Despite the Pistons’ 20-52 record, they didn’t have as bad a season as it seemed. After a certain point, they ceded the playing time to the young core and didn’t worry as much about winning as they did about getting valuable experience for the youngsters.
Through the bumps and bruises of the season, the Pistons found some hidden gems on the roster, but general manager Troy Weaver has more work to do to get where he wants to go in his franchise restoration. The Pistons were in a lot of games and weren’t blown out in very many of them, but they didn’t have the firepower to stay close when games got tight down the stretch.
The big jump may not happen next season either, but with some tinkering, Weaver and his staff can help push the Pistons closer to playoff contention and away from another losing season and lottery selection next year.
Rosters can be structured in many different ways to try to get the most out of the offensive scheme and the players involved, but the Pistons have a direction with their addition of some core pieces last season.
Here’s a look at some of their roster needs and how they can move forward this offseason:
Multiple high-level scorers
The Pistons ranked 27th in points scored (106.6) and 26th in offensive rating (108). By most measures, the Pistons’ offense struggled through much of the season, but the eye test showed that there were some notable exceptions. Jerami Grant seemed to wear down as the season progressed when he was the No. 1 option. It makes sense because once Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose were gone, defenses could focus on taking Grant away and forcing secondary offensive players such as Mason Plumlee, Saddiq Bey and Josh Jackson to shoulder more of thee scoring load.
Make no mistake, Grant was an effective scorer and proved that he can be a No. 1 option, similar to the way that Julius Randle has ascended to a similar position with the New York Knicks. Just as Randle and the Knicks are struggling in the playoffs — ironically, with Rose emerging as their next-best scoring option — so did Grant without a proven scorer.
Grant’s scoring average dropped from 23.4 before the All-Star break to 20.6 afterwards. That coincided with some of Grant’s minutes coming with Rose and Griffin early in the season to the likes of Saben Lee and Bey or Sekou Doumbouya. Coach Dwane Casey noted that the Pistons need more shooting, but the point also raises the idea that they need another scorer so that he and Grant can play off each other.
The other benefit is that the Pistons can stretch the other scorer’s minutes through the starting lineup and continue with the second unit, which would allow Grant to reduce his career-high usage rate (31.4% after the All-Star break) and be more effective on both ends of the court.
Shooters, and more shooters
Early in the season, it wasn’t clear where the Pistons would be getting their 3-point shooting. There weren’t high expectations for Wayne Ellington, who jumped into the starting lineup and was highly productive, nearly matching his career-best mark at 42.2% on six attempts per game.
As a team, the Pistons ranked 22nd in the league at 35.1% and spread the wealth around, with four players hitting 38% or better with 2.1 or more attempts per game. The issue was that the Pistons didn’t take enough 3-pointers and, by extension, didn’t make enough of the open looks they created. Casey’s offense is reliant on a drive-kick-swing concept, which involves defenses collapsing on the ball penetration and moving the ball to find better open shots.
Grant and Rose were very good at creating those opportunities, but in too many cases the open looks they created didn’t end with made baskets. They’ll need more conversions when Killian Hayes, Josh Jackson, Bey and Lee get more comfortable in the system.
It would have been hard to predict that Ellington, Frank Jackson, Hamidou Diallo and Bey would be their best volume 3-point shooters, but that was one of the positive outcomes. Ellington, Frank Jackson and Diallo will be free agents, so getting at least two of those players back or adding better options in the draft or free agency will be optimal.
The Pistons have lacked a steady, athletic big man who can protect the rim, especially from the weak side. Andre Drummond was probably the best at that since Ben Wallace, but he didn’t have much help when he was on the ball. Isaiah Stewart had a pretty good season, with 1.3 blocks and finishing 11th in total blocks with 86. He’s not a shot-blocker in the same category with Rudy Gobert, Myles Turner and Nerlens Noel, but Stewart can hold his own.
If the Pistons end up getting Evan Mobley in the draft, he could jump into that role nicely. At 7-feet with high-end athleticism at the center position, Mobley would increase their defensive statistics and make a formidable frontline with Stewart and Grant (1.1 blocks), among other combinations.
Some of the Pistons’ problems came from their perimeter defense allowing too much dribble penetration and with rotations giving up easy points on drives or leaving shooters open. Plumlee wasn’t a big deterrent at the rim, and with Jahlil Okafor and Stewart under contract, there aren’t many options for upgrading at the center spot.
Quality bench depth
In some ways, Weaver already has addressed this with some shrewd additions in free agency and trades. Frank Jackson was on a two-way contract and became a reliable scorer and 3-point shooter. Diallo was a nice addition in the trade for Svi Mykhailiuk, and Okafor as a third center isn’t bad at all. The Pistons’ first-round pick, which can be no lower than sixth, probably will be a rotation player, and with three more picks in the second round, they could either make a good pick or package those to upgrade at a position.
The reserve depth wasn’t bad last year, but it was mostly inexperienced and after Rose’s departure, it didn’t have a strong veteran presence. With a full offseason to train and learn, the young players such as Stewart, Lee and Doumbouya will be able to be more intuitive instead of reactionary.