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2018-19 Season Preview: Playoffs In Detroit?

Gene Sweeney Jr.-Getty Images

After missing the playoffs last year, do the Pistons have the firepower to make the postseason this year?

After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, the Detroit Pistons have their eyes set on finishing over .500 this year. 

Though the Pistons are one of the older teams in the league (average age of 27), they are looking for a fresh start, beginning their first full season with Blake Griffin on the roster. 

Swinging the deal for Griffin at the last trade deadline, the Pistons signaled their intent on competing for the playoffs, and there’s no reason to believe that that goal hasn’t carried over to 2018-19.

The most obvious change from last year can be found not in the roster, but on the coaching staff. Last year’s ninth-place finish brought Stan Van Gundy’s four-year tenure to an end in favor of the NBA’s 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey. Toronto’s knee-jerk reaction to their sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers saw them trade away DeMar DeRozan and expel one of the more respected coaches in the league. Casey coached the Raptors to elite status on both sides of the ball (second in offensive rating, fifth in defensive rating), and the Pistons’ front office hopes he can bring his winning ways to Detroit.

In an open Eastern Conference, Detroit’s playoff aspirations hinge on the performance of their splashy trade acquisition Blake Griffin. 

The five-time All-Star has had difficulty staying healthy the last few seasons, but he could thrive as the focal point of the Pistons’ offense. Griffin has started strong in this young season, dropping 39.75 points (thanks to a career-high 50 on Tuesday in the 133-132 win over Philadelphia) and 12 rebounds over the first three games of 2018-19. 

Once primarily known as a dunker featured in LA’s “Lob City,” Griffin has expanded his offensive game by working on his jumper. In fact, his three-point percentage has risen over the last few years, and attempts have been up as well (including 5-10 from deep against the Sixers).


Another important piece for Detroit is starting guard Reggie Jackson. The Pistons were not the same last season while he was shelved for 37 games with an ankle injury, and to have any shot at the playoffs, Jackson will be key. 

Though hampered by injury, Jackson’s propensity for driving the lane, scoring, and playmaking led the team in the days before Griffin’s arrival. In 45 games, Jackson averaged 14.6 points and 5.3 assists, though three-point shooting continued to be an area of his game in desperate need of improvement. Last season he shot just 30.8% from deep, well below the league average.

   

Andre Drummond has been the de facto ‘face’ of the Pistons for the last several seasons, and he will still figure prominently this season. The double-double machine made his second All-Star game last season, though his role may be shifting. 

Like Griffin, Dwane Casey may ask Drummond to look more for three-point opportunities and to stretch the floor. In the small sample size of two games, Drummond’s three-point attempts are up to 2.5 per game, from a career high of…0.1. It’s admirable to attempt to modernize your game, though taking Drummond out of the paint may be diminishing his effectiveness. He has traditionally has been one of the best rebounders in the league, and this shift in strategy may negatively impact his overall game.

 

In the end, the Pistons are not an elite team, and their Griffin gambit to make the playoffs last season did not succeed. It would be safe to view Detroit as a “boom-or-bust” team; if everything breaks in their favor, they could be several games over .500 en route to the playoffs, or a seller at the deadline. 

Luckily for a team on the edge, they have the pieces to compete if they stay healthy and effective, yet can also flip those pieces to kick-start a rebuild as well. If long-touted forward Stanley Johnson doesn’t take a meaningful step forward, his days in Detroit could be numbered.  

While the Detroit Pistons may not be one of the premier contenders in the East, they can certainly make a push into one of the lower four seeds. If the team can stay healthy—and Blake Griffin can be the All-Star centerpiece Detroit traded for—then they can certainly surprise many fans this season. 

Can Dwane Casey lead the Pistons into the postseason after his unceremonious ousting north of the border? So far, his team is off to a good start.

Edited by Emily Berman.

SQuiz
As of 2018, when was the last time Detroit Pistons won a playoff series?
Created 10/24/18
  1. 2003-04
  2. 2007-08
  3. 2012-13
  4. 2015-16

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