May 20, 2016, 12:00 pm
During the summer of 2015 Detroit Pistons’ President of Basketball Operations and head coach Stan Van Gundy set about to remake the team’s roster to compete in the modern NBA. As a result of his efforts the Pistons finally returned to the playoffs, and in the process achieved their first winning record in eight seasons. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what happened in the Motor City.
Van Gundy’s first season in Detroit didn’t go exactly as planned, despite many NBA prognosticators were ready to anoint the Pistons as playoff contenders based on Stan’s presence alone. The team started slowly, limping to a 5-23 record before parting ways with Josh Smith. They improved from there, particularly after acquiring Reggie Jackson at the 2014 trade deadline, but still finished just 32-50.
Last offseason, Van Gundy went to work reshaping the team. He let Greg Monroe walk in free agency, and attempted to replace him with players capable of spacing the floor around Andre Drummond. Jackson was resigned, the team acquired Marcus Morris (along with Ersan Ilyasova, Steve Blake and Aron Baynes) and drafted Stanley Johnson with the 8th pick. Van Gundy didn’t stop there, as he flipped Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings for Tobias Harris at the trade deadline.
The three forwards the Pistons decided to build around (Morris, Harris and Johnson) formed a flexible unit, allowing Detroit to cross-match and downsize depending on their opponent. The results were mixed. The Pistons were middling in terms of both offensive and defensive efficiency, but were able to finish 44-38 and make the playoffs for the first time in six years (where they were swept in the first round by LeBron’s Cavs).
It remains to be seen how much talent is truly present in the current core. Despite his free throw woes Drummond is the closest the team has to a star, while the remainder of their starting five still has plenty of room for improvement. All told, Van Gundy has the Pistons poised to remain in the playoff picture, but the team will have to continue developing to avoid being bounced again in the opening round.
It took until his second season with the Pistons for Van Gundy to implement his desired scheme, but in 2015-16 he was able to commit to running his offense through Jackson and Drummond. The Pistons dotted the floor with shooters whenever possible, and showed a great deal of flexibility in their frontcourt rotations after trading for Harris. On defense they hung back on the pick-and-roll, allowing Drummond to remain near the rim and keep opposing action in front of him.
Again, compared to the rest of the league the results weren’t overwhelmingly impressive, as the Pistons were below average on both ends of the floor in terms of efficiency. That said, Van Gundy’s team showed marked improvement during their push towards the playoffs, and with more time to finetune the edges of their roster the Pistons should be a playoff fixture for years to come.
ADP: 65/49 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 53/46 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 68/57 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
Detroit didn’t boast a transcendent fantasy talent in 2015-16, but in keeping with their ethos as a team-first organization they had several mid-round contributors, including Harris. In looking at his yearly totals it appears that Harris finished almost exactly where experts expected him to, as his player rater totals pretty accurately reflect where he was drafted. This cursory analysis, however, obscures some very real improvements to Harris’ game after being traded to Detroit.
Harris finished the season averaging 14.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 treys, 0.9 steals and 0.5 blocks. That type of across the board production is valuable enough in fantasy, but he was able to over perform his season averages by more than a round after arriving in the Motor City. In addition to seeing an uptick in minutes, points and threes, Harris continued to grow as a distributor. In fact, while in Detroit he improved by almost an assist per game compared to 2014-15 (from 1.8 to 2.6). That might not sound like a ton, but for someone who is power forward eligible creeping towards three assists per game is certainly meaningful.
Coming into the season, the biggest knock against Harris was his lack of playmaking. As the NBA trends more and more towards big men who can drive, pass and shoot Harris seemed like something of a dinosaur: an isolation heavy player with a nice faceup game. Instead, he took a step towards modernity in Detroit, and if he continues to improve under Van Gundy’s tutelage he might outperform the mid-round pick it will take to acquire him in October.
ADP: 45/60 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 44/62 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 59/88 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
After a year and a half as a starter with the Pistons, and a handful of playoff moments in Oklahoma City, I still don’t know what to make of Jackson. On the one hand, he averaged 18.6 points, 6.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.5 threes per game, which are perfectly respectable stats for a point guard. Jackson was also quite dependable, playing in all but three games.
On the other hand, he didn’t have the same impact relative to other players at his position. He shot well from the line (86.5% on 4.1 attempts), but quietly hurt you from the field, as 43.5% – while not exactly terrible – does have a cumulative negative impact when a player takes 15.7 shots per game. Moreover, his 2.8 turnovers per contest were quite high compared to how much he gave you in steals and assists.
