Pistons Mailbag - March 9, 2016

With the season winding down, what are the chances the Pistons make the playoffs? And how close are some of their injured players to returning to help with the push? That and a bunch of other goodies in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Sam (Champaign, Ill.): What are the chances the Pistons make the playoffs? And how far could they advance if they do?

Langlois: According to ESPN. com, 58.8 percent as of this morning. According to TeamRankings.com, 58 percent. According to BasketballReference.com, 64.3 percent. All three have the Pistons making it as the No. 8 seed, beating out Chicago and Washington for the last playoff berth. But it only takes a bad loss or two – one their models didn’t expect the Pistons to suffer – to alter the projections. Stan Van Gundy said Tuesday that the Pistons need to get 15 of their last 19 games. I don’t think it’s going to take 47 wins to make the playoffs, but a .500 record – 41-41 – probably isn’t going to cut it this year, either. And except for the lockout year of 2011-12 when Philadelphia made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed with a 35-31 record, a team .500 or worse has made the playoffs every season since 2005-06. As for how far they could advance, if they get there as the No. 8 seed and have to face Cleveland, there’s no question the Cavaliers would be prohibitive favorites. The Pistons are 2-1 against Cleveland this season, so they’d have some reason to believe they could be competitive in a playoff series with them. How they’d fare is really dependent on how each team is playing at that time. Cleveland playing to its potential is clearly the best team in the East, but the Cavs haven’t been able to play to that level very often yet this season. Toronto also would rate as a heavy favorite over the Pistons. I think they’d have a decent chance to win against any other opponent. But getting to the No. 6 seed and getting the chance against “any other opponent” probably would require Van Gundy’s 15 wins and a 47-35 record.

Brian (Taylor, Mich.): I was wondering if there’s any word on when or if Jodie Meeks is coming back this season?

Langlois: Nothing definitive. The expectation is that he’ll be ready to play before the April 13 season finale. It could be as soon as another week or so, even. But then what? Unless Stanley Johnson remains out when Meeks is coming back, it’s going to be a dicey situation. The Pistons can’t afford to let Meeks work his way back into form when every game is so critically important in the playoff race. Even if Johnson isn’t ready to return from his right shoulder sprain before Meeks is declared game ready, Reggie Bullock is giving the Pistons what they want out of their backup shooting guard. He’s shot .619 from the 3-point line and averaged 9.7 points in the six games since Johnson went out with his injury and made a 3-pointer in every game, at least two in all but one. That’s terrific efficiency and productivity. And he’s considerably rangier as a defender than Meeks. There’s no question Meeks has a longer track record of offensive productivity than Bullock, but it’s going to be difficult for Meeks – in the limited practice time the Pistons have available with injured players and at this stage of the season – to convince Van Gundy he’s that guy right now.

Oliver: (Tarfu, Estonia): Would Stan Van Gundy consider Meyers Leonard a good fit for the “big power forward” position?

Langlois: Van Gundy, of course, can’t talk about another team’s player at this point or through the free agency moratorium period in July. But he has said that the Pistons need somebody like Donatas Motiejunas, the player they acquired at the trade deadline from Houston only to have to rescind the trade over concerns about his surgically repaired back. And Leonard fits the profile, Oliver. Much like Motiejunas, Leonard would be a guy who could play center and give a team five perimeter shooting threats or play power forward next to Andre Drummond. He’s nearly a 40 percent 3-point shooter who takes about half his shots from distance. But Leonard, also like Motiejunas, will be a restricted free agent this summer. And unlike Motiejunas, his team will have oodles of cap space and is extremely unlikely to lose him to an offer sheet. Interesting, though, that Leonard was one of the players the Pistons might have wound up selecting in the 2012 draft if Drummond had been taken ahead of their pick at No. 9. In fact, ex-Pistons coach Larry Brown, who’d worked with Leonard, actually called then-Pistons president Joe Dumars to lobby on Leonard’s behalf ahead of that draft.

