Pistons Mailbag - March 28, 2018

3rendan (@brendanhatfield): With a few games left, if we have a solid end to the season do you think our off-season goals change?

Langlois: I don’t think there’s much (anything?) that could happen over the last eight games to fundamentally alter Stan Van Gundy’s view of his current roster or the elements he’d like to add to it. Nor will anything that happens in the next two weeks do anything to alter the tools at his disposal to fulfill needs. The Pistons (likely) won’t have their first-round pick this June and they won’t carry cap space into July. They’ll have the mid-level exception available to them but will be judicious in using it as they approach the tax line. Their immediate needs for next season will be to bolster their wing depth, which took a hit in the trade for Blake Griffin. They need Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard to take steps and that’s a reasonable expectation. Johnson has shown more than flashes when he hasn’t been plagued by core muscle setbacks – hip flexor and lower back, primarily – and Kennard is finishing strong. Johnson still needs to shoot it better, but he’s made a lot of progress in other areas. Together with Reggie Bullock, they give the Pistons three solid wing pieces with diverse skill sets. But another player capable of stepping into the rotation is essential and, really, it needs to be someone with enough size and heft to guard more physical small forwards. In that vein …

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Stanley Johnson might find his shot and Luke Kennard might find his game by next season. However, if the Pistons acquire an All-Star, two-way shooting guard or small forward who can hit the 3-pointer they immediately vault into elite status as they would have a superior front line and outside scoring – defense dependent, of course. Can the Pistons acquire such a player? Can they acquire such a player without giving up Griffin or Drummond?

Langlois: By definition, there aren’t more than two handfuls of those players in all of the NBA, Ken. There are 24 All-Stars and no more than a third of them would fit your definition even loosely. From this year’s All-Star roster, I’d identify LeBron James (who defies classification, but let’s group him here), Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, Paul George, Klay Thompson and Victor Oladipo as a match for your qualifications. Giannis Antetokounmpo would be a stretch; he’s capable of playing the wing but in today’s NBA the real advantage with him is playing him at the four, even the five, and creating even more problematic mismatches. Who might be available from that group? George is a pending free agent but the Pistons aren’t going to have cap space. James could opt out; same story. If the Pistons are landing anyone from that group – or anyone from whomever comprises the next tier of players – it will almost certainly require a trade. And it’s very difficult to imagine any combination of assets under Pistons control that would pry one of those players away at this point unless you were talking about Griffin or Drummond. The Pistons had to part with a No. 1 pick plus Tobias Harris, a very good player who probably qualifies for that next tier, to get Griffin. They no longer have an asset comparable to Harris to combine with a No. 1 pick. Reggie Bullock probably has some significant trade value at this point, given his nearly 50 percent accuracy rate on 3-point shots since becoming a starter and his salary ($2.5 million for next season), though the fact he’s got just one year left on his deal might limit his trade value. And if you included Bullock in the deal, perhaps you’ve upgraded one position but you still have the same basic situation: relying on Kennard and Johnson to elevate their games. That’s not an unreasonable premise, by the way, as I wrote earlier. Johnson showed signs of breaking through this season but core injuries keep knocking him out of rhythm. Kennard is an even likelier candidate to take a significant step forward in going from rookie to year two.

Darrell (Detroit): Why doesn’t there seem to be any buzz for Andre Drummond for being Defensive Player of the Year? He’s currently No. 1 in rebounds at nearly 16 per game, eighth in blocked shots and the only center in the top 35 in steals at No. 15. Who’s having a better year defensively than Drummond?

Langlois: Among players who’ve played at least 50 games this season, Drummond has the best defensive rating. I’m a little ambivalent about that stat – I’m with Stan Van Gundy, who says he’s yet to see a truly accurate single-number measurement to reflect a player’s defensive value – but I think it speaks to the larger point that Drummond has turned himself into a very good and consistent defender this season. He’s 24 and came to the NBA as a very raw player, so it’s not just coach speak when Van Gundy says Drummond still has plenty of room for growth. He’s got incredibly quick feet for a big man and extraordinarily good hands and those can take him a long way. He’s got athleticism and timing. Once the mental aspects of the game gain more ground on the physical traits, he’s got the stuff to be an All-Defense candidate and potentially a Defensive Player of the Year. I doubt he gets serious consideration this season because (a) it always takes a few years for the reputation to catch up to reality and (b) the Pistons are likely going to finish outside the playoff field.

Isaac (@IZigger77): How long until the starters get fewer minutes and the young guys get more of a chance now that the playoffs are out of the question?

