Pistons Mailbag - November 7, 2018

We’re three weeks into the regular season – still early, but far enough along to take the temperature of the Pistons and their fans. Trade suggestions, lineup tweaks, schematic changes – it’s all here in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Jeremy (@jbeaugrand13): Five straight losses. Speed bump or a sign that this team isn’t really that good?

Langlois: To be determined. They won their first three games and could’ve lost them all – all three came down to a final possession – just as they could have easily won three of the five games they lost, also coming down to a final possession, two of them overtime games. Bottom line, their performances weren’t all that much different in the four wins or the five losses. The biggest difference is their shooting. They shot .376 on 31.3 3-point attempts per game in the four-game winning streak, .253 on 33.2 attempts per game in the five-game losing streak. Pretty easy to say that if they’d shot .376 from three in the five-game losing streak, they’d have gone 3-2 or 4-1 in that span and if they’d have shot .253 during the four-game winning streak they probably would have gone 1-3. I think the Pistons are going to settle in as at least a league-average 3-point shooting team on at least a league-average number of attempts, so my hunch is that they’re more like the team of the first four games than the last five. It doesn’t mean they don’t need to improve in other areas, too – of course they do. But the big picture isn’t nearly as black or white as the 4-0 start and the 0-5 current streak would have you believe.

Lee (Los Angeles): The Pistons’ problem is the wings. They need more and better 3-point shooting. How about this trade to solve the biggest problem: Andre Drummond and Reggie Bullock for Bradley Beal and Dwight Howard? Dwight Howard is obviously not a long-term solution at center for a Drummond-less Pistons, but his contract is reasonable and he will get them by until the Pistons can figure out a long-term solution at center. Meanwhile, Beal will solve the shooting problem and match well with Blake. The Wizards are a mess and the Pistons have real weaknesses. Who says no to this fantasy trade?

Langlois: Beal is the player most teams would choose to pursue first if Washington decides to break up the band. But I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. The Wizards have taken a six-game road trip and they’re badly out of sorts right now, but they were 6-12 two years ago and wound up winning 49 games with the same nucleus. So we’re a long way from pulling the plug there, I suspect. At 25, coming off of an All-Star season and averaging 22.6 points a game this season, Beal would command a hefty price tag. I don’t know if in this era that values 3-point shooting and scoring above all else if the Wizards wouldn’t be looking to move everyone else before Beal. He’d net the highest return, for sure, especially considering John Wall’s four-year, $171 million super max extension kicks in next season and will be hard to move with Wall showing some ill effects of the wear and tear on his knees at 28. But if you’re Washington, you’re clutching Beal tightly and looking to rebuild elsewhere – unless you determine the only way forward is a complete roster overhaul. And, as I said, I can’t see that decision being imminent. The first logical move, if the sputtering continues out past 20 or 25 games, would probably involve the coaching staff.

Steve (@StevenCPat): Any progress updates on Luke Kennard’s shoulder?

Langlois: No news so far, but the initial prognosis called for Kennard to be evaluated in two weeks. The two-week mark comes Thursday. He was getting treatment for the shoulder after Tuesday’s practice, but there’s no best guess yet as to when he’ll be cleared to return to full contact. All along, I figured mid-November was the most optimistic timetable with the likelihood of adding another week to that – and that’s if the healing process goes off without a hitch.

Joe (@Joe_Truck): Dwane Casey talked a lot about fewer postups and more ball movement this off-season. The Pistons are posting up a ton and have the second-lowest assist percentage in the NBA. What’s his plan to fix that?

Langlois: Make more open threes. Casey is generally pleased with the types of shots the Pistons are getting and the analytics back that up. They’re in the top 10 in creating uncontested shots. They’re just not making them, ranking 29th in 3-point percentage. Getting Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard back will be a big first step in remedying that situation. Posting up Griffin doesn’t run counter to Casey’s vision for this offense for one big reason: Griffin’s vision and passing ability. As Casey says, it’s just another variation on his goal of producing open shots under the drive-kick-swing umbrella. That gets the ball from inside to outside and gets the defense on the move. Griffin’s postups and his ability to command double teams present the same opportunity to ignite a chain reaction that leads to an open 3-point shot as Reggie Jackson or Ish Smith penetrating, throwing to an open teammate who swings the ball to the weak side while the defense is scrambling to recover from the initial pass out of the paint.

Zay (@TurnaZay): Could the Pistons make a trade for a shooter or even a star like Jimmy Butler or Bradley Beal or is it more reasonable to think of a Kyle Korver trade?

