Pistons Mailbag - December 4, 2019
Reggie Jackson’s return timeline and what the Pistons do when he comes back and a look at what the future holds for Bruce Brown get us off and running in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Jordan (@MaestroMatip): What’s the status of injuries to Reggie Jackson and Khyri Thomas?
Langlois: The Pistons announced on Tuesday that Jackson – who played in the season’s first two games, though clearly was bothered by the back injury that had afflicted him during the preseason – was making progress with the lower-back stress reaction and would be re-evaluated in two weeks. He’s missed 19 games so far and the two-week window means he’ll miss at least another six. With the caveat that no two injuries are exactly the same, Andre Drummond missed 20 games as a rookie with a lower-back stress reaction, but he was 19 at the time and, as we’ve since come to learn about him, has remarkable durability. If Jackson can return before Christmas, that would seem to be about as well as the recovery from an injury of that sort could have unfolded. As for Thomas, he had surgery on the fifth metatarsal of his right foot. As I’ve been told by trainers, that’s a tricky injury to rehabilitate because circulation in that spot is suboptimal and can complicate recovery. The initial diagnosis stated Thomas would be re-evaluated in six weeks, which would occur in late December. Certain fractures of the fifth metatarsal are termed Jones fractures, though not all of them fit that description, and the Pistons did not specifically label Thomas’ injury a Jones fracture. It’s a fairly common injury for basketball players. Kevin Durant suffered that very injury in 2015.
Ivan (@_208ivan): What will happen to the lineup when Reggie Jackson comes back or do we make a trade?
Langlois: Let’s set the “do we make a trade” issue aside for now. There is no conceivable chance a meaningful trade involving Jackson could be made until he demonstrates his level of play. If he’s the Jackson of the second half of last season, after he’d hit his stride following two injury-plagued seasons, then he’d have appeal to teams in need of a point guard who’s elevated his 3-point shooting to above league average in volume and accuracy. As for what the Pistons do with the lineup, Jackson’s their starting point guard. I think there’s little question that once he’s healthy – Tuesday’s news was that he’s making progress and will be re-evaluated in two weeks – he starts. The real question is does Bruce Brown or Luke Kennard start alongside him. That was the biggest question with the starting lineup coming into training camp, though Dwane Casey made clear he felt Kennard’s skills could be best exploited by using him with the second unit where he’d have the ball in his hands more often than he would in lineups with Blake Griffin and Jackson. Kennard has since elevated his game a few notches – he’s second to Andre Drummond in minutes played at nearly 34 a game – and I don’t think he’s going to play a lesser role even on a fully healthy roster. Yet if I had to guess, I think Casey might prefer to keep Brown in the starting lineup just to get the first six minutes or so of each half with him paired against the opposition’s top perimeter scorer. Kennard is still going to get 30 minutes or more a game that way and there is still merit in staggering his minutes with Griffin’s to a degree to give Kennard more pick-and-roll opportunities, a situation where he’s thrived. There’s less doubt about whether Kennard will be on the floor to finish games. He will. He’s earned all of that.
Joffrey Bywater (@JoffreyBywater): Could Bruce Brown Jr. be the long-term point guard for the Pistons? Do they have him in their long-term plans?
Langlois: Dwane Casey has maintained since Brown’s rookie season that it would be his likely eventual home. That was the impetus for sending Brown to Summer League as a point guard. The injury to Reggie Jackson forced point guard minutes on Brown this season, so I suppose the silver lining is they’ll go into next summer’s free agency – with both Reggie Jackson and Tim Frazier on expiring contracts and Derrick Rose going into his last season – with a clear need at the position and a better handle on Brown’s ability to be part of the solution. At a minimum, Brown at least offers positional protection there.
Mystery Team (@marcfoust): What do you see as Bruce Brown’s ceiling?
Langlois: If he hits all of his marks – improves his perimeter shot, becomes a more efficient finisher, shows he can handle point guard – then it’s really high. Those are all open-ended questions, so it’s impossible to say what the odds are that Brown can become above average or more at any of those three things. But it’s intriguing since he’s got the physical tools to surge in every conceivable category. Brown has very good size and strength. We know what his floor is and it’s pretty good – a plus defender across multiple positions. His floor has been good enough to have him playing meaningful minutes on a playoff team as a rookie. His basketball IQ and work ethic make him a solid bet to improve incrementally year over year. That gives him value to any franchise.
Jordon Hubbard (@jordon hubbard): When are we going to blow this up? The entire situation seems stale. Time to bottom out and play to get a top lottery pick?
