20 questions, Pistons edition: How will Dwane Casey make the pieces fit
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
The draft is a month in the rear-view mirror, Summer League has packed up and left, free agency has slowed to a trickle.
In fact, free agency is effectively over for the Pistons. They have a full 15-man roster after drafting Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown and signing Glenn Robinson III, Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia in free agency.
There’s no roster imbalance between frontcourt and perimeter and Dwane Casey will have plenty of flexibility with lineups, so there’s no pressing need and thus a reduced likelihood of trade heading into training camp.
It’s not like the Pistons are closed for business – Ed Stefanski will probably spend the rest of his summer rounding out the front-office staff and Casey and his assistants will be monitoring off-season workout regimens up and down the roster – but there will be very little that makes news between now and late September when training camp opens.
A good time, then, to assess the roster and wildly speculate as to how Casey will fit the puzzle pieces together and how the season will play out. Let’s play 20 questions with the Pistons.
- Who leads them in scoring? Blake Griffin. I’ll set the over-under at 21 points a game.
- Who leads them in rebounding? If it’s not Andre Drummond, we’re launching an investigation.
- Who leads them in assists? Well, now we get to a more challenging question. Much will depend on how Casey structures the offense. I’m tempted to say Griffin, who averaged 6.2 assists after joining the Pistons – a career best – but I’ll play it safe and go with Reggie Jackson.
- Where do the Pistons wind up in defensive efficiency? Casey’s teams, with largely the same core, went from 11th to eighth to fifth over the last three seasons. Last year’s Pistons finished 11th. I’ll slot them at No. 8.
- And where do they wind up in offensive efficiency? Toronto was third, sixth and fifth the last three seasons. He inherits a team that finished 19th last season, though playing without Jackson for 37 games accounts for at least three or four slots. If the Pistons can finish in the top 10 at both ends, they’re a playoff lock and likely hosting a first-round series. I’ll say they finish No. 11 on offense as they adjust to a new system, getting progressively better as the year unfolds.
- Who leads in minutes per game? Lots of contenders here. Griffin and Drummond are going to log 30-plus, most likely. Jackson will be in that ballpark, maybe a minute or two less per half given the demands on a point guard. The wild card is Stanley Johnson. Let’s go with him.
- How deep will Casey’s rotation go? Casey consistently went at least five deep into his bench with the Raptors. That will be a change from the Stan Van Gundy era, when he was most comfortable at nine and went through stretches where it would be eight in second halves. So expect a 10-man rotation.
- Who starts at small forward? See question 9.
- Who starts at shooting guard? The obvious contenders are Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard. Going to go with Bullock here based on his dazzling 3-point shooting last season and his fit with Griffin. Bullock’s cutting/shooting combined with Griffin’s passing and ability to draw double teams will be right there with Jackson-Griffin and Jackson-Drummond pick and rolls as a staple of the offense, it figures.
- Which lineup finishes games? Depends. What are they trying to do – rally from behind or protect a lead? If they’re trying to put their best offensive lineup out, then Bullock and Kennard are both on the floor. It’s conceivable Griffin is at center in those lineups to field a unit of five 3-point threats. If they’re trying to guard the perimeter, then Johnson and Glenn Robinson III are probably out there.
- How many 3-point attempts a game do they get up? Well, they took a franchise-record 2,373 triples – 28.9 per game last season – and Casey said “we have to get up more threes.” Almost exactly one-third (33.28 percent, to be more precise) of Pistons shots last year were triples. Nearly 38 percent of Toronto’s shots were threes last year. And Toronto’s leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan, was not a prolific bomber. So … let’s say the Pistons increase their attempts by 20 percent. That would put them at 34.7 attempts per game – still less than Toronto’s figure but a big spike for them.
- Who plays the most minutes behind Drummond? If Casey is going to go 10 deep, that could mean diminished opportunity to use Griffin at center. Zaza Pachulia is probably slotted more for situational use. Tough call here, but I’m going with Jon Leuer.
- Who gets the most minutes behind Griffin? Henry Ellenson. He emerges this year as a reliable scorer.
- Which rookie gets first crack at playing time? Bruce Brown checks off a lot of boxes with his rebounding, passing, size and defense. But usually rookies without a sure spot are called upon to fill a specific role. Flip a coin here, but I’ll say Khyri Thomas could be next in line if Kennard or Bullock misses any time at shooting guard.
- When will Little Caesars Arena host its first playoff game? The schedule’s not out yet, but I’m going to guess the regular season ends on April 10 and the playoffs open the weekend of April 13-14. So take your best guess as to which day they play.
- How many 3-point attempts does Andre Drummond get next season? The most he’s ever taken in a season was 11 in 2017-18. Last season, Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas took 74 after taking a combined four in his first five seasons. So let’s say … 50.
- How many combined games do Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson miss due to injury? A cringe-worthy question but one that will be on the tips of fans’ tongues and the back of Pistons minds. If this number stays under 20, it’s a win. If it stays in single digits, it’s a party. Let’s go with … nine.
- Do any Pistons make the All-Star team? Griffin and Drummond. If they’re going to be a top-five team at the All-Star break, they’ll get two slots. If they’re top-three in the East, Jackson will be on the bubble.
- Who leads them in 3-point percentage? Kennard edges Bullock.
- Who gets the most minutes off the bench? Tough call. Kennard is going to play a lot so it’s probably him. But Glenn Robinson III could force his way into the mix for his ability to play multiple positions.