The Pistons have the league’s reigning Coach of the Year—sitting winless on Detroit’s sideline. They have one of the league’s most recognizable stars, whose personal star has been dimmed of late. They have arguably the NBA’s most ferocious rebounder, but are enabling him to drift away from the rim to extend his range and even launch occasional 3-pointers. The fellows in question are (in order) coach Dwane Casey, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, all of whom will play pivotal roles for a squad that’s trying to reach the playoffs for only the second time in a decade.
Before Pistons owner Tom Gores could hire Casey once he was fired by the Toronto Raptors, Gores had to end the Stan Van Gundy era. Van Gundy steered Detroit into the postseason just once, evidence that his dual responsibility as coach and president of basketball operations wasn’t working ... Now the team has Malik Rose and Sachin Gupta in the front office, and Casey—who had the Raptors in the playoffs for five consecutive years—focused entirely on coaching ... Roster additions have come mostly around the edges, with the likes of veterans Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon, University of Miami guard Bruce Brown with the No 42 pick in the Draft and Creighton guard Khyri Thomas in a deal that night with Philadelphia. But the Pistons’ greatest excitement is being generated by having their own guys—Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson—healthy to start the season.
1. They need Mr October-through-April. Point guard Reggie Jackson is invaluable as a scorer, ball handler and organizer of Detroit’s offense, but he mostly was unavailable last season. A severe ankle injury cost him 37 games, gouging a 12-25 hole in the Pistons’ schedule (they were 27-18 when he was on the floor).
2. Andre Drummond, floor spacer? Drummond is the NBA definition of ‘load’, several handfuls of big man who gets where and what he wants under the rim. He became only the fourth player to amass at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 100 blocks and 100 steals (at least since 1973 when the last two of those stats began to be tracked). Yet Casey, in the hope of opening up and quickening Detroit’s offense, is asking the big guy to hoist 3-pointers when the opportunity presents itself. Tread lightly, though, because Detroit averaged nearly three fewer offensive rebounds than it did just two seasons ago.
3. Paging Stanley Johnson. It’s time. Johnson came into the league three years ago to solid reviews and strong moments in Summer League. But even he is tired of hearing about his potential, and after a season limited by some injuries, he’s hoping to establish himself as a consistent 3-and-D contributor. His perimeter shooting to this point makes that a lofty goal.
MAN ON THE SPOT
The cute commercials are behind Griffin now. Dunking over a car hood wound up being easier for the former Clippers star than staying healthy or translating his skills into deep playoff success. A former Kia MVP candidate traded to Detroit in January, Griffin hasn’t even played in an All-Star Game since 2015, but he had his healthiest and best offseason in years. Now he’s counting on training camp to develop rhythm with newish teammates, especially Drummond up front.
Reggie Jackson | 14.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 5.3 apg
Hoping to end backslide in 3-point percentage and boost trips to line.
Reggie Bullock | 11.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.5 apg
Opportunity matters: nearly doubled his stats from 2016-17.
Andre Drummond | 15.0 ppg, 16.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
His 60.5 percent from the line was a career high.
Blake Griffin | 21.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 5.8 apg
Stated goal: A top-four seed in the East.
Stanley Johnson | 8.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.6 apg
Priority this summer was improving on his 28.6 3-point percentage.
Ish Smith | 10.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.4 apg
Casey is eager to unleash Smith’s speed in quicker pace.
Luke Kennard | 7.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.7 apg
Goal: Shedding the ‘drafted ahead of Donovan Mitchell’ tag.
Glenn Robinson III| 4.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.7 apg
Staying healthy would give his skills a chance to flourish.
The Pistons felt they should have reached the postseason last spring, so that’s an obvious goal. Adapting to the modern NBA, to the point of having their All-Star big men empowered as deep threats and playmakers (Griffin’s 5.8 apg was impressive), is another major ambition. And working through a calmer, lower-volume season with Casey on board in place of feisty Van Gundy is something players anticipate. Expected W-L record: 43-39, flipping last year’s mark.
By Steve Aschburner
First appeared on NBA.com Global
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