The NBA playoffs are in the middle of the conference semifinals and many of the outcomes so far have been surprising, including the early exits of LeBron James and the Golden State Warriors. That will guarantee either a first-time champion or a franchise that hasn’t won a title in almost 30 years.
The Pistons finished 20-52 and missed the playoffs for the second straight season, but many of their former players have found roles with new teams that are in the postseason — and many of them are major contributors. Eleven former Pistons are still on playoff rosters, including three with the Los Angeles Clippers and two each with the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.
With Wednesday’s news of Kawhi Leonard’s knee injury, the Clippers will lean more on Marcus Morris, in addition to two others who have played a big role in their comebacks in both rounds of the playoffs this season.
Blake Griffin, who reached a buyout agreement the final year of his contract with the Pistons, joined the Nets, one of the title favorites, and has meshed well with their remade roster. He and Bruce Brown have worked their way into complementary roles alongside the superstar trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, and look poised to make a long run in the playoffs if the Nets can stay healthy.
Tobias Harris and the 76ers, the top seed in the East, looked like they would breeze to the conference finals, but they have their hands full with the upstart Atlanta Hawks. With at least one former Piston on each remaining roster, one of them is guaranteed to be an NBA champion.
Here’s a look at some of the former Pistons and how they’re faring in the playoffs with their new teams:
► LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Morris has been a big contributor at the forward spots, spelling Leonard and Paul George when needed. Morris, who was with the Pistons in 2015-17, has been a good secondary scorer, posting 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds and shooting 38% on 3-pointers in the postseason. Most importantly, he’s playing 33 minutes per game and giving the Clippers solid scoring in the starting lineup beside their two superstars. Morris also is a good defender, so he can provide another option in guarding players such as Donovan Mitchell or Luka Doncic if needed.
Reggie Jackson has been very solid, moving into the rotation ahead of Patrick Beverley and starting nine of 11 playoff games. Jackson was bought out of the final year of his contract last season and has shot a sizzling 44% on 3-pointers this postseason, including 57% in the Jazz series. The Clippers have used Leonard and George more to initiate their offense, but Leonard’s injury may cause them to reassess that strategy.
Luke Kennard, the Pistons’ 2017 first-round pick, has had a smaller role with the Clippers, but he’s picked up his scoring in the second round, chipping in 8.8 points and going 9-for-15 from 3-point range. He’s getting a few more minutes, and those could perk up with more of Leonard’s minutes to fill.
► BROOKLYN NETS: Griffin was one of Brooklyn’s big additions to bolster their secondary group, but he’s provided some needed scoring at critical times. His experience and veteran savvy are important in the series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Griffin had 18 points in Game 1 and 17 points in Game 5, both wins. With Irving injured and Harden working his way back, the Nets will need others to chip in more, and Griffin is in a position to increase his workload.
Brown, one of the Pistons’ second-round picks in 2018, has found a niche with the Nets, including 37 starts in the regular season. He’s averaging 8.8 points in the Bucks series, as he did during the season, and he was on the court during critical sequences because of Harden’s injury, which shows the faith that the coaching staff has in his ability, especially on the defensive end.
► PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: Harris, who spent three seasons with the Pistons before going to the Clippers in the Griffin trade, has expanded his game and has become a big part of the 76ers’ core. He’s their second-leading scorer and rebounder in the playoffs (23.2 points and 8.8 rebounds) and leads the team in minutes (35.1). Besides Joel Embiid, he’s the biggest key to Philadelphia’s playoff hopes.
► MILWAUKEE BUCKS: Khris Middleton, a 2012 second-round pick by the Pistons, has blossomed into a two-time All-Star and one of the key cogs in the Bucks’ title chances. His scoring (21.5 points in the first round and 21.8 points in the semifinals) and defense have been superb. Middleton is their go-to option behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and he’s their most consistent 3-point shooter.
► OTHERS: Langston Galloway (Suns), Tony Snell (Hawks), Anthony Tolliver (76ers) and Ersan Ilyasova (Jazz) have played sparingly in the playoffs.