Now that the lottery has settled where the Pistons will pick in the June 22 draft, how the Pistons spend that pick is front and center in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Akiva (akiva_shalom): What position are the Pistons probably taking with their pick?
Langlois: This year, more than ever, it’s wide open. The Pistons – and probably most NBA teams – set up their draft board largely based on their perceived value of players relative to the field but with consideration given to roster construction. What does that mean? Well, if you’re the Pistons and you have a 23-year-old Andre Drummond at center, then you’re probably going to give a center with a similar playing style – more rebounder and athletic than highly skilled with perimeter shooting ability – a lesser draft grade than otherwise. If you evaluate that guy as, say, the third best player in the draft without regard to the roster, then maybe you rank him fifth on your draft board because two other players of relatively equal ability get bumped up due to having a clearer path to playing time than a center behind Drummond would. The Pistons have Drummond and Boban Marjanovic at center (with Aron Baynes assumed to be lost in free agency); Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson at power forward; Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson and Michael Gbinije at small forward; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (assuming he’s retained, the strong probability), Johnson and Darrun Hillard at shooting guard; and Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith at point guard. That’s an unusual amount of roster stability – and most of those players are under contract for at least two more years. So roster considerations will be less of a factor than typical for the Pistons. What could take the place of “roster considerations” this season, though, is “skill set.” The Pistons might emphasize shooting ability, or overall offensive proficiency, to a greater degree this season than past years to add something at whatever position they wind up drafting they don’t currently have at that spot.
Marvin (Richmond, Va.): Do you think Boban could effectively be the Pistons starting center? If not, why?
Langlois: He’s never had a regular rotation spot, Marvin. The Pistons felt last July, based on the fairly limited exposure he’d had in his only season in the league with the Spurs in 2015-16, that Marjanovic could be a backup center. He played even less with the Pistons last season (293 minutes after 508 with the Spurs), but the results were promising. When Aron Baynes missed a game in January, Marjanovic responded with 15 points and 19 rebounds in a win over Charlotte. When the Pistons were all but officially eliminated from the playoff race in the season’s final week, Stan Van Gundy gave Marjanovic extended minutes – 91 over the final four games – and he again showed his unique combination of size and touch by averaging 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds while shooting 59 percent. The question remains durability and the ability to sustain that productivity with regular minutes. I don’t think he’ll play 22 minutes a game behind Andre Drummond next season; Baynes averaged a little over 15 each of the past two seasons. But if your question is a way of getting to the possibility that the Pistons would trade Drummond – presumably for perimeter punch – and slide Marjanovic into the starter’s role, well, I don’t foresee them taking that leap of faith until they have a larger sample size with Marjanovic.
Daniel (DClionfan): Are they any players in the draft that compare favorably to Dennis Rodman? The Pistons need someone with similar skills.
Langlois: The man who discovered Rodman, Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey, said Rodman was both the greatest defender and the greatest rebounder he ever saw. I don’t think anyone in this draft – or any other draft, for that matter – could possibly compare favorably to that resume. Is there someone who would at least fit under the Rodman umbrella – an athletic player capable of guarding multiple positions, running the floor, creating scoring opportunities with his hustle/athleticism combination? The player considered a first-round prospect who probably comes closest is Indiana’s O.G. Anunoby. I’d put him in a group of four or five players who seems a realistic option for the Pistons with the 12th pick. Then there’d be another group of four or five who are more than likely to go ahead of that pick and would be appealing should one or more fall; and another group of four or five who are projected outside the lottery but who have one or more intriguing qualities that could make them attractive to the Pistons.
Big Reyn (@reyn121): Is there any way we could get the No. 7 or 8 pick? Or do we only have a chance at the top three and 12-13-14 picks?
Langlois: Those were the only possibilities – 1, 2, 3, 12, 13 or 14. The odds were 0.7 percent (or 7 in 1,000) for the No. 1 pick, 0.83 percent for the No. 2 pick, 1.01 percent for the No. 3 pick, 93.54 percent for No. 12, 3.9 percent for No. 13 and 0.02 percent for No. 14. There was a significantly greater chance the Pistons would fall a spot than jump into the top three.
Bryce (@kletis3): Bam Adebayo in the second round.