Jackson showed that he is a starting caliber point guard in 2015-16, but I don’t think he’s significantly above average given the depth of the position. As a result, you have a perfectly respectable fantasy asset that many will reach for in the middle-rounds of your draft, but who might be something like 20th best fantasy point guard.
ADP: 32/36 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 54/90 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 83/120 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
Drummond started the season impressively, earning two Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards in early November, and looking like fantasy’s next great center. Despite his disappointing finish on the player rater, the Drummond break out we’d hoped for did occur…sort of.
If you drafted Drummond with the intention of punting free throw percentage, you got late first or early second round value out of a third or fourth round pick. If you tried to compete in that category with Drummond on your roster, however, you spent the same pick on a player who finished outside the top-100 in some formats. Ouch.
Drummond didn’t just regress at the line (where he shot a career low 35.3% on 7.3 attempts per game), but also turned the ball over nearly twice per contest. Those turnovers would be perfectly acceptable for a guard, but were enough of an uptick over the average center that he was more valuable in eight category leagues than those that count turnovers.
Drummond was a monster outside of those two categories, though. By averaging 16.2 points, 14.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks (while shooting 52% from the floor) he helped owners dominate in every big man category. At this point, we shouldn’t expect more from him. If you play in a format that allows for viable punting, Drummond is worth your consideration after the top six or seven players are off the board. If not, let someone else shoot themselves in the foot.
ADP: 114/123 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 78/70 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 94/85 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
You could make the argument that Caldwell-Pope was fantasy’s most improved player this season, progressing from someone on the fringes of standard league relevancy to a solid starter in most leagues. He finished outside the top-200 on the player rater in 2013-14 and outside the top-130 last year, but in 2015-16 he flipped the script to finish as a seventh round value in 12-team formats.
The key for KCP was efficiency, and one could argue that he was helped as much by Van Gundy’s more spacious offense as any other player. That isn’t to say that Caldwell-Pope shot particularly well this season (42.1% from the floor), but by improving from a dumpster fire to merely bad in that category his value shot through the roof. All told, he averaged 14.6 points, 3.8 boards, 1.9 assists, 1.6 treys and 1.5 steals.
Caldwell-Pope is the definition of a fantasy specialist, helping out immensely in threes and steals without doing much for you beyond those two categories. As a result, he provided more value in rotisserie than he did in points formats and owners should adjust their draft boards accordingly next year.
ADP: 140/141 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 81/97 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 110/127 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
In many ways Morris was the diet version of Harris in 2015-16. He showed a similar versatility in his ability to contribute across a variety of categories, averaging 14.3 points, five boards, 2.5 assists, 1.4 threes and 0.8 steals, and put together a solid season for a player drafted outside the top-140.
One key facet kept Morris from achieving the mid-round value of someone like Harris, however: efficiency. While Harris shot an impressive 46.8% from the floor and 83.6% from the stripe, Morris only averaged 43.5% from the field and 75.9% from the foul line. Those numbers aren’t devastating for fantasy owners, but it should serve as a reminder that Morris isn’t quite as well rounded as his counting stats suggest.
ADP: 109/121 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 216/245 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 247/293 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 73
Johnson posses all of the upside in the world, but he wasn’t really worth owning in standard leagues in 2015-16. He averaged a mere 8.6 points per game to go along with 4.2 boards, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.9 threes. More impactfully, he struggled mightily from the field, converting just 38% of his field goal attempts. The talent is there for Johnson to emerge as an impressive 3-and-D player in both reality and fantasy, but before he corrects his jumper owners shouldn’t be tempted to reach for him.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 198/184 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 253/237 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
After reuniting with Van Gundy Baynes showed flashes of solid play, but he still couldn’t break on to the standard league radar. Averaging 15 minutes, 6.2 points, 4.6 boards and 0.6 blocks, he didn’t offer much beyond low-end big man stats. Baynes can be safely ignored in drafts next season outside of the deepest leagues.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 263/235 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 313/286 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
Tolliver wasn’t a fantasy factor in all but the deepest of leagues, averaging just 18.2 minutes, 5.2 points, 3.1 boards and 1.3 treys on 38.6% shooting from the field. He was a solid contributor from three – given his limited minutes – and not much else. At this point in his career Tolliver isn’t worth owning except as a specialist for those desperate to boost their standing in threes.
After finally returning to the playoffs this season it will be interesting to see what’s next for the Pistons. Van Gundy has found a way to balance his front office and coaching responsibilities better than any executive in recent memory, so there is plenty of reason for optimism. Without a clear path to adding a star Detroit will likely continue to develop Drummond, Jackson and Johnson in the hopes of taking another step forward in 2016-17.