Pistons Mailbag - October 5, 2016
Camp is well under way and the first preseason game is ready to unwrap. Where did your summer go? That’s one question Pistons Mailbag can’t answer. As for the rest...
Paul (Phoenix): I really like the makeup of this year, but I do find puzzling the lack of commitment to Reggie Bullock as a rotation player. Coaches have said he is the best defender after KCP, he is the best 3-point shooter and coaches have complemented him on his team play. That being said, why is he considered third or fourth in the shooting guard rotation. Darrun Hilliard has shown nice moves, but scoring and defense have not been impressive and the second-round pick is a rookie who has yet to play in Summer League. If your play dictates your playing time, hasn’t Reggie B earned it?
Langlois: He’s earned Stan Van Gundy’s trust, Paul. (Although, as to your contention coaches have declared him the best defender after KCP, I don’t recall that specific appraisal. They regard him as a steady, reliable defensive player.) Van Gundy won’t hesitate to use him if the situation demands it, but he’s trying to figure out the best way to win games. And that really comes down to whether he believes the team would be best served by Bullock taking minutes from others – and that’s essentially Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. It’s not always the case, of course, that a coach has faith in everyone on his roster to play meaningful minutes, but I think it’s fair to say that Van Gundy is confident in pretty much everyone on the roster with an asterisk for the two rookies and the third point guard at this point – that’s Henry Ellenson, Michael Gbinije and either Lorenzo Brown or Ray McCallum Jr. – only because he has yet to coach them in a meaningful moment to date. That said, most NBA coaches draw the line at about nine or 10 players as part of the regular rotation. The way it looks at the moment, the Pistons will have nine players as part of the rotation for virtually every game – the five starters plus Ish Smith, Aron Baynes, Johnson and Jon Leuer off the bench – and beyond that it will come down to game situation. So if it goes past nine, it might be Bullock one night and Darrun Hilliard the next.
BC (@brad_chanter): What has Andre Drummond done in the off-season to help his free-throw shooting?
Langlois: I take it you missed this story. Everything you need to know.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): How is KCP doing? If his shooting approaches league averages, the Pistons will be very dangerous. Perhaps Jackson and Johnson playing more minutes at shooting guard will help KCP hit a better percentage.
Langlois: He’s confident that he’s made strides. He’s confident we’ll see his numbers tick up. As he said of himself on the eve of training camp, he’s confident in everything he does. We’ll get our first glimpse on Thursday when the Pistons open the preseason at Brooklyn. But nothing he does in preseason games, really, is going to be conclusive. I asked Stan Van Gundy if he could yet sense the team’s shooting was set to improve, given that he cited improved 3-point shooting as a critical element in their progression this season and all of the players whom he’s counting on spent the bulk of their summers prioritizing shooting. “No, not really,” he said. “Not yet. Tobias (Harris) is shooting it better; there’s no question about that. Everybody else, I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure Stanley (Johnson) will shoot it better – significantly better. Reggie Bullock was a pretty good shooter. We need (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) to make a jump, for sure. We need Marcus (Morris) to shoot it more like he did in the second half of the year than the first half of the year. I think those are the main guys we’re talking about, improvement wise. Reggie (Jackson) I think will. He’ll shoot it about that same level, maybe a little higher. If he could be up 37, 38 (percent from the 3-point line), that would be good. For most of our guys, if they can hit that, 37, we’d be in pretty good shape.” As for Jackson or Johnson taking more of his minutes, Van Gundy has said he’d like to scale back Caldwell-Pope and Morris’ minutes by a hair. Caldwell-Pope played 37 minutes a game last season, Morris 36. I’d put the over-under for Caldwell-Pope’s minutes this year at 35. I don’t know if that will make much different in his shooting. Besides, my sense with him is that he shoots it better late in games. I don’t think fatigue drives his shooting numbers down so much as shot selection and inconsistent mechanics. But … who knows? Maybe fatigue helps drive those factors. The Pistons have sufficient depth to rest him more, but do they have anyone Van Gundy trusts enough to guard the other team’s top backcourt scorer? When the Pistons play Houston, for instance, Caldwell-Pope is going to be on the floor virtually every second James Harden plays – and Harden led the league in minutes played last season. Not every team has a Harden, of course, but most teams have someone that Van Gundy will want Caldwell-Pope guarding.
J. Harbin (@JustinHarbin0): Is Reggie Jackson’s knee going to be all right or is it going to affect him this year?
Langlois: I suspect the answer is yes and not much, but I’m not a doctor. I didn’t even spend last night at a Holiday Inn Express. It’s mostly a matter of pain tolerance and maintenance, as far as I can discern. Jackson has dealt with tendinitis in his left knee pretty much since he came into the league. It flares occasionally. He had a case of it when he came to Detroit in September and the coaches decided to limit him to one practice a day during two-a-days. He sat out Tuesday’s practice altogether before the evening public event at The Palace, where he participated in the limited activities on display to give fans an idea of how they run their offense. I suspect they’ll err on the side of caution during the preseason. I would also be willing to wager that he’s in the starting lineup Oct. 26 when the season opens at Toronto.
