Pistons Mailbag - November 30, 2016

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Reggie Jackson could very well be back by this time next week, which should lead to another round of questions – not that there was any shortage of them in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Byron (Detroit): With KCP being more a part of the offense and being put in pick-and-roll situations, how would that affect the offense when Reggie Jackson returns? Is it something you can see continuing? I say continue to give KCP and Reggie pick-and-roll opportunities and plays.

Langlois: The Pistons are putting the ball in Caldwell-Pope’s hands more this season, Byron, but not really in pick-and-roll situations. They’re running him off of screens and getting it to him on dribble handoffs. They’ll continue to do so even after Jackson’s return because he’s been good with the ball this season. His assists are up by about 50 percent to a career-high 2.9 per game. He recorded a career-best 10 assists last week against the Clippers and came back with seven in Tuesday’s big win at Charlotte. He’s also shooting a career-best .376 from the 3-point line despite a slow start to the season – 2 of 11 over his first three games. The Pistons will run more pick and rolls with Jackson than they have with Ish Smith, almost certainly, but they’ve still run a fair share of them with Smith and Beno Udrih. In fact, a big reason why both were added to the roster was because of their pick-and-roll proficiency. They’re also going to make liberal use of Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris in isolation plays and post-ups when they get favorable matchups. Andre Drummond will get a dose of post touches, as well, and Van Gundy has talked about coming up with a package for Jon Leuer, too. But Caldwell-Pope has shown enough growth in his offensive game to warrant having his number called more than ever in his career.

Brenden (@bwelps81): How concerning is it that Ish Smith can’t seem to finish at the rim?

Langlois: It’s always going to be an issue for him, I suspect, but it’s not a huge surprise to the Pistons. They signed him for his strengths – pushing the pace and getting into the paint – and understood his limitations. When Reggie Jackson returns and Smith shifts to the role intended for him – as a spark plug backup getting about 16 to 18 minutes a game – his limitations won’t be as pronounced, I suspect.

Vincent (@varandela20): How does our starting five, replacing Drummond with Leuer, compare to the league average in 3-point percentage?

Langlois: Your question came in before Tuesday night’s game with Charlotte, but your timing was propitious in that when Andre Drummond was ejected for a flagrant two foul four minutes before halftime, it forced Stan Van Gundy to adjust his second-half lineup. He started the third quarter with Leuer at center for Drummond. That lineup has only played together in five games and averaged less than five minutes a game, but its 3 point percentage is .368 – above the league average of .351 That’s an awfully small sample size, of course, and you wonder how much time that group is destined to get together from this point forward given that Reggie Jackson should be replacing Smith in the starting lineup within a week or so. It’s interesting that everyone in that group except Caldwell-Pope (.376) is shooting below their career norms from the 3-point line, some (Morris, Leuer) significantly below. The expectation is that water will seek its own level and they’ll start to turn it around eventually. Van Gundy is also optimistic that Jackson’s return will enable the Pistons to get more open 3-point shots – they are last in the league in both 3-point attempts and makes while ranking 26th in accuracy – and get an extra fraction of a second to launch them before closeout help arrives, the byproduct of Jackson’s penetrating ability. The collective 3-point shooting percentage of Leuer, Harris, Morris, Caldwell-Pope and Smith is just .329.

Tyzzar (@WorldWideTy2332): Any further update on Reggie Jackson’s return date?

Langlois: He indicated Monday that he’d probably need at least one more practice session with the team and that might force Van Gundy to do something he – and pretty much every coach – rarely does: practice on Thursday after a back-to-back set at Charlotte and Boston. It wouldn’t be a typical practice, but it has to be something that comes close to approximating an NBA game – some semblance of full-court, five-on-five basketball. He’s been fully cleared medically to participate in everything the Pistons are doing in practice, so it’s no longer a case of physical limitations from his Oct. 10 platelet-rich plasma injection in his left knee. It’s a case now of Jackson feeling confident in the stability of the knee, feeling he’s knocked off sufficient rust and feeling like his conditioning is at an acceptable level if less than optimal.

DefendOurPalace (@DetroitStrong91): Marcus is great in isolation scoring. Any chance Van Gundy plays him in stretches with the bench to quick-fix scoring slumps?

Langlois: He already does that. Morris has been the starter Van Gundy has used most, by far, over the past two seasons with the bench. He usually comes out around the mid-point of the first quarter for Jon Leuer and then comes back either late in the first quarter or to start the second with the typical bench bunch of Aron Baynes, Beno Udrih (soon to be Ish Smith when Reggie Jackson is back), Leuer and either Stanley Johnson or Darrun Hilliard. Morris becomes the first option and he’s filled that role well enough that Van Gundy hasn’t wavered from the pattern since Morris was added to the roster.