Langlois: Hmmm. The only “young guy” who isn’t already playing is Henry Ellenson. He, like Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson, is 21; Johnson’s starting and Kennard is playing big minutes off the bench. Stan Van Gundy has said that Ellenson is ready to play this season, unlike his rookie year, but he’s simply situated behind two veterans, Blake Griffin and Anthony Tolliver. Griffin will be back next season. So will Jon Leuer, who began the season ahead of Tolliver. Tolliver will be a free agent. Leuer might well spend more of his time next season at center behind Andre Drummond, which could open minutes at power forward, though it’s at least as likely that Van Gundy would use a three-man big rotation as he’s currently doing with Drummond, Griffin and Tolliver. At any rate, that’s next season. If we use last season as a guide, Van Gundy played Ellenson in the season’s final four games over the last week. The Pistons are five games back of Milwaukee with eight to play. If the Bucks (and Miami Heat, 5½ up on the Pistons) take care of business, the Pistons are probably looking at facing elimination with about a week left. Van Gundy wants to give Reggie Jackson minutes with Blake Griffin, so I don’t know that Griffin will be shut down for anything more than a game or two, if that. Ellenson might get Tolliver’s minutes in the final few games and get sprinkled into the mix in other games if and when elimination comes.

Ahmed (San Antonio): What are your thoughts on the one-and-done rule for college players? They should remain in college for two years, I think.

Langlois: I’m not sure what the magic of staying two years would be, but I think there’s a growing consensus that one and done is a horrible idea for college basketball. I think players ought to be able to declare for the draft out of high school but should be given safety nets to land somewhere they could still develop if the NBA isn’t an immediate option. Players always have and always will develop at different rates. That’s true no matter what route they take: bypassing college altogether, staying one year or two or three, or playing in the G League. One and done suits the NBA to the degree that players like Marvin Bagley and DeAndre Ayton arrive with a year of hype so there’s more attention on the draft than there would be if 80 percent of the top five or 10 picks were coming from high school and, it stands to reason, on balance they’re that much better equipped to contribute sooner. But I don’t know that it matters a great deal either way to the NBA’s business model, so under Adam Silver my hunch is the NBA will want to do what’s best for the greater community of basketball, though the Players Association will need to be in accord. That could take any number of forms and some of it might be up to the NCAA. The NBA would be more apt to encourage a system that allows players to test the waters to a far greater degree than they can currently without risking amateur status. If the NBA gives something, maybe the NCAA would be a little more flexible in serving the best interests of the players. But I don’t see the most significant change being pushing the rule that says domestic players must be one year removed from the year they graduated (or their class did) from high school to two and calling it a day.

Andrew (@andrewpulcipher): On the extremely unlikely chance we get a top-three pick, whom do you like in the draft this year for the Pistons?

Langlois: Took a stab at a similar question in last week’s Mailbag, so I won’t give quite as exhaustive an answer. Bottom line: The top of the draft is heavy with big men and while I never advocate drafting for need I’m not sure how much a Marvin Bagley or DeAndre Ayton (or Mo Bamba, Jaren Jackson or Wendell Carter, for that matter) would help in the near term. Another athletic wing with a 3-point stroke would fit the roster best for immediate impact. And point guard is a position the Pistons could bolster with 2019-20 and beyond in mind. They’re set there for next season with Reggie Jackson – assuming he can avoid another major injury absence – and Ish Smith. But Smith will be on the last year of his contract and Jackson’s ends with the 2019-20 season. Colin Sexton, Trae Young and Shea Gilgeous-Alexander are all intriguing in different ways but perhaps not top-three worthy. Luka Doncic and Michael Porter are perhaps the best combination of roster fit and high-end talent if scouts are confident the back injury that all but wiped out Porter’s freshman season at Missouri is not a long-term concern.

Bryan (@Bryan_10s): Why does Stan Van Gundy have a losing record against the Wizards as Detroit’s coach?

Langlois: Washington has been a problematic matchup for the Pistons, but if you were a Wizards fan you’d probably be phrasing the question a little differently. As in, why haven’t the Wizards – with three top-three picks in the starting lineup in John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter – been able to win more than one playoff series? (And, by the way, the Wizards haven’t won more than a single playoff series in any season since they were the Bullets back in 1979.) Stanley Johnson, taken at No. 8 in 2015, was the Pistons player taken highest in the draft until they traded for Blake Griffin, the No. 1 pick in 2009, one year before Washington took Wall first. Beal was the No. 3 pick in 2013 and Porter No. 3 in 2014.