James (Charlevoix, Mich.): What are you seeing from Henry Ellenson? And what about the other rookie, Michael Gbinije?
Langlois: He looks good shooting free throws after practice, James. That’s about all I’ve seen since training camp started; practices are not open to fans or media. But I’m hearing plenty of good things from coaches and his teammates. Stan Van Gundy has said his shooting is much improved since Summer League. They spotted a slight mechanical flaw in his jump shot and Van Gundy predicted it wouldn’t take long to get it corrected. Ellenson has seconded that. He’s very advanced offensively for a young big man. I mean, like really advanced. He’s not only comfortable playing on the perimeter as many big men are these days, but he’s comfortable putting the ball on the floor and is adept at dribble handoffs that help get shooters open. And he’s 19. Once he takes a few laps around the league, gets a full year of NBA weight training under his belt and continues to refine his skills, the possibilities are pretty enticing. I know Stan Van Gundy is excited about his future. That said, I wouldn’t plan on seeing much of him this season. The Pistons are enviably deep in the frontcourt with three veteran centers in Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes and Boban Marjanovic and plenty of veteran options at power forward, including starter Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Baynes and free agent Jon Leuer, who has also drawn high praise from Van Gundy in training camp. As for Gbinije, he’s another one who has impressed, by all accounts, for his feel for the game, his defense and his ability to knock down open jump shots. But he’s also another one with a lot of good players ahead of him. The Pistons, after flirting with the idea of giving him a shot at point guard, are limiting Gbinije to the wing positions, shooting guard and small forward. That means he’ll have to fight Harris, Morris, Stanley Johnson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock and Darrun Hilliard for a role. In reality, he’s not going to play this season unless injuries strike. He’s a candidate to spend time in the D-League, where they might even be able to give him some time at point guard.
Edward (Manila, Philippines): Who is likelier to get extended – KCP or Reggie Bullock?
Langlois: Interesting situation, Edward. The Pistons surely aren’t going to reveal their strategy, but it would be interesting to know if one is tied to the other. In other words, if the Pistons can’t come to agreement on an extension with Caldwell-Pope, would they be more or less inclined to push for a Bullock extension? Stan Van Gundy has said that, while it’s their preference to get Caldwell-Pope locked up long term now if the sides find a number that makes both comfortable, taking the negotiations into next summer wouldn’t be worrisome or objectionable for them, either. Do they want to get clarity on Caldwell-Pope’s situation before moving on Bullock or are the negotiations independent of one another? They like two young guys on minimum deals, Darrun Hillard and Michael Gbinije, and they have Stanley Johnson capable of major minutes at shooting guard. That’s a lot of players, especially with both Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris able to shoulder major minutes at small forward and push everyone else to shooting guard. That becomes more of a possibility as Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson push for more minutes at power forward. Nobody can replicate what Caldwell-Pope gives the Pistons defensively, especially with his ability to guard point guards and give Reggie Jackson the luxury of taking the less challenging defensive assignment. I think they’d love to get both players signed on the belief that they’d have that many more assets under their control to give them the flexibility to deal from strength if they’re comfortable with the progress of the young players.
Mark (Breckenridge, Mich.): On closing out on shooters, do the coaches teach getting a hand in the shooter’s face or a hand up to try to change the release point?
Langlois: Yes, they do. They teach how to approach the shooter – basically, it’s a sprint to the shooter but then a series of short, choppy steps as you approach him to avoid closing out too hard and inviting a blow-by drive – and to get the hand up to the side the shot will be released. In other words, left hand raised against a right-handed shooter and vice versa for a lefty.
Ahmed (San Antonio): Do you see the Pistons as one of the top three teams in the East?
Langlois: Cleveland is pretty much a unanimous pick for No. 1 – hard to argue with that – and Boston and Toronto are the consensus picks for the next two in the East. It’s also hard to argue with that. They’re both good teams. Toronto won 56 games last season. I’d be surprised if they matched 56, but also surprised if the Raptors slipped below 50. Boston won 48 games last season and added Al Horford – plus had the No. 3 pick in the draft. There are always too many moving parts to project what might happen over 82 games with much credibility, but I’m on record as saying that if the Pistons experience relatively good fortune on the injury front they’ll improve their win total by 10 to 20 percent. They won 44 last year, so that’s somewhere between four and nine games. If they hit the high end of that, they’ll almost certainly be a top-four seed and quite possibly a top-two seed.