Langlois: Big hole in your plan, Bryce. The Pistons don’t have a second-round pick as of now. It was sent out as part of the three-team deal in February 2015 that brought Reggie Jackson to the Pistons. They also lose their 2019 second-rounder in that deal and the 2020 second-rounder in the trade for Marcus Morris. They get a 2019 second-round pick for trading Jodie Meeks to Orlando. A second problem with your plan: Adebayo isn’t likely to last until the 42nd pick, which is where the Pistons would be drafting if they had their second-rounder.
Deviaire (Pontiac, Mich.): Trade our first-round pick for Carmelo Anthony and put him where he should have been the whole time? Let KCP go, start Stanley Johnson at shooting guard, Marcus Morris at small forward, Carmelo at power forward and Andre Drummond at center with a bench of Ish Smith, Darrun Hilliard, Tobias Harris, Henry Ellenson and Boban Marjanovic?
Langlois: While I would peg the odds of the Pistons finding a player who’ll approach Carmelo Anthony’s career numbers with the 12th pick at somewhere south of 5 percent, I’d still use my veto power – if I, indeed, had veto power – to trade that pick for a 33-year-old player with 14 seasons and nearly 40,000 minutes of wear on his tires. If there were a team in the East that I could see Anthony going to – and I’m shoving aside salary cap issues for the sake of this argument – it would be Washington. Bring him off the bench as the scoring anchor for the second unit, playing about 28 minutes a game – and you might have something there. That’s where I think he’s best served at this point of his career –not necessarily a backup, still a significant player, but not one around whom a franchise should build.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): What can the Pistons do to lessen their offensive dependence on Reggie Jackson? He may have health problems again next season.
Langlois: In a bit of circular logic, Reggie Jackson is at the center of the Pistons becoming less dependent on Reggie Jackson. If Jackson reverts to form and again poses one of the NBA’s most potent pick-and-roll penetration threats, then everybody’s level of play is elevated around him. The Pistons had to figure out other ways to attack last season in the 30 games Jackson missed and the other 52 when he rarely evoked memories of his 2015-16 form. Giving players like Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope more rope didn’t always pay off last season as the Pistons fell from 15th to 25th in offensive efficiency, but it seems reasonable to expect that the experience of shouldering a greater burden should pay off in greater efficiency when they’re able to be put in more favorable situations next season – assuming Jackson is vintage Jackson. It would also help if Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower are successful in their off-season priority of improved perimeter shooting next season. The surest route to that is adding a player (or two) with a track record of successful NBA 3-point shooting, but Van Gundy still expects better shooting from his holdovers, too. Other than Caldwell-Pope, whose late-season slump caused him to fall slightly below the league average from the 3-point arc, all of Van Gundy’s key rotation players saw year-over-year declines in their 3-point shooting percentages.
Vance (Detroit): Has Stan ever considered asking his brother Jeff to coach while he stays in the front office?
Langlois: No. No, no, no. Stan Van Gundy sees himself as a coach, first and foremost. The shared desire he and Pistons owner Tom Gores had three years ago, when the Pistons were looking to fill both coaching and president of basketball operations vacancies, to have greater collaboration between the coaching staff and front office resulted in Gores hiring Van Gundy to fill both positions. Van Gundy hired Jeff Bower to run the day-to-day operations of the executive side. To be clear, Van Gundy isn’t really working two full-time jobs. But he does have final authority on the executive side and it’s his vision that provides the framework within which Bower operates. Van Gundy isn’t interested in doing Bower’s job; he’s interested in having a front office that understands the basketball vision of Van Gundy the coach and is fully vested in acquiring the personnel to bring it to life.
Shoham (Detroit): What is the overall picture for us? Are we keeping with the strategy of Andre Drummond as the centerpiece and four shooters around him or did last season’s failure make SVG uncertain about it?
Langlois: Last season made Stan Van Gundy even more appreciative, if that’s possible, of the value of great shooting. It was, far and away, the greatest failing of the 2016-17 Pistons. A good chunk of that was the loss and diminished effectiveness of Reggie Jackson – a condition the Pistons expect to correct itself with Jackson’s expected healthy return for 2017-18 – but some of it was the sort of team-wide contagion that sometimes occurs when a few key players endure shooting slumps. It spread. They’re not sitting back and assuming it will correct itself, but they are anticipating that those players that come back will put in the work this summer to address their shortcomings.