Pistons Mailbag - December 26, 2018
How the Pistons address their wing positions and talk of Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson, Khyri Thomas and more are on the menu for the holiday edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Paul (Phoenix): What is all the talk about wing players Detroit might trade for? We don’t need any guards, especially Markelle Fultz, basically a No. 1 bust. Supposedly Khyri Thomas has played great in practice and Grand Rapids, so why no game time? The only trade I see as appealing is for T.J. Warren from Phoenix, a forward who shoots well. How about a No. 1 and Glenn Robinson III?
Langlois: If by “all the talk” you mean suggestions from other Pistons Mailbag respondents, well, that doesn’t amount to anything substantive. It reflects a level of frustration, I suppose, with the inconsistencies of the players in the mix for playing time at shooting guard and small forward. Reggie Bullock is the most consistent, but he’s also missed time while recovering from two sprained ankles. Luke Kennard has missed 16 games – that will be 50 percent of the schedule after tonight’s game – and hasn’t approached his expected contribution levels on anything close to a consistent basis, largely the result of his summer knee injury and October shoulder separation. Langston Galloway’s shooting has been up and down. Stanley Johnson has taken a step forward but remains a sub-30 percent 3-point shooter despite increasing the percentage of shots he takes from the arc to career-high levels. Glenn Robinson III’s ankle injury has taken him out of the mix for now. Bruce Brown has exceeded expectations for a second-round rookie and is showing improvement as a shooter, but his primary contributions come on defense. If Casey thought Thomas was better prepared to help the Pistons than any of the players ahead of him in the pecking order, you’d see him. That could be tonight, next week, next month – or next season. They’re as high on him as they were on draft night and he’s been very good in his G League time. As for T.J. Warren, he’s probably one of the most popular trade targets in the league given Phoenix’s plight, but the Suns are under no duress to trade him. He’s under team control for three more seasons at a reasonable salary (about $35 million). He wouldn’t come cheap in trade.
Rudy (@rudyjuly2): When I see Luke Kennard’s knee wrapped in ice during games, I can’t help but think he isn’t right and might not be for a while. What is going on with his health?
Langlois: Kennard routinely wraps his knees when he comes out of games, as do several players. No one has hinted at anything physical going on with Kennard other than the fact he missed about six weeks with his separated shoulder and then needed to find his conditioning after that.
Kobina (Decatur, Ga.): Why not Carmelo Anthony? He’s cheap and we need scoring.
Langlois: You can safely assume Ed Stefanski and his front office batted around the merits of adding Anthony – or, at least, of reaching out to his side to gauge interest. The questions to be asked are can Anthony score efficiently any longer and where does he fit? The fact Houston, which has clear depth issues, decided to move on so very quickly seems telling with regard to the first question. He shot 40 percent in 2,500 minutes with Oklahoma City last season and was at the same pace with Houston when the Rockets cut bait after 10 games this season. Throw in the obvious defensive issues and what are you really getting? And where would he play with the Pistons? The best-case scenario would be to take minutes at power forward when Blake Griffin sits – minutes that go to Stanley Johnson right now. If Johnson played those minutes at small forward, something else has to give and none of it seems likely to make the Pistons a more efficient offensive team while probably damaging them defensively. There has been precious little buzz about Anthony’s potential landing spots since. I think everybody is watching to see if the Lakers will make a play for him given his long-term relationship with LeBron James. If James wants him in a Lakers uniform, it almost certainly happens. That it hasn’t happened yet tells you something.
Nick (Brisbane, Australia): One bit of light out of the injury crisis has been Jon Leuer getting some minutes and looking pretty solid using his athleticism, rebounding, running the floor and hitting mid-range shots. What has happened to his 3-point shooting, though? He was paid a lot of money a few years back for his ability to stretch the floor and hit threes at above NBA average, but now looks like he has the yips and doesn’t want to take any threes. Do you think he can turn this around?
