Stan Van Gundy has the Detroit Pistons pointed in the right direction.
The Detroit Pistons reached the playoffs this year for the first time since 2009. Despite being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round, Detroit can be extremely proud of what it was able to accomplish this season. After Detroit finished the 2014-15 season with a 32-50 record and failed to reach the postseason for the sixth consecutive season, Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy began to resurrect the franchise before the 2015-16 season ever began.
With the 8th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Detroit selected Stanley Johnson, a freshman small forward from the Arizona Wildcats. Johnson was limited after the 2016 All-Star break after spraining his right shoulder. However, when Detroit began postseason play, Johnson showed why he is part of the reason the Pistons have an extremely bright future. He took on the unenviable task of guarding LeBron James during the Pistons’ first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Johnson didn’t back down from the challenge, and the rest of the league noticed when he said he’s “in the head” of James following Game 2 of the series.
Van Gundy worked his magic last summer when he traded a second-round pick in 2020 for Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger. The Pistons’ decision-maker was at it again when he acquired versatile forward Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings just before February’s NBA trade deadline. Jennings’ departure was a difficult reality for Pistons fans to accept, but Reggie Jackson, who Detroit also traded for in 2015, has been just as good if not better than Jennings when he took over starting point guard duties.
Even though Detroit didn’t win a game in the 2016 postseason, the Pistons aren’t far from being a consistent playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Bench scoring is something that Detroit will have to address in the offseason, as the Pistons’ reserve guards are the definition of mediocre. Steve Blake has been a decent player throughout his 13-year career, but he averaged just 4.4 points per game this season. Jodie Meeks played in just three regular season games for Detroit this season, as he had a tough time recovering from a broken foot. Meanwhile, Bullock has yet to prove he can be a solid contributor on a nightly basis.
Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield would have been the perfect pick for the Pistons in the upcoming draft. Unfortunately, thanks to his unbelievable 2016 college basketball season (25.0 pts, 5.7 rebs), Hield’s draft stock skyrocketed. Barring unforeseen events, Hield is virtually guaranteed to be selected in the top 10 picks, which takes him off Detroit’s draft board. The Pistons will have the No. 18 pick in June’s draft.
However, Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis, a prospect Detroit should seriously consider drafting if he’s available, could be there when the Pistons are on the clock. Despite his lack of size (5-foot-9), Ulis’ scoring ability and facilitative skills make him a practical first-round pick. If guards to Detroit’s liking aren’t on the board when it’s the team’s turn to pick, the Pistons could take a power forward with jump shooting skills. Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis, who’s physical enough to score down low and an excellent shooter, fits the profile. This season, the 6-foot-11 Sabonis shot better than 35 percent from the three-point line and nearly 77 percent from the free throw line, the latter a place where Pistons All-Star center Andre Drummond will most likely struggle from the rest of his career. If the Pistons were able to draft Sabonis, he could steal some minutes from Morris next season.
Although it would help, Detroit doesn’t need to go out and get a big name free agent in the offseason. The Pistons should be able to contend in the East for years to come if they can improve their bench. However, if the team doesn’t make a big splash in free agency within the next couple years, Detroit will have a tough time competing for a title until it does so.