Now that we are in the full swing of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, we’ll be taking a look at some of the eliminated first round teams and the next step or steps they can take to get past the first round next year.
It’s fair to say that the Detroit Pistons had a much better season than most expected. While a .500 record isn’t usually the bar for judging a successful season, their 41-41 record was their best record in the last three years and their second best record in the last 11 years. They also went on a rally late in the season to oust Miami and Charlotte from potential playoff spots to secure the number eight seed.
But just as the Pistons made the playoffs and everyone saw that they would be matched up with the Milwaukee Bucks, who owned the best record in the NBA, it was a foregone conclusion that it would be a quick series. The Pistons were simply outmatched, and it was never even close even when Blake Griffin returned, so the Pistons were swept. But it’s a good start for Dwayne Casey’s first year in the motor city. But what’s the next step for them.
The Pistons have a high number of passes per game for a team that doesn’t get a ton of assists. The problem is that players aren’t making shots. Aside from that, their offense gets very stagnant at points, which part of the blame will be addressed in item number two. The Pistons desperately need versatile shot creators that can slash to the rim or knock down outside shots.
They have some players that can do either/or, but not a lot that can do both. They may need to look into the draft and free agency to add pieces that they can fit in, especially at shooting guard and small forward. Dwayne Casey likes to take a lot of threes, so while outside shooting is important, stocking the roster with purely spot-up shooters is not the answer. Upcoming free agents Jeremy Lamb, Tyreke Evans, and Terrance Ross would fit the bill, but Evans and Ross would likely have to settle for less than their current contracts since the Pistons only really have the Mid-Level exception and Bi-Annual Exception to offer.
Lamb had a breakout season in Charlotte, but he made about $7 million and could be looking for considerably more than the $9.25 million MLE. One budget option could be rolling the dice on someone like Allonzo Trier of the New York Knicks. While the Knicks on the team option and can elect to keep him around, they may also look to clear some roster space and cap room if they want to take a run at Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant this summer.
The draft would be tougher to find a player that could step into that role right away with their 15th pick, but Keldon Johnson could be a nice fit. Nickeil Alexander-Walker could also be available and he’s a good shooter but needs some time in the weight room to adjust to finishing with contact with NBA-level players.
Find a Reggie Jackson replacement
Reggie Jackson is a talented player, but there are a few problems. He becomes a free agent next season and it’s unlikely the Pistons can afford to keep him. Aside from that, the Pistons could really use more of a playmaking point guard. Jackson has the tendency to sometimes play hero ball like his former teammate in Oklahoma City, and when he plays off the ball, he becomes ineffective and really doesn’t move well without the ball.
While there are some good options in the draft, most of the top-level talent that could start right away will be gone quickly. They can hope Darius Garland will fall to them, but he could probably use some improvement on his decision-making and passing so that’s not an immediate improvement, although, with some time to develop, he could be a nice piece for them. Alexander-Walker, who I mentioned above, could also be an option as a big guard who can pass and shoot in the mold of a Spencer Dinwiddie or Jordan Clarkson.
In free agency, Terry Rozier is a restricted free agent and Bostom may be willing to match ridiculous offers if Kyrie walks. Their best option might be to try and re-sign their own free agent, retaining Ish Smith, who has done well and could flourish even more with more playing time. Other free agency options could be Darren Collison, Rajon Rondo or Jeremy Lin for a lower budget option.
Create more opportunities for Luke Kennard
Luke Kennard made a nice jump between his rookie and sophomore campaigns, and he took an even bigger leap forward in the first two games of the series against the Bucks before the Pistons went away from him. He averaged 20 points per game in those games, which was more than double his season average. He had also caught fire in the games leading up to the playoffs.
With Griffin back, it’s understandable that they wanted to give him more touches, but going away from the hot hand is always a mistake, especially when he’s shooting over 70 percent from beyond the arch.
If the Pistons can work on integrating Kennard into the offense a little more and giving him a role similar to what the Jazz did with Joe Ingles last season, it could be beneficial for both the player and the team. He seems ready for a big year three.
The Bottom Line
It’s obvious that Ed Stefanski has done a great job in hiring Casey, and starting to bring the right pieces together while shedding some contracts through trades. He’s also made some smart moves in the draft so they are on the right path and getting into the playoffs proves as much. They are a little handicapped by their salary currently, but bringing in the right pieces through free agency and the draft could go a long way. Don’t be surprised if they are also active in trade talks over the offseason.
They could use a bit more depth up front, and that seems like that’ll be the easiest fix through the draft. The next step for the Pistons will let us know whether they will truly take that next step to become a consistent playoff contender or if they’ll be a mediocre sub .500 team.