30 Teams in 30 Days: Pistons add veteran depth, seek playoffs return
NBA.com Global on Sep 16, 2019 07:01 AM
FILE - DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 23: Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons celebrates with Blake Griffin #23 of the Detroit Pistons after winning the game against the Houston Rockets on November 23, 2018 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today's team: Detroit Pistons
2018-19 Record: 41-41, lost to the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs
Key additions: Derrick Rose (free agent), Markieff Morris (free agent), Tony Snell (trade), Sekou Doumbouya (draft)
Key departures: Ish Smith, Jon Leuer, Wayne Ellington
The lowdown: Blake Griffin rediscovered what it looked and felt like to live among the league’s upper-echelon players. The climb for his team, however, proved to be a bit more complicated. The Pistons did reach the playoffs by squeezing out the final spot in the East and then got swept for the trouble, which means while Detroit is finally peering out of the rubble left behind by the Stan Van Gundy era, the club seems far from challenging for anything special.
The bounce-back season for Griffin, seemingly at the peak of his powers in this first full season with Detroit, could chiefly come down to health: Griffin played 75 games and showed the kind of burst and aggression that marked his time with the Clippers. While initially stung after being sent from sunny L.A. to the chilly Midwest the previous season, Griffin made peace with the change, channelling that anger into something positive and productive. As a reward, he earned All-Star recognition by averaging 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists -- ppg and assist numbers well above his career averages. However, old knee issues flared and dogged Griffin late; he missed the last week of the regular season and sat the first two games of the first round against the No. 1-seeded Bucks, costing the Pistons any chance of pulling a surprise.
Speaking of health, the Pistons were thrilled to get a full 82 from point guard Reggie Jackson, whose injury issues plagued the two seasons prior, helping doom Van Gundy, who acquired him. Jackson looked fresh and shot a career-best 36.9 percent from deep. The other Mr. Reliable was, of course, center Andre Drummond, who averaged a league-high 15.6 rebounds with 17.3 points and active defensive. The Pistons went 7-10 down the stretch mainly because the help was inconsistent. They hoped for significant improvement from Luke Kennard but the second-year forward, while a solid shooter with range, never established himself as a major-minutes player. Overall, coach Dwane Casey’s first year was respectable and there appeared to be a basketball pulse throbbing inside Little Caesars Arena, which still had that new-car smell.
Summer summary: Without a difference-making draft pick or much money to serenade a top-flight free agent, the Pistons’ summer was all about getting their best player fit for the future. And that meant surgery for Griffin.
The arthroscopic procedure was necessary for a player who broke down in April and was clearly in need of medical help. This might be of concern for the Pistons given that it's not Griffin’s first rodeo with his knees. At some point, the tread wear will prove costly for a player on a max contract, yet Griffin had a full summer to rest and recover and both player and team are optimistic that he’ll return to the level he reached last season. Whether he plays 75-plus games is another story.
Derrick Rose, the veteran guard who signed a two-year deal for $15 million, certainly could relate. And in that sense, Griffin can brainstorm with former Kia MVP Rose, who went through far worse, yet appears to have finally found a comfortable middle ground between his knee injuries and his previous peak.
Four years ago, Rose seemed hobbled and finished, but last season with the Timberwolves presented the long-awaited resurrection: Rose memorably dropped a career-high 50 in an effort that reduced him to tears. And it wasn’t just a one-game wonder. Rose was surprisingly and consistently solid and sturdy for Minnesota. He averaged 18 points with a renewed ability to create efficient shots, firing at a 48.2 percent clip.
If there’s more of this in the tank for a player who’s an old 30, the Rose signing should prove solid value, offering the Pistons more backcourt depth and another weapon to keep defenses from shadowing Drummond and doubling on Griffin.
Speaking of value, Detroit grabbed a Morris twin to add front-line depth and swung a trade for Snell. The Snell trade didn’t cost the Pistons much value (Leuer) and there could be upside, but only if Snell can finally meet the expectations that Milwaukee had for him when the club gave a role player a surprising ($10 million per) extension two years ago. Snell could be a floor spacer, and -- at 27 -- is in his prime. Whether he can justify sixth-man minutes will be the issue for someone whose playing time dropped to just 17 mpg in the back end of the rotation last season.
The Pistons' first rounder, just like the team’s season, fell smack in the middle. There are hardly any guarantees with the 15th selection, where you often just hope someone on your draft board falls into your lap. The Pistons were high on Doumbouya, who doesn’t turn 19 until December. A springy, 6-foot-9 forward with physical gifts, Doumbouya has three years of pro ball in his rearview after his French League stint. Can he become the next Pascal Siakam?
The Pistons didn’t do anything seismic this summer that will drastically change the team’s fortunes overnight. They are perhaps stuck in the dreaded middle, and if it’s any consolation, at least they’re not drifting in reverse.
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