Pistons Mailbag - April 17, 2019
With the Pistons trailing Milwaukee 1-0 in their first-round playoff series, we start with discussions about the playoff matchup and then look at the draft and the off-season to come in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Korvus (@K0rvus): Do you know if Luke Kennard will receive more minutes after his performance in Game 1?
Langlois: I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts, as a matter of fact. Without Blake Griffin – and I’m going on the assumption that Griffin will be out again for Game 2 – the Pistons need more scoring and playmaking options with the starters. They can’t afford to fall behind by double digits before the four-minute mark again. It’s not a move Dwane Casey would make in the regular season off of a one-game sample size, but you don’t have time to gather every shred of evidence in the playoffs. You need to react to what just happened or the series will be over before you come to conclusive decisions. With Griffin available, then Kennard’s skills are best put to use with the Pistons as presently put together with their second unit. Without him, Casey might well decide they need what Kennard offers with the starters.
Ward (@Ward29672985): I’m starting to get nervous that Blake Griffin is going to miss this entire series. Is there a chance he returns for Saturday’s Game 3 at home?
Langlois: We’re all just guessing here, Ward. What we know is that the Pistons, via Dwane Casey, have said is there is nothing structurally wrong with Griffin’s knee, that Griffin has lobbied to play, that the medical team has ruled him out and that his status is day to day. Day to day implies that, yes, there’s a chance that when Saturday rolls around, he’ll be able to play. What “nothing structurally wrong” is generally interpreted to mean is that there is no cartilage or ligament tears or tendons ruptured. What does that leave? Tendinitis would be the most obvious choice. That can be very painful. Maybe it’s something else that doesn’t require surgery but is nevertheless a current and real problem. Griffin has said it’s not just a matter of pain tolerance, though, and that he’d play through it if it were merely that. It was clear to anyone who watched Griffin in the Charlotte and Memphis games in the final days of the regular season that his mobility was limited and not by a little, by a lot. As anyone who’s ever suffered an injury to an extremity can attest, pain in and of itself can inhibit mobility. Bend something that doesn’t want to be bent and your body will let you know in very clear language that you shouldn’t be doing that.
Rudy (@rudyjuly2): How much zone will they play? Will Glenn Robinson III get more time? Regarding the future, do you think Patrick Beverly would be a good fit next year?
Langlois: I took a stab at answering some of your questions here, Rudy. How much zone they play is anyone’s guess. Dwane Casey said on Monday that the Pistons would “probably play more of it. Different coverages, different styles.” We’ll see. It could be he put that out there just to make Milwaukee spend much of its practice time preparing for a zone. The Pistons didn’t play much at all this season. Relying on it now would be bold, but Casey might figure the Pistons don’t have preferable options and give it a whirl for an extended period to gauge its impact. Robinson never really found his niche this season. He’s had a good half here and there and he has a unique package of size/skills relative to the roster that would seem to warrant a broader role. But he’s never found his 3-point shot. In more than twice as many minutes two seasons ago, Robinson shot .392 from the 3-point arc. In about half as many minutes last season following a devastating ankle injury in preseason, he again shot above the NBA average from three, .412. This season he shot just .290. Without Blake Griffin, Robinson logically figures to be part of the group that Casey throws at Giannis Antetokounmpo. Robinson would make that a much easier call for him if he can provide some reliable scoring. As for Beverly, he’s a guy that every coach in the NBA would want available. The Pistons have some specific needs and no cap space so only their cap exceptions to use in free agency. I doubt Beverly is a luxury they’ll be able to afford.
John (@axemanozh): I don’t have much to say about the Pistons on-court performance in Game 1, but it was disappointing to see them using their black jerseys in a playoff game. Why does the team push black and gray so hard over their traditional colors?
Langlois: I asked Pistons equipment manager John Coumoundouros about this and how uniforms are selected for the playoffs. The home team chooses which uniform it will wear and the visiting team has to submit a priority list, one through four. The Bucks chose their traditional home whites to wear at Fiserv Forum. Coumoundouros polls Pistons players to get their preferences. They chose black for the road games first on their priority list and blue for their home games. The Bucks will wind up wearing their white uniforms for each of the first four games. Coumoundouros said Pistons players didn’t want to wear the same uniform in all four games, which would have been the result if they had chosen to wear their traditional road blues in games 1 and 2 after they chose to wear that color at home.
