AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy will give his annual postseason postmortem to discuss the season that was – or wasn’t, as the case may be – Friday afternoon. He’ll have plenty to say, too, because he always does.
Most coaches could talk for an hour and not provide enough ingredients to bake a cake. Van Gundy can talk for 20 minutes and fill bakery shelves.
He gave a preamble to Friday’s season wrapper-upper in Orlando before Wednesday’s finale, a loss that left the Pistons with a 37-45 record. That represents a seven-win decline from last season, which is why Van Gundy called it “a year of misery for me.”
But he’s not without perspective. Van Gundy posited that had the Pistons gone from their 32 wins of two seasons ago to 37 last year to 44 this – instead of flipping the results of the last two seasons – the narrative would be a positive one of a young team headed in the right direction.
But because sports is the ultimate zero-sum game, it’s almost never that neat – save for the franchises that have superstars fall into their laps via free agency or the whims of the lottery.
“I am upset about this year and I’m not even talking about being angry at players,” Van Gundy said. “I just didn’t do a good enough job and I feel a real sense of urgency to get this turned back around in the right direction. Again, we’re not that far off. As tough a year as we had, you’re right there in the playoff race until the final 10 days of the season with a lot of things that went wrong that we couldn’t control that I think we can correct, too. I still feel like we’re moving in the right direction, but there were some things I didn’t do a good job of this year that have got to change.”
What needs to change most – at least from a results basis, from a statistical analysis – is better offense, specifically better shooting. By the NBA’s stats, the Pistons finished as the league’s No. 11 defensive team, but the Pistons have their own template and by their measure – going into Wednesday’s finale, at least – Van Gundy said the Pistons ranked No. 7 defensively in the NBA. But by any measure, the Pistons were a bad offensive team this season, finishing 25th in offensive rating.
Only two of 16 playoff teams – Chicago (21) and Atlanta (27) – avoided lottery status with a bottom-10 offensive rating. The major factor in their slippage from a middle-of-the-pack offense last season was lousy 3-point shooting. The Pistons neither shot it well enough (28th in percentage) nor often enough (26th in attempts).
That’s got to change. Van Gundy knows it. He’s not going to blow up the roster – they’ve made too many good personnel moves over three painstaking years to consider wholesale changes – but he’s going to alter the mix at least a little, he’s going to scheme differently and he’s going to re-examine everything the franchise does over the off-season to rectify their offensive shortcomings.
And while it’s true that their off-season review began Thursday, they start the process with informed viewpoints collected over a long season of observation and assessment.
“The reality of it is the majority of your core guys are going to be back,” he said. “You’ve got to make the changes you think necessary to the way you operate coaching wise and things you need to change. There’s some things – I’m not going to get into specifics – that have become more and more clear to me that need to change.”
If that’s a “who” or a “what,” we don’t know. Van Gundy did emphatically state his confidence Wednesday in Reggie Jackson coming back as good or better than his 2015-16 form.
Jackson “had a really difficult year and it really affected our team. I think Reggie will come back and be as good or better than he was two years ago. I honestly do. I think there’s a lot of things that were both physically and mentally very difficult for him to handle. I think he’s committed to getting those things changed. He’s a talented guy and I think he’ll be really good next year.”
Jackson’s return to form solves a good deal of the offensive issues. But Van Gundy also emphasized that all of the team’s core players are in that window – from 20 to 27 or 28 – where year-over-year improvement, significant upgrades in the case of those on the younger end of the spectrum, are the norm. But it didn’t really happen for the Pistons this year and, in fact, some players regressed.
Bottom line: There will be tons of changes before training camp arrives, but that doesn’t necessarily mean tons of roster moves. Tweaks will be the minimum expectation there, with a decent chance of a trade involving a starter or key reserve. Van Gundy sees the pendulum swinging to favor NBA offenses. He’ll never accept a de-emphasis of defensive proficiency, but he likely will be OK dealing for shooters on the faith in his ability to cobble together good-to-great team defenses out of individuals with less-than-stellar defensive resumes.
And other changes will be about process and compatibility and personality and all those other things that no advanced stat has yet to adequately capture or convey. Van Gundy’s Friday afternoon address will be compelling because he couldn’t deliver a boring address if he tried. But that largely will be his message: We’re disappointed and we’re not standing still, but not about to panic and undo all the progress made over the past three years.