Pistons Mailbag - June 15, 2016
With the draft now just one week and a day away, Pistons fans are debating the merits of a bunch of players who might be their next addition. That and a whole bunch more in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Paul (@PaullusNonGrata): Are either of Mirza Teletovic (scoring) or Jon Leuer (defense) Pistons fits? Are they likely targets of SVG?
Langlois: Both are unrestricted free agents who finished the season with Phoenix, which has given the Pistons 2½ rotation players – that’s counting Reggie Bullock as one-half as he was in and out of the rotation last season, but finished strong – for laughably little in return. The Pistons got Anthony Tolliver for little-used Tony Mitchell, who was waived immediately and hasn’t played in the NBA since – in December 2014, then traded a 2020 No. 2 pick for Bullock and Marcus Morris last July. Here’s the question that needs to be asked and answered by Stan Van Gundy and his staff, though, as they weigh options at power forward: Is either Teletovic or Leuer an upgrade over Anthony Tolliver? If you polled the league’s 30 general managers, you might get 10 votes for each one. I think Teletovic is probably the best shooter, though they’re all above-average 3-point shooters. Leuer is the best rebounder – 10.7 boards per 36 minutes last season, a strong number – and, at 27, is the youngest. Tolliver is perhaps the most rounded of the three, a good 3-pointer shooter and a reliable defender. Tolliver also is a known quantity for the Pistons and valued for his professionalism. It might turn out the Pistons wind up with Teletovic or Leuer. Maybe their scouts see potential in one or the other – as they did with Aron Baynes a year ago – that isn’t reflected in their career stats so far. But my guess is that they’re aiming for a player from a tier above those two.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): What do you think Pistons management, players and fans should see and think about when they watch the Warriors and Cavs in the NBA Finals? Each of the three groups might have a different perspective and some similarities.
Langlois: Jeff Bower spoke about this just this week, Ken. He said he watches on a few different levels, including “what they’re doing, how they react to whatever the scenario is and looking at it from the standpoint of the atmosphere and the environment and the reactions of all the players and all the people involved from the court to the whole surroundings. It’s a great celebration of NBA basketball and we look at it that way. And at the same time, you look to find something that can take you one more step closer to being in that atmosphere.” I think Pistons players might be struck by how hard Golden State defends on nearly every possession for all 24 seconds. Van Gundy left his team with the message after the season ended that the seven teams that finished ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings also finished ahead of them in defensive rating. The Warriors put themselves in position to win the Finals, even as their scorers were sputtering, by playing great defense in all but Game 3 before Monday’s incredible performances from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving kept the Cavs alive. Fans should probably just focus on enjoying a player who belongs in the discussion of all-time greatest (LeBron James) and another who might already have wrapped up the title of all-time greatest shooter (Steph Curry) by acclamation.
Steve (@StevieSanto): If Valentine falls to the Pistons, do they take him even if Sabonis is on the board?
Langlois: Wow. Too close to call for me. I like them both. Sabonis fills a more pressing need, but you could argue that while the Pistons have plenty of shooting guards – and, yes, I think that’s going to be Valentine’s position, even if he had some point guard skills and the necessary vision to play the position – they don’t have enough perimeter playmakers. I also understand there are legitimate questions about Sabonis’ ability to guard away from the basket – the growing number of mobile power forwards, essentially. If he can’t do that, it reduces his value. I think much of what Sabonis does will hold great appeal to Van Gundy – he rebounds, he plays extremely hard, he appears to have a high basketball IQ and he has the basis for a versatile scoring arsenal. But if Van Gundy has doubts about his ability to defend and about his ability to score inside due to a relatively short wing span and limited athleticism, those could be factors so limiting as to tip the scales to Valentine or any number of other players still on the board at 18. But let’s remember that there’s a better chance that both players will be gone when the Pistons pick than that both will be available. Those are two really good players. Neither is a sure-fire NBA starter or even a rotation player, but I’d have to think Pistons fans should be happy to land either one.
Kenny(@KennyDalen): You have three options: plug-and-play Denzel Valentine, potential-laden Thon Maker, strong and solid Cheikh Diallo. Who do you got?
