Lots of talk about Andre Drummond, offensive struggles without Reggie Jackson, what would motivate the Pistons to trade – and a little on something about the Pistons moving to downtown Detroit in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Kamal (Detroit): I love Andre Drummond, but it looks like he needs an attitude check. He’s begging for the ball on almost every play. That’s not really the problem. The problem is if he doesn’t get it or if he misses, he hangs his head in frustration or disappointment and gets back too slowly on defense. I’d rather he show more pride in defense and rebounding than anything else. Has SVG voiced any of these concerns or does he appear more content with Drummond’s level of play?
Langlois: Van Gundy has had numerous – countless – discussions with Drummond about the need for him to become a consistent and, eventually, an elite defender in order for the Pistons to take the next step as a team. He’s been public about that, too. It’s a wild exaggeration to say that every time he misses a shot, he’s slow to get back. It happens occasionally and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a time it does that Van Gundy lets slide without calling it to Drummond’s attention – with force. Drummond led the league in rebounding last season and is in the running to do so again; he surely takes pride in his status as an elite rebounder. It’s fair to say that he probably has yet to fully embrace Van Gundy’s exhortation to focus more on becoming an elite rim protector, but it would be just as inaccurate to say he hasn’t shown improvement or the willingness to accept the premise that his progress as a defender is the surest path to the Pistons becoming a legitimate title contender. Still important to keep in mind he’s 23 and came to the Pistons as a raw product, the fundamental reason he lasted until the ninth pick in 2012. The good news is the Pistons have him under team control for three-plus seasons, all of which should see him continue to improve as he remains at his physical peak while continuing to grow from experience and familiarity with NBA personnel.
Vance (Detroit): I’ve been reading about fans complaining about Stanley Johnson’s play, but what about Andre Drummond? Think Stan Van Gundy would trade him for DeMarcus Cousins? It looks like both could use a change of scenery?
Langlois: Sigh. The Pistons just signed Drummond to a maximum extension, Vance. Since Stan Van Gundy took the job in May 2014, he’s been adamant that Drummond was the cornerstone of the franchise. Virtually every personnel move since has been made with complementary fit to Drummond in mind. I’d never say never, but the Pistons aren’t trading Andre Drummond on a whim or based on whatever it is you think counts as a disappointing first three-plus weeks of the season. He’s averaging 14.6 points and 13.9 rebounds, down slightly from last season, though his averages per 36 minutes are nearly identical – scoring down from 17.7 to 17.4, rebounding up from 16.2 to 16.6. He’s averaging nearly three fewer minutes per game this season than last, affected by sitting out a big chunk of the opener when he took an elbow and was dazed and by last Friday’s loss at Cleveland that got out of hand. I suspect his minutes will start to creep up as more games are played.
Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): The Pistons’ offense and floor spacing have been terrible, particularly when Andre Drummond and Ish Smith are on the floor at the same time. Is there any chance we’ll see Beno Udrih get some run with the first unit to try to increase spacing?
Langlois: You might be conflating two issues, Buk. Spacing refers to the proximity of the five offensive players relative to one another – something completely within the control of Pistons players. What suffers when Ish Smith is on the floor, perhaps, is room to operate as it relates to the position of opposition defenders, something the Pistons have only a partial ability to influence. What it takes to change it is shooting well to force defenses to extend their range. Smith had made two 3-point shots this season in 13 attempts prior to going 2 of 3 in Monday’s loss to Houston. Defenses are virtually conceding 3-point shots to him and ducking under screens, which clogs up the paint and makes it difficult for him to penetrate and for Drummond to get a free run at the rim while also cluttering his paths to offensive rebounds. There’s no easy fix there – other than to make shots. Smith doesn’t shoot enough triples to have a meaningful impact on the team’s 3-point shooting, but the Pistons rank 25th in 3-point accuracy (.326) and dead last in 3-point attempts (19.4 per game). In the loss to Houston, they produced really good shots – and shot less than 40 percent on a high volume of shots in the paint. All the genius scripting of plays and the most disciplined offensive spacing in the world can’t overcome those numbers. Reggie Jackson’s return – both his greater 3-point threat and his superior ability to finish at the rim – should have a nearly immediate impact on the volume of 3-point shots that open up for the Pistons. Then it’s up to their shooters to start knocking them down with greater frequency.
Neil (Austin, Texas): If the Pistons aren’t seen by Stan Van Gundy as a top-four playoff team by the trading deadline, do you think he might trade Aron Baynes for a young, upcoming guard?
