The Pistons have a promising young nucleus—their top six players have an average age of 23.8—and with another year under Stan Van Gundy, they should be even better than last year's 44-win team. But they also face two big questions.
The first concerns point guard. Reggie Jackson could miss up to two months with tendinitis in his left knee, leaving Detroit to count on above-average backup Ish Smith, 28, to run its spread pick-and-roll. Van Gundy's smoke and mirrors can make decent players look twice as dangerous, but this will put his sorcery to the test.
The second question centers on the middle. Early last season Andre Drummond looked like a young Moses Malone, putting up 20-rebound games and throwing down thundering alley-oops. By year's end, though, he tailed off. He wasn't always engaged on defense. And Drummond was often too big a liability to even keep on the court, because his free throw percentage of 35.5% was the worst in NBA history.
When he met the media in July to announce his five-year, $130 million extension, the 23-year-old said he'd "found something that works." The Pistons hope so: Drummond is their best player, but he'll have to be more dependable for them to be able to hang with the East's elite.
PROJECTED LINEUP | 2015--16 stats
COACH STAN VAN GUNDY (3rd season with Pistons)
2015--16 RECORD 44--38 (3rd in Central)
PG REGGIE JACKSON
18.8 PPG; 6.2 APG; 43.4 FG%; 35.3 3FG%
SG KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE
14.5 PPG; 3.7 RPG; 42.0 FG%; 30.9 3FG%
SF MARCUS MORRIS
14.1 PPG; 5.1 RPG; 43.4 FG%; 36.2 3FG%
PF TOBIAS HARRIS
14.7 PPG; 6.7 RPG; 46.9 FG%; 33.5 3FG%
C ANDRE DRUMMOND
16.2 PPG; 14.8 RPG; 1.4 BPG; 52.1 FG%
SF STANLEY JOHNSON
8.1 PPG; 4.2 RPG; 37.5 FG%; 30.7 3FG%
PG ISH SMITH*
12.6 PPG; 6.5 APG; 4.0 RPG; 41.1 FG%
PF JON LEUER*
8.5 PPG; 5.6 RPG; 1.1 APG; 48.1 FG%
TELLING NUMBER 35.5%
A rival scout sizes up Detroit
They will be better for a few reasons. They've got better depth. They have Tobias Harris for the full season. They improved at stretch four with Jon Leuer and at backup point guard with Ish Smith. All their players are young enough that they should all get slightly better—and in the case of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson, more than slightly better.... They have a bunch of decent shooters, but they need some of them to be closer to 40% than 35% from three. Especially KCP, but also Johnson, Harris and Marcus Morris. They really need that to give them spacing for the Andre Drummond pick-and-rolls.... That said, they're pretty versatile defensively with that group. KCP is terrific. If this is the year he starts making more shots, that would help them a ton.... Drummond has sort of flatlined. There's a real risk that he's going to get his head messed up with the free throw stuff, like [Andris] Biedrins. He's starting to hot-potato the ball a bit when he gets it.... Defensively I think Drummond's a little overrated. He'll have blocks, but he's mostly average, and he struggles in some pick-and-roll situations. It'll be interesting to see whether Stan Van Gundy can make him better, because he helped Dwight [Howard] a lot on that end in Orlando. Drummond doesn't have Dwight's talent, but he's only 23.... I'd be interested to see them experiment with some more creative lineups. Like if they played Johnson, Harris and Morris at the three/four/five and those three just switched everything. That would be hard for teams to guard when Drummond's out of the game.
They have the pieces to get out of the first round for the first time since 2008.