Detroit Pistons season preview

The NBA season will be here before you know it and FanSided is here to get you ready. In the lead up to Opening Night, we’ll be previewing two teams each day, reviewing roster changes, discussing important players and challenges, and hearing the perspective of our FanSided site experts. Let’s get ready for basketball!

Roster Changes

Inputs: Henry Ellenson (PF, NBA Draft pick No. 18); Michael Gbinijie (SG, NBA Draft pick No. 49); Boban Marjanovic (C, signed for three years, $21 million); Jon Leuer (PF, signed for four years, $42 million); Ish Smith (PG, signed for three years, $18 million)

Outputs: Jodie Meeks (SG, traded to the Orlando Magic); Anthony Tolliver (PF, signed with the Sacramento Kings); Steve Blake (PG, unsigned); Cameron Bairstow (PF, unsigned); Joel Anthony (C, unsigned)

Retained: Andre Drummond (C, signed for five years, $130 million)

Most important player

The health of Reggie Jackson is going to be pivotal to the Detroit Pistons in the 2016-17 season. By that same token, the newly acquired Ish Smith is going to play a major part in Jackson’s early-season absence. Moreover, Stanley Johnson in his second season in the Motor City is going to be huge as a sixth man. However, anyone who says that a player other than center Andre Drummond is the most important for this Pistons team is completely off-base.

Drummond was an absolute monster in terms of base stats last season in Detroit. Helping lead the way to a 44-38 record and a berth as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, the center averaged 16.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. Simply put, the Pistons were far better with him on the floor than not. Offensively, they were 3.2 points per 100 possessions better with Drummond on the floor and 3.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively, as well. That’s a 6.6 points per 100 possessions swing when Drummond sits.

However, there’s still room for steps forward and that’s where the importance of the 23-year-old big comes into play. Clearly, he can’t shoot 35.5 percent from the foul line going forward. This has been his most glaring weakness since he came into the league. Whether it’s shooting Rick Barry style free throws or completely revamping his stroke, his historically abysmal efficiency from the charity stripe must improve.

Even still, what might be slightly overlooked is that Drummond’s defense needs to improve as well, particularly around the rim. Yes, the blocks and rebounds are there. However, he’s not been the dominant rim-protector that he has the size and athleticism to be. Last season, opponents shot 58 percent from inside of six feet against Drummond. While that’s slightly better than league-average for the Pistons center, it’s far from elite still. It’s essential for this team to reach their potential that Drummond make strides toward being elite in that area of his game. The tools are there, but he must refine his positioning, timing, and mental acuity in that regard to progress.

Biggest rivalry

Going back to the late 1980s/early 1990s, Detroit’s biggest rival remains the Chicago Bulls. The roots of the Bad Boys Pistons run deep in the Motor City, hence the rivalry lasting nearly three decades at this point. However, the rivalry has been a bit one-sided in recent years, in favor of the Bulls. The tides may indeed be turning as we enter the 2016-17 campaign, though.

Sure, Jimmy Butler is one of the best two-way players in the league. However, Chicago experienced an immense level of turnover on their roster this offseason. Now, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and more recently Michael Carter-Williams are in the fold for the Bulls alongside Butler. While those are recognizable names surrounding with some intriguing talent, it’s hard not to feel that the Bulls could well be on the decline. Meanwhile, the Pistons are looking like a dark horse in the East. After some struggles in said rivalry, Detroit could be the more dominant force between the two teams.

What does success look like?

— Duncan Smith, @PistonPowered, Piston Powered

The Detroit Pistons are finally coming out of their long exile from the ranks of competitive Eastern Conference teams. They made it back to the playoffs last season for the first time in seven years, and that raised the bar on their expectations.

For the Pistons, success will take the form of making their way to a top-four seed in the East. It will probably take the Pistons 48 wins to accomplish, which is below the 52 win pace they maintained over the 25 games they played after inserting Tobias Harris into the starting lineup.

With an improved bench, a quickly-developing Stanley Johnson and (HOPEFULLY) better free throw shooting from Andre Drummond, the Pistons should put up the best season since Chauncey Billups’ last full season in Detroit.

While the Pistons have some adversity in the form of Reggie Jackson’s knee tendinitis, they’ll get to demonstrate their improved bench depth at point guard in the form of Ish Smith. If they can withstand the first month of the season until he returns, the four seed should be in reach.

It’s been a long time since expectations have been this high for the Pistons, and odds are that this goal is achievable.

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