During the final season of Stan Van Gundy’s reign, Detroit seemed to be zigging while the rest of the league zagged. Trading for Blake Griffin was a risky endeavor, but one which might have catapulted a franchise who has only made the playoffs once since 2009 back into relevance.
Instead, the experiment ended in another lackluster season and a pile of assets seemingly cashed in on an aging star with a rich history of lower body injuries.
Cashing two quality chips, Tobias Harris and the 12th pick, seemed like a failure from the get-go. Harris was starting to break out of his shell and a late-lottery pick was valuable in a draft rich with big men (meaning some solid wings and guards might fall to Detroit at 12). Which as we all know happened, by the way, but it was the Los Angeles Clippers who selected Miles Bridges instead of the Pistons).
Pairing Griffin and Drummond would dominate 2K leagues, but in the real world, they bump heads down low. Even with two of the best big men in the game, the team lacks identity. Other antithetic teams like the Grizzlies stick by basic principles, which are furthered by signings like Kyle Anderson. With that said, all signs point to the Pistons deviating from their original blueprint.
Handcuffed to a middling roster with little wiggle room, they made a few moves that suggest a fundamental shift in philosophy. Getting rid of Stan Van Gundy was a much-needed change, and following that up with the addition of reigning Coach of the Year Dwane Casey brought fresh air to the stagnate Pistons. Casey was ousted in Toronto after posting the five winningest seasons in team history IN A ROW. Detroit would be happy to reach such a lofty plateau.
But recent overspending and underdevelopment of homegrown talent has left the franchise hamstrung. Getting worse might be the more appealing option for a long term rebuild, but moving the Griffin contract (and rid themselves of All Star talent so they can sink into the dregs) would likely cost them another asset in the already bare cupboard.
The best option might be to ride out the current roster and try to make a playoff run or two while selling some season tickets.
Dwane Casey (fired from Raptors)
Glenn Robinson III (two-year, $8.3 million)
№38 Khyri Thomas
№42 Bruce Brown
Keenan Evans (undrafted, two-way)
Stan Van Gundy (fired)
Anthony Tolliver (Timberwolves, one-year $5.8 million)
Tolliver is a more significant loss than you think
Getting a talent like Blake Griffin is, on paper, a power move. When you get the chance to grab an MVP candidate in what should be his athletic prime, you do it. But a quick peek into his statistics reveals a steep drop in shots at the rim, an uptick in threes, and less rebounding.
Don’t get me wrong, learning the three-pointer is valuable for a 29-year old whose knees are slightly sapped since he jumped over a Kia. Still, his best ability is backing down opponents using his defensive end build. In a Pistons offense, Griffin’s best abilities are locked away into a box — which is promptly tossed into the deepest pits of the ocean.
In Jon Leuer, Anthony Tolliver, and Tobias Harris, Drummond could man the paint without the worry of running into them. Of course, Harris was traded for Griffin. That’s at least forgivable. Griffin’s minutes will overtake most of Leuer’s. That makes sense. Until Thibodeau dusted off his archives, a Tolliver re-signing was plausible. Letting him walk is hasty and will spell spacing trouble in Motor City.
While Tolliver is a scorer, he never actively searched for a shot. Mostly, he let the offense come to him. He was a role player and that made him system-perfect. Griffin, a star who thinks he is a superstar, has the tendency to search far and wide—even if that means pounding the air out of the ball—for a shot he likes.
The former Creighton product is not flashy and is almost old enough to run for president. But he’s living, breathing evidence that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Prior to this season, Tolliver shot 36.2 percent from deep. Respectable but not staggering. This season he tied for sixth in three-point percentage with Kyle Korver at 43.6 percent.
Tolliver’s three-point ability pulls defenders towards him, providing critical gravity in a league where such an emphasis is placed on space. By no means is he a focal point, nor will he ever be, but there were a few noticeable plays where his impact grades high on the eye-test.
Drummond and Tolliver developed a rapport based on the balance of their particular skills. The former required space to perform at his peak and the latter delivered, keeping the defense teetering like a see-saw. Without the spacing and off-ball movement, the offense became stagnant.
Dwane Casey, Coach of the Year
In a vacuum, plugging Casey in for Van Gundy is a win. The Van Gundy act was grew weary. Sure, the idea of having 3 shooters around a playmaking point guard and a dominant center works on paper. Except it failed on the court, resembling a C-version of the 2009 Magic.
Fast forward to today and the Pistons have a well-versed coach with recent success.
My favorite play Casey uses every so often is the weave pick and roll. The free flowing motion pick and roll set starts with a handoff to the wing, who drops it off to the opposite wing. In one motion, the wing with the ball gets a screen at the top and darts around it, with a shooter in the corner. It’s like 2006 Michael Vick in a quarterback option, equipped with a rife of options; kick it out to the corner, finger-roll a layup, or attack the teeth of the defense.
This kind of free-flowing play within a new-age offense aided in the offensive development of Casey and the improvement of Lowry from league average starter into perennial all-star.
As the quarterback in plays like the weave pick and roll, Reggie Jackson will find his niche in the Casey scheme.
Signing Glenn Robinson III and drafting/adding three 3-and-D guards represents a new era. This offseason, the Pistons finally yielded to league vogue. And with a new boss in charge, they just may be able to redefine Detroit basketball.
Statistics courtesy NBA.com/stats, Synergy Sports Technology, and Basketball-Reference.