Langlois: It is always – always – more realistic to imagine trades for lower-hanging fruit than that growing on branches out of reach. Korver is going to be a very popular target between now and the trade deadline, though, as an elite shooter with a reasonable contract that isn’t guaranteed beyond this season. I would not be surprised in the least if a team in position to win it all is willing to give up a No. 1 pick (which would, by definition, be in the 29s) for Korver and that would take the Pistons out of the running. They can’t include their 2019 No. 1 pick in trade, though I seriously doubt that’s a proposition the front office would entertain without a better feel for their place in the pecking order than they have at present.

Alexander (@Alexand70556679): Where is Kyhri Thomas?

Langlois: Right where you’d expect a rookie second-round pick to be – fighting to get a foothold in the NBA. He had a very encouraging weekend to open the G League season, averaging 19.5 points and hitting 6 of 14 3-point shots, as the Grand Rapids Drive split their first two games. A hamstring injury suffered in Summer League kept Thomas from a fully engaged rest of the summer, costing him some development time and giving fellow rookie Bruce Brown a leg up in the pursuit of an opportunity when the inevitable injuries struck at the wing positions. Thomas also has a little more size and positional versatility. But Thomas’ combination of defensive ability – he was a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year – and 3-point shooting makes him someone the Pistons see as a valuable contributor down the road. With Reggie Bullock headed for free agency, Thomas’ path to a full-time role might have to wait until next season but you can see it. The goal is to have him ready whenever it happens and the Pistons – meaning Ed Stefanski in the front office and Dwane Casey on the coaching side – are big proponents of utilizing the G League to spur player development.

Andres (@controlmaszeta): Any concerns about Reggie Bullock’s injury?

Langlois: Not based on anything the Pistons appear to know. He went through practice on Sunday and again on Tuesday but the ankle was still bothering him when he tested it before Monday’s game. If it doesn’t respond the way a typical moderate ankle sprain does in the next week or so, then you have cause for concern. But this is something that’s only been going on for a week, not at all outside normal parameters.

Jordan (@ROSE__GOLD): Will Glenn Robinson III continue to start at the three?

Langlois: The returns of Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard – probably in that order – will give Dwane Casey two other legitimate options in addition to Stanley Johnson and Bruce Brown. I would still expect Bullock to be No. 1 in the pecking order for a starting spot based on his performance last season as a starter and the way not only his 3-point shooting but his cutting play well off of Blake Griffin. Kennard and Bullock would give the Pistons the best shooting tandem at those two spots but it might not strike the right balance between the first and second units. If Bullock is back for tonight’s game at Orlando, then my hunch is we’d see Bullock and Robinson in the lineup around Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Casey would probably want to look at that combination for a few games before making any judgments.

Garrett (@GarrettRoush): By what fiscal year will the Pistons have enough cap space to make a splash in free agency?

Langlois: July 2020 will be their next opportunity to be a player in free agency. As it stands now, the only salary they’re likely to be obligated to pay that summer is Blake Griffin’s, who’ll be on the books for nearly $37 million in 2020-21. Andre Drummond can opt out of his contract after the 2019-20 season and I would expect him to do so if he goes into the summer healthy. He’ll be 27 when the 2020-21 season starts and there’s no reason he wouldn’t command another four-year deal with the Pistons (who could offer five) or elsewhere for big dollars. The Pistons likely will pick up the fourth-year option on Luke Kennard’s contract for $5.2 million and they have options, as well, on Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas, but those will be modest deals. Of course, the Pistons will also (likely) have their 2019 and ’20 No. 1 picks under contract and whichever free agent(s) they sign next July with their cap exceptions to factor into the equation, as well. But they should have enough room to “make a splash,” as you suggest.

Byron (Detroit): I feel like the Pistons are stuck in the mud, so to speak. No cap space, no draft picks as tradeable assets and not a lot of trade value on our team outside of maybe three or four players. How do we upgrade our team position this summer or sooner and what could we do to bring back Tobias Harris? Can you imagine him here with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond?

Langlois: Harris will be a free agent at season’s end but he’ll be out of the Pistons’ price range, almost certainly, unless they make some other big moves – like shedding Andre Drummond or Blake Griffin’s contracts – ahead of free agency. Teams are rarely stuck in mud in today’s NBA with the shorter contract terms that were allowed and in vogue a generation ago. (Remember seven-year deals?) You can’t go longer than four years when signing another team’s free agent today and many players are opting for shorter deals, regardless, signing two- or three-year deals with player options for the final season if they have enough bargaining leverage to win that concession. The shorter deals also help grease the trade market as teams aren’t as hesitant to take on big contracts if the commitment term isn’t as great. The Pistons are hardly in exclusive company by having little cap space in the short term. The presence of the Golden State dynasty leaves the vast majority of the league feeling somewhat cornered, but fortunes are never that far from turning in today’s NBA. And it’s usually not all that hard to find a team equally motivated to trade. So stuck in mud? Nah.