Last Season: 44-38, 8th Seed in the East
Off-Season Gains: PG Ish Smith (free agent), PF Henry Ellenson (draft), C Boban Marjanovic (free agent), PF Jon Leuer (free agent), PG Ray McCallum (free agent)
Off-Season Losses: PF Anthony Tolliver (free agent/Sacramento), PG Spencer Dinwiddie (trade/Chicago)
Off-Season Stock: Sure, if steady growth is your thing, but you're not going to get rich here.
League Pass Team?: Never solely for them, but if the opponent was interesting I wouldn't actively dismiss their game because they were playing the Pistons.
You kind of see what Stan Van Gundy is trying to build with the Pistons, if you squint a little. It's not a perfect imitation of the Magic in their heyday. There are no point-forwards here who can create for others on the pick-and-roll the way Hedo Turkoglu could nor do they have any three-point marksmen the caliber of Rashard Lewis. But their forwards are mobile and multi-talented, their wings are young, developing two-way guys and they've got one of the better point guard situations in the conference. Where the comparison does fit is that Detroit is the rare club still building its identity around a center, something that feels like an anachronism in 2016.
Really, we link these Pistons to those Magic because, like Dwight Howard before him, I'm just not sure we can ever totally trust Andre Drummond. And I suspect Van Gundy isn't entirely convinced either, despite the fact that the Pistons just handed Drummond the full five-year max.
It was just last April after all that Van Gundy went on a postgame rant after a playoff loss to the Cavaliers, lamenting that he had no choice but to bench Drummond in favor of Aron Baynes on account of the former's woeful free-throw shooting. Van Gundy didn't exactly sound wildly optimistic about Drummond ever showing meaningful improvement at the line during his postmortem presser with reporters either.
Drummond somehow shot a career-worst 35.5 percent from the line in his fourth season and opponents subjected him to more intentional fouling than ever. He made subtle improvements in his game elsewhere, most notably cutting down on his fouling dramatically, which allowed him to stay on the floor more and produce more counting stats in terms of scoring and rebounding, but he hasn't developed into an elite rim protector and his low-post moves remain a work in progress. It wouldn't be accurate to say he's plateaued at 23, but he's definitely behind the developmental curve we typically see in star big-men and I no longer believe it's realistic to expect him to be the best player on a championship club.
The good news for Pistons fans is the cupboard isn't exactly bare around Drummond. The Tobias Harris trade was an absolute larceny for them. There was less of a glut at the forward spots with Detroit than there was in Orlando, and with Drummond able to provide some defense and rebounding --as opposed to none fro, Nikola Vucevic with the Madge-- Harris got to blossom offensively and made full use of his opportunity, averaging 16.6 points and producing an 18.2 PER since moving to Motown. He shot an impressive percentage from downtown and even showed some play-making chops, which would be huge for a team in desperate need of a secondary creator. At the other forward spot Marcus Morris was able to escape his more-talented twin brother's shadow a bit. He was able to get to the line way more as a Piston and he too flashed the ability to pass, which was interesting.
The more guys they can get to take the pressure off Reggie Jackson, the better off the Pistons will be. He's capable of going on crazy scoring jags, as Spurs fans can well attest, but he's streaky in the other direction too, and hot-headed at times, and capable of making you pull your hair out with his decision-making at either end of the floor. I can't ever hate Jackson because it delights me to no end how much Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook despise him, but for Van Gundy's sake I hope he matures a bit on the floor.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was someone who I didn't think had a chance to stick in the league when I first saw him as rookie, and he's still not much of an outside shooter, but his defense has progressed so far that he's now a major piece of their culture. KCP is kind of an old-school player in that he can shoot it fine from the mid-range and even the long two, but he just doesn't have the range beyond that. He can also get to the rim and finish around there. It's not a PER-friendly kind of game, but real-adjusted plus-minus is a fan.
What killed the Pistons last year is that they didn't have a bench beyond Baynes. Their first-round pick, Stanley Johnson, most famous for bragging about being "in LeBron James' head," during the playoffs, had a pretty disappointing rookie season. He was drafted to bring some shooting to complement KCP, and instead shot like someone on PCP. They had floor-spacing specialist Anthony Tolliver and Steve Blake, which... well it's not important, they're both gone now. In their place is lightning-quick Spurs tormentor Ish Smith --whom I'm convinced ought to wreck people as a backup point in the East-- and Henry Ellenson, who averaged about 17 and 10 at Marquette and has a chance to develop into a decent pick-and-pop guy. There's also Reggie Bullock and Jon Leuer, whom they signed from the Suns to compete for minutes.
Let's be honest here though: all we really care about here is that Detroit is now the home of not one but two former Spurs centers. Baynes, remarkably, keeps improving slowly and steadily even though he's almost 30-years-old. He was terrific for the Aussies in the Olympics too, playing power-forward next to Andrew Bogut. Who knows, maybe it was a preview of things to come and Van Gundy can pair the "Big Banger" with Boban, sweet Boban, how we barely knew thee. Pistons fans are gonna love the hulking Serbian, who was awesome to cover last year. I'm elated he earned the contract he did because it means the Pistons organization will view him seriously as a rotation player and not treat him like some novelty act. I expect Marjanovic to dominate those poor Eastern backup bigs.
The Pistons have one of the better starting lineups in the conference, an elite coach and maybe even an up-and-coming bench. Add it all up with the likelihood that teams like the Hawks and Hornets may well slip a bit -- a top-four seed for Detroit isn't out of the question. But I'll be a bit more conservative, and elevate them to the sixth spot.