Pistons Mailbag - December 5, 2018

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Where Dwane Casey turns to fill the absence of Reggie Bullock, how the return of Luke Kennard affects the rotation and a smattering of other topics top the menu for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Bob (Albany, Oregon): If Reggie Bullock is out awhile, I’d like to see Bruce Brown start and Luke Kennard take his place with the second unit. He has earned a shot. Fans talking trades is premature, although something will give later. Ish Smith’s value is peaking. It was nice to see Jon Leuer play well against Oklahoma City. Tough schedule this month will test the Pistons’ mettle. What do you see moving forward?

Langlois: I addressed what I see moving forward in some detail here, Bob. As for who replaces Reggie Bullock in the starting lineup – he’s definitely out for tonight’s game at Milwaukee and listed as questionable for Friday’s game with Philadelphia, so it doesn’t appear that it will be a long-term injury based on that prognosis – Dwane Casey has no shortage of options. I would expect the decision probably comes down to Langston Galloway or Bruce Brown. Luke Kennard would be an easy choice if he wasn’t coming off of a 16-game absence and looked like it in Monday’s game. Sliding Kennard into the lineup would give the starting unit essentially the same 3-point threat that Bullock provides, not the same level of defense but another ballhandler to further diversify an offense centered on the power dynamic of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Starting Kennard also would preserve the continuity Casey had established with the unit of Galloway, Brown, Stanley Johnson, Zaza Pachulia and Ish Smith. But Casey made it clear that while he’ll consider that unit’s chemistry, his greater concern would be finding someone for the starting unit that would enable the Pistons to get off to a good start. As for Ish Smith’s value peaking, I think it’s likely that Ed Stefanski fields a lot of calls about Smith for the obvious reasons – he’s an effective point guard that requires very little in the way of financial commitment with an expiring contract. The problem for the Pistons is trading Smith – unless it was in a swap that brought back a point guard – would leave their highly effective second unit without its catalyst. The Pistons would have the same need for a backup point guard as the team whose problem they’d be addressing by trading Smith to them.

Steve (Warren, Mich.): How about the Pistons take a shot at Carmelo Anthony? He is cheap and has some upside. They really need a small forward and if Carmelo doesn’t work out, just cut him. He is the kind of player that Detroit could add without many players to trade and avoid losing draft picks. Worth the gamble?

Langlois: It wouldn’t be my first impulse. I have no idea what Anthony’s market is or what his motivations might be at this time. But if he’s going to be signed anywhere, you can be sure his side will have an expectation that he’s being signed to actually, you know, play. So there’s an inherent gamble here. The Pistons are in the thick of the playoff chase and it looks like it’s going to be a tightly bunched field after the first two or three teams in the East. Milwaukee and Toronto seem to have separated themselves at the top. Philadelphia and Boston might be expected to join them. It would be surprising if the front office feels either that (a) they have enough cushion to experiment with Anthony, risking the losses they might incur as they figure it out or (b) that Anthony has shown enough in the last season-plus to be an obvious upgrade over what they’ve already got going. He’s not a small forward any more – not in today’s game and not at 34 – and that might dull your interest in him, as well. He’s a power forward all the way. That’s one reason this isn’t as attractive as you might expect. You’re right that he’d come cheap. Nobody, I don’t believe, would offer him more than a veteran’s minimum deal at this point after the very visible failure of his brief tenure with the Houston Rockets.

Jub.Cul (@jpcveinti2): What are the chances the Pistons take a look at Carmelo Anthony?

Langlois: Take a look? I’m sure they already have. Do I think it’s something they would pursue? I doubt it. If you’re thinking he makes sense as the starter in a frontcourt with Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, defense would be a problem. If you accept what the rest of the NBA concluded a year ago, at minimum, that Anthony is now a power forward, then you’d be signing him to play backup minutes to Blake Griffin – which cuts the minutes of Stanley Johnson with the second unit. On the flip side, Anthony would see those factors, too, and I’d have to believe he’d find other situations as more conducive to winning consistent playing time. Boiling it down, Carmelo Anthony almost uncertainly is looking for a situation where he can, at minimum, be the centerpiece of somebody’s second unit. That’s why Houston, on paper, seemed like a good situation for him with the Rockets so heavily invested in a few players leaving their bench thin. If it didn’t work there, it’s hard to think of a spot where he’d have a better chance to thrive.

Aaron (@AaronBrandt): How do you see the rotation adjusting with the return of Luke Kennard?

Langlois: To be determined. There’s both a short-term and a long-term answer to this question, as well. Short term, I think Dwane Casey is going to look for spots to use Kennard until Kennard shows he’s over the effects of the separated shoulder. Casey said he saw Kennard shying from the physical nature of Monday’s game with one of the NBA’s most physical teams, Oklahoma City. If Reggie Bullock were to miss extended time – and, as I wrote above, that doesn’t appear to be the expectation – Kennard probably would be at the front of the line to replace him once he hits his stride. If Bullock is back in relative short order, then it’s probably going to require Kennard to win minutes back based on capitalizing on limited opportunity. The Pistons have a lot of players on the wings – Bullock, Glenn Robinson III, Stanley Johnson, Langston Galloway and Bruce Brown, foremost, but Casey’s also shown a willingness to use Jose Calderon and Khyri Thomas – and only so many minutes to go around. Long term, I still wouldn’t be surprised if Kennard and Bullock are both starters.