Langlois: I don’t know that the tipping point for the front office on whether to tinker with the rotation or risk some of the present for some of the future will be “top four” status, Neil. Grabbing home court in the first round of the playoffs would be terrific, but the reality of Reggie Jackson’s absence means the Pistons are (a) going to be tagged with more losses over the first quarter of the season than a top-four team would anticipate and (b) might, in fact, be one of the four best teams in the East by the trade deadline but stuck with a record that makes it unlikely they’ll wind up with a top-four seed. And, if that’s the case, Van Gundy isn’t going to sacrifice a shot at playoff success – and dealing away Baynes this season, for as much as Van Gundy trusts and values him, would very likely diminish the Pistons to some degree – for a future asset unless the upside was both obvious and carried a high degree of being realized. The likelihood of such a trade being available probably isn’t great. Where it becomes a more viable scenario, I’d guess, is if Jackson takes time to hit his stride after returning and the Pistons fall farther behind in the race and, instead of being on the verge of top-four seed status, are on the fringe of playoff position. In that case, the front office might take a more aggressive stance at the trade deadline, as they have each of the past two seasons. The difference this year is the holes the roster held have been filled. They’ve got at least one and, in most cases, two (or even three) players at each position about whom they are excited for their futures. If an opportunity comes about to combine assets, perhaps, for a talent upgrade at one position or to acquire a player they see as a more compatible fit, then I’d expect them to act with the same decisiveness they’ve exhibited in past transactions. But the more talent you acquire, the fewer options remain to continue to improve the roster. Think about it this way: When you have five starters who are all in the bottom 10 or worse at their position leaguewide, you’ve got at least 20 potential trade partners at each position – a minimum of 100 total scenarios – with potential to offer a talent upgrade. When you have players who rank in the top 10 at their position across the board, those scenarios shrink by a minimum of 50 percent. The better you get, the less chance there is of finding trades that upgrade. How realistic is it for Golden State to get better at point guard (Steph Curry), shooting guard (Klay Thompson), small forward (Kevin Durant) or power forward (Draymond Green)? Conservatively, they’re all in the top five at their positions, arguably top three across the board. So on that basis alone, I think the chances the Pistons deal at the trade deadline this season are significantly less than the past two, when they made moves for Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): Call me a heretic, but here it goes. The Pistons are sorely in need of an All-Star shooting guard who can put the ball on the floor and create and play defense. Baynes is a starting NBA center and Boban is an interesting backup. This makes Andre and KCP trade bait – the price of our new All-Star shooting guard. The problem is, who is he?
Langlois: Dwyane Wade, circa 2005? You can’t custom order one of what you describe from Amazon, Ken. If there is a shooting guard out there good enough to make Stan Van Gundy consider swapping both Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, he’s not available under any reasonable scenario.
Brandon (Bay City, Mich.): With the Pistons moving to Detroit, what will happen with The Palace? Could the Grand Rapids Drive possibly become the next tenant?
Langlois: It’s not very likely that a D-League team, given its limited revenue-producing potential, could generate the level of income necessary to sustain an NBA-caliber arena’s economic viability, Brandon. (In their first season, the Drive announced attendance in Grand Rapids averaged 3,100.) But those calculations are well beyond my area of expertise. All I’m going on there is what those with industry knowledge say and relevant examples. There are a few places where they’ve built major arenas without a significant anchor tenant – Kansas City comes to mind – and attempted to cobble together enough business to make it viable. I don’t know that it’s feasible without significant public support, though, and that isn’t likely in the cards for The Palace as a privately held facility. And, keep in mind, the Kansas City arena was built with the intent of landing an NBA or NHL team as an anchor tenant. It never would have been launched without that motivation. Can The Palace survive as a hub for concerts and other items from the entertainment menu? Again, not my area of expertise. A large part of the determination, I suspect, will be what value the building holds – or the land it sits on holds – for alternative purposes. Those are all things yet to be learned.
Arom (Dallas): Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. What made this player-coach combination last longer and be able to remain so successful? Please educate us.
Langlois: Not sure you came to the right source for an intelligent response, Arom, but I’ll play along. Brady is in the discussion for greatest quarterback of all time. Duncan is, likewise, in the discussion for greatest power forward/center of all time. When you put generational talents like them with coaches capable of visualizing a way to maximize the spectrum of their abilities, you’ve got a chance to establish a dynasty. I’d tip the scales to the player as being the most important element of that equation. On the other hand, Tom Brady or Tim Duncan in a bad situation wouldn’t have been able to demonstrate the full scope of their greatness. (In fact, I think Brady, in a bad situation, might have been bounced out of the league in a few years, given the comparatively short leash usually accorded sixth-round draft choices. Quarterbacks in bad situations are going to have a much more difficult time showing their true value than any basketball player would. Duncan, as the No. 1 overall pick, was always going to be given a long leash and had way too much obvious ability to fail in any setting. But would he be a sure Hall of Famer or a candidate for greatest big man of all-time? Nah.) And Bill Belichick or Gregg Popovich with a lousy roster would have had difficulty hanging on to their jobs. (We don’t even have to guess about that being the case with Belichick. Belichick went 36-44 in five seasons as Cleveland Browns coach. No one was comparing him to Vince Lombardi at the time.)