(Editor’s note: Pistons.com today continues a five-part series looking at the biggest questions looming over the Pistons as they prepare for training camp to open this month. Today’s question: How much offensive improvement can the Pistons make after finishing 25th in rating last year and worse than that in 3-point shooting?)
Becoming a better 3-point shooting team isn’t exactly as simple as amassing better 3-point shooters. But it’s a pretty necessary primary ingredient.
And so that’s what the Pistons did over the off-season. Among regular rotation players last season, only Reggie Jackson shot league average or better from the arc at .359. The Pistons added three veterans who all shot considerably better – Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway and Anthony Tolliver all hit 39 percent – and drafted a player, Luke Kennard, who made 44 percent from the shorter college arc.
The Pistons finished 26th in 3-point attempts last season and even worse (28th) in accuracy. Nobody expected the Pistons to rival San Antonio, Cleveland or Houston for 3-point efficiency, but nobody exactly saw that coming, either. After all, the Pistons were 10th in attempts the previous season, even if they ranked in the lower third (21st, .345) in accuracy.
Some of it was the differences in roster construction from one season to the next with Tolliver – a player who took a whopping 80 percent of his field goals from the arc in 2015-16 – removed from the rotation and his minutes usurped by Jon Leuer, who didn’t shoot them nearly as frequently or as well. And some of it was players like Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Stanley Johnson all experiencing declines from the previous season.
But a large chunk of it was the hit the offense took with the injury to Jackson that diminished his effectiveness even after he returned following a 21-game absence to start the season. Without Jackson’s penetration to fear, opponents were emboldened to stay glued to their man on the perimeter and let Jackson’s defender handle him individually.
The good news is the Pistons have every reason to anticipate improvement across the board: different personnel that should not only see improved 3-point percentage but significantly greater volume; a likelihood that players like Harris, Leuer and Johnson will improve on subpar shooting seasons; and a healthy Jackson to create more open 3-point opportunities for teammates.
Another factor also promises to juice up Pistons 3-point shooting: the addition of secondary ballhandlers in Bradley, Galloway and Kennard, particularly, to add layers of complexity and possibility to the offense. The anticipated effect of their ability to put the ball on the floor is increasing the amount of side-to-side movement that gets a defense shifting and ultimately on its heels.
An ancillary question to whether the Pistons will be an improved 3-point shooting team, though, is how much of an opportunity the newcomers will get to make an impact. Bradley is a lock to earn big minutes and there’s room for at least one of Galloway and Kennard to play backup minutes at his spot.
Tolliver will have to outplay Henry Ellenson to earn minutes in the frontcourt. It’s uncertain how well Ellenson will shoot from the 3-point arc in a season where he’ll turn 21 in January, but eventually the Pistons expect him to blossom into a major threat from the arc – as well as inside of it. He’s a scorer, through and through.
Reggie Bullock is the other wild card. He shot nearly 50 percent from the arc after the 2016 All-Star break during a successful playoff push and led the Pistons last season at .384, though his time was limited due to injury and fluctuating rotation status. Bullock, Van Gundy and his staff have come to learn, helps the offense function at a higher level not only for his perimeter acumen but also for his cutting and quick decision making with the ball.
So the Pistons should be a better 3-point shooting team – and in an age of outsized importance for that shot, thus a better offensive team overall – this season because they almost couldn’t be worse than 2016-17. How much better they shoot it will go a long way toward determining how many more games they win.