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Have the Detroit Pistons Already Reached Their Ceiling?

Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It is sad to think, but unfortunately it seems as if the Detroit Pistons, a team that went 37-45 last year, and was its best at 44-38 in the Stan Van Gundy era has already reached its peak. Outside of Tobias Harris, no player played close to their expectations last season, the team is in salary cap hell until at least 2019, and the team does not really have a very strong youth movement as it is. To put it simply, the Pistons are a team built for never, as they are a below average team with a dim future. Let’s take a look at this core of players that Van Gundy will try to get to the playoffs next year.

Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond happens to be one of the best rebounders of this era, with a career 23.7% rebounding percentage and 25.2% rebounding percentage in 2016-2017. However, that is really all he is good at. Offensively, Drummond is limiting to say the least. Not only does he lack shooting range outside of three feet from the basket, and shoot free throws worse than I can with a 38.1% career free throw percentage, but his play type stats further prove that. He’s not an incredible pick and roll big man, as he is in the 57th percentile among points per possession for rollers and is one of the worst post players in the league, landing in the 20th percentile on post ups. These statistics lead to Drummond’s terrible advanced offensive stats, including a 51.8% true shooting percentage, a -2.1 offensive box plus minus and a -1.8 offensive real plus minus. And unlike other great rebounders in the NBA, Drummond does not make up for his offense with his defense. His 55.5% opposing rim field goal percentage is terrible among centers, and he’s almost as bad defending the pick and roll (34th percentile) and post up (37th percentile) as he is offending it.

But don’t worry Pistons fans, as despite being a remarkably one-sided player, Drummond signed a five year, 125 million dollar contract, and made the eleventh most in the NBA last year at 22 million. Meanwhile, according to FiveThirtyEight, Drummond’s estimated player value was 14.5 million, and so not only is Drummond a very limited player, but he is also extremely overpaid. Paying that much for a player like Drummond is like getting a gym membership because you want a locker.

Reggie Jackson

In 2015-2016, Jackson had a good but not great season for the Detroit Pistons, averaging 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game with a 2.3 box plus minus, 1.45 real plus minus and 6.9 win shares. That year, he was pretty much fighting for the final spot on the Eastern All-Star team with fellow point guards Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker, however, this year while Thomas and Walker added on their 2015-2016 success, becoming two of the most offensively intimidating point guards in the league, while Jackson was out until December with left knee tendinitis and was pretty terrible coming back.

He declined in almost every statistical category, to the point where Ish Smith, the true shooting percentage nightmare, was significantly more effective at point guard. The source of Jackson’s offensive decline may have been his less aggressive approach post-injury. In 2015-2016, Jackson drove sixth most in the league at 10.6 per game, with drives being one of his main sources of scoring, as 39.6% of his points came from driving or free throws from drives. Meanwhile this year, Jackson drove just 7 times per game, and drive points made up just 35.5% of his points. This regression in drives per game, is part of the reason why Jackson’s point totals dropped, as he averaged just 14.5 points per game, but would have averaged 16.8 if he drove at the same rate he did last year, and that would give him almost the exact same points per minute number as last year. Another number that went down for Jackson was his assists per game, however, unlike with the points per game, this isn’t really his fault, as his potential assists per game number (passes to shots) was virtually identical, but the team just wasn’t hitting shots as often off of his passes.

But nevertheless, he drove less, which affected his offensive game substantially, and as always, he was not a strong defensive player, with a -2 DBPM and a -2.94 DRPM. FiveThirtyEight projections even say that he will never have another season anywhere close to the level he was pre-injury. He made 15 million dollars last year, and according to FiveThirtyEight, that number should have been 18.3 million lower. That’s right, last year Reggie Jackson was a negative value NBA player. And he’s signed up until 2020. Although I do think that Jackson should be worth more than three million per year for the next five years, which is what FiveThirtyEight has projected, it doesn’t seem like Jackson will be his 2015-2016 self ever again.

Avery Bradley

The newest major addition for the Detroit Pistons is Avery Bradley, after trading away Markieff, sorry, Marcus Morris to the Boston Celtics. Bradley should definitely help the team with their 27th in the league three-pointers per game (7.7) and 28th in the league three-point percentage (33%), with his 39% three-point percentage, and Bradley is probably a better player than last year’s starting shooting guard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and is a cheap 8.8 million dollars per year next year.

However, they only have Bradley for one year before he is up for free agency, and it doesn’t seem as if Detroit is a very attractive destination for free agents (sorry Detroiters), as every player in their starting lineup last year was either acquired through a trade or in the draft, and only 4 players on the roster were acquired as signees, and yes, they were all very overpaid, and specifically for Bradley, Detroit probably won’t be all that attractive because they have no cap room, and are not nearly good enough for Bradley to consider taking a discount, so although this move helps them in the short term, it’s highly unlikely that the Pistons will benefit from the move after this year, and will probably end up starting either Luke Kennard or Stanley Johnson at the two next year.

Tobias Harris

Unlike most players on the Pistons last year, Tobias Harris actually had a good season, with his second best points per game year and best true shooting percentage, win shares and box plus minus. And although Harris is not known for being a very good passer, with a remarkably low 8.8% assist percentage, I do think that he should be given more time with the ball, as he is the Pistons’ best driver and pick and roll ball handler. Harris may have been the only major bright spot for the Pistons last year, as he played well consistently, and is on a pretty solid 15 million dollar per year contract.

