The Detroit Pistons were one of the saddest teams to watch in the NBA this season.
They had just a 20-46 record in a campaign where their supposed best player (Blake Griffin) looked like a shell of himself due to a knee injury. They traded their second-best player (Andre Drummond) for virtually nothing and their most promising young player (Luke Kennard) also missed most of the season due to knee problems.
Thankfully, it is not all bad for the Pistons. Young big man Christian Wood was super productive near the end of the season, defensive-minded prospects Bruce Brown and Sekou Doumbouya should be valuable pieces down the line and the team hired a new GM: former Oklahoma City Thunder vice president Troy Weaver.
The state of the Pistons is bleak right now, but there are certain factors that could change things for the better. What questions are the most important ones to consider for Detroit as the franchise rebuilds?