Pistons Mailbag - October 16, 2019

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

With 80 percent of the preseason schedule complete and opening night just a week away, there’s no question what counts as the hot topic with Pistons fans: the Christian Wood-Joe Johnson dynamic in play for the potential final roster spot.

Joe (@joenino): Do you see a path for Christian Wood to make the team over Joe Johnson? Or is it a given that Johnson makes the team because of his veteran presence? Could they both make it and Thon Maker is out?

Langlois: The possibility that it comes down to Wood or Johnson is a legitimate one, but not the only option. If the Pistons feel strongly that both Wood and Johnson need to be on the final 15-man roster – Wood for his potential but also for the potential lack of depth inside without him, Johnson for his savvy and scoring ability – then they can explore ways to clear a roster spot via trade or otherwise. Cutting someone on a guaranteed contract is never a decision any front office takes lightly – and, no hyperbole, there’s not a player on the roster the Pistons don’t value – but occasionally it’s the most judicious use of a franchise’s assets. The point is, the Johnson-Wood scenario isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game. The least likely outcome of the options you present is waiving Maker to make it happen. Dwane Casey said of Maker on Monday, “I think Thon had probably the best two weeks of any of our bigs. I think he’s rebounded in the last couple of weeks, his energy level, his screening, his running the floor, his blocked shots – just his whole all-around game has stuck out the last couple of weeks.”

Charles (Redford Twp.): Christian Wood was easily the best player for the Pistons in their preseason opener with 19 points and eight rebounds, equaling his season average for last season. And he averaged 29 points and 15 rebounds in the G-League. Is this kid a locker-room problem or have serious off-court issues? Why not keep him and trade Drummond?

Langlois: So based on one preseason game you’re ready to dump Andre Drummond – the dominant rebounder of his generation and a guy who has the undervalued ability to play virtually every night – and insert a guy who hasn’t stuck in the NBA over four years with four different franchises? I believe Wood absolutely should have a place in the NBA and – having just turned 24 with a body that required time to mature to the point he could withstand the rigors of the NBA – there’s plenty of room for continued improvement. But dismissing all that Drummond has meant to the Pistons over the last seven years to hand his job to Wood seems … reckless. You asked, essentially, about his professionalism. That’s been one concern with Wood in the past, but he says it was a label that stuck with him from his early G League days and he’s been incident free, Casey said, since the Pistons picked him up on waivers this summer. Wood had another strong game at Philadelphia on Tuesday with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He says he’s confident he’s put his best foot forward in this competition and it’s hard to argue with him. He’s given the front office and Dwane Casey a lot to chew on.

Ari (@AriHoopsWagner): I was high on the character and work ethic of Joe Johnson to get the final roster spot. Then I realized that Christian Wood is who he’d be replacing. Knowing the upside of Wood paired with his age makes this a no-brainer for me. Sign Christian Wood.

Langlois: Wood has been ultra productive from a stats standpoint over the past few G League seasons and in the small sample of the season’s final eight games with New Orleans last season. That has pretty much carried over to the preseason. Dwane Casey is looking for more from him in the areas of play not so easily discernible, like setting solid screens, making the right decisions on when to roll or pop, being assignment sure defensively, etc. It’s not a no-brainer because if it comes down to a Johnson-Wood decision, Casey is naturally enamored with Johnson’s resume, presence and ability to make winning plays. When the Pistons were forced to play shorthanded at Philadelphia on Tuesday due to Blake Griffin’s hamstring soreness and Markieff Morris’ illness, it was Wood who benefited with opportunity and took full advantage. Casey acknowledged that Wood makes plays but also said he wants to see him display more toughness inside.

J Roze (@Det2UP): Is there a chance we keep both Joe Johnson and Christian Wood by letting Khyri Thomas go?

Langlois: Thomas seems like he’s No. 6 on the wing depth chart behind Tony Snell, Bruce Brown, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway and Svi Mykhailiuk, but the front office and coaching staff remain convinced he’s got a solid NBA career ahead of him. There’s a chance he’s the odd man out if the decision is made to keep both Wood and Johnson, but that won’t be a decision made lightly.

Galin (@GalinDraglev): Christian Wood hasn’t played much with Andre Drummond yet, mostly just playing the five as Drummond’s backup. Any reason to expect that to change?

Langlois: Dwane Casey is equally comfortable playing both Wood and Thon Maker at power forward or center. Their defensive mobility and perimeter-shooting willingness and potential makes that the case. So, yeah, Wood would be a fit alongside Drummond. But with Blake Griffin and Markieff Morris, minutes at power forward won’t be plentiful unless injury strikes. Joe Johnson is another candidate there and Casey intends to use Tony Snell there some when teams downsize, probably mostly in late-game situations. Snell wound up starting at power forward at Philadelphia when both Griffin and Morris missed the game and it made sense to match him up against Tobias Harris. When a player like Harris is at power forward, Snell is a logical candidate to take minutes at that spot. It’s the reason the Pistons would consider going light in the frontcourt with only Maker behind Drummond as a prototypical center.

Kooobear (@kooobear): If the Pistons decide to keep both Christian Wood and Joe Johnson and they aren’t able to manufacture a trade involving another player, can they afford both guys and to release someone else?

Langlois: If you’re asking if they can retain both players, waive another and still stay below the luxury tax, yes. If you’re asking if their depth chart can take the hit of releasing a player at another position, they’re deepest on the wing with Tony Snell, Bruce Brown, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway, Svi Mykahiliuk and Khyri Thomas. Yes, they can afford to make such a move. But they’ll try their best to trade from that depth, I would imagine, to get something in the way of an asset for a player they value if the decision is made to keep both Wood and Johnson.

Austin (@AmAustinClark): Do you see Luke Kennard taking strides in his game this season?

Langlois: If you pressed me to make five predictions for the Pistons season, this would be the easiest one to state unequivocally. Kennard is comfortable in the system and with his role and confident in his ability to translate his strengths into consistent production now. Yes, expecting Kennard to be more consistently the player that he showed he can be late last season and into the playoffs is something the Pistons are banking on this season.

Hytower (@CHytower): I know Dwane Casey likes to go with three guards, but who do you think is the front-runner for the backup small forward position?

Langlois: There is effectively zero difference in today’s NBA between shooting guards and small forwards given most coaches are far more apt to put their best players – or their most effective lineup combinations, actually – out regardless of where the depth chart lists them. I’d say the front-runners for the two wing spots on the second unit as of now are Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway with Kennard in ink and Galloway in pencil. So if you’re asking who’s going to play the most minutes at small forward, Kennard is the likely answer, though Galloway is probably going to play as much at small forward defensively as Kennard. Casey will most often give Galloway the more challenging defensive matchup of the two. Svi Mykhailiuk appears to be next in the pecking order, ahead of Khyri Thomas, and Mykhailiuk’s size gives Casey a different look than Galloway or Thomas can provide, though Thomas’ length and defensive chops closes the gap between him and Mykhailiuk in that respect.

Juan (Denver, Colo.): Are NBA teams allowed to use tablets during a game to see what happened on previous plays? I’ve seen tablets used in baseball and football. Are there any restrictions for the NBA?

Langlois: No. And the Pistons use them, in fact. Luke Kennard and Blake Griffin are among the players I’ve seen with tablets in hand upon coming out of games. Players who’ve spent any time in college basketball – and certainly those who’ve spent any time in the NBA – are accustomed to video review and those who have keen visual learning ability use it to their best advantage, picking up things that they and their opponents are doing and adjusting accordingly.

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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