Pistons Mailbag - April 6, 2016

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

With the season down to its final week and four games, how the Pistons close and what they can expect if they make the playoffs tops the menu items for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Vlad (@rage2K): With the East getting stronger, where do you see Detroit finishing in the next four seasons and where should the team improve most – except for free-throw shooting?

Langlois: I’m having enough trouble figuring out where they’re going to finish this year with four games left, never mind what the outlook is for 12 months and 82 games from now, or 24 or 36 or 48 months. A year ago at this time, everybody had Milwaukee pegged as the fastest-rising team in the East, making a whopping 26-win improvement over 2013-14. And then the Bucks added Greg Monroe – and they’ll miss the playoffs by a mile this season. The Bucks could turn it back around just as quickly next season. Washington –another team thought to be in the running for a top-four East seed this season – is likely to fall short of the playoffs this season, too, but could be right back in the thick of it next season. In general, the East appears in much better overall shape, top to bottom, so it’s going to get tougher – not easier – to secure a top-eight spot in the East, never mind improve on whatever position the Pistons wind up grabbing this season. But another generalization: The Pistons have every reason to believe their upward trajectory will continue for the foreseeable future. They have one of the five youngest starting units in the NBA, their front office and coaching staffs are stable and their payroll is in order. They have young players like Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris tied to long-term deals that are going to look more and more team friendly as the cap rises over the next two seasons. Their personnel decisions under Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower have been consistently insightful. There are too many variables to make any meaningful projections on where they’ll finish in the standings next season and beyond, including health, but the Pistons are the equivalent of a long-term growth stock – buy now and hang on for the ride.

Scott (@brodiegames): Should we take Reggie Bullock’s reduced minutes to mean that he’s not 100 percent or that Stan is prepping for a tighter playoff rotation?

Joe (Birmingham, Mich.): Can Van Gundy consider using Bullock and Hilliard more? They have much better shooting percentages than Johnson and Tolliver. Also, Hilliard seems to be cool under pressure and is a fascinating, ambidextrous player.

Langlois: Nothing physically wrong with Reggie Bullock – or Darrun Hilliard, for that matter. They’re in a virtual dead heat for 10th man in what is largely a nine-man rotation. Some coaches have rosters built to accommodate 10- or even 11-man rotations. The Pistons, at least in Stan Van Gundy’s view, are better served when his starters are getting the lion’s share of minutes. He’s mindful of limiting Reggie Jackson’s minutes, keeping him in the low 30s, because of the burden he bears in initiating offense. He’s comfortable playing Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the 35-38 minute range. Van Gundy has been genuinely pleased with the production of Bullock or Hilliard – and it’s not easy to play sporadically but well. But he thinks the young players in the rotation ahead of Hilliard and Bullock, including Morris, Harris, Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson, all need minutes to establish a rhythm. As for their shooting percentages, Tolliver’s raw shooting percentage is deceiving in that he shoots only .384 overall but takes a huge chunk of his shots – 82 percent, in fact – from the 3-point line. His true shooting percentage, which accounts for the fact that a 33 percent shooter from three is just as efficient as a 50 percent shooter from two, is among the highest on the team. Johnson’s shooting numbers have suffered since his return from injury, but his defense, versatility and physical presence are all assets Van Gundy values.

Tyler (@T_Harb23): If the Pistons make the playoffs, do you see teams using the Hack-a-Dre a lot more to slow down the offense?

Langlois: Some coaches are going to use it more than others. The two teams the Pistons could face if they make the playoffs, Cleveland and Toronto, can be expected to use the tactic aggressively. If it’s a close game, whether the Pistons are ahead or behind, you can expect teams to at least test Drummond and then force Stan Van Gundy to make a decision. It’s a fact of life unless and until the NBA addresses the issue.

Kenny (@KennyDalen): With all the draft talk going on now, what are the Pistons thinking? Frontcourt? Backcourt? Trade it away?

Langlois: With rare exception, they’re going to take the best player available. When the Pistons compile their draft board, they’ll take into consideration positional realities. Last year, for example, Van Gundy all but said they dropped Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein a few notches because he didn’t think it made a ton of sense to spend a lottery pick on a player whose ceiling would be about 12 minutes a game behind Andre Drummond. They still would have taken Cauley-Stein, though, if the only options when it was their turn to pick were players they didn’t think could fill a role even that significant. But they had their choice of players like Stanley Johnson, Devin Booker, Myles Turner, Frank Kaminsky and Justise Winslow – all players they likely projected as having a chance to contribute more than Cauley-Stein could have, given the presence of Drummond. We’ve established that the Pistons’ primary needs this off-season will be backup point guard and a power forward with size to match up defensively with some of the bigger players at that position across the league. But free agency and the trade market are more likely to provide those players for next season. Where they’ll be drafting – mid to late teens – they’re going to want a player they think has a chance to be a starter down the road or a rotation player immediately.

Steven (@stevenberkobein): D-Mo has earned a consistent role in Houston while playing relatively well. So … what were we thinking?

