Pistons Lead

5 Thoughts Heading Into Next Season

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After a brief playoff return, another Detroit Pistons season has come to an end.  The series was less than ideal for Detroit, but there was still a lot to take away from this season.  Looking back at the year that was can provide insight for what to expect this offseason and in the season to come.

1. Blake’s Resurgence

The only place to start is looking back at Blake Griffin.  Griffin had arguably the best season of his career and keyed the playoff return.  He averaged a career high in points per game (24.5) and made his return to the all-star game for the first time in four years.  He is also likely to make the All-NBA team for the first time in five years.  Griffin was everything Detroit could have hoped for when trading for him last year– and he’s expanded his game beyond that. He spent significant time as the team’s primary ball handler and improved his 3-point percentage to 36% on seven attempts per game.  His end to the season was bittersweet as he was hampered by a knee injury that cost him the first two playoff games against Milwaukee.

Griffin underwent knee surgery shortly after the season ended but is not expected to miss any offseason activities or the start of next season.  Health is the biggest question for the face of the franchise with three years left on his max contract.  If Blake can stay healthy, the Pistons should be a playoff team throughout his contract.  Asking him to carry the same load going forward will be less than ideal as he gets older, but he has shown the ability and willingness to change his game.

He is no longer the dunker and human highlight reel of his youth, but he has become something more.  Leadership and shooting have replaced jumping over a Kia.  He has embraced a city he was traded to and they have welcomed him with open arms.  While there is plenty to complain about with the status of this team, Blake Griffin should be above reproach.

2. Action Jackson

Detroit has two other starters who are quite polarizing to the fan base.  Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond were far from perfect this year, but it can be argued that both had positive seasons.  First, Jackson’s biggest issue in recent years has been staying on the court.  While he has not always lived up to the contract he is earning, more consistency should come with health.

This year, health was on Jackson’s side.  He played in all 82 regular season games as well as the four games against Milwaukee in the postseason.  There were times this year where Dwane Casey seemed to prefer Ish Smith over Jackson.  Smith will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and is unlikely to return depending on the market for his talents, so this may be moot.  Jackson will be the undisputed starter going into the final season of his contract, unless a major shakeup occurs.

3. Andre Rising

If there is any player who causes more debate among Detroit fans than Jackson, it’s Andre Drummond.  Following the All-Star break where Drummond was not selected, he put the team on his back alongside Griffin, dragging this roster to the playoffs.  Some more negative Pistons fans try to question Drummond’s effort as his body language is not always perfect.  However, he led the league in rebounds again this year with 15.6 per game.  He also finished in the top five in total steals, showing that he has made progress as a team defender.

There are still lapses and too many three-point shot attempts, but overall Drummond is getting better.  Being the second option on offense is likely asking too much of him at this point in his career, but his pick-and-roll game with Griffin, Smith and Jackson show that he can bring it on that end of the floor.  Averaging five offensive rebounds a game is a hustle play that keeps possessions alive for a team that needs it.  Additionally, putting up double digit games with 20 points and 20 rebounds should not go ignored.  While his attitude and immaturity tend to rub certain fans the wrong way, Drummond is an elite rebounder and growing within this team.  Any success the team has can be accredited to him.

4. Bright Future for Young Core

Most fan bases would be ecstatic to sign the reigning Coach of the Year and Coach Casey did much to endear himself to the Detroit faithful.  He was insightful and friendly in media reactions.  Coach Casey showed a willingness to give young players a chance and broke the playoff drought.  Luke Kennard took steps forward in his second season and showed that when he is aggressive and confident can be an offensive punch.

Bruce Brown, an unheralded second round rookie, started 56 games for the team.  Brown’s offense is still a question mark but he is a dogged defender.  Following the Stanley Johnson trade, Brown was the premier perimeter defender on the team.  If he can find a consistent shot, he will have a strong future in the league.  Sticking with the Johnson trade, Thon Maker quickly became a fan favorite for his wild style of play and his meme-ability.  He is far from a finished project, but he will be fun to watch going forward as he develops.

5. Big Man in Charge Provides Playoff Return

Finally, Ed Stefanski deserves credit for doing as much as he did with as little wiggle room.  Taking over a team in the luxury tax with a head coaching vacancy and only one playoff appearance in 10 years is a daunting task.  Without his first round pick in his first draft, he added two rookies in the aforementioned Brown and Khyri Thomas.  He turned the expiring contracts of Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson into future potential.  They were unlikely to retain them this summer, so adding Maker, rookie Svi Mykhailiuk and a second round pick was quite wise heading into free agency.

For the first time in years, the front office is something we can have a little trust in.

What’s Next

The front office will have slightly more to work with this offseason but will also have many questions to answer.  The team will still not have much cap space with large contracts committed to Jackson, Drummond and Griffin. Jackson, Langston Galloway and Jon Leuer will be on expiring deals.  To add to the sadness, the team will still be paying Josh Smith for one more season. This means Stefanski will have to decide on the futures of Ish Smith, Zaza Pachulia, Wayne Ellington and Jose Calderon (all free agents) and Glenn Robinson III (team option).

While some fans think many or all of these players are very expendable, Detroit will have to fill those roster spots somehow with little money to spend. If they let everyone but Robinson leave, they will still be over the cap by nearly $9 million with holes at backup point guard, center and starting small forward.

Using the number 15 pick in the draft and the mid-level exception will fill some of these holes. Stefanski will still have to get creative to build around his two expensive big men.  Using the expiring contracts of Galloway, Jackson and Leuer could make some headway in trades., but this would leave a hole at starting point guard that would need to be addressed, making a playoff return unlikely.

Detroit fans can hope for upgrades this offseason, but will need to be patient.  Shooting and floor spacing is essential, but those are tall tasks for any GM to pull off.  If this year proved anything, it’s that Griffin will make his teammates better and the Pistons are back to work.

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