After missing the playoffs and finishing with a disappointing 37-45 record, the Detroit Pistons have a new look roster. Gone are two starters, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris. With KCP signing with the Lakers, the Pistons will have a new starting shooting guard for the first time in three seasons. KCP was well known as the Pistons best defender and before the Celtics made it known that Avery Bradley was available, it seemed that a long term deal with KCP would be made. The Pistons will also be replacing forward Marcus Morris, as he was traded to Boston for Bradley, which means the Pistons are at a net-loss of starters–letting two walk and getting one back. This off season ended with the Pistons roster in flux. So let’s look at some potential starting lineups the Pistons could use when the season starts on October 18th.
First, we have to recognize the players that are definitely going to start. We know that Andre Drummond will start at center. We also know that Reggie Jackson will start the season as our point guard, however, I do believe he is on the hot seat after a disappointing season last year. If the Pistons fail to put themselves in a playoff position, expect Reggie to be shipped out of Detroit. Shooting guard is a position where we can pencil in Avery Bradley as the de facto starter. As much as it stings to lose a young talent like KCP, Bradley is an improvement in every way. Perhaps the best perimeter defender in the NBA, Bradley will handle guarding the opposing team’s most dangerous guard, allowing Reggie to hide some of his defensive inefficiencies. So as we look at three different starting line ups, we will really be looking at who will hold down the two forward positions.
The Pistons have five forwards that could arguably find themselves in a starting position. Tobias Harris, Jon Leur, Stanley Johnson, the recently returned Anthony Tolliver, and Henry Ellenson. The first three are the more likely options, however, Stan Van Gundy has made his admiration for Tolliver known and Tolliver did play quite well for the Kings last season. Ellenson is a long shot for starters minutes, but his offensive abilities make him an intriguing option as a stretch four.
PG: Jackson, SG: Bradley, SF: Johnson, PF: Leur, C: Drummond.
This option is focused primarily on getting players in position. Stanley would finally get the minutes needed to establish himself as a player. The 21-year-old has mounds of potential and is a quality defender. In a league with so many offensive minded SF’s having a lock down defender at that position is a valuable asset. The only way Stanley ever becomes that player is with opportunity on the court.
Leur is best suited at the four, though he struggled shooting consistently at times last season, he has the ability to bounce back and be a quality spot up shooter anywhere in front of the basket. He also fills in nicely as a secondary rebounder beside Drummond. This option would leave Harris in the sixth man role.
Though Harris is a better player than either Leur or Johnson, he makes a lot of sense as the sixth man. He can more adequately play either forward position than either guy. Leur can’t play the three, and Stanley certainly can’t play the four. Having Harris playing 30 minutes a night off the bench gives you a starter caliber player at both forward positions all game long. Last season in the sixth man role Harris put on some offensive shows. His mentality coming off the bench could be focused on collecting points. As a sixth man, he would be a top sixth man of the year candidate.
PG: Jackson, SG: Bradley, SF: Stanley, PF: Harris, C: Drummond
This option is focused on getting the most talented players on the court. As previously stated Harris is the best forward on the team, so he should start, right? This option allows the Pistons to have a powerful defensive duo with Bradley and Johnson protecting the perimeter, leaving Jackson and Harris to focus on scoring, while Drummond can grab his boards. This line up would have serious defensive power if Drummond was able to guard the paint like a 7-footer should. This lineup could run into size issues with some of the leagues PFs. Harris is not going to be able to slow down guys like LeMacus Aldridge or Kristaps Porzingis, at 6’8 Harris can be dominated by some opposing power forwards. Another issue that arises is bench scoring. With Harris starting, the second unit would have to relay on Leur or Langston Galloway to provide an offensive punch off the bench. That seems like a leap of faith.
PG: Jackson, SG: Bradley, SF: Harris, PF: Tolliver, C: Drummond
This lineup is focused on positional play and experience. The Pistons played last season without a true veteran on the floor. Beno Udrih was the one player older than 28 on the roster. This lack of experience could have been a contributing factor to the disappointing season. And now, the teams most vocal leader, Marcus Morris, is a Celtic. So will the Stan Van favorite, Tolliver, get some serious minutes playing the stretch four that SVG lusts after? His play style fits the system, and his leadership ability could help lower the frequency of emotional mistakes.
His play style fits the system, and his leadership ability could help lower the frequency of emotional mistakes. Harris would flourish offensively at the three, and playing at his most natural position could see him approach the 20 PPG mark. This lineup leaves the defense the most vulnerable of any of the options we have looked at. Tolliver cant always keep up with opposing scorers, while Harris is not going to slow down many of the leagues starting small forwards. This option also leaves Johnson on the bench once again. A third season as a role player for the former 8th overall pick would be very telling of his progression. Having both Leur and Johnson on the bench does give the Pistons plenty of flexibility with in game adjustments.
Overall, the Pistons have a good problem on their hands. They have more than two forwards who are capable of offering starter quality minutes. If I was Stan Van Gundy, I wouldn’t commit to any one combination for the starters. In a league with such varied talent, the Pistons should utilize their versatility at the forward position. This problem now could actually end up being one of the Pistons greatest strengths.