Pistons Mailbag - January 4, 2017

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

As the Pistons continue to struggle, fans focus on the ups and downs Reggie Jackson has endured since returning from injury on Dec. 4. Pistons Mailbag takes a deep dive on that subject and more.

Kamal (Detroit): Why have the Pistons gotten away from the Reggie Jackson-Andre Drummond pick and roll? For over a year, it’s been the most reliable play and the identity behind the team’s offense. I know Reggie was struggling to find his offense after the surgery, but now that he looks better why has he lost his synergy with Drummond?

Langlois: They haven’t gotten away from it at all. Jackson hasn’t been coming off Drummond’s screens and getting into the paint and all the way to the rim as often as in the past, but that has everything to do with Jackson getting his legs, burst and feel back and nothing to do with the desire of Stan Van Gundy, Jackson or Drummond to exploit that play for all of its potential. We saw some pretty clear signs he was rediscovering all of those things in recent games at Atlanta and Miami and in Tuesday night’s game against Indiana. He’s averaging 22.3 points and 8.0 assists over those three games. If there’s something for the Pistons to hang on to during an otherwise troubling stretch – they’re 2-8 over their last 10 games since Dec. 16 – it’s that Jackson appears to be pretty much back. That said, Van Gundy saw a need to diversify the offense a little and he’s got options now he didn’t have a year ago at this time. The trade for Tobias Harris gave him a versatile scorer good in isolations or post-ups and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has become a bigger threat as his decision making and consistency on his jump shot have improved. Marcus Morris, like Harris, can score in a number of ways. So the Jackson-Drummond pick and roll remains the backbone of the Pistons’ offense, but they’re not as heavily dependent on it as they were last year at this time.

Tim (Battle Creek, Mich.): Does it seem like Reggie is not getting in the paint as much yet? The Pistons’ offense seems much better when Reggie gets there, like Ish was doing.

Langlois: See above. Short answer: yes. Longer answer: Almost certainly due to him feeling his way back from his knee injury and dealing with the lack of explosion in his legs as he rebuilds strength and endurance. Projection: Should start seeing more and more of Jackson as we remember him.

Darrell (Detroit): You mentioned that the Pistons had the league’s No. 2 defense through 27 games. What appears to have interrupted that defensive success was trying to integrate Reggie Jackson back into the starting lineup. I’m not blaming Reggie while overcoming a knee injury considering the delicate balance of team chemistry. I suggest they go back to what was working for the first third of the season and start Ish Smith. I like Stan Van Gundy and think it’s ridiculous for people to discuss replacing him. But I do think he is loyal to a fault. Your thoughts?

Langlois: I wouldn’t categorize it as loyalty, Darrell. With all due respect to Smith, there really isn’t much of an objective debate over who’s better suited to be an NBA starter. Jackson, by Stan Van Gundy’s assessment and by most statistical measures and by the simple eye test, was a top-10 point guard last season in a league stacked with good players at the position. You can maybe question if Van Gundy should have gone a little slower with Jackson when he returned from injury, but that’s not the way he – or, to be fair, the great majority of NBA coaches – generally handle it when starters are cleared to return from injury. The timing of Jackson’s return was awkward, coming as it did on the heels of easily the best three-game stretch of the season – road wins over Charlotte, Boston and Atlanta in a four-day span. Van Gundy rightly points out that the overall performance of the starting unit while Smith was among its ranks was erratic and he was already pondering what to do about it before Jackson’s return. Smith and the Pistons had three great games right before Jackson returned. They were 8-10 before that three-game stretch, though, and they weren’t going to ever be able to sustain their preposterous 49 percent 3-point shooting over those games.

Paul (Phoenix): A lineup change Stan Van Gundy does not consider is bringing Reggie Jackson off the bench. With his endless dribbling out the shot clock and settling for forced shots by him or his teammates on last-second passes, poor assists-to-turnovers ratio, he just doesn’t get it. Van Gundy can get mad at players-only meetings all he wants, but he is the one who decides the starting and second units and by all accounts since Jackson’s return the team is declining in every aspect of the game.

Langlois: It’s silly to say Van Gundy didn’t consider that – or any other possible permutation. I doubt he considered it long for the reason I stated above. Ish Smith has met Van Gundy’s expectations. Signed to give the Pistons a quality long-term backup point guard and get the second unit to play at a faster pace, Smith has been as advertised. But he doesn’t offer the same overall threat as Jackson. To suggest otherwise is an overreaction to a limited – and, by every indication, misleading – sample size based on Jackson’s return from injury and other factors. Jackson’s assists-to-turnovers ratio is better than 2:1. It’s not too far out of line with his career norms or expectations. It very likely will tick up as he hits his stride. I thought Jackson’s outing against Indiana on Tuesday was the best he’s been from wire to wire; he finished with 12 assists and three turnovers. As for your contention that Van Gundy got “mad” about a players-only meeting, that’s not accurate. He has no issue with players openly communicating with one another. He’s a little bemused that outsiders think something like a players-only meeting is going to magically and immediately solve the issues that led to it being held. He puts more stock in actions than words. Haven’t met a coach worth his salt yet who doesn’t.

JMR (@JMR2152): If you could go back in time, draft Kay Felder instead of Michael Gbinije, play him instead of picking up Beno Udrih, would you?