Langlois: This season and the off-season to follow has pretty obviously been one that would shape the future direction of the franchise since the January 2018 trade for Blake Griffin. Reggie Jackson’s contract is up and Andre Drummond has a player option that he always seemed likely to exercise given his age and productivity. The only other players under contract and making significant money next season are Tony Snell ($12.2 million), Derrick Rose ($7.7 million) and Luke Kennard ($5.3 million) beyond Griffin’s $36.8 million. As poorly as the first quarter of the season went – undermined by injuries, primarily – the Pistons are still within easy striking distance of a playoff berth. If they get Jackson back and he gets up to speed in relatively short order, they’ll be able to judge the type of team they can be in advance of the February trade deadline and make their determinations from there on how to proceed. The roster is going to look quite different by this time next season no matter what happens at the trade deadline, though. The reality of free agency pretty much guarantees that.
Atiba (Beaver Creek, Ohio): What are the chances we extend Christian Wood before the off-season? I want him to stay a Piston!
Langlois: The chances of that are zero – simply because Wood’s contract is not eligible to be extended. Only contracts of three years or longer can be extended. The contract the Pistons inherited when they claimed Wood off of waivers – New Orleans had to pare players to get to the 20-player limit last summer after its bounty of players/picks as a result of the Anthony Davis trade – means they can’t extend him. They will have early Bird rights when free agency starts.
Kenneth (Shelby Twp., Mich.): It’s clear we need to mix things up. Do you think trading Langston Galloway, Reggie Jackson and Thon Maker to the Knicks for Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson and Frank Ntilikina would do anything to change this team’s fortunes? Morris has history with his brother, Gibson with Rose and Doumbouya with Ntilikina.
Langlois: Start with the stipulation that a trade involving free agents signed last summer can’t be made until Dec. 15, which is still 11 days away. But you’re proposing a trade of one bench player, one injured player and one outside the Pistons rotation for two starters and a bench staple for the Knicks. That doesn’t pass the logic test. Maybe if Jackson returns and shows the lower-back injury he suffered is not something that will affect his play for the rest of the season, it would move to a consideration. But surely not until then.
IBA (@iba_gr): Is Dwane Casey’s job safe?
Langlois: He’s 1¼ years into a five-year contract and coming off of the franchise’s second playoff appearance in 10 seasons. Over the season’s first 21 games, the Pistons have had three starters and their sixth man (Derrick Rose) miss a total of 40 games. Even with the understanding that it’s the nature of the profession to never be far removed from the hot seat, it would be preposterous to suggest Casey’s job is in jeopardy.
James Vos (@JamesVos): Jordan Bone has been tearing up the G League. Why haven’t the Pistons brought him up for some meaningful minutes?
Langlois: They haven’t brought him up because he’s not ready to help them win games at this stage. They like Bone a great deal. As I wrote last summer, personnel director Gregg Polinsky said they rated Bone as a first-round talent, which is why they made a move to trade back into the second round when he was still available past the 50th pick, eventually finding a trade partner in Philadelphia to nab him at 57. His speed and overall athleticism are his primary strengths right now in addition to an above-average mid-range game and a 3-point stroke that should top out at above average or better. But he needs a lot of reps and playing time to become an NBA-caliber point guard. The offense he quarterbacked at Tennessee didn’t ask him to do the same types of things that he’ll be required to do with the Pistons in order to be a proficient point guard. Bone’s numbers have been very good with Grand Rapids through 11 games: 18.2 points and 7.7 assists in 34 minutes a game on 47 percent shooting and 39 percent 3-point shooting, but it’s 11 games and it’s encouraging but not dominant. Beyond the numbers, the Pistons and Dwane Casey are looking for signs that Bone is becoming an instinctive point guard. And that can only happen with game experience – more than 11 of them. Beyond that, he’s on a two-way contract. He’s limited to 45 days with the Pistons. This year was always intended to be an internship for Bone.
J.R. Swish (@swish_jose): Is it possible we see Christian Wood play in place of Andre Drummond with the starters at any time of the game?
Langlois: If you’re asking if Christian Wood is going to supplant Andre Drummond, no. Wood has at least temporarily won out over Thon Maker for minutes behind Drummond, Blake Griffin and Markieff Morris in the frontcourt rotation. If he can be more consistently productive and continue to cut down on mental lapses, he’ll cement that status and earn a broader role. Casey went to him very quickly in Sunday’s win over San Antonio when Drummond missed three of four free throws and Gregg Popovich signaled his intent to intentionally foul and Wood responded spectacularly. He’s not equipped physically for the breadth of defensive matchups Drummond can handle at this point, but he’ll present as many problems as he encounters given his unique versatility and skill level. He’s one of the more interesting storylines of the season, for sure.