Pistons Mailbag - February 28, 2018
Kevin (Farmington Hills, Mich.): Now what? The Pistons seem stuck below mediocrity. Blake Griffin can’t win games by himself, they probably won’t have a first-round draft pick this year – not that Stan’s newbies seem to help anyway – and a plethora of seats are available in LCA for games. The Pistons’ lethargy looms for me. Is Reggie Jackson the answer to the promised land? Where is our “process?” I see no “process.” Any suggestions?
Langlois: Getting Reggie Jackson back – and there’s reason to believe that could happen relatively soon – is a start. If nothing else, as I wrote, it gives Van Gundy the final 16 or so games to gauge how to make the pieces fit and to give Jackson and Blake Griffin a chance to develop a feel for each other’s games – and for their teammates to learn how to play off their pick-and-roll action – so they’ve got a foundation to build from when training camp starts next season. Let’s remember that the Pistons were 19-14 when Jackson got hurt. He’s a big piece of the puzzle. He not only makes the starters better but allowing Ish Smith to go back to the bench makes the second unit – a clear strength of the Pistons for those first 33 games – a net plus again. Griffin, Van Gundy believes, is pressing and putting too much on his shoulders. The Pistons likely won’t have their No. 1 pick this season – the only realistic way they’d keep it is to draw a top-three pick in the lottery, which would be a long shot if they don’t make the playoffs – and they aren’t going to have cap space. They’ll have the mid-level exception available to them but will use it judiciously to avoid venturing into tax territory. The “process” – as it’s been forever in professional sports – is to develop the players you have and look for ways to add more talent from outside the roster. The Pistons still have a group of young players for whom significant development should be anticipated. Even Andre Drummond, though he’s in his sixth year, counts among that number. He’s having his best all-around season by a fair margin and can still become a more consistent player. The biggest factor for the Pistons, though, will be to simply stay healthy. Injuries to Jackson the past two seasons, coming off a 44-win playoff campaign in 2015-16, have undermined both years.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): SVG wants a stretch offense but he has few shooters on the roster, let alone starting. What’s up with that? Can we get that hot-shooting small forward or shooting guard, two-way player, with the chips we have now?
Langlois: I’ve never heard him say it quite that way – wanting a “stretch offense” – but he said earlier this month, in discussing desires at the trade deadline, that there isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t love to add more shooting. There’s also not a team in the league that isn’t looking to upgrade the roster in general. That was the motivation for dealing for Blake Griffin. As Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said earlier this week, Griffin is one of the very few – Clifford put the number at 12 to 15 – players in the NBA who demand a double team and he said that’s what everyone is seeking. So the Pistons seized the opportunity to nab one of those guys and, in the meantime, they sacrificed some shooting in surrendering Tobias Harris. If the Pistons don’t make any significant trades over the off-season, then their starters figure to be Reggie Jackson, Reggie Bullock or Luke Kennard at shooting guard and Stanley Johnson at small forward. Jackson was a league average 3-point shooter in his two full seasons with the Pistons. Bullock is clearly an above-average shooter and Kennard has been better than 40 percent for the bulk of the season. If Johnson can get to league average, 3-point shooting can be a strength for the Pistons. And then there’s Anthony Tolliver, if he’s back, and Langston Galloway – plus one of Bullock or Kennard – off the bench. I’d guess the odds are better than 50-50 that a front office as aggressive as Van Gundy’s has been will make some moves this summer to alter the mix, but I don’t know that additional shooting will be the prime motivation as much as more complementary fits for Griffin, not that those two things are incompatible.
Byron (Detroit): I’m very concerned with the play of Blake Griffin. In watching old Clippers highlights, he just doesn’t seem to be the same player. He’s missing shots inside and out and turning the ball over. What’s going on?
Langlois: It’s 11 games, so let’s tap the brakes on sweeping conclusions. Griffin was uprooted from the only NBA home he’s known and dropped into completely unfamiliar surroundings. As Stan Van Gundy has said and others have supported, this was more than just your typical trade-deadline addition. The Pistons are trying to retool their offense not merely to have Griffin fit in but to make him the focus. That’s asking a lot – a lot of Griffin and a lot of his teammates as he adjusts to broad new responsibilities and his teammates adapt to his strengths and tendencies and a whole new style of play. To compound the challenge, the schedule has been most unfavorable. The Pistons – due to a compacted game schedule and the need this deep into the season to give players a day off every now and then to rest and get treatment for aches and pains or to prevent injury – have had, by Van Gundy’s count, three real practices in the nearly four weeks since Griffin arrived. It might not be until next season that we see the full impact of Griffin, though – as I wrote above – it will be useful to get Reggie Jackson back and give him and Griffin a chance to start working out their playing relationship in the season’s final weeks.
