(Editor’s note: Today continues a five-part series on Pistons.com looking at the Pistons at each of the five positions for the 2019-20 season. Today: shooting guard. Coming Wednesday: center.)
Ask Pistons fans what are the storylines to monitor in 2019-20 and you’ll probably get a handful of most frequent responses: Can Blake Griffin repeat his All-NBA 2019-20 season? Can Reggie Jackson put a whole season together like his second half last year? Will Derrick Rose and Griffin stay healthy? Does Andre Drummond have yet another gear to reach?
You’d probably get a few about 18-year-old rookie Sekou Doumboya’s potential to help in his first season, too.
But maybe nothing will be more relevant to the success of this year’s Pistons than Luke Kennard’s ability to vault from wild-card scorer to every-night force. It’s a leap the new front office and coaching staff hoped might come in Kennard’s second season, but one blunted by both off- and in-season injuries to Kennard’s knee and shoulder.
But the way Kennard played over the final few months of the regular season and into the playoffs – ahead of a healthy off-season – renews optimism that Kennard will take his place alongside Griffin, Drummond and Jackson as no-doubters for Casey to pencil in 25-plus minutes of above-average productivity every night.
Look around the Eastern Conference. Bradley Beal is the unquestioned No. 1 point guard. Philadelphia’s Josh Richardson and Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert have flashed All-Star potential someday and Chicago’s Zach LaVine rebounded from his ACL tear to re-establish himself as an offensive force last season. But there aren’t many nights the Pistons will take the floor against conference rivals and be at a disadvantage at shooting guard if Kennard so much as picks up where he left off – never mind if he takes the next step in his evolution.
The Pistons have plenty of other options at the position, as well, a testament to the job front-office boss Ed Stefanski and his staff have done to restock the position in their year-plus on the job. Here’s a look at shooting guard for 2019-20:
DEPTH CHART: Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Langston Galloway, Khyri Thomas
Kennard figures to be in line for an increase in minutes over the 22.8 he averaged as a second-year player, perhaps even stepping up from the 25.7 he averaged after the All-Star break as his consistency spiked and his defense improved. Kennard will always be a scorer and offensive player first, but as he gains strength and experience his defense figures to progress. He’s got active hands and good anticipation; he’s just never been tasked with defending consistently at previous levels where his offense was so vital to team success.
That said, it’s no better than 50-50 that Kennard joins the starting lineup this season. It might still make more sense for the team to bring him off of the bench where he’d get more time with the ball in his hands in lineups without Blake Griffin. Kennard and Griffin are going to play together – when the Pistons need scoring late in close games, odds are both will be in the lineup – but separating them for the first half of the first and third quarters gives more opportunities to exploit Kennard’s playmaking.
Brown’s defense might also be best put to use in his minutes against perimeter starters. If Brown can make incremental gains in scoring efficiency and 3-point accuracy, he’d be an even easier choice to remain the starter. Pairing Brown with Jackson serves to give Jackson something of a break defensively, as well, as Brown is often the best choice to defend at the point.
Galloway’s doggedness and 3-point trigger are qualities that earn Dwane Casey’s trust, so he won’t make it easy to keep him outside the rotation even if Kennard and Brown take anticipated steps. Casey also spoke glowingly of Thomas throughout last season – citing his intellect, toughness and defensive potential – making him yet another candidate to crack the rotation.
OPTIONS: Derrick Rose, Reggie Jackson, Svi Mykhailiuk
It will be interesting to hear how Casey envisions utilizing Rose, specifically how he intends to use him beyond the most obvious role as backup point guard. A guy who can create offense in the final five minutes of games in the balance is the most precious asset in the game and Rose, at his best, is still one of those rare birds. Jackson was that guy for the Pistons in 2015-16 and flashed that skill after getting his legs under him at mid-season last year. Griffin, of course, remains on that short list of talents.
When Jackson and Rose play together, who has the ball can be dictated by the defensive matchups. Jackson’s catch-and-shoot acumen will play well off of Rose’s dynamic penetration. The reverse will also hold true if Rose can repeat his 37 percent 3-point accuracy, a career high, from last season. Playing in Casey’s offense, which figures to elevate Rose’s 3-point attempt rate, is likely to help.
Mykhailiuk’s size, shooting range and creativity puts him in the running for a role on the wings, too. He’s probably better suited to defending threes than twos, but in the right matchups he’ll be in the mix.
FLEXIBILITY: Kennard, Brown
The addition of Tony Snell, the anticipated progress of Mykhailiuk and even the presence of Doumbouya make it less necessary for Kennard or Brown to have to log the number of minutes at small forward that they did after last winter’s trades to ship out Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson. But depending on need, lineups that pair Jackson and Rose in the backcourt could be best augmented by Kennard offensively or Brown defensively at small forward.
Until the Pistons see more complete evidence of Kennard’s progress in consistency and defense and of Brown rounding out his offensive arsenal, the Pistons lack a thoroughly complete two-way player at shooting guard. But Casey surely has no shortage of options and has a weapon at his disposal for pretty much any contingency. Thomas lacks experience, but his potential as a two-way player excites the front office and coaching staffs. Galloway is a security blanket, a known quantity who brings his best effort every night in whatever is asked of him.