Pistons Mailbag - December 27, 2017

Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): If Reggie Jackson is going to be out for more than a week or so, do the Pistons need to add another point guard?

Langlois: Good question. It’s probably not one they’ll act on immediately though, unless the they learn something in the next 24 hours that’s different than what they knew after Wednesday’s win where X-rays of Jackson’s sprained right ankle were negative. Sprained ankles can be tricky, though, as the Pistons have experienced firsthand this season with Jon Leuer. He’s been out two months and could miss another few weeks or more for an injury that didn’t appear nearly as serious at the time as Jackson’s, where play stopped and he needed help getting off the court. The Pistons have several options in play: (1) do nothing, ride it out with Ish Smith, Langston Galloway and Dwight Buycks, who can spend up to 45 days with the Pistons as one of the two-way contract players new to the NBA this season; (2) use their open roster spot to add a 15th player at point guard; (3) convert Buycks to a standard contract to fill the 15th roster spot; (4) wait until Jan. 5 – there’s only three more games between now and the Jan. 5 game at Philadelphia – when 10-day contracts are allowed and use that to add another point guard, which would prevent the clock from running out so soon on Buycks if Jackson’s injury lingers as long as Leuer’s.

Philip (Negaunee, Mich.): Can the Pistons survive Reggie Jackson’s injury if he misses more than 10 days?

Langlois: They went 11-10 last season in a rough stretch of schedule – 12 of those 21 games were on the road – to start last season without Jackson. They pretty much know what they’ll get and how to play with Ish Smith. The wild card is going to be how the second unit holds up with either Langston Galloway or Dwight Buycks or somebody else – and the options are spelled out in my answer to Adam above – while Smith sits. And Smith’s effectiveness depends to some degree on keeping him fresh. Saw this stat yesterday: Smith averages 4.96 mph on the floor, which is the fastest since the NBA started recording such data to start the 2013-14 season for players with a minimum of 10 minutes per game. That pace is what makes him effective but there’s also a law of diminishing returns at that speed. He won’t be able to keep that pace up if he’s playing 30-plus minutes a game instead of the 20 he’s averaging now. They’ll be OK for a few weeks or so. Beyond that, it’ll be tough given the unexpected depth of the Eastern Conference. The Pistons awoke today holding the No. 4 seed in the East; they’re all of two games from being outside the playoff field altogether.

Ryan (Pocatello, Idaho): Avery Bradley misses too many games due to injury to invest big money in him. He’s also way, way too good to let walk for nothing like they did with KCP. So what sign-and-trade options are there this summer? I’m assuming Bradley will only agree if he goes to a top team.

Langlois: Bradley will be an unrestricted free agent. That doesn’t rule out a sign and trade, necessarily, but I’ll believe it when I see it. He controls the process. There’s no need to limit himself in such a way. Keep in mind that sign and trades require three parties – two teams and a player – to agree on terms and in the early hours and days of free agency, the time that requires is crucial. Things move fast. Bradley isn’t going to sit on the sidelines while the relatively few teams projected to have cap space next July spend it on other players and potentially leave him shorted. So forget the sign and trade. The nut of your question has merit, though. Bradley has played 70 or more games only twice in his first seven NBA seasons. He’s undersized for his position and by quite a bit. But his injury history really doesn’t include anything that would give teams pause with regard to eroding his skills like a knee or back injury might – the type of injuries that usually don’t allow an elite athlete to quite get back to that level. My bet is the Pistons hang on to Bradley through the trade deadline, determine what they’re willing to spend to keep him and do their best to do so next July. If Bradley leaves, the Pistons wouldn’t have a windfall of free-agent money to spend. They’d still be looking at a mid-level exception as their best chip other than the draft or trade market.

Roman (San Antonio): How do the San Antonio Spurs earn their success as they rely on their bench and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are out of their primes? The only superstar they have is Kawhi Leonard. They seem to be a top-three team in the West or in the NBA with their current roster.

Langlois: When you say Leonard is the “only” superstar they have, that gives them one more than most franchises. LaMarcus Aldridge is on the tier below superstar but a superior player playing for perhaps the greatest coach in NBA history. That’s a pretty good starting point. Pau Gasol, Mani Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green have all been good NBA players for a long time. What the Spurs did in Leonard’s absence was remarkable and the fact that it didn’t really draw all that much attention – as if the Spurs were simply expected to survive his absence with little disruption – is another testament to the soundness of their organization.

Vince (Hamtramck, Mich.): Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony are overdue a championship. Do you think both will be able to win one before they retire?

Langlois: Don’t know, but I don’t think they’ve ever had a better opportunity to win one than what they have now. The only issue – and it’s a rather significant one – is that team from Oakland.

John (@johnconnell1981): Can they win a playoff series with this squad?

Langlois: Sure. Outside the top three teams in the East – Toronto, Boston and Cleveland have separated from the pack – there is a wide swath of teams with similar potential and similar margins for error. If the Pistons get to mid-April in good health – and they’re without their starting backcourt now – and in the fourth or fifth spot, they would be neither a prohibitive favorite nor a prohibitive underdog in a playoff series. If they’re in the seventh or eighth positions, the margin for error shrinks against one of those top three teams. Cleveland still has the greatest potential of any East team to win an NBA title and evolve into an overpowering playoff team – the Cavs still have peak LeBron James, after all – and that would, in all likelihood, be the least favorable matchup. But the Pistons have played Boston well for the past several seasons and can match up with Toronto fairly well, too. As for other possible playoff matchups, keep reading.

VegasAnalytics (@VegasAnalytics): Let’s say the Pistons finish fourth behind the Celtics, Cavs and Raptors. What playoff matchup would scare you most for the Pistons and which would be the most exciting potential series opponent?

