After missing postseason, Detroit Pistons have a lot to evaluate
NOAH TRISTER | Associated Press
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Detroit Pistons began the season without Reggie Jackson and ended it without him.
That certainly wasn’t the plan – but then again, most of what the Pistons hoped to accomplish this season proved elusive as they sputtered to a sub.-500 record.
A year after reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2009, Detroit is back on the outside looking in after finishing 37-45. Jackson’s struggles following preseason knee issues played a role in the team’s decline, but there were other problems as well.
“The tough part is now how you deal with the challenge of making a good jump last year and got into the playoffs, and now you’ve come back down,” said Stan Van Gundy, Detroit’s coach and team president. “The pain of that should produce a sense of urgency to make changes and it certainly does within me. Everybody assumes when you say that it’s roster related. Some of it may be, but it makes you take a hard look at the way you have done things and things you need to change.”
This was Van Gundy’s third season at the helm, and the Pistons had every reason to think they could continue the improvement they’d shown in 2015-16. They were without Jackson for the first 21 games this season but went 11-10 while the point guard sat out. After he came back, things never totally clicked.
Detroit recovered from a poor stretch in December, and the Pistons still seemed like they had a decent shot to make the playoffs in early March. Then a blowout loss at Cleveland on March 14 began a stretch in which they lost eight of nine. Jackson was eventually shut down and missed the final nine games.
“This season didn’t go the way we wanted it, but I look forward myself personally getting rested – and the rest of the guys also taking care of their games,” Jackson said.
Here are a few things the Pistons will have to evaluate this offseason:
Detroit has built around the point guard-center tandem of Jackson and Andre Drummond, but neither player took a step forward this season. Jackson averaged 14.5 points, down from 18.8 a season ago. Drummond’s scoring dipped as well, and while he is still one of the game’s leading rebounders, the Pistons were only 12th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage after ranking second in that category in 2015-16.
The Pistons shot only 33 percent from 3-point range, ranking 28th in the league. That was a big reason the offense held the team back at times.
“You’ve got to be able to score the ball,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not impossible to be a good offensive team without shooting the 3 well and frequently, but it’s pretty difficult.”
The Pistons didn’t get a great deal of production from either of their past two first-round draft picks. Rookie Henry Ellenson appeared in only 19 games, and Stanley Johnson, a 2015 first-rounder, averaged just 4.4 points.
There were times when backup point guard Ish Smith seemed like a better option than Jackson, and there were times when the second unit in general outplayed the starters, but the Pistons needed more consistency throughout the roster. For example, forward Jon Leuer gave Detroit a lift early but faltered during the second half of the season.
“The guy had a couple of bad games and totally lost his confidence,” Van Gundy said. “Jon’s got a lot of talent. He’s a good player. He cares a great deal. He’s committed. He plays hard. But, we’ve got to work through the whole confidence thing.”
The Pistons will play in a new downtown arena next season after closing out their tenure at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The team will need to play better on the court if it wants to capitalize fully on the buzz surrounding the move.