Bob (Albany, Ore.): I became a Pistons fan after listening to them beat Lew Alcindor and the Bucks in 1969, coming back from a 10-point deficit in the last 1:10. Living in Utah and Oregon was fantastic during the Bad Boys reign as those states still bristle at the mention of Bill Laimbeer. Stan Van Gundy has this team headed for the playoffs as the seventh seed and the team no one wants to play. Looking ahead, they should consider adding Spencer Hawes. I don’t know about his perimeter defense, but he would be a nice complement to the current frontcourt.

Langlois: He’s signed through the 2017-18 with an early termination option he can exercise to get out after the 2016-17 season, Bob. I don’t know if Hawes would be a fit or not and mostly for the reason you state. Would he give the Pistons enough defensively as a power forward? That would be the question. He’s probably better as a backup center, but the Pistons already have Aron Baynes for that role. Baynes doesn’t have Hawes’ range as a shooter, but Baynes is the better fit for what Stan Van Gundy wants in a backup center in pretty much every other aspect, including rim protection foremost. Hawes would give the Pistons the ability to play with five shooters if he’s the center and that’s something Van Gundy might be looking for this summer, but preferably in somebody who’d be a more natural fit defensively. He did help keep Charlotte afloat while Al Jefferson was out with a knee injury, but now Hawes has been out since the All-Star break with a back injury. With Frank Kaminsky and Jefferson coming off the bench behind Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams, Charlotte might be open in the off-season to moving Hawes. We’ll have to see if Van Gundy and Steve Clifford, his former assistant coach and among his closest friends, would be open to a swap.

Ignazio (@peucoverde): If Durant leaves the Thunder and goes to the Warriors, do you think we should try to make a move to go get Harrison Barnes?

Langlois: He’ll be a restricted free agent, so strike one. He’s very likely get a maximum contract or something close enough to it to be beyond the Pistons’ means as their cap stands today, so strike two. The batting average of even baseball’s top hitters with a 0-2 count is abysmal. Even if the Warriors need to essentially cut ties with Barnes in order to put themselves in play to sign Durant as a free agent – the hot rumor a month ago when apparently there wasn’t quite enough buzz about the trade deadline to feed the beast – there are going to be many teams with more money and better fits than the Pistons to make Barnes a reasonable option for Detroit. Could the Pistons use a player of his ability? Every team could, even a Warriors team that adds Durant. But the bulk of the money the Pistons take into free agency will be focused on addressing their situation at (a) power forward and (b) backup point guard, if those critical needs haven’t been met before July 1. Signing Barnes on top of Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris would make the Pistons the deepest team in the league in hybrid forwards, which probably isn’t the best blueprint for success.

Josh (Ferndale, Mich.): I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with your statement that Denzel Valentine is a shooting guard. He can shoot and he’s big enough to be a shooting guard, but he’s clearly the backup point guard we could use. Yes, he’s not the most athletic defender at that spot, but aren’t there dozens of backup point guards about whom the same could be said?

Langlois: Clearly? I’ll start by saying I just don’t see as much college basketball as I’d need to see to come to sweeping conclusions about anyone. So maybe you’re right and maybe Valentine is somebody’s idea of a point guard. I don’t know. I do know that the adage to which almost all NBA coaches adhere is that “you are who you can guard.” So, yeah, I think you can run offense through Valentine, though I think his value grows offensively if he’s a playmaker at shooting guard or small forward next to a point guard who also can serve as a playmaker; multiple playmakers make for a more diverse and efficient offense. But – again, based on what I’ve seen of him – I think you’d be doing him and your team a disservice by expecting him to defend point guards. Your contention that there are “dozens” of backup point guards who aren’t athletic defenders is well off base, in my view. If you can’t stay in front of your man in the NBA, chances are you aren’t hanging around as a backup point guard. Taking care of the ball and guarding it are usually the two biggest things teams look for in their backup point guard. Steve Blake isn’t going to win the decathlon and at 35 his best days are behind him, but he can still stay in front of his man reasonably well. If NBA scouts think Valentine can legitimately guard the point – coupled with the things he can do on offense – he’ll be a top-five pick. I agree with Stan Van Gundy that there really aren’t any positions any more except for center and point guard. I see Valentine as one of those players you can throw into that pool of players who aren’t point guards or centers, but he’d be a valuable guy in that pool because he’d be among the most versatile.

