Pistons Mailbag - September 11, 2019
On a Pistons formula for winning, keys to the season ahead, the Reggie Jackson-Derrick Rose situation and a lot more, it’s this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Joseph (Manila, Philippines): Do you think the Pistons need to copy the formula of NBA teams winning championships in the present era? You can win without a true center but with shooters who play fast and cheaper, younger guys with energy?
Langlois: I reject the notion that there’s a formula relative to style of play – in this era or any other – that supersedes talent, chemistry and execution. It’s not college basketball where you can recruit a roster to fit a particular brand of basketball. Front offices and coaching staffs must be more flexible in the NBA because there isn’t unlimited latitude in roster building. The draft, salary cap and other stipulations of the collective bargaining agreement limit the degree to which organizations can tailor a team to any particular style of play. It’s ultimately up to the coach to put the assembled players in the best position to win and to figure out playing combinations that best complement the whole. At the risk of oversimplification, the Pistons have had limited success over the past decade because they simply haven’t had enough talented players and, more specifically, not enough talented scorers. Also, I’m not sure you could say that the three most recent NBA champions – Toronto, Golden State and Cleveland – employed anything close to the same formula. LeBron James was the formula in Cleveland – and everywhere else he’s been. Golden State’s formula started with two of the greatest shooters in NBA history, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and then the Warriors were unbelievably fortunate with timing to add a third, Kevin Durant. (Good luck copying that formula.) Toronto’s example is probably the one that lends more hope to other franchises – make a series of good to great personnel decisions and then add a top-five player by whatever means necessary when he becomes available, as Kawhi Leonard rather suddenly did in the summer of 2018. Go back a little further to the NBA’s enduring dynasty, San Antonio, and you’ll find yet another example of a unique formula built largely on the system and culture that ultimately traces to the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan collaboration. The formula that gets the Pistons on a championship path most expeditiously isn’t starting from scratch and hoping everything goes according to a plan but being right about Sekou Doumbouya and seeing Luke Kennard take the next leap and Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk growing into rotation-worthy players to give them the depth of young players to enable any number of routes for them to improve.
Biff Malibu (@SpartyParty23): Any keys to the season that no one is really mentioning?
Langlois: I’m not sure what everyone else is talking about as keys to the season, but it starts – as it does for every team, every season – with avoiding long-term injuries to key players. Ish Smith missed 26 games last season and the Pistons went 8-18. If they’d broken even at 13-13, they’d have been 46-36 instead of 41-41. Blake Griffin played 72 of the first 75 games and Reggie Jackson played all 82 and those were the two players everyone was worried would be most vulnerable to injury. Two key off-season additions, Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris, missed a bunch of time last season. The Pistons have better depth this season – three quality point guards, a legitimate backup for Griffin in Morris, three rookies from last season who are better positioned to contribute this time around – to protect them against the backsliding when someone like Smith goes down. It spoke to their vulnerability that the loss of the backup point guard caused such a tailspin last season and they’re better equipped to handle such an occurrence this season. But losing Griffin or Andre Drummond for a month or more would still be challenging, just as nearly every team to lose an All-Star would be challenged. Other than that? I think Luke Kennard’s ability to take the next step in his development will be important. Finding a reliable big man – whether that’s Thon Maker or Christian Wood or maybe somebody not even on the roster today – to augment the Griffin-Drummond-Morris frontcourt core would give them more protection. Having Jackson play from opening night the way he did after Feb. 1 last season – after he’d shaken off the effects of the debilitating ankle injury suffered about 13 months prior – would have a big impact. I don’t think the Pistons are or should be expecting any meaningful contributions from Sekou Doumbouya this season, but his talent would give them another dynamic if he’s able to put it together at some point.
Dale (@BigPhatLionsFan): How much will Derrick Rose eat into Reggie Jackson’s playing time by mid-season? I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up starting.
