Pistons Mailbag - November 15, 2017

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Nick: (@NickSpencer45): Do you think the Pistons need to get a scoring small forward before the trade deadline?

Langlois: If one falls from the sky, they wouldn’t turn him away. But what are you really asking? Stanley Johnson is their starter at the position and Stan Van Gundy believes Johnson can be instrumental in the Pistons solidifying their current status as a top-10 defensive team. He’s not a fully formed offensive player just yet, but you see enough flashes in his game that the potential for a dynamic two-way player – in an era where dynamic two-way wing players are among the most coveted assets, right there with playmakers off the dribble, 40 percent 3-point shooters and dominant rim protectors – exists within him. So how much are you going to give away in trade to add a scoring small forward when the player I just described should be on the floor for 30-plus minutes a game? And how confident are you that meeting the asking price for that scoring small forward will add more to the team than whatever it is you have to trade away subtracts? So my answer is: no.

Chris (@CGChurro95): What are the odds that Tobias Harris is selected for the 3-point contest?

Langlois: There are eight players in the entire NBA who are averaging three made 3-point shots a game. Of those, Tobias Harris is second in 3-point percentage (.506) to C.J. McCollum. If that trend continues for several more weeks – and I don’t mean if he continues to make half his triples, but that he continues to shoot them with the same frequency and stays somewhere around the 40 percent mark – then, yeah, why not?

Broke (@ksteph5): What do you think of Tobias and Andre’s chances for the All-Star game this year?

Langlois: We know that teams with winning records are rewarded with All-Star berths. If by mid- to late January, when NBA coaches are asked to fill out All-Star rosters after the starters are picked, the Pistons still have a top-four or top-six record in the East, I’d expect at least one player to be picked. But that could just as easily be Avery Bradley as Tobias Harris or Andre Drummond. There are a ton of good guards in the East – point guards, especially – but because there is no differentiation between point guards and shooting guards Bradley might get stuck behind bigger names. If I had to guess, Drummond probably has the best shot with Harris and Bradley a coin flip for next in line. The better their record by mid-season, the higher up the food chain in the East they are, the greater their chances for multiple berths.

Marvin (Richmond, Va.): Stan Van Gundy is doing just what he said he wouldn’t do in regard to Boban Marjanovic. He’s letting matchups dictate his usage of Boban. Over the summer he said he would give Boban some leeway on the defensive end because teams had to try to guard him, also. Instead, he’s doing the exact opposite.

Langlois: It’s a long season, Marvin. Things will happen. But right now the Pistons are in a groove. Marjanovic helped the Pistons win a game last week against Indiana. For now, that’s going to be his role – used in matchups where his lack of lateral mobility is at least offset, if not overwhelmed, by his ability to punish smaller interior defenders. If and when what the Pistons are doing now stops working as well, I suspect Stan Van Gundy will be more willing to tinker with lineups that include Marjanovic.

Lucas (@MindofMarble): Is Jon Leuer getting traded soon?

Langlois: Why would he? Leuer shot poorly in the season’s first eight games before missing the last five with a sprained ankle – and he had a bad game overall in his last outing, as did pretty much all of his teammates – but he’s still, along with Ish Smith, one of the two players off Stan Van Gundy’s bench who’ll play every night. He’s got the size and lateral mobility to defend a variety of players and when he’s hitting mid-range shots he’s an asset on offense, too, where he can put it on the floor and is a good passer who runs the floor well in transition. It always seems there’s one player – even when times are good – who falls into fan disfavor. It’s Leuer right now. When he hits a few 16-footers, it’ll change. But if your insinuation is that the Pistons are better off without Leuer, then why do you think another team would be willing to trade a player that makes them better?

Darrell (Detroit): I don’t believe in messing up a good thing, but could the Pistons’ first-quarter woes (second only to Cleveland) suggest they don’t have the best starting lineup? The Pistons have trailed by double digits in 62 percent of their games. That will eventually come back to haunt them unless they address it soon.

Langlois: They’re a minus-1.7 in the first quarter, Darrell, but the same group is a plus-1.0 in the third quarter. The Pistons are plus-3.0 in the second quarter and plus-3.1 in the fourth quarter – and the starters, in close games, play big minutes of the fourth quarter. Stan Van Gundy has said all along that the strength of the team is its depth. Those second- and fourth-quarter numbers bolster his point. On merit, I don’t see any realistic lineup changes coming. He’s got the right five guys in the lineup. The bigger question is whether he finds a set second unit or finds a comfort zone in having the back end of the rotation vary from game to game based on hot hands and matchups.