George (Riverside, Calif.): Longtime reader and a big fan of your opinions and perspective. I was wondering what your thoughts are on Cheikh Samb. I remember being really high on him as a prospect but lost track of him after the Allen Iverson trade.

Langlois: My thoughts on Cheikh Samb are … fleeting. Actually, I haven’t had one for years. But there was a time when he was a very intriguing prospect, an extraordinary physical specimen and a sweet, sweet soul. He had incredibly long arms on a 7-foot-1 frame and a surprisingly soft shooting touch. He had a bright flash of a moment for the Pistons in a game against the Lakers, blocking a few shots and sinking a few jump shots, then they sent him to the D-League. I think it was his first game there that he took an elbow to the mouth, broke his jaw and got two teeth knocked out. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or not, but he never seemed like the same guy after that. He was part of the trade that sent Chauncey Billups to Denver in exchange for Iverson. He bounced around with a few NBA teams after that, mostly on 10-day deals or Summer League invitations. Last I heard, he was playing in Dubai. Cheikh Samb … thanks for that jolt to the memory bank.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Many fans and some media find fault with KCP. But he seems much improved from his first two years. He played well up until he got hurt. The Pistons’ recent five-game losing streak coincided with KCP being out injured. The season is far from over, but how do you think SVG rates KCP’s play this year so far? I like the potential I see and I like his hustle.

Langlois: He’s been in the top five in the NBA in minutes played all season, Ken. I think that’s the best validation Stan Van Gundy could offer. Playing time is the ultimate currency a coach trades in. There’s no question he’s a vastly improved player over his rookie season. His scoring is up 1.5 points a game this season over his second year even though his 3-point shooting is down. But his overall shooting is better and the reason for that is he’s much more comfortable attacking the rim when teams close out on him these days. That was the focus of his 2015 off-season. Van Gundy loves Caldwell-Pope’s fearlessness and his motor, two great qualities. He loves the defensive flexibility he allows, too, which gives Van Gundy the luxury of assigning Reggie Jackson to the less arduous backcourt defensive assignment so he can attack more relentlessly on offense. In order to continue his career ascent, Caldwell-Pope will need to become a more consistent 3-point shooter and continue to gain strength. The good news is that both of those things are very likely to happen. I suspect he’ll focus on 3-point shooting this off-season while continuing to improve his ballhandling. As he gains strength, he’ll become a more versatile defender. Right now, he’s at his best at staying in front of the ball against the quickest point guards. He has a little more trouble with physical shooting guards, the most recent example being Aron Afflalo in last week’s loss to the Knicks.

Clark (@ClarkKnu): What are the chances we sign Justin Harper for the rest of the season? Any chance we sign Dorrell Wright instead? Seems like he would fit.

Langlois: I guess I’ve always thought of Wright as more of a perimeter player/wing type than somebody who could reasonably guard power forwards even in today’s NBA. But maybe not. He’s coming off of his Chinese league season and is one of those guys teams are looking at. He has a history with Stan Van Gundy, who was coaching in Miami when the Heat made Wright the 19th pick out of high school in 2004. Anthony Tolliver thinks he’ll be back soon, perhaps even by the end of this week. If he’s back before Justin Harper’s second 10-day contract expires Tuesday, then I’d guess the chances of Harper being signed for the rest of the season are diminished. And if the Pistons were to do something with the 15th roster spot, it might more likely be to add another point guard with Spencer Dinwiddie still not able to practice.

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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