2017-18 Record: 39-43 (9th in East)
Players Added: Bruce Brown (draft), Jose Calderon (free agency), Zaza Pachulia (free agency), Glenn Robinson III (free agency), Khyri Thomas (draft)
Players Lost: Dwight Buycks (waivers), James Ennis (free agency), Eric Moreland (waivers), Anthony Tolliver (free agency)
Projected Team MVP: Blake Griffin
The best player on the 2017-18 Pistons was Andre Drummond and the veteran big man is still on the roster. With that said, Blake Griffin brings more to the table and, even if it isn’t the easiest decision when selecting Detroit’s projected MVP, it is difficult to imagine Drummond exceeding Griffin if health and circumstances are equal.
Griffin does, however, bring durability issues to the table, as the former Clippers star has not appeared in even 70 games since the 2013-14 season. It isn’t as if Griffin is always injured (seasons with 58, 61 and 67 games played in the recent past), but the Pistons absolutely need their best players available this season and he tops the list.
In 25 games after arriving in Detroit, Griffin posted solid across-the-board numbers, averaging 19.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. Only the assist number exceeded his career-long averages, however, and it will be interesting to see how the Pistons, operating under a new head coach in Dwane Casey, operate on the offensive end of the floor.
For the team to reach its ceiling, Griffin must be both available and tremendous. He’s capable of both, but if that doesn’t happen, Drummond might be the right answer here.
Team X-Factor: Reggie Jackson
Griffin would have been an appropriate answer in this space and former lottery pick Stanley Johnson is another option, simply because of the potential variance involved. Reggie Jackson is the choice, though, simply because it is hard to decipher what to expect from him at the point of attack.
Jackson has appeared in only a total of 97 games across the last two seasons but, during the 2017-18 campaign, the Pistons posted a 27-18 record when he was in the lineup. It has to be noted that Jackson, now at the age of 28, isn’t a perfect player by any stretch of the imagination, but he brings a dynamic that no one else on the roster can match and it is one that can unlock Detroit’s offensive potential.
Behind him, the Pistons do have a capable backup in Ish Smith, a veteran stop-gap in Jose Calderon, and some youngsters capable of initiating the offense when called upon to do so. Still, Jackson’s upside is undeniably higher than any other backcourt player on the roster and, in drilling down further, it would be highly beneficial for both player and team if he could rebound when discussing three-point shooting after a crater (to 30.8 percent) last season.
Best Case Scenario:
With the Cavaliers poised to take a step back, the Pistons are projected by many to make the postseason. In fact, in the eyes of some, it would be seen as a disappointment if Detroit did not take part in the playoffs.
The Pistons’ upside is certainly up for debate, though, particularly when discussing teams outside of the top four or five. Can Detroit exceed Washington? What about Miami? It does seem plausible, with health from Griffin and Jackson, that the Pistons could land the No. 6 seed without anything too crazy taking place. That is likely the best case scenario but, if it comes with 45-47 victories, the Pistons faithful could be pleased with what transpires this season.
Worst Case Scenario:
The presence of a (very) good regular season coach in Casey would seem to limit the disaster potential but, in the same breath, the same could have been said for Stan Van Gundy under the previous regime. While we try to avoid injury discussion in this space, there is reasonable risk of both Griffin and Jackson missing real time, given that they have done so in the recent past. If that transpires, all bets are off when considering the downside.
Are the Pistons in a position to crater to the depths of New York, Chicago, Orlando and Atlanta? Probably not, but finishing behind Charlotte, or even Brooklyn, would be rough for Detroit given the team’s long-term commitments from a payroll perspective. The worst case scenario involves further atrophy from Griffin, the prospect of Jackson never re-emerging to his previous form, and a lack of development from the team’s young pieces. That doesn’t seem impossible and it would result in a rough 82-game slog.