It's hard to look back on 2015-16 as anything but a success and a necessary step in the Detroit Pistons' evolution. In two years, coach and president Stan Van Gundy had taken Detroit from 29 to 44 victories, advance to the East playoffs and laid the foundation for multiple appearances. The player around whom the roster is constructed, center Andre Drummond, is still just 23 years old. And the Pistons showed as much or more fight in getting swept by the eventual champs, the Cavaliers, than Cleveland's victims in the final three rounds. That's encouraging. Point guard Reggie Jackson missing 15-to-20 games to start the regular season while battling back from left knee tendinitis? Not so encouraging
The Pistons got busy in the Draft, selecting Marquette big man Henry Ellenson with the No. 18 pick and adding Syracuse guard Michael Gbinije in the second round. … Guard Jodie Meeks was shipped to Orlando for a second-round pick. … Then came Detroit's rush of surgical free-agent signings: guard Ish Smith, forward Jon Leuer and center Bobjan Marjanovic ... Jackson's sore left knee after two weeks of preseason pushed him to seek out platelet-rich plasma therapy. That thrust backup Ish Smith into the spotlight until mid-December or so.
- Even before Jackson went out, Detroit needed help at point guard because Jackson had carried too much of the scoring load last season. Well, it arrived in the form of Ish Smith, the Wake Forest guard entering his sixth season. Smith thrived after his trade from New Orleans to Philadelphia last season, averaging 14.7 points and 7.0 assists over his final 50 games. He'll need to earn teammates trust before pushing their pace.
- What would a Detroit offseason be without new ways explored to hike Andre Drummond's free-throw accuracy? This time, the big fella was trying some virtual-reality gadgetry that showed him only positive outcomes, which required some nifty video editing given his 35.5 percent success rate.
- Stanley Johnson drew rave reviews after he was drafted in 2015 (thanks to the Orlando Summer League) and at season's end (thanks to the playoffs). Johnson both talked and played tough in the first-round sweep against Cleveland, enough that he set a tone for Detroit and revived a little rust-belt rivalry between the teams.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Tobias Harris was a catalyst for Detroit down the stretch last season after arriving in a trade with Orlando. He quickly moved into the Pistons' starting lineup and got noticeable results – Detroit was 16-9 when he started and he averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds during that run. His ability to play both forward spots and an improving 3-point game are helpful to Van Gundy's gameplan.
Ish Smith | 12.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.5 apg
More than doubled his career numbers (3.6 ppg, 12.3 mpg) prior to 2015-16
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope | 14.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.8 apg
Continues to improve and Van Gundy's reliance is evident in his 36.7 mpg
Andre Drummond | 16.2 ppg, 14.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Controls the boards at both ends, while growing as a scorer and leader
Tobias Harris | 16.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.6 apg
Thrived despite being on three NBA teams (and having five coaches) by age 23
Marcus Morris | 14.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.5 apg
Bigger numbers came from heavier use, which shows his value for Van Gundy
Reggie Jackson | 18.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 6.2 apg
The Pistons' offensive organizer will miss the next 6-8 weeks due to knee tendinitis
Stanley Johnson | 8.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.6 apg
Called out LeBron and the Cavs, mostly backed up the tough talk in first-round defeat
Aron Baynes | 6.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 0.6 bpg
Coach's security blanket as alternative to Drummond at foul line (76.4 percent)
THE BOTTOM LINE
Caulking around the guys he already had in place with some select veteran acquisitions was the right approach by Van Gundy. The Pistons need to realize their next stage of development from within, improving their physical skills while gaining experience. Detroit will continue to mimic the successful style the Van Gundy used as coach of the Orlando Magic -- one in, four out, with a reliance on 3-pointers -- to climb another rung or two in the East.
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