Langlois: I’d be surprised if he ends up starting for a few reasons. One, I think it’s going to be easier to manage Rose’s minutes by having him come off of the bench. The Pistons, I expect, are going to be proactive with regard to Rose’s health. They’ll be careful with his minutes, both cumulative over the course of the season and on any given night. He played 27 a game last season. I wouldn’t think they’d want to push him any more than that, at least until they have a firm sense of where he’s at physically. Two, Jackson has become the type of 3-point shooter – significant volume (7.4 attempts per 36 minutes to Rose’s 3.8 last season) and above-average accuracy (.369 last season) – that Dwane Casey seeks to put around Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. The thing I’ll be curious to see is how often Casey goes to a Jackson-Rose tandem to close games and how effective that pairing ends up being. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jackson and Rose become the closers with Griffin and Drummond and, perhaps, Luke Kennard depending on whether Casey needs offense or prefers Tony Snell or Bruce Brown for defense.
Matt (@MatSwrzntrb): What are some ways Ed Stefanski is developing the team for the future?
Langlois: Well, start with the bulking up of the young assets under team control. As I wrote Tuesday, the roster he inherited from the Van Gundy regime included just three players on rookie contracts – Van Gundy’s three No. 1 draft picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson and Ellenson are gone after underperforming their draft slots. The Pistons will go to training camp with nine players on rookie deals if you include Christian Wood, a young player on a minimum contract: Wood, Kennard, Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas, Svi Mykhailiuk, Sekou Doumbouya, Jordan Bone, Thon Maker and Deividas Sirvydis. You could add Louis King to the mix, too, who like Bone is on a two-way contract that could be converted to a standard deal at any point. In a more literal sense, Stefanski hired a coach in Dwane Casey who has made player development a priority of his. He did it in Toronto, where the Raptors got great mileage out of late-first (Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby, Delon Wright) and second-round (Norman Powell) picks and even undrafted free agents (Fred VanVleet) on his watch. When Stefanski was hired, he made hiring a head coach his priority because he felt it was important for that coach to get a jump on hiring his staff and putting them face to face with Pistons players to get the development program off and running for that first critical off-season. So sticking more young players in the pipeline – upping the probability that you’ll find players who outperform their acquisition cost – and then exercising diligence in aiding their development are pretty good starts at bolstering the long-term health of the franchise. Then there’s how Stefanski has staffed his front office, retaining not only a few high-level executives (Pat Garrity, Andrew Loomis) from the previous regime but the bulk of a scouting staff that he came quickly to respect during the 2018 draft process while also adding key new voices like Malik Rose and Gregg Polinsky to executive positions. Ultimately, Stefanski will be judged as all executives are: by the personnel decisions he makes and by the success of the Pistons. It’s too soon to judge his drafts, though getting Bruce Brown at 42 sure looks like a win at this point. I thought he had a sneaky terrific off-season given that the Pistons went into the summer needing a starting-quality small forward and two point guards plus frontcourt depth and came out of it with Tony Snell, Derrick Rose, Tim Frazier and Markieff Morris despite having only the mid-level and biannual exceptions as bait.
J.R. Swish (@swish_jose): How many minutes per game do you see Christian Wood playing? Can he eventually replace Markieff Morris or Thon Maker as one of the backup big men? What are the chances he even starts a couple of games?
Langlois: If Wood is good enough to leapfrog Morris – and he has to make the final roster, first – that can only be a good thing for the Pistons. A healthy Morris is unquestionably a rotation-worthy NBA player who has averaged at least 19.5 minutes a game (his rookie year) in each of his eight NBA seasons and as many as 31.5 minutes. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Morris not only served as Blake Griffin’s chief backup at power forward but also at least job-shared backup center with some combination of Wood and Maker. Wood’s production in the G League is hard to ignore and he backed it up by putting up big numbers in his eight-game close with New Orleans last season. He’s something of a wild card. Maker won Casey over last year with how hard and how selflessly he played, so you’d still have to put Maker ahead of Wood in the pecking order going into training camp. But there’s no rock-steady veteran like an Aron Baynes or Zaza Pachulia, so the Pistons have a vested interest in seeing Wood blossom on their watch. It will be one of the most watched developments of preseason.