Eight predictions for the Detroit Pistons’ season in 2016-17

Apr 5, 2016; Miami, FL, USA;Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy during the first half of Tuesday nights game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Duyos-USA TODAY Sports

We’re just over a month away from the beginning of the Detroit Pistons’ 2016-17 season, and we’ve got predictions and takes for the coming campaign.

The Detroit Pistons have more optimism surrounding them than the organization has experienced in a decade.

After a winning season and catching virtually everybody’s eye from around the NBA in a hard-fought four game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pistons are a growing source of interest in the basketball world.

As the offseason drones on and finally nears its conclusion (training camp in a week, preseason in two!), it’s time to line up some predictions for what’s to come in the 2016-17 season.

With all the hope that abounds at the Palace of Auburn Hills, not all that is to come will be positive. Not all, but most of it will be.

It’s going to be a fun season, folks.

With no further ado, let’s do some prognosticating.

Mar 12, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Reggie Bullock (25) against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Detroit Pistons won 125-111. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Reggie Bullock will make the leap.

After being an afterthought for the first 57 games of the season last year with the Pistons, Reggie Bullock became essential to the bench rotation after Stanley Johnson sprained his shoulder in late February. The injury forced Bullock into an expanded role, and he responded.

Bullock averaged 18.7 minutes per game over the last 25 games, appearing in 18 of them. He scored just 6.4 points but added 3.3 rebounds and had scintillating shooting splits of .532/.488/.917.

The Pistons have a lineup with a plethora of long and talented wings, and Reggie Bullock has the added value in that he is one of the best shooters on the team.

He’s a 34.3 percent shooter from long-range in his career, and his percentage has increased each of his three seasons.

Last season was a career high from behind the arc, hitting 41.5 percent. He averages 4.4 three-point attempts per-36 minutes, and I expect his role to increase in 2016-17. He may not play more than 20 minutes per game, but he won’t be going 10 games between appearances.

Reggie Bullock will be an everyday player and will provide a spark off the bench. Expect him to get hot from long range a lot this season.

Mar 16, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ray McCallum (5) dribbles as Minnesota Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones (1) defends at FedExForum. Minnesota defeated Memphis 114-108. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Ray McCallum will take the third point guard spot.

Poor Lorenzo Brown. After a great Orlando Summer League stint, it looked like he would be the de facto front-runner for the final roster spot and the third point guard role.

Fate had other things in mind, as did Pistons’ head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy. On July 27th, just a couple of weeks after Brown’s excellent summer league run, the Pistons signed point guard Ray McCallum to provide some depth and competition for that spot.

McCallum has local ties, having gone to high school at Detroit Country Day and attended the University of Detroit Mercy.

He also has an experience edge on Brown. McCallum has played 154 NBA games in his three-year career, starting 40 of them with the Sacramento Kings, the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Brown may find himself a spot with the Grand Rapids Drive, the Pistons’ D-League affiliate, or he may find himself starting the season as a free agent, but this third point guard role is McCallum’s to lose at this point.

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Henry Ellenson (Marquette) walks to the stage after being selected as the number eighteen overall pick to the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Henry Ellenson will have a productive season. In the D-League.

Speaking of guys who may find themselves playing in the D-League with the Drive, Henry Ellenson is going to get plenty of minutes this season. He’s not going to have what it takes to crack the Pistons’ rotation, so at some point this season Ellenson will be sent to Grand Rapids to get minutes and develop on the court in game action.

It doesn’t make any sense to keep the 19-year old rotting on the bench behind the cadre of bigs that Stan Van Gundy assembled this summer.

If this wasn’t a season where winning and winning now were the top priorities for the Pistons, more patience could be demonstrated with the young Ellenson. As it stands, they’ll be disadvantaged too greatly at power forward and center when he hits the floor.

The Pistons will need Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, Aron Baynes, Boban Marjanovic, Andre Drummond and Marcus Morris to carry the lion’s share of the effective minutes at the three and four.

Fear not, though. A season’s worth of development in the D-League will do Ellenson a world of good going forward.

Mar 26, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich speaks to San Antonio Spurs center Boban Marjanovic (40) during action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Boban Marjanovic will take over the backup center spot this season.

In a surprise move on July 12th, the Pistons signed Boban Marjanovic to a three-year $21 million offer sheet, and the San Antonio Spurs quickly made clear their intention to begrudgingly not match. At a glance, the move was unexpected, but in true Stan Van Gundy tradition, this was a move not only for this year but for the future as well.

Incumbent backup center Aron Baynes has a player option next summer, and barring some kind of catastrophic season he is certain to opt out and get his big payday. The Pistons won’t match any offer sent his way, so the singing of Marjanovic essentially fills the hole that is sure to exist in a year’s time at what is sure to be a significant discount.

His signing was with a long-game view in mind, but his addition to the team will become relevant sooner than expected. Boban is already better than Aron Baynes.

Boban has size that makes mere mortals tremble. He stands 7’3″, 290 lbs. His stature is so imposing that his lack of lateral movement is diminished significantly.

He’s also a per-36 superstar. Last season he put up preposterous numbers for a reserve big man, averaging 21 points and 13.7 rebounds per 36 minutes to go with a 60.3 percent field goal percentage and a 76.3 percent free throw percentage.