Justin (@OurBeard): Luke Kennard’s defense on Sunday was OK and obviously his offense was pretty good. Reggie Bullock, on the other hand, has always struggled on offense but his defense is marginally better. Any chance Luke moves up the depth chart?

Langlois: If he strings performances like Sunday’s together, he’ll be in the rotation for good and likely as the No. 1 option at the wings ahead of Langston Galloway and Reggie Bullock. Kennard has the highest ceiling of the three – that’s why he was a lottery pick, after all – but right now the other two might be more consistently productive. “Might be” the operative sequence of words in that previous sentence. Kennard was outstanding on Sunday – terrific on offense, more than adequate on defense – and if he shows the same at Milwaukee tonight then he’ll get another chance Friday at Indiana. But he’s a rookie, you can expect fits and starts and it takes repeated results for young players to fully earn a coach’s trust. As for your contention that Bullock has always struggled on offense, that’s simply untrue. He has yet to get into a shooting groove, but Bullock’s passing and cutting make him more than a one-dimensional offensive player.

Samuel (Ann Arbor, Mich.): The Pistons are off to an excellent start. Interestingly, so is Boston with Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris logging a decent number of minutes. The biggest observation I’ve made so far is that Avery Bradley is truly an elite-level athlete. Whatever he lacks in size he makes up for in quickness, coordination and leaping ability. He is about to be 27 on an expiring contract. What are your thoughts on the type of contract he will require going into the future and how much of his production is tied to his elite-level athleticism?

Langlois: Free agency is tough to predict. Bradley’s value will depend – as free-agent values always depend with the exception of no-doubt max contract guys – on how many teams are looking for what he has to offer and have the cap space to get in the bidding. I don’t know that there will be tons of teams with cap space next summer after the great spending splurge of two summers ago when the cap spiked as the new TV revenue streams kicked in. But anybody in need of a shooting guard will have Bradley’s agent on speed dial. He looks like the top option in a field that could also include Zach LaVine, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and Marcus Smart. I think it’s safe to say that the bidding for Bradley will start at double his current salary – which would be somewhere north of $17 million a season – and could go higher than that by several million dollars. But, again, it all depends on how many bidders there are. As for how much of Bradley’s game is based on athleticism, I’d say not a lot. Not that Bradley’s not a great athlete, but if size is included in the context of athleticism – and how can it not be? – then Bradley doesn’t have tremendous physical advantages over most people he lines up against. The separating factors for Bradley are physical and mental toughness, ability to focus and competitive fire. A lot of players talk about exuding those traits; Bradley oozes them.

Bugsick25 (@bugsick25): When can the Pistons extend Avery Bradley?

Langlois: When can they? Today. When will they? They won’t. Bradley has zero motivation to pursue an extension. Because his current salary of $8.8 million is well below his market value and because the collective bargaining agreement limits the amount he could make next season – the first of what would be an extension of his current deal – to 120 percent of his current deal, the most the Pistons could offer Bradley in a contract extension would be four years and $47.4 million. The first-year salary is limited to $10.5 million. If Bradley gets to the end of the season with no long-term physical concerns, he’ll be in position to get considerably more than that.

LOQuent (@LOQuent): Since I’m in Sweden I obviously haven’t been able to see them in person. So what does the eye test look like up close? What visible difference is there between this year and last year in how they’re jelling?

Langlois: The change in offensive styles clearly suits them. It gets more players involved and that seems fitting for a team without a dominant scorer or perennial All-Star. The holdover players – like Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris – reacted exactly as Stan Van Gundy would have hoped to the disappointment of last season and their renewed focus and commitment to team success are as important as anything. The addition of Avery Bradley seems to have been an ideal pickup, both for his impact on team demeanor and his fit at both ends. Harris’ evolution offensively has had a profound impact on team offense. Jackson’s return to form has been critical. Drummond’s greater conditioning level, enthusiasm for his role as an offensive facilitator and his free-throw shooting have all been big positives. The off-season decision to bolster the back end of the bench has made for great competition for minutes across the board and I’m of the belief that it’s raised the competitive level of the team accordingly. Those are all promising developments. Every season takes twists and turns, but the Pistons seem better equipped to deal with travails than they have in a long time.

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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