Langlois: That no matter what his status right now, the professional medical opinions of his back injury made it too risky to give up a No. 1 draft pick for him and then face the necessity of signing him to a long-term contract this summer. If the cost to acquire him didn’t involve the sacrifice of a No. 1 pick and a significant future salary commitment, it would have been a relatively easy call. They would have been more than willing to gamble something insignificant on Motiejunas holding up for the rest of this season, but the deal was made with the long-term future in mind. That’s where the risk projection became too great to ignore.

Jake (@jcbcllns): If the Pistons make the playoffs – I don’t want to jinx it – is our only chance of making it out of the first round getting the No. 7 seed?

Langlois: In a word, no. Toronto has separated itself from the pack in the East almost to as great a degree as Cleveland has. I think Cleveland has a higher ceiling than the Raptors and you can certainly make the case that it’s best to avoid LeBron James in the playoffs at all costs. But playing the Raptors isn’t going to be a day at the beach for anyone in the postseason. The Pistons, if they wrap up a playoff berth, are going to be decided underdogs against either team. But they’ll have a puncher’s chance. The longer they can hang around in games, the better their chance to steal a win. Steal one and you never know where a series can wind up going.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Adding a tall power forward with defensive skills would help Andre Drummond patrol the paint, for sure. But there are more good, athletic, defensive-minded point guards on the market simply because there are more men around 6-foot-2 than 6-foot-11. Blake is at the end of his career and the Pistons need a hard-nosed defensive point guard to help Reggie. Could the Pistons get by with just adding a quality point guard? Could they get by with just adding a quality tall power forward? Can they get both a power forward and a point guard this off-season?

Langlois: I would certainly expect them to address both areas this off-season, Ken. Whether that’s keeping the current nucleus wholly intact and merely adding players to fit those needs or making more sweeping changes is anybody’s guess. It’s an aggressive front office, so I wouldn’t rule anything out. They’ve been focused on adding young assets so far. At some point, they might be willing to deal from their trove for players they see as upgrades or better complementary fits. But, no, I don’t think Stan Van Gundy would say that merely adding one or the other – a capable backup point guard or a power forward with size – would be a satisfactory off-season. And with a No. 1 draft pick and somewhere around $13 million in cap space, they’ll have the ammo to get some things done.

Philip (Negaunee, Mich.): Is there any chance the Pistons might play some games in the future at the new Red Wings arena?

Langlois: Tom Gores has been pretty frank about keeping all options on the table, Philip. It’s clear he wants a prominent Pistons presence in the city. It’s also clear, given the considerable amount of money and other resources he’s poured into The Palace, that the Pistons aren’t planning on leaving their home anytime soon. Whether their connection to Detroit expands to include games being played anywhere except The Palace remains to be seen. There would be a ton of logistical considerations, of course, including the complications for Pistons season ticketholders and the way revenue would be divided for Pistons games played at an arena they don’t own or for which they do not have a lease agreement in place. But Arn Tellem was brought on board for his ability to navigate exactly those types of complex negotiations, in addition to position the Pistons as great community ambassadors, so I would rule out nothing that works to benefit the city, region and state as it connects to the Pistons.

Pablo (Mexico City, Mexico): You’ve mentioned size, defensive ability, 3-point shooting and playmaking as qualities we’ll look for in a backup point guard this summer. Which of those would you rank as most important and least important?

Langlois: A backup point guard who can hold his own defensively, take care of the ball and get his team organized on offense is the baseline for what a coach wants coming off his bench. If he can knock down 3-point shots and comes with enough size to perhaps defend both backcourt spots, that’s a bonus. So I guess that’s the answer – defend your position and run a team first, everything else after that.

Paul (Phoenix): There are only a few games left and they mean everything in making the playoffs. Yet Stan Van Gundy keeps bringing in the same rotation that’s producing nothing. Surely some creativity should come into play here. Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver, combined with Reggie Jackson’s erratic shooting and lack of distribution, should demand some coaching adjustments. Andre Drummond has had to sit because of his free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter and the same should apply to others. There are guys sitting on the bench worth a try.

Langlois: The backup quarterback and the backup goalie are always the fan favorites. You’re suggesting that with four games to go in the season, Stan Van Gundy starts experimenting when the Pistons – after playing four games above .500 for 78 games – only need to go 2-2 to clinch a playoff berth. That seems, at minimum, ill-advised. You didn’t give any specific recommendations, but the players outside the rotation are Darrun Hilliard, Reggie Bullock, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joel Anthony, Jodie Meeks and Lorenzo Brown. Dinwiddie made his first appearance since December in Tuesday’s loss at Miami. Meeks hasn’t played since October and has practiced maybe two or three times in a month. Brown is the No. 4 point guard up from the D-League. You could argue for Hilliard or Bullock, I suppose, and they’ve both given the Pistons solid play when called upon in limited roles. But if Van Gundy – who’s seen these guys in all of the practices fans aren’t privy to since last September – had any inkling playing Hilliard or Bullock more and Johnson or Tolliver (or anyone else) less would better their chances of winning games, he’d do it. The notion that another option is always the better option is understandable from fans when things aren’t going well. But reversing course when you’re within reach of snapping a six-year playoff drought seems reckless.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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