Christopher (@milz_chris): Do you think there will be any adjustment period for team chemistry with Reggie Jackson’s return to the lineup?

Langlois: The only real adjustment will be Jackson getting up to speed and comfortable, Christopher. They’ve played together enough that it won’t be a case of teammates discovering each other’s strengths, preferences and tendencies. It will be simply a matter of Jackson grappling with his confidence and ability to have his performance match the muscle memory he’s created for himself. Once he gets himself into that rhythm, the rest will fall into place pretty quickly.

Brandon (@LandOfJustice): What’s the one thing this team is missing?

Langlois: Reggie Jackson? Don’t mean to be flip with the answer, but that’s the overriding missing element so far. And by that I mean I don’t think Stan Van Gundy is going to make any sweeping conclusions about his team until Jackson returns, finds his footing and the team gets more games under its belt with him running the show. He said last week that it typically takes a team about 20 games into every season to truly establish an identity. That’s a general rule of thumb, varying depending on the degree of year-over-year roster turnover and the level of a team’s collective experience. With the Pistons, he said this year it could take them until the end of December to discover an identity due to Jackson’s absence for at least a quarter of the season. Beyond that, I’d guess the thing Van Gundy would say he’d like to see most is a consistency of defensive mindset. It’s not necessarily missing, but it ebbs and flows. I think that’s largely a function of a team’s roster continuity, collective experience and time under a system. It’s year three for Van Gundy, but they still haven’t played together as a unit all that much – not if you consider that Harris joined the mix as a starter with just 25 games left last season. With Jackson missing every game so far this year, those 25 games still represent the total for their current preferred starting five. And that wasn’t like a veteran team tweaking its roster at the trade deadline with someone who offers one or perhaps two skills that complement a group with a firmly established identity. Harris wasn’t added as a complementary player but as a primary option, 2a to Morris’ 2b right after the Jackson-Andre Drummond pick and roll, of the offense. I think Van Gundy, for the first time since he got here, really feels he has a roster that gives him more than just a puncher’s chance to win every time out. Now they just need an extended stretch of time with that roster intact to see where it can take them.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): I think we should give some of Marcus Morris’ minutes to Stanley Johnson. I am looking forward to seeing the Drummond-Harris-Johnson-Pope-Jackson years. If that lineup develops right, it rings championships.

Langlois: Van Gundy isn’t inclined to “give” minutes to anyone. And certainly not to take minutes away from a player he trusts as thoroughly as he does Morris – for good and obvious reasons. Johnson, for all of his potential and promise and competitive fire, is really struggling right now. He played eight minutes of Tuesday’s first half and the Pistons were minus-nine and had a hard time generating much offense while he was on the floor. He didn’t get off a shot, grab a rebound or pass for an assist in those eight minutes – his only dent on the score sheet was one turnover. He didn’t play in the second half until the Pistons led by more than 20 points with two minutes to go. I’d wager that before too long, Johnson will find the groove that made him such a valuable bench piece as a rookie. But he’s going to have to earn every minute he gets.

Kevin (Farmington Hills, Mich.): Would Nerlens Noel fit the Pistons? They need more rebounding and he’ll be available when he’s ready to play.

Langlois: I don’t see the fit, Kevin, nor the need, frankly. The Pistons have a deep and flexible frontcourt as it is. If they’re going to add a player to the rotation – and assuming the addition will be matched by a comparable subtraction – my guess is the desired quality they’d want would be a proven perimeter scoring threat. There’s no reason to think the Pistons are going to be a net-minus rebounding team when it’s all said and done. Stan Van Gundy is fully invested in the need to rebound, but he’s also pretty sure he’s got the ingredients on his roster to get the job done as it is.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): If Aron Baynes and the Pistons both decide they don’t like his contract, can they mutually agree to terminate it and negotiate something else or does the CBA and the league get in the way?

Langlois: Points for creative thinking, Ken. But, yeah, that’s a non-starter. The Pistons can’t negotiate with Baynes until July 1 and, as we’ve outlined here many times, they are limited – due to holding only partial Bird rights to Baynes, since he signed as a free agent with them just two years ago, not three, which would convey full Bird rights – to offering him no more than 175 percent of this season’s salary as a starting point on a new deal. And he’s very likely to get offers above that – on merit alone, but also because teams know what the threshold is for the Pistons, just as they offered a salary to Boban Marjanovic that San Antonio could not have matched.

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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