Lee (@wataman66): With the 15th pick in the draft, who are the realistic options for the Pistons based on need? What are your thoughts on Kyle Guy from Virginia, dubbed as the next Kyle Korver, or Nassir Little of North Carolina?
Langlois: “Based on need” is almost never the approach successful organizations take into the draft. It might have some small influence if you have two players ranked very similarly but one would have a path to playing time blocked. Case in point: In the 2015 draft, the Pistons had Willie Cauley-Stein ranked similarly to Stanley Johnson. Cauley-Stein went before the Pistons picked Johnson, but Stan Van Gundy spoke at the time that the fact the Pistons had a 21-year-old Andre Drummond entrenched as the starter would make it unlikely that they would have taken Cauley-Stein unless he was clearly the best player available. I don’t see any such issues with the Pistons going into the 2019 draft. They have Blake Griffin for three more years, but I doubt that would preclude them drafting a power forward if there’s one available at 15 that they like well enough – especially if he’s got even a whiff of positional versatility. (Center is about the only position any longer where a positional logjam is a draft consideration. You can play two point guards together or two of anything else – again, as long as the players have the ability to guard a little bit.) You’re not banking on instant help from anybody taken 15th, most likely, and what the roster looks like in June 2020 could be vastly different from what it looks like now. So throw perceived need out the window with regard to this draft. As for Guy, he’s a junior who just declared for the NBA draft this week, leaving himself the option to return for his senior season. He’s a great shooter so he’s going to get every chance to prove his lack of size and athleticism can’t be overcome, but there doesn’t appear to be any momentum for Guy as a first-round pick. Little, on the other hand, was considered a top-five pick going into his freshman season but it’s debatable now whether he’ll be a lottery pick or not. If he makes it past the lottery, you would expect him to be on the short list for the Pistons, who don’t really have someone with his size/athleticism package.
Darrell (Detroit): What am I missing in regard to Cassius Winston? He’s the Big Ten Player of the Year and led Michigan State to the Final Four, yet most mock drafts don’t have him going in either round were he to enter the draft. He seems like he’d be a good fit in a Pistons uniform.
Langlois: ESPN.com lists Winston 77th among its top 100 NBA draft prospects. Not everybody listed ahead of him will be in the draft – underclassmen or international prospects that won’t stay in the draft – but if that ranking is an accurate snap shot of the NBA consensus opinion, then it would be no better than 50-50 that he’d be drafted in the 60 available slots. Winston hasn’t declared for the draft and under Tom Izzo the history of Michigan State players is that when staying or leaving falls into a gray area, more often or not they stay. If Winston were to declare and stay in the draft, though, my hunch is that there’d be one front office who values his college resume enough to take a shot on drafting him somewhere in the second round. Winston’s lack of size and athleticism is obvious, but he can shoot and get other players shots and those are two traits every NBA team seeks. If Toronto’s Fred VanVleet – who went undrafted three years ago after a college career comparable to Winston’s – can thrive as he has in the NBA then Winston is going to find teams willing to give him a shot. I think he’ll be drafted whether he comes out this season or next.
Dakoda (Hudsonville, Mich.): The three ways to upgrade a team would be through the draft, trade or free agency. Nailing the draft is the hope of every team, but this off-season do the Pistons have any realistic hope of upgrading through trades or free agency or even a sign-and-trade for better talent?
Langlois: Objectively, the best shot for the Pistons to improve this summer will be internal improvement from their young players: Luke Kennard, Thon Maker, Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Svi Myhailiuk most notably. It would be a very good summer if the Pistons develop those five to the point that Dwane Casey feels comfortable moving Kennard into the starting lineup. I say that because I don’t think there will be much question that Kennard is worthy of starting next season on his current trajectory, but the Pistons need someone to provide some of the things he does with the second unit in order to have the liberty to make him a starter. Brown, Thomas and Mykhailiuk can all make that happen. Beyond that, they should be able to pick up a solid rotation piece or two with their mid-level exception. Ish Smith and Zaza Pachulia are pending free agents, so they’ll need a backup point guard and center. They’ll also probably want to pick up a veteran wing even with Brown, Thomas and Mykhailiuk all potential contributors next season. They could get help with the 15th pick, though it depends on whether they wind up taking a one-and-done prospect or a more mature player to some degree. Their best trade assets, quite logically, are players that figure most centrally into their 2019-20 plans. They’d bring the most return but also create another need. I’d go (a) internal development and (b) free agency as the most likely paths to improvement this off-season with the draft somewhere after that and trades something of a wild card.