, Zach Lofton, Keenan Evans, Bruce Brown, Glenn Robinson III, Khyri Thomas Zaza Pachulia, Johnny Hamilton
Gone Jameer Nelson James Ennis  Anthony Tolliver
Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: While the aforementioned Jackson may be the catalyst of the attack, the offense is still likely to be heavily centered around Griffin in a primary scoring role. Although injuries have slowed some of his more acrobatic displays in recent years, Griffin still possesses a well-rounded assortment of jump-hooks and face-up counters. He also shot 34.8 percent from deep on 5.4 attempts per contest last season. We’d also be remiss to not mention Griffin’s excellent playmaking capabilities as the 6-10 power forward actually led the team with 6.2 APG once he joined.

This offense could certainly use a boost in the form of internal growth from guys like Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock, Langston Galloway or the like. Johnson, in particular, is just 22 years old, and heading into his fourth season in the League. He’s shown a few sparks here and there but has yet to establish himself as the two-way player some felt he could develop into when drafted with the eighth pick in 2015.

Newcomer Glenn Robinson III is looking to break into the rotation after playing sparingly last year for the Pacers. The one-time Slam Dunk champ is a career 38.1 percent three-point shooter (41.2 percent in 2017-18) that could conceivably space the floor if he can play the type of defense Casey will expect.

There even are rumors Casey intends to have the historically paint-exclusive Drummond stretch the floor when the opportunity presents itself, but as he is currently 0-6 from the mark in the preseason. You might want to curb your enthusiasm in terms of immediate expectations.

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Defense: The Pistons were 11th overall in terms of team defensive efficiency (1.042)—Casey’s Raptors were No. 7 last year—and 11th in opponent’s three-point percentage (35.9), but somewhat surprisingly just a middle of the pack rebounding team (14th) last season. Drummond has been one of the game’s more dominant rebounders throughout his time at this level, but the Pistons could absolutely benefit from a resurgent year from Griffin (circa 2016) on the glass on both ends of the court.

It will be very interesting to see how Casey manages his lineups against teams that elect to force a lot of big man switches along the perimeter or against opponents that have a plethora of interchangeable scoring threats like the ones they will face when square off with the Celtics and Rockets or visit the champs in the Bay. The newly-reconstructed front office may not have been all that active this summer, but the roster does present the new coaching staff with options in the event one of the bigs has to come off the floor.

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Upside: Aside from the fact the primary core appears to be heading into the season relatively healthy, the Pistons have to be hoping to see last season’s first-round pick (12th overall) Luke Kennard can take a step forward and earn a larger role. Kennard had some moments as a rookie but was expectedly inconsistent over the course of his 73 games played. The 6-5 guard scored in double figures in 11 of his last 17 games including his career high (23) in a win in the team’s closer over the Bulls. A trend, these Pistons, would love to see become the norm.

Durability: Overall team health is always going to play a key role in how a team may fare, but Jackson’s ability to play more than the 48.5 games he’s averaged over the last two seasons in Detroit could mean the difference between being a playoff contender and potentially being a late-lottery lock. Wouldn’t be such a bad thing for Griffin to also find a way to stay out of the trainer’s room. He played just 58 games in total for the Los Angeles Clippers and Pistons last year, and just 61 and 35 in the two years prior. Drummond, for his part, has been a bit of an NBA iron man having missed just six games over the past five seasons.

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Synergy: It may not have been a realistic feat to have Griffin walk through the door at the midway point last season and simply solve all of Detroit’s problems. But after the final stretch, a healthy summer and the addition of Casey, as well as the process of training camp and the preseason, they may just be building something in the Motor City. As one of the few head coaches with the distinction of changing jobs in the very summer they are awarded the previous season’s Coach of the Year honor, Casey now finds himself with a somewhat readymade roster that could play itself back into the mix amongst the ever-shifting Eastern Conference powers.

Experience: The Pistons have a nice blend of guys in their relative primes in Drummond, Griffin and Jackson; youth and a mix of veterans like Zaza Pachulia (free agent addition) and Jose Calderon for the added practice and locker room presence. They also have relative depth, especially in the backcourt. Ish Smith was more than serviceable (10.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, 34.7 percent from deep in 24.9 MPG) in both a backup and fill-in starting role last season.

Win Frame: 38 to 42 wins