But still, a team should not expect to make the playoffs when their best player is the analyst/therapist himself, Tobias Harris (if you get that reference, we’re automatically friends), who led the team in points per game, box plus minus and win shares. He is really more of a third or fourth scorer on a good team.

Jon Leuer

Jon Leuer is likely going to start at power forward for the Pistons now that they have gotten rid of Morris, but let’s not forget just how much his performance declined after the All-Star break last year. Let’s take a look at the split:

It seems like after the All-Star break, Leuer just couldn’t seem to put the ball in the hoop. And being that he is not a defensive stopper on the other end when his offense is this bad, he is pretty much unplayable. FiveThirtyEight projects further decline into next year and being that Leuer makes ten million dollars per year and is signed up until 2020. Once again, it seems as if Van Gundy has made a poor short-sighted signing, which should plague the team’s immediate future.

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Stanley Johnson

In his rookie year in 2015-2016, Stanley Johnson was the fifth most played player on the Detroit Pistons and despite being completely terrible on the offensive end, with a 46% true shooting percentage, -1.3 offensive win shares, -1.92 ORPM and -3.8 OBPM, he showed promise on defense with his size (6’7”, 245 lbs, 7’0” wingspan) and athleticism.

In 2016-2017, Johnson saw himself about five less minutes per game, moving from 23.1 to 17.8, due to the addition of Jon Leuer, who took some of his forward minutes, and he also saw his offensive game somehow get worse, with declines in his already terrible TS%, OWS, ORPM and OBPM numbers. If Johnson wants to get more minutes, he must improve on his offensive numbers significantly.

Ish Smith

In a few words, Ish Smith is a true shooting nightmare. He has never had a true shooting percentage over 50%, and because of that, he has never had a positive OBPM. And sure, his ORPM was higher, meaning that despite putting up awful box score numbers, the team was better offensively with him on the floor than Jackson, but that still doesn’t make his true shooting percentage any less terrible.

This year, he had the best year of his career, with highs in win shares (3.1) and box plus minus (-.8), but the projections show that this has been his peak, and because of that, his six million dollars per year contract might be a slight overpayment.

Langston Galloway

Now I am a bigger Langston Galloway fan than most, as anyone who can shoot the three at 39% and have a defended field goal percentage 2.5% better than the average field goal percentage of offenders should find themselves on NBA roster, but his lack of size for a shooting guard (6’2”), lack of passing for a point guard (9.4% assist percentage) and way below average shooting from anywhere besides the three-point line (36.7% two-point percentage), do not make him a good fit with guys like Smith and Jackson who cannot defend shooting guards either.

Even if he is playing with Bradley, the Pistons won't be able to move the ball, and you guessed it, Van Gundy paid way too much to get him on the team at seven million per year for three years given this offseason, when FiveThirtyEight gives him less than a three million dollars per year five year market value.

Boban Marjanovic

With the team yet to re-sign Aron Baynes, and rightfully reluctant to give Leuer any center minutes, it seems like the Pistons will go forward with Boban Marjanovic as their backup center. And despite Bobo being effective in small doses with a career 57.8% field goal percentage, .309 win shares per 48 and a positive box plus minus and real plus minus last year, he has never really seen big NBA minutes, averaging nine minutes per game over his career. That number should definitely get higher next year, as he becomes the second string centre, but being that we have only seen a small sample of Marjanovic, I am not really sure how this will work out, but hey, FiveThirtyEight can’t either, giving him “¯\_(ツ)_/¯” as his categorized player role.

However, Marjanovic’s small sample size and general mysteriousness as an NBA player didn’t stop SVG from throwing 21 million dollars for three years at him in the 2016 offseason.

Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard

Sadly for Pistons fans, these two plus Stanley Johnson are the closest thing to a youth movement the Pistons have, which might not seem that bad for a win now team, but being that they are not winning now, and that successful win-now teams like the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz, Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors probably have more developed youth movements than the Pistons. at this moment.

They are not doing a very good job of developing young talent, and that is why Ellenson played just 146 minutes last year, despite being the 18th pick in the NBA draft, when eleven guys picked later than Ellenson in the 2016 NBA Draft all had higher minute totals on better teams, and despite putting up a great Summer League showing so far, Kennard is likely to see a similar situation that Ellenson did last year, as the team will likely give most shooting guard minutes to Bradley, Galloway and Johnson, and I do not trust him one bit to guard small forwards, as he is just 200 lbs with a 6’5” wingspan.

Expect him to play much more minutes in the D-League, sorry, G-League (I’ll never get used to saying that) with the Grand Rapids Drive than in the NBA with the Pistons.

So there you have it folks, the Detroit Pistons roster consists of mostly overpaid players who are not culture-changing stars by any means, and at the very end of the roster, they have a few young guys who will not get very many reps in their first years in the NBA. \

This current makeup gives them almost no trade assets besides Tobias Harris and the recently attained Avery Bradley, who will be two of the only non-overpaid rotation players on their roster, and in hopes of sneaking into a low seed in the East, the Pistons probably won’t trade them anyway. They have no cap in the near future, so they cannot get better by trading picks and their own picks will only be in the tens as it is, which gives them a much smaller chance of earning themselves a legitimate franchise player.

Essentially, the Detroit Pistons should be playing Kennard and Ellenson more, but probably will not because they are looking to have a shortened, playoff rotation, and so they and their future draft picks will likely be riding the bench until the hair on Andre Drummond’s shoulders turns grey. Unless Drummond lives up to his Dwight Howard-esque potential and Reggie Jackson develops some sort of Wolverine healing factor, this team will never reach the top four and stay in NBA limbo for all eternity.