The 2010s were a tough decade for the Detroit Pistons and their fans.
Over the decade, the Pistons were tied with the New York Knicks for worst record in the Eastern Conference, and have yet to win a playoff game since 2008. They’re rarely in the spotlight of the media, with exception to DeAndre Jordan’s poster over Brandon Knight.
The remaining success from the core of their ’04 title team died in their 2008 trade where they dealt Chauncey Billups for a fading Allen Iverson, and was additionally blemished that coming summer when they handed out big contracts to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, further securing their commitment to mediocrity.
Now, the Pistons are dealing with an injury to their biggest star of at least the last decade, the recent departure of a player that was the centerpiece of their team for the past seven years and a lack of depth at guard. Here’s what they can do to turn it around.
Derrick Rose has held up much better than expected, averaging 18 points per game and five assists per game on 49 percent shooting the last two seasons. Rose, however, isn’t the future of the team. He’s 31 and isn’t expected to keep playing at a level this high for much longer. Luke Kennard is likely in the team’s plans for the future as a great three-point shooting guard who has been on a steady scoring incline through each of his first three seasons. He fits perfectly in the direction the league is heading and could be a valuable catch and shoot option on a title contender, shooting over 40 percent from three for his career.
The next couple of months will be a big decider in the future for the Pistons as they look to get a top five pick in the upcoming draft. Though this draft class is projected to be a bit low on upper-level talent, there are still many options that fit the need at guard for the Pistons. Lamelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and Killian Hayes are among the lottery projected guards that could be potential options. The team needs more of a point guard to take the baton from Rose, hopefully, someone who can complement Kennard’s style of play in the backcourt.
As for free agents that hit the market in 2020, there’s one guard that would fit in perfectly with the team: Fred VanVleet. VanVleet is by far the best point guard that will be available in a weak year for free agents and has plenty of playoff experience. He brings so much to the table for a team like the Pistons; high-level defense, three-point shooting, excellent playmaking. He’s never been one of the featured players in a lineup, usually playing behind Kyle Lowry. If the Pistons could snatch VanVleet from a crowded field of suitors, he’d complete their starting backcourt for the next five years with Kennard.
It’s also worth mentioning that Bruce Brown has a lot of potential coming off the bench for the Pistons. While his offensive game needs some work, his plays defense at an elite level with the potential to make an all-defensive team in the coming years.
The Pistons also experimented with starting Brown at point guard, which shows great potential if he can develop his shot a little more. Brown’s overall play adds some much-needed depth to the team’s rotation of wings.
Blake Griffin’s knee injury dealt a devastating blow to the team. After playing 75 games last season (his most since 2014) and making Third Team All-NBA, Griffin played in just 18 of the Pistons’ 66 this year. Even in the games he played, he clearly wasn’t 100 percent, averaging 15.5 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game on .352 field goal efficiency, which was lower than his three-point percentage last season. Griffin still has two years left on his giant $170 million contract, assuming he takes the player option (which he most certainly will at $38 million per year).
Fortunately, Christian Wood stepped into the spotlight for the Pistons towards the end of the year. Wood didn’t start consistently until February 7, but in his 13 games to end the season he averaged nearly a 23-10 on 40 percent shooting from three. Wood fills in the gaping hole left by Griffin, and can even play as a stretch-5 once Griffin comes back healthy.
The unfortunate part is, Wood will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Many teams will be clamoring to get him now that he’s shown he has a dependable three-point shot. If he re-signs with Detroit, he’ll be asking for a lot more than his current $1.6 million per year contract.
The Detroit Pistons have some questions at power forward, but their small forward situation is much shakier. Tony Snell is their current small forward and while he offers some benefits as a solid “3 and D” player, it has yet to be seen if Snell provides meaningful minutes on a winning team. Milwaukee jumped up 16 wins from 2018 to 2019 when they began to start him less and give him fewer minutes.
Snell is a great rotation player to have, just more when he’s a 7th or 8th man instead of in the starting lineup. The Pistons need a versatile scorer that gets to the line more than Snell, who averaged a dreadful .5 free throw attempts per game last year.
A player like Brandon Ingram would be a perfect fit, as Ingram enters free agency this fall. Detroit isn’t likely to be on the top of his preferred destinations, but he would shine in their system as the clear number one option.
A lot of this hinges on whether the Pistons can bring Christian Wood back next year. Wood may not hold up against bigger centers on the defensive end, but he can more than make up for it with his offensive play and his ability to stretch the floor.
One potential fix if the Pistons aren’t confident in their ability to re-sign Wood is through the draft with James Wiseman. Wiseman was the consensus no. 1 overall pick before the college season started last year, but his stock dropped when he was suspended from playing for Memphis due to recruiting violations just three games into the season. Though the suspension was indefinite due to the ongoing investigation of the recruiting violations, Wiseman left the team to prepare for the draft after missing seven straight games.
Wiseman has the potential to be a franchise center for the Pistons, and can even offer three-point range that may be lost from Wood. He’s still projected to go as high as number one, but some mock drafts also have him outside the top five. His projected range is in question, but if the Pistons sneak into the top four or five on lottery night, they stand to have a good chance at picking him.
Center hasn’t been a problem for the Pistons in years, as they’ve just recently departed from Andre Drummond. Drummond was their centerpiece for years, but as long as he was one of the team’s best two players, the Pistons weren’t going to go anywhere in the playoffs. Drummond had to go, it was just surprising to see the measly return for him: Brandon Knight, John Henson and a second-round pick.
Even though the move was a salary dump and the price on Drummond’s contract turned many teams away at $28 million per year, many Detroit Pistons fans were expecting a little more from the highly anticipated trade.
Detroit made a big move for their future in June when they hired former OKC Thunder front office executive Troy Weaver. Weaver is known for his strong player evaluations, which led the way for the Thunder’s legendary 2008 and 2009 drafts. Between the two they drafted Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka, an extremely impressive feat.
Weaver will make an immediate impact, starting with the upcoming NBA draft, which could serve as a flashpoint for the future of the Detroit Pistons’ franchise.
Featured image courtesy of Forbes.