Aron Baynes will be supplanted by the mighty Boban in the early stages of the regular season.

Apr 1, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris (13) high fives Detroit Pistons forward Stanley Johnson (3) during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Dallas won 98-89. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Stanley Johnson will crack the starting lineup.

Speaking of guys soon to move up in the depth chart, Stanley Johnson is poised to make the leap into the starting small forward position this season. The incumbent Marcus Morris will slide into the sixth man spot and continue to get plenty of minutes, but the Pistons are going to run out of reasons to keep the young Johnson out of the starting lineup.

Johnson closed last season with a magnificent surge, particularly in the four-game sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers. It’s a point that’s been beaten to death by now, but the 20-year old Johnson (then just 19) went toe-to-toe with LeBron James. He didn’t stop James, but he kept pace and didn’t allow himself to be overwhelmed physically or mentally.

He’s also devoted the greater part of the offseason to development. He utilized summer league as a training ground to work on his off-hand dribbling and his re-worked jump shot, and in spite of essentially handicapping himself still helped lead the Pistons to an Orlando Summer League title game berth.

Marcus Morris earned himself plenty of leash after a remarkable debut season with the Pistons in 2015-16, so Johnson won’t be making the jump early. The sophomore is going to have to earn every bit of that starting role. Earn it he will before the end of the season.

Apr 24, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) takes a free throw during the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Drummond will still not be playable in crunch time.

The Pistons had a real problem with Andre Drummond last season. Their best player and franchise player was virtually unplayable in close games in the late stages.

Thanks to Drummond’s inability to hit free throws reliably, teams were able to foul him intentionally with impunity to either force him to the bench to protect him from having to shoot from the line, or actually allow him to shoot free throws at his 35.5 percent success rate.

Neither option is attractive.

Drummond and the organization vowed to stop at nothing to fix this deficiency, stating that everything was on the table. Maybe even shooting underhanded.

It’s later been revealed that the underhanded free throw shooting won’t be a thing. Considering the fact that he’s said to hit about 65 to 70 percent of his free throws in practice, it’s going to take actual game action to see if his methods through the offseason will bear fruit.

The likelihood is that they won’t. Drummond is a dynamic force to be reckoned with, but the Pistons will struggle to play him in close games down the stretch once again.

Mar 23, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) talks to guard Reggie Jackson (1) during the third quarter against the Orlando Magic at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons win 118-102. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Pistons’ starting lineup will be back among the NBA’s most productive.

Even before making a prescient trade to send Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Tobias Harris, the Detroit Pistons had one of the most productive starting lineups in the NBA.

They took it to another level after the addition of Harris into the starting lineup on February 22nd after an injury to starting power forward Anthony Tolliver.

The unit of Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond had an offensive rating of 107.2 points per 100 possessions after moving him into the starting lineup with 25 games left. They also excelled on the boards, taking down 52.8 percent of all possible rebounds, courtesy of stats.nba.com.

In much the same tradition of the Going to Work Pistons in the early-to-mid 2000’s, the Pistons will again go as far as the starting five will carry them.

It’s worth noting, since Stanley Johnson is going to supplant Morris in the starting lineup, that the five-man unit of Andre Drummond, KCP, Jackson, Harris and Johnson has an offensive rating of 119.7 points per 100 possessions according to NBA Wowy. Mind you, this is over a very small sample of 71 possessions, but we should get to see this borne out over a much bigger sample size this season.

Apr 1, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris (13) high fives forward Tobias Harris (34) during the first quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons are a 50 win team.

You heard it here first, the Detroit Pistons are a 50 win team. To project for this, we need to scrap everything that happened last season before the Tobias Harris trade took place, and he was inserted into the starting lineup on February 22nd.

The Pistons were 27-29 when Harris was moved into the starting lineup in place of the injured Tolliver. From that point forward they went 17-9, which is a winning percentage of 65.4 percent. That’s 53 win pace over 82 games.

The Detroit Pistons were injury-stricken over that span. KCP was hurt on February 3rd against the Boston Celtics and missed the next four games. Stanley Johnson also suffered a shoulder sprain and missed seven straight games between February 24th and March 9th.

He probably came back too soon as he struggled mightily upon his return, scoring just 5.1 points per game and shooting 29.3 percent from the floor and 25.7 percent from three-point range. He was even benched for two of the Pistons’ final four games before getting things together in time for the playoffs.

Nobody played particularly well over that stretch, and the Pistons had a bench led by Steve Blake.

Things are different at the Palace now. The bench has almost entirely turned over. They have better shooters, they have a capable backup point guard in Ish Smith. They have a full season ahead with Tobias Harris. Stanley Johnson is a year older, smarter and more developed.

KCP is in a contract year and will either be playing to get paid or will already have gotten paid life-changing money and won’t have to think about such things ever again. Either way, he’s a favorite to have a career year.

While the Celtics got better and the Cavs are still world-beaters, the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls took sizable steps back in the East. The Pistons are better on paper than the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers, and are the clear-cut second best team in the Central Division, and my pick for the fourth seed in the East.

For all these reasons, your Detroit Pistons are a 50 win team in 2016-17.

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