Langlois: This is an easier call for me. I take Valentine here. But that’s based on what I know and I know a ton more about Valentine than the other two. You have to assume the Pistons feel a lot more comfortable with their knowledge of Maker and Diallo. Even though they haven’t been seen – like, practically never – by the public at large, Pistons scouts will have seen them in a few different settings, including workouts. (Both were at the combine and Diallo even took part in the five-on-five play. Maker has already been to Auburn Hills for a workout; Diallo might yet.) The Pistons, like everyone else, will have a far more thorough feel for Valentine than the two big men, but that doesn’t necessarily work in his favor. It just means they are probably more comfortable in their projection of what Valentine’s NBA impact will be. I think he’s going to be a good pro once he adjusts to the step up in size and strength of the players who’ll be defending him and to the speed of the game.
Steve (Battle Creek, Mich.): Would the Pistons trade the 18th pick for Taj Gibson? The Bulls are looking to go in a different direction and save some money. The Pistons would get their backup four and defense plus rim protection. He has a nice mid-range game and can play some small-ball center. Re-sign Anthony Tolliver for 3-point shooting. I think that solves the power forward position. Then they can use cap space for a backup point guard.
Langlois: Lots to chew on there, Steve. The knee-jerk reaction is to say “of course” the Pistons would give up the 18th pick for a power forward of Gibson’s impact. There is no question that adding Gibson to the current roster makes the Pistons a deeper and more versatile team better able to match up with bigger power forwards. Stan Van Gundy has been patient with his rebuilding, avoiding quick-fix approaches. Gibson will be 31 before the month ends, though, and he’s entering the last year of his contract. Those two things taken together make the decision a lot more troubling. You know you’ll get a good year out of Gibson, assuming he stays healthy, as he plays for what will surely be the last big contract of his career. But then you have to consider (a) what it will take to retain him as a free agent next season and how that fits into the overall cap picture with Andre Drummond due for a maximum contract and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope coming up behind him for a new (and much bigger) contract; and (b) how a 225-pound power forward whose game is played from 15 feet and in like Gibson is going to hold up as he ages over the term of his next contract. As tempting as your deal sounds – and I’m not sure the Bulls wouldn’t want a surer thing than the 18th pick in return, anyway – I think the Pistons might say “no” on this one.
Tomas (Ann Arbor, Mich.): I understand we need a backup point guard but you’ve said before that Stan Van Gundy would probably like someone with experience to fill that role rather than putting all of that pressure on a rookie. So what is the downside of drafting Thon Maker? We have a later pick in a not-very-deep draft, but we have the ability to pick someone with massive upside who could undoubtedly stretch the floor and help protect the rim alongside Andre. Not only that, but he has been one of the top recruits for years and could eventually be a star. I realize he’s a risk and a big project, but isn’t that something we can do right now with our roster? I feel he’d be similar to a foreign player in the sense we wouldn’t necessarily expect anything from him right way but in years to come when our roster becomes more open he could really be a force.
Langlois: You ask what the “downside” to drafting Maker would be. That depends entirely on what Pistons scouts determine his upside might be. There is almost a mythical quality that has evolved around Maker and that’s translated into expectations he could flower into a dominant player. But there isn’t a ton of evidence to support that notion.(For instance, you say he “could undoubtedly stretch the floor,” but I’m not sure how you can know that. Lots of guys show nice shooting strokes in drills, but being able to do it in live action, getting your feet set and squaring up and releasing before the defense can react, is another matter entirely.) He has some intriguing qualities, but there are long lists of players with intriguing qualities taken in the first round on the hope those raw tools would translate into NBA stardom and no lasting impact was made. All of that doesn’t argue against taking him with the 18th pick. If Stan Van Gundy and his staff go through their process, put their board together and slot Maker in their top 18 – a ranking that will entail consideration for the degree of risk that comes in widely varying degrees with all players – then, sure, there’s no more downside in taking Maker than there would be with taking any other player. Maker is cool to the idea of playing overseas, so it wouldn’t be quite like drafting Juan Hernangomez, Ivica Zubac, Furkan Korkmaz, Timothe Luwawu or Ante Zizic – players already playing in international pro leagues.
Lenon (Detroit): I really enjoyed how the Pistons competed against the Cavs in the playoffs. Any idea what Stan Van Gundy wants players to work on over the summer? Also, are any players working out here?
