By Connor Hitchcock
Year one of the Stan Van Gundy era in Detroit produced mixed results. Despite missing out on the playoffs, the Pistons showed marked improvement, including a 7-game win streak following the sudden release of Josh Smith.
Looking to build upon the improvements made in the 2014-2015 season, Van Gundy quickly went to work over the offseason and added a variety of pieces. All of the new additions (and re-signings) are detailed below:
Drafted SF Stanley Johnson (Arizona) with the 7th Pick and SG/SF Darunn Hilliard (Villanova) with the 38th Pick
Rookies are always tricky to analyze until they play in the NBA, but at first glance both players look like good pickups for Detroit. Both were good shooters in college (37% and 39% from 3 for Johnson and Hilliard, respectively) and able to force turnovers, fitting the coveted “3 and D” roles in today’s NBA. Additionally, Johnson is only 19 and harped on for his outstanding athletic abilities, pointing to potential to be a great threat on both ends of the court. We’ll just have to wait and see if their skillsets transfer to the Association.
Traded for PF Ersan Ilyasova (2 years, $16 M remaining in deal)
Ilyasova provides the prototypical “stretch four” skillset Detroit lacked last season. His shooting (38% from 3) will force big men to chase him to the arc and give Andre Drummond more space down low to work. Ilyasova will also allow Detroit to run more, as opposed to working with Monroe who requires a slower-paced offense. For all of his offensive contributions, Ilyasova isn’t the greatest defender, in 2014-2015 opponents shot 1.6% overall better than average against him, and 9% better than average from deep.
Traded for SF Marcus Morris (4 years, $20 M remaining)
A part of the salary dump from Phoenix, Morris was a nice pickup for Detroit. He’s a good shooter (36% from 3) that finishes well around the basket (57% within 3 feet). He additionally is a good enough defender, holding opponents to a FG percentage 0.5% below his opponents’ average.
Traded for SF Danny Granger (1 year, $2.2 M remaining)
He won’t play too much, a good cliche “locker room” guy for Detroit. A great defender and 3-point shooter when healthy, though with the news that he won’t be ready for training camp and perhaps the regular season due to further knee rehab, Granger could become a roster casualty with Detroit already having 16 guaranteed contracts (max. is 15).
Signed C Aron Baynes (3 years, $19 M)
This move left many wondering how exactly someone averaging 6.6 points and 4.5 boards could make over $6 million/year, but in light of the upcoming cap spike it doesn’t look as bad. Baynes doesn’t add anything too exciting. He’s pretty good near the rim, finishing around 60%. 46.1% of his rebounds were contested, so he’ll be able to fill in nicely for Drummond and pick up slack in fighting for rebounds. His value also lies in his 85% FT, which allows him to be called on if teams revert to “Hack-a-Drummond.” All in all, nothing flashy and just another body to finish around the glass, hit free throws and do dirty work for the Pistons.
Traded for Steve Blake (1 year, $2.2 M remaining)
There’s only one reason a team acquires Steve Blake, and that’s for the 3-ball. 67% of his shots in the 2014-2015 season were from deep, shooting (a lower than normal) 35% on 3. Additionally, 50% of those three pointers were catch and shoot, fitting in nicely with the penetrating style of Jennings and Jackson should he ever get playing time beside them.
Traded for Reggie Bullock (1 guaranteed year, $1M remaining)
Also part of the salary dump from Phoenix, Bullock played limited minutes last season between his time with the Suns and Clippers. He can shoot the three and adds another wing presence, but we honestly need more of a sample size to properly evaluate his value. He’s 24 and on a very team-friendly contract, so he is a low-risk addition.
Re-signed Reggie Jackson (5 years, $80 M)
Van Gundy made lots of noise with this signing, easily the biggest of the Pistons’ offseason. With Jackson on the court last season, the Pistons outscored opponents by five points per 100 possessions. Jackson can get to the hole with ease, and last year shot 59% within 3 feet of the bucket. This penetration draws help and provides more open shots for the slew of Pistons recently-acquired shooters.
What’s confusing is that the numbers clearly point to the Pistons being better with Brandon Jennings running the floor. Following the release of Josh Smith, with Jennings running the point the Pistons posted a Net differential of +9.1. Additionally, the Pistons shot 3.5% less midrange shots with Jennings as opposed to Jackson and 3.5% more three-pointers — a more efficient style of basketball. On an individual level, Jennings himself is a much better 3-point shooter (36%) and efficient ball handler (3.66 Assist/Turnover ratio) than Jackson (29.9% from 3, 2.61 AST/TO). Granted, Jennings is coming off an Achilles injury, but the decision to so readily commit long-term to Jackson is puzzling in face of all of Jennings’ contributions. Watching both ball-dominant guards on the floor together will be interesting for sure.
Conclusion: This offseason began a step in the right direction and should put the Pistons in contention for the 7th or 8th seed in the East. Most of Van Gundy’s pickups aren’t too flashy and certainly aren’t long-term solutions; however they’ll help the Pistons begin the style of play that Van Gundy wants to achieve. Surrounding Jackson and Jennings with a handful of spot-up shooters will spread the floor, giving those two penetrating guards, as well as Drummond, more space to get easier shots around the basket. This will, in theory, lead to less mid-range shots and more layups and 3’s, the most efficient way to play offense.
There still are questions regarding the defense, which wasn’t very good last year (DRTG of 104.2, 21st in the league) and based solely on acquisitions, doesn’t look like it will improve too much. Morris, Baynes and Johnson should add toughness and length, but won’t make enormous waves. However, Van Gundy has a history of implementing great defenses (His Magic were the most efficient in 2008-2009) and could very well work his magic (no pun intended) again with this team.
All Stats courtesy of NBA.com and NBAwowy.com