January 16, 2019

For the first time in seven seasons, the Detroit Pistons find themselves in the middle of a playoff race.  After years of rebuilding and being sellers at the trade deadline, the Pistons finally are in a position to buy.

The Pistons have been linked to numerous trade rumors surrounding Brandon Jennings, but Stan Van Gundy has quickly shot them down.  And, while Van Gundy has not made his intentions for the trade deadline clear, the tenor of his statements have always suggested that he is fine with not making any moves.   

If Van Gundy does indeed stand pat at the trade deadline, it’s understandable.  The core of the team is young, talented, and relatively stable contract-wise.  And while the Pistons certainly have needs at power forward and on the bench, they are positioned in a way to make moves without giving up pieces this coming summer.

On the other hand, the Pistons haven’t made the playoffs in seven years.  The fanbase has awakened a bit with the team’s success, and ownership surely wants capitalize on that. 

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The Untouchables

Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond have flaws, but combine for a devastating pick and roll that forms the core by which the entire team is built around.

Jackson just signed a five-year, $80 million deal.  He has obvious defensive deficiencies, but he’s dynamic off the dribble and finishes extremely well at the rim—two crucial qualities for a great pick and roll point guard. Jackson has also become the outside shooting threat that Van Gundy likes his point guard to be.  The Pistons tweaked his shooting motion in the offseason and he’s become much better, making 37 percent of his three-point attempts this year.  His vision and accuracy in passing needs to improve, but he’s only 25-years-old, and his passes become much easier when paired with Andre Drummond.

Drummond could have signed an even larger deal than Jackson this past offseason, but elected to wait to provide the Pistons more flexibility in the summer of 2016.

Drummond, like Jackson, has obvious flaws.  His awful free throw shooting is well documented, but his defense also needs to improve. Drummond is often a half-second slow in recognizing plays and contesting shots at the rim; but, his size and athleticism do present some real issues to opposing offenses, and he’s able to affect shots because of that.  That size and athleticism also make him a terror in the pick and roll on offense. He is tough to stop when he gets going to the rim, and he has a gigantic catch radius that allows him to get to passes most other players simply cannot.  Perhaps most valuable, though, is his rebounding on both ends. 

Drummond is absolutely dominant on the boards, extending possessions offensively and closing out possessions defensively. Ultimately, the Pistons’ future rises and falls on the strength of what improvements Drummond and Jackson make, leaving both off the market.

The (rest of the) Young Core

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson provide youth and talent at the wing positions to complement Jackson and Drummond, and are unlikely to be moved.

Caldwell-Pope has made huge strides this year, turning flashes of brilliance into consistently great defense against the team’s best opposing perimeter threat—most notably, against Stephen Curry.  Caldwell-Pope is physical both on and off the ball and has the quickness and agility to stay in front of most every player in the league. 

Although not a great offensive player by any means, he’s become a legitimate threat off the dribble, and has shown a willingness to be a spot-up shooter in the half court, even though his shooting has been wildly inconsistent.  More importantly to the Pistons, KCP is a perfect complement to Reggie Jackson, able to cover Jackson’s defensive deficiencies and space the floor. 

His game isn’t sexy, but he’s very valuable to the Pistons because of his fit.  In reality, he’s probably more to the Pistons than he is to most any other team in the league, so the chances of him moving are slim.

Stanley Johnson dominated Summer League competition and raised expectations, before disappointing with predictably inconsistent play early in the year.  Then he got better, as rookies often do. Johnson has made major improvements in his ball handling throughout the year and serves as a major catalyst for the bench offensively.  He is deceptively fast and very good at pushing the tempo after defensive stops.  His transition play has been huge for a bench who has often struggled to find consistent offense.  Johnson, similar to KCP in his first two years, has shown flashes of brilliance defensively, particularly in his help defense. 

He struggles a bit to stay in front of quicker counterparts, but he’s still a rookie adjusting to the speed of the NBA game.  Like KCP, he’s a willing-but-inconsistent three-point shooter—though his form is solid.

KCP and Stanley Johnson provide two good defensive wings who are willing floor spacers and cutters to complement the Jackson/Drummond half court pick and roll.  While neither will likely become stars, they have the athleticism and show flashes that will be appealing to teams that are looking to rebuild.  But, the Pistons are more than a year away from being a legitimate contender, even if their entire core takes a step forward next year, so they have that same long-term appeal to the Pistons. The Pistons shouldn’t be in a hurry to hasten their contending timeline, unless an obvious deal for another star presents itself.

The Expiring Contracts

If the Pistons do make a big move before the trade deadline, it will likely come from the appeal of the expiring contracts of Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.  Both contracts come with about $8 million coming off the books and both players can provide value to teams that may be looking for a final piece to make a playoff push.

Brandon Jennings has taken a backseat in the Pistons long-term plans since his achilles injury a year ago, and as a result, Jennings has been relegated to a bench role.  He has struggled a bit since his return, but he does not look hindered by the injury that cost him half of last season.  Jennings has been linked several times to the Knicks, which would make sense as a potential landing spot.  Jennings isn’t going to be an All-Star, but he has real value in his consistency pushing the tempo.  For a team with issues at point guard (like the Knicks), he could provide more value than he does the Pistons.  If the Pistons can find such a team and get good value in return, it’s definitely possible that he could get moved.

Ersan Ilyasova is the Pistons starting power forward, but he’s mostly just a stretch 4 who can be replaced fairly easily.  Ryan Anderson, for example, has ties to Stan Van Gundy and could be a major target for the Pistons this summer.  Ilyasova is a very good three-point shooter for a power forward, but he can be a bit of a ball stopper following good ball movement.  He’s a bit indecisive at times and it often negatively affects ball movement.  Like with Jennings, if the Pistons can find a team that values what Ilyasova brings, he could be on the move prior to the trade deadline.

If It Makes Sense

Both Marcus Morris and Jodie Meeks are under contract for at least one more year and provide value to the Pistons in their own way, but neither is, at all, untouchable.

Marcus Morris is key to the Pistons offense when their ball movement breaks down.  The Pistons often dump the ball to him in the post and Morris creates offense without having to rely on creating separation.  He also provides good defense on larger opposing wings.  That is important for the Pistons because their best wing defender, KCP, is too small to handle bigger small forwards.  Morris’ shot creation and defense are both valuable to the Pistons, but he could certainly available if Detroit can find shot creation and wing defense in whatever they get in return.

Jodie Meeks suffered a right foot fracture earlier in the year which does not appear to be healing well.  So, he is unlikely to be traded, but, if someone really needs a bench scorer, Meeks could be an option for a team looking to compete next year.  Of course, the Pistons desperately need Meeks’ shooting, so the Pistons would likely need to get a good shooter back in the deal.  It’s difficult to see Meeks moving, but it’s possible if a team is willing to wait his injury out.

The Pistons are in a tricky situation.  Their best trade assets are all young and likely a part of the team’s long-term vision.  The bench and supporting roles need help, but if the Pistons have to give up part of their young core, a trade seems unlikely.  Ultimately, it is more likely than not that the Pistons will stand pat and wait for the offseason to make any major changes to the roster.

More Trade Value Columns

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Matthew Way

Matthew Way is an eternally optimistic Detroit Pistons fan who loves basketball at every level. When not watching the NBA, he spends time worshiping John Beilein's motion offense.

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