Langlois: Van Gundy met with every player on the roster in exit interviews – standard procedure among NBA teams – when the season ended. They discussed the season past and the future and what each player could do to better himself and help the team. For all perimeter players, improving their shooting is at or near the top of the list. Stanley Johnson will focus on his footwork and ballhandling (with both hands). Darrun Hilliard needs to add strength. Reggie Jackson said he would spend hours watching videotape of himself operating in the pick and roll in hopes of becoming a better, more instinctive decision maker. Andre Drummond is back in California about to start his off-season training program at the P3 facility that he felt helped him a great deal last season. Hilliard is working out at the team’s practice facility for most of the summer. Other players will be in and out of Auburn Hills, but they all have off-season training bases and personal trainers to oversee their training.
Atiba (Beaver Creek, Ohio): I really hope the Pistons sign Detroit native Jordan Crawford to a multiyear deal. He’s the perfect spark off the bench and can respectably play either guard position. He’ll probably be cheap to lock in since he, for no reason, couldn’t find a team to play with for the past few seasons. He could be similar for the Pistons to what Hassan Whiteside was for the Heat.
Langlois: They brought him to Auburn Hills last week as one of 16 players whose rights aren’t held by any other NBA team, so there’s at least some level of interest, Atiba. Stan Van Gundy said he wanted to add more scoring to the second unit. Crawford surely offers scoring. He’d be fighting for a spot at the deepest position on the roster, though, unless the Pistons view him as having a legitimate shot at playing point guard. Crawford sees himself that way, but the consensus is that he’s less a combo guard and more a shooting guard who can create for himself. The Pistons might have a different evaluation. There has been no news to come out of the camp so far regarding signings, but that’s not unexpected. Teams would offer guaranteed contracts hesitantly at this time of year – before the draft and free agency – and players would be just as hesitant to sign something that locks them in but doesn’t guarantee them a job for next season. Perhaps one or more of the players at last week’s camp will participate in Pistons Summer League and, out of that, maybe one or more will come to training camp with them on at least a partially guaranteed deal.
Ahmed (San Antonio): In the NBA, there has never been a team win a playoff series after trailing 3-0. It has been done in baseball and hockey. Do you think we could see a team in the NBA able to overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win the series within the next 10 years?
Langlois: I don’t know about the next 10 years, but it will happen someday. I don’t think it’s a fluke that basketball is the last sport in which it’s happened. Basketball is the sport where the best team is more likely to win. Shooting can be moderately random, which explains how some of the crazy NCAA tournament upsets happen. (Middle Tennessee over Michigan State, which will always sting Spartans fans, is the most recent and graphic example.) But shooting isn’t likely to stay so far outside the norm over four straight games after a team has lost three straight. Playoff hockey is great theater, but I’ve always been struck by the random nature of the game. It’s not all that uncommon for a team to dominate action and hold overwhelming advantages in shots on goal and scoring chances yet lose. That won’t happen in the NBA. Baseball is such a different team sport, really a series of one-on-one matchups between pitcher and catcher, and the quality of pitching performances – even from the same pitcher on different days within the same playoff series – can vary wildly. One other thing that makes basketball a tougher turnaround is the impact of home court vs. home ice or home field. Being at home is a more distinct advantage in basketball – statistics consistently bear that out – than it is for baseball or hockey. In a seven-game series with a standard 2-2-1-1-1 format, the team trailing by three games is going to not only have to win four straight but take two of them on the road. And, again, winning on the road is demonstrably tougher in basketball than the two other sports. My hunch is that when it happens, it will involve an injury that diminishes – devastates, really – the team up three games. A team that loses a basketball superstar is affected to a greater degree than a hockey or baseball team losing any single player. If LeBron James gets hurt with Cleveland up 3-0, all bets are off. If Sidney Crosby was lost to Pittsburgh up 3-0, it wouldn’t have nearly the impact. A hockey forward, for one thing, plays less than half the game, often no more than a third. If the Tigers lost Miguel Cabrera up 3-0 – as big a hole as that would leave in their lineup – it doesn’t come close to the subtraction of James from the Cavs. He’s one batter out of nine. He surely has more than one-ninth impact on the outcome, but nowhere close to the percentage impact James has on Cleveland’s chances to win. The Pistons swept the Cavs, but all games were competitive. If James had been hurt late in Game 3 and couldn’t return, it wouldn’t have been a shocker to see the Pistons win four straight.