Cameron (Orlando): If the rumors of the Dallas Mavericks allegations prove true, should the NBA take away their 2011 NBA championship?
Langlois: That’s not in the cards. I would expect the course of action to be a fine and a demand for action to change the environment. It appears, by all accounts, that Mark Cuban is being proactive on the latter front, naming Cynthia Marshall as interim CEO earlier this week. This isn’t the NCAA. There will be no vacating of titles.
Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): One thing the Pistons have been terrible at all year is guarding the 3-point line. Why is this and how can it be fixed? The Pistons give up way too many wide-open threes.
Langlois: Many – most, perhaps – are of the opinion that teams have little influence over the 3-point percentage opponents manage and focus more on limiting attempts, particularly corner 3-point attempts. The Pistons rank 28th in opponent 3-point shooting and 20th in number of 3-point attempts surrendered. In the 10 games they’ve played with Blake Griffin, the number of attempts they allow has risen to 35.4, which ranks 28th in the league over that time, while opponents have shot .357 from the arc in those games, which ranks 15th. Van Gundy teams typically limit the number of 3-point attempts. In Monday’s game at Toronto, the Raptors shot 17 of 38 to tie a season high for a Pistons opponent in makes. Van Gundy said he doesn’t have an obvious explanation for the sudden rise in 3-point attempts over that stretch – “I don’t have an answer for you; I really don’t” – but in Monday’s game, specifically, he said the Pistons didn’t do an adequate job of getting back and matched up to shooters in transition and, to a degree, it was exacerbated by poor offense. So if you’re not functioning well offensively and shooting poorly – the Pistons shot 38.3 percent against the Raptors – you’re creating a lot of transition opportunities. The Raptors, a top-five offensive team, made them pay. As for whether Van Gundy believes a team has much influence over whether the opponent makes or misses its triples, he said, “To some degree, but I think you can affect percentage on closeouts and contests and things like that. You see that throughout the league. There are some teams – especially teams with good size who can close a little shorter and still get up – who do affect percentage. So do I buy it? To a degree I but it and to a degree I don’t.”
Darrell (Detroit): Why doesn’t SVG employ the pick and roll using Griffin and Drummond? Blake did a good job running it with DeAndre Jordan in Los Angeles. In fact, Griffin doesn’t seem to receive any screens at all. He seems to primarily receive the ball to go one on one with his defender. Even great players need screens to help with their offense. Might that explain why Griffin’s shooting percentage is suffering in Detroit?
Langlois: He does. He uses Griffin some as the ballhandler in pick and roll and, of course, some with Griffin rolling in pick and rolls with the point guard. It’s been 11 games and they’ve had three practices, so the playbook is still somewhat limited. Here’s Stan Van Gundy on using Griffin as the ballhandler with Andre Drummond in pick and rolls: “A little bit – maybe not enough –but a little bit. We’ve had some success in some games, not a high level of success. If you run it three times a game and we’ve played 11 games, they’ve run 33 pick and rolls together. And maybe run six in practice, so they’ve run 40 together. It’s just different because he plays off the pick and roll different than Tobias (Harris) does, too.”
Dwayne (Clinton Twp., Mich.): What are the chances you see Van Gundy mixing up the rotations when Reggie Jackson returns?
Langlois: Inevitably it will change just because you’re adding a significant player to the mix and that will have ripple effects. It starts with Jackson sliding back in as point guard for the first unit – whether that’s immediately or whether he’ll need time to work his way back to that level remains to be seen – and bumping Ish Smith back to the second unit. Then, perhaps, Stan Van Gundy will tinker with personnel around them to seek the best fits. I don’t think it will require much juggling, though. Jackson’s 3-point threat – much greater than Smith’s – seems like a needed element with the starting unit. Smith should have plenty of shooting on the second unit with Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway, Anthony Tolliver and James Ennis all possibilities to surround him.