The Pistons might wind up looking more different than you’d expect for a team that returns three starters and six of the nine players who were full-time members of Stan Van Gundy’s rotation last season.
And that’s because in a game increasingly influenced by backcourt play, the Pistons will have a radically overhauled guard unit.
Close to 100 percent of the minutes at shooting guard will come from different players. With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gone and Stanley Johnson sure to play primarily – perhaps exclusively – at small forward, the backcourt spot alongside Reggie Jackson will feature all newcomers: Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard.
And even that doesn’t fully capture the magnitude of the shift in backcourt dynamic. A return to health and form from Jackson could have the most profound effect of all for the Pistons, enabling Van Gundy to lean on Jackson’s pick-and-roll mastery as the backbone of the offense again.
Bradley, among the league’s top handful of perimeter defenders, knows just how a healthy Jackson changes the Pistons. He remembers the emphasis Boston’s scouting reports placed on containing Jackson’s penetration.
“Reggie was one of them, of course,” Bradley said when I asked him what the Celtics tried to take away when they played the Pistons. “And Andre Drummond. We knew that if you didn’t bring your A game against those guys, anything was possible. We knew that Stan was going to make sure his guys were prepared every single game and if we weren’t prepared, we were going to lose.”
Bradley broke into the NBA as a combo guard, but has played off the ball since the Celtics acquired Isaiah Thomas. That background means he’ll offer a different look for the Pistons and provide Van Gundy a different set of options than Caldwell-Pope, who thrived most as a catch-and-shoot scorer as opposed to Bradley’s more diverse scoring arsenal and off-the-dribble, mid-range scoring capability.
Reggie Bullock, who’ll probably get more opportunity at small forward this season than shooting guard, thinks Bradley’s take-no-prisoners aura will rub off on his new teammates.
“I played with Avery when he was in high school,” he said. “We played a game out in Portland. He called me Little Brother. (I thought), ‘This kid’s got the best mid-range game I’ve ever seen.’ He’s a great defender. Goes over pick and rolls fast. A great basketball player on both ends of the floor. I don’t ever see him take plays off at all. He’s in it to win it and I’m sure he’s training this summer to bring a winning mentality back to Detroit. It’s a brand new year for us. Avery is a great player, overall, on both ends of the floor to me.”
Anthony Tolliver, signed by Van Gundy to return after spending 1½ seasons with the Pistons following the December 2014 trade with Phoenix, thinks Galloway – a teammate for the second half of last season in Sacramento – brings some of that same edge.
“I think he fits perfect. He’s a great addition to the team. Another young guy, came up out of the D-League, kind of like me, undrafted. We had so many different levels where we connected. It fits the mold here in Detroit.”
Bradley went head to head with Galloway when both were in the Atlantic Division, Bradley with Boston and Galloway with New York. Like Bradley, Galloway has a background of playing both guard positions, increasing Van Gundy’s lineup options. And both shot 39 percent from the 3-point arc last season, a mark which would have led the Pistons.
“He’s a very good shooter. He played like a veteran player to me,” Bradley said. “Very poised. I think he’s going to bring another piece to this team that is needed. I’m excited to have a chance to play with him. All these guys, playing against them, now being on the same team, it feels a lot better. I don’t want to play against any of ’em anymore.”
A full-speed Jackson flanked by all-new shooting guards – players more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and more accomplished 3-point shooters – gives the Pistons a different look. Maybe those scouting reports Bradley remembers from his Boston coaches will have to be a little more expansive from now on.