Langlois: As I wrote above, Cleveland is the most obvious playoff matchup you’d like to avoid. Under your scenario, I think the matchup that’s proven most bedeviling for the Pistons in the past three seasons has been Washington. John Wall and Bradley Beal are a handful, Otto Porter has emerged as a very good 3-point shooter and wing defender and Marcin Gortat does as good a job as anyone of neutralizing Andre Drummond. So if we’re going to talk about that pool of teams outside the top three in contention for the last five playoff spots in the East – right now, that’s the Pistons, Indiana, Milwaukee, Washington, Miami, New York and Philadelphia, but you probably can’t write off Charlotte just yet – then Washington would be the one best to avoid. Philadelphia has beaten the Pistons twice in two matchups this season, but I’m not sure I’ve seen enough yet to say the 76ers have insurmountable matchup advantages. The Pistons and Bucks, Heat and Pacers would figure to be evenly contested matchups.

B (@B_Eds517): The Pistons haven’t hosted an All-Star weekend since 1959. With the new Little Caesars Arena, how long until we see an All-Star weekend in the D again?

Langlois: The Pistons hosted in 1979 but at the Pontiac Silverdome, their home for a decade. Before that – and the only other All-Star game the Pistons hosted – it was 1959 at Olympia Stadium. Cobo Arena and The Palace never hosted an All-Star game. I was told that the reason The Palace never pushed to host an All-Star game was a desire to not alienate Pistons season ticketholders who might have been put off by the fact that very few tickets to the All-Star game are held for the host city’s ticket base. Those tickets are largely committed to the league’s corporate partners to distribute as they see fit. That said, Pistons owner Tom Gores made clear with the team’s move to Little Caesars Arena that the Pistons are intent on bringing the All-Star game to Detroit. The next four All-Star games will be in Los Angeles (2018), Charlotte (2019), Chicago (2020) and Indianapolis (2021). Would the NBA allow a third consecutive Midwestern city to host in 2022, the next available date? I’m skeptical, but we’ll see. Milwaukee also has a new arena prepared to open next season and the Bucks also figure to want their shot to host. The NHL hasn’t committed beyond the 2018 game being held in St. Petersburg, Fla., but I’d wager a dollar that the Red Wings will host an NHL All-Star game before the Pistons host an NBA All-Star Weekend.

Fatima (@dwtsqueen): When is Jon Leuer coming back?

Langlois: They’ll have a better idea in a week or so. Leuer had an injection in his sprained left ankle on Dec. 3 and the timetable given at that time was two to four weeks before he’d be able to begin full rehabilitation. We’ll be at the four-week mark on Monday.

D’Bidnesz (@discomfort_): Who is the most likely of our top four players to get shipped out in a trademark magical SVG trade deadline move: Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond, Avery Bradley or Tobias Harris?

Langlois: Start with this disclaimer: I would be more than a little surprised – less than shocked, but greatly surprised – if any of the four were to be dealt by the trade deadline. But if you have to pick one as “most likely” from that four, I’d say the process of elimination would take Drummond off the table first. Some might say Bradley would be the most likely of the other three, given his pending free agency and attractive contract, but Stan Van Gundy puts a premium on two-way players and Bradley’s the best the Pistons have when you consider his impact at both ends. If the season somehow unravels between now and the Feb. 8 trade deadline – and that’s about two weeks earlier than usual as the NBA moved to make the trade deadline precede the All-Star break rather than serve as the overwhelming distraction to All-Star Weekend and the game itself it became last winter with the deal of DeMarcus Cousins – then maybe someone makes an offer too good to pass up for Bradley. Again, I’m not expecting that. If the Pistons continue to be solidly in the playoff hunt, they’re really not going to have much motivation to try to move any of those four. So the answer would come down to what they might find that comes to them in offers. Impossible to predict what might motivate another team to overpay to pry one of those guys loose – and when I say “overpay,” you can assume that the Pistons would have to be bowled over to put at risk a season that is unfolding more promisingly than any the franchise has experienced in nearly a decade.

TheRoar84: (@theroar84): With Andre Drummond straightening out free-throw shooting, is a mid-range jumper next? Or added a deadly 3-point shot?

Langlois: Unlikely and definitely not. The key for Drummond to up his game a notch – which would put him in perennial All-Star territory – is to do what he does now with greater frequency and efficiency. That’s rebound and score at the rim at the offensive end. On defense, he’s got great footwork that allows him to smother pick and rolls or come from the weak side to dissuade penetration and we see those things more often this season. But I don’t see mid-range jump shots or, heaven forbid, 3-point shots in his future.

Corey (Chainz29): Is Tobias Harris the consistent wing/All-Star to take the team to the next level?

Langlois: He’s a versatile and skilled player offensively who came into the league in 2011 and didn’t turn 19 until after that year’s draft. He’s still just 25 and continues to expand his game. This year he’s shooting the 3-point shot more often and more accurately than ever – witness his 7 of 8 performance from the arc in Wednesday’s blowout of Indiana. In fact, he’s on pace to break the franchise record of 191 made triples in a season set by Allan Houston in 1995-96. Through the first 20 games of the season, the Pistons were 14-6 with Harris their leading scorer at 19.6 points per game while shooting .467 from the 3-point arc. He was squarely in the mix to be picked by coaches as an All-Star reserve at that point. As the team labored through a seven-game losing streak, Harris and pretty much all of his teammates suffered statistically. If the Pistons are solidly in playoff position a few weeks before the Feb. 18 All-Star game when coaches fill out rosters, he’ll have a chance to be picked. Andre Drummond almost certainly will be the Pistons player with the best shot at selection.

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