Langlois: If I could go back in time, I’d buy Apple at $7 a share in 2002. More specifically to your question, I doubt the Pistons would. Stan Van Gundy said the Pistons had Gbinije ranked a first rounder. Since the first week of training camp, when the world whizzes by for most rookies and Gbinije looked a little lost, Van Gundy has had nothing but good things to say about Gbinije. If you’re thinking, “Yeah, what else is he going to say?” … well, that’s not Van Gundy. If someone’s struggling, he’ll say that, even if the question is leading in a positive way. He likes how rounded Gbinije’s game is – he defends, passes, handles and shoots well. I think he’d be comfortable playing Gbinije today if injuries opened the door. When he was asked the day after the draft about other possibilities with that pick – and he was asked specifically about Felder, who worked out for the Pistons – he said that they also had Felder highly rated but volunteered that they had Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell rated a first-round pick, as well. Since Brooklyn waived Ferrell to get down to the 15-man roster limit and he was available to the Pistons at the same time they decided to pick up Udrih and waive Ray McCallum – on the basis, according to Van Gundy, that the Pistons’ needs, with Reggie Jackson’s injury expected to cause him to miss the first quarter of the season (which was spot on) – then it’s pretty fair to guess they weren’t kicking themselves at the time for not drafting Felder. Now, that doesn’t mean Felder won’t eventually prove to have been the better pick. Only that it’s pretty certain the Pistons wouldn’t have felt comfortable going into the regular season with a rookie second-round pick playing regular rotation minutes.

Brad (@bradhosmer95): Do you believe the Pistons make any moves at the trade deadline?

Langlois: Get back to me in mid-February. It’s too soon to tell. It depends on how they’re playing at the time and how Van Gundy realistically assesses how much a trade can help as he weighs short term vs. long term. I do think the Pistons are probably at a point where Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower wouldn’t be quite as opposed to trades that represent at least a slight risk to the future. Key word: “slight.” I don’t think you’re going to see them dangling a No. 1 pick for a rental if they’re scrapping for a playoff berth. One example that comes to mind: the Milwaukee Bucks, at 26-25, sent a 19-year-old Tobias Harris (and Beno Udrih) to Orlando at the 2013 trade deadline for free-agent-to-be J.J. Redick. The Bucks finished 38-44 and got swept in four double-digit losses to Miami in the first round and then saw Redick leave as a free agent. (They then drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo, so I guess it all worked out OK.) That’s the type of trade I wouldn’t see them making.

Timothy (Grand Rapids, Mich.): If seems that every team goes through struggles during a season. The Hawks would be a great example. I don’t see any reason to panic. Reggie has really ramped up his production. Could you see the Pistons making some leaps?

Langlois: They’re a better team than they’ve been for the last two-plus weeks, Timothy. That’s an easy call. On paper, they should be a better team than the one that won 44 games a year ago. It’s going to be tough to prove it now, though. They’re 16-21 with 45 games to play. They’d have to go 28-17 to match last season’s record – not impossible, but tough. And it’s going to get tougher with a five-game road trip – one that includes stops at Portland, Golden State and Utah, all expected playoff teams – coming up after Thursday’s home date with Charlotte. A turnaround is coming – they just have to hope it doesn’t come after they’ve dug too big a hole to escape.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): The route to winning a championship lies in free agency of 2020-21. There you will find your power forward. There will be two to choose from, Anthony Davis as first choice and Draymond Green second. Power forward is currently a position of weakness for the Pistons and we should keep it that way until then. This would be consistent with the growth of Andre Drummond, KCP and Stanley Johnson. We will need to make sure we are under the cap and have the space for a max contract at that time.

Langlois: I edited the scope of your proposal down to a manageable size, Ian, but this was the crux of it: essentially, deliberately limit the roster for four years on the hopes that you’ll be in the front of the line in free agency in 2021. That seems an even riskier proposition than Sam Hinkie’s grand design to strip the roster in Philadelphia of all veterans of any merit – guys who might help you actually win a few games – on the hope of maximizing your chances to win the lottery. I think you can see what happens when teams underperform, deliberately or otherwise, and then hope to attract elite free agents best in the examples of the Knicks and Lakers. They haven’t been able to get a foot in the door with LeBron James, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, et al, and even they weren’t so bold as to plot to stay mediocre and limit long-term contracts for a period anywhere near the term you’re suggesting. I think the only way the Pistons – and the vast majority of teams in the NBA – are even going to get a seat at the table to bid on premier free agents is to employ a smart front office, a winning coaching staff and a cohesive roster filled with promising players. In other words, free agents aren’t often convinced by anything other than an obvious chance to win a championship. Deliberating losing has proven a very bad way to convince them of that. Teams plan one, two and three years ahead all the time with regard to the their salary cap and include things like the expected strengths of college drafts when considering trading (incoming or outgoing) first-round draft picks, but planning four years out for a certain free agent is … less than shrewd. One of those guys might agree to an extension with his current team before he hits free agency. One might suffer an injury at any point between now and then that diminishes his impact. I hear what you’re saying – rather to gamble on greatness than stay mired in mediocrity – but I disagree with the premise just as I abhor the strategy of tanking to improve lottery odds. Oh, and Henry Ellenson might have something to say about the supposed “weakness” of power forward on the roster sometime between now and 2021

Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): If the Pistons are six or seven games under .500 after this tough upcoming road trip, will they be sellers at the deadline? They have the pieces to get another first-round pick in a loaded draft. (I’m not hoping for this outcome.)

Langlois: I think it more matters what their record is at the deadline, Buk. There’s going to be more than a month of season remaining between the end of the upcoming road trip and the Feb. 23 trade deadline. That’s a lot of time – and 14 games – between those two points. The picture likely will be much clearer for them and help dictate their course. But I’d put the odds of Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower dealing a No. 1 pick as somewhere between “remote” and “snowball’s chance in hell.”

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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