Jerry (@mead10): What players do we need to make a deep run and what are they willing to trade at the deadline?

Langlois: ”Deep run” kind of, sort of implies making it to the conference finals at a minimum, so playing well into May. Right now Milwaukee and Toronto appear to be a cut above the East field and would be the favorites to meet in the conference finals. But we’re a long way from the Feb. 7 trade deadline. The Pistons have 32 more games to play before that comes up and they’ll have a far greater sense of who they are and what they need at that point. There also will be similar clarity for the 29 other franchises, making for a far broader pool of trade partners and targets. Upgrading the talent base is a perpetual objective. When the Pistons swung the trade last January to add Blake Griffin, a popular reaction was that it was being done by the Stan Van Gundy administration to save his job. I don’t believe that for a second. Van Gundy made the deal – and owner Tom Gores was an enthusiastic proponent – on the belief that players of that caliber don’t come available very often and they saw the price to get him as dear but within reason. They thought it better positioned the Pistons for success than the status quo. I would expect the new administration – with no specter of job security even in question – to act similarly. If they see something that makes them better – and doesn’t mortgage the future – they’ll be fully prepared to act.

Sisco (@TheDudeSisco): Is this month going to determine in a sense how the season will be for the Pistons? Seven games against teams with records better than .500.

Langlois: It’s probably the most challenging three weeks of the schedule, but it’s not like they’ll emerge from it with the ability to relax if they survive it still in playoff position. It’s the month that will determine what their record will be when January starts. It will merely be a phase of the schedule that positions them for the next phase. The more wins you chalk up in November, December and January, the better positioned you are to weather a slump or a run of injuries down the road. It’s really why coaches don’t like to talk about much beyond the next game. They understand that every win counts as one and every loss is one chance to amass those precious wins you’ll never get back.

Justin (@djbirdzbeatz): With Stanley Johnson starting to shoot the three at a higher percentage, the Oklahoma City game notwithstanding, are coaches and players asking him to shoot more or is he taking that into his own hands?

Langlois: Trust me, under this coaching staff – and they’re not necessarily unique, but perhaps more consistent in their messaging – you’ll get in more trouble for passing up an open 3-point shot than you will for erring on the side of aggression and maybe taking one that doesn’t fully meet the guidelines of Dwane Casey’s “shot spectrum.” Passing up an open 3-point shot in rhythm – one of the most desirable shots Casey’s offense is designed to produce – is viewed just as negatively as a reckless turnover or a blown assignment. The offense is designed to create those shots, you only have 24 seconds to get it off and when you ignore the opportunity chances are you’re passing up the best chance to produce points on that possession. It’s a big deal and not something an offense can consistently overcome, in the same way taking undesirable shots drags down efficiency. So is Johnson being encouraged to shoot open threes? Of course, but that predated his greater efficiency. Casey asks that players work faithfully and tirelessly on their 3-point shooting before and after practices. Once Casey sees they’re putting in the work, they have a flashing green light to take those shots in games.

Demitirus (@demitirusmcnea7): Can the Pistons bounce back against Milwaukee?

Langlois: If by “bounce back” you mean will they play a competitive game? Almost certainly. If by “bounce back” you mean start another winning streak, then that’s far murkier. They’ll be playing a team that takes an 11-2 home record into tipoff. The Bucks go into the game as the No. 1 offensive team and the No. 6 defensive team in the NBA and they lead the league in net rating. Those numbers are strong indicators that they’re for real. So winning will be a tall order, but I would bet a dollar that you’ll see the Pistons come with focus and intensity.

FeedKerryon (@feedkerryon): Small forward seems to be an issue. Stanley Johnson plays better off of the bench and Glenn Robinson III just doesn’t look like he fits with all the starters. Do you think we’ll eventually see a Reggie Jackson/Kennard/Bullock/Blake/Drummond lineup?

Langlois: If you were to ask me what the starting lineup looks like in February – given everyone being healthy and available – that would be my guess. Johnson’s play off the bench has been so starkly better than as a starter – and they have solid reasons to understand why that’s the case given the nature of the fit with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond – that I’d be surprised if his status changes. Robinson has filled his role adequately since moving into the starting lineup a month ago, so a change there won’t be made lightly. Ultimately, I think Kennard has too much to offer to not give him a more prominent role.

Fatima (@dwtsqueen): Is Luke Kennard back to regular minutes?

Langlois: We can pick up this answer where the last left off. Coming into the season, I expected Kennard to come off of the bench because of how his scoring ability would help anchor that unit. But they’ve found enough scoring with Stanley Johnson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway meshing with Zaza Pachulia and Bruce Brown to ease concerns. Glenn Robinson III would compete for a role within that group, as well, if he were to come out of the starting lineup. It might be easier now to find an appropriate role for Kennard as a starter than off the bench. But first Kennard needs to work his way back from the shoulder injury that sidelined him for 16 games and it won’t be easy for him to do that if his minutes are going to be limited. It might take a few weeks, but these things always work themselves out.

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