Langlois: Leuer has never been a prolific 3-point shooter, though the season before he signed with the Pistons as a free agent he was an efficient one. Leuer hit 38.2 percent of his 3-point shots with Phoenix in 2015-16, though only 23.6 percent of his shots were 3-pointers. He upped that slightly in his first season with the Pistons to 25.8 percent, but his accuracy fell to 29.3 percent. That’s fallen even further this season – though the sample size is still too small to extrapolate much – to less than 10 percent, 5 of 54 shots. Leuer’s mid-range shot has been very good this season – he’s shooting 63 percent overall and 69 percent if you eliminate his five 3-point attempts – and he hasn’t been in position to take enough 3-pointers to say he has the yips. Missing as much time as Leuer missed – all but the first eight games of last season, then a big chunk of the off-season with a knee injury – almost certainly plays a role in affecting a player’s shooting confidence.
Darrell (Detroit): Jose Calderon has been on the floor to finish recent games. As I suggested not long ago, he should also start – even if that means playing the first seven or eight minutes of each half, as you suggested. Poor offensive starts are the Pistons’ Achilles heels in first and third quarters. Griffin’s turnovers are also piling up. Calderon can help alleviate both problems. Reggie Jackson can find his game off the bench just as Stanley Johnson has. Speaking of Johnson, his game reminds me of Metta World Peace. Stanley will be good in his prime. Hopefully, the Pistons can retain him.
Langlois: Calderon has earned Dwane Casey’s trust and remains the same heady player he’s always been. And there’s no reason to expect he’ll bump along as one of the worst 3-point shooters in the NBA when he’s been a 41 percent career shooter from the arc. He hit 2 of 3 at Charlotte after going 1 of 25 prior to that. When Ish Smith returns, Casey might look for ways to use Calderon in tandem with Jackson or Smith as a means of addressing the wing inconsistencies we discussed above. As for Johnson, it’s worth remembering that he’s the same age now, 22, that Jimmy Butler was as an NBA rookie when Butler played in only 42 games and averaged 2.6 points. Projecting where Johnson might be in three years at as 25-year-old is anyone’s guess, but that was the year Butler blew up to make his first All-Star appearance.
Ian (Westland, Mich.): This team needs a shakeup that allows us to sign free agents next year. I’m not convinced Reggie Jackson is the point guard to lead us to a championship. Eric Bledsoe is available next year.
Langlois: For the Pistons to become players for significant free agents in 2019, they would need more than a “shakeup.” They’ll be paying about $80 million to three players next season – Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson – and getting to free-agent money almost surely means shedding one of those contracts. That’s more than a shakeup; that’s a radical course change. The next real window for the Pistons in free agency will come after the 2019-20 season.
Heath (Alma, Mich.): My son, who is 16, plays on the junior varsity team. I’m looking for ideas or techniques to make him more aggressive and physical and for a voice he would respect. He’s at the age where he’s tuning me out.
Langlois: At that age, the physical development of teens runs the spectrum and where your son falls on that probably dictates to some degree his level of aggressiveness or physicality. To a greater degree, those things in my experience are tied to confidence. Practicing to become more proficient will boost confidence and then aggressiveness will follow. Improving his skill level will go a long way toward improving his confidence. Whether he’s a point guard or a center or anything in between, these days it’s almost imperative that players develop their ballhandling and shooting skills to be interchangeable among positions. In season, getting in all the extra shooting and skills work he can manage before and after practice would help. Out of season, working on strength and conditioning in addition to skills work would push the process along. Maybe that means finding a good basketball camp or even a mentor or private coach for more prolonged instruction. His high school coaches should be able to offer direction. All of that, of course, really depends on his interests and desires. Hope that helps.
Sweaty (@CRichardson252): How is Ish Smith doing?
Langlois: It’s been three weeks since he suffered the torn adductor muscle. Dwane Casey had no update on his status as of the weekend, but Casey did indicate that they expect he’ll be out at least a few more weeks. Given that Smith relies so much on his speed and quickness, they’ll be especially cautious not to hurry him back and risk re-aggravating the injury. For what it’s worth, he’s walking without any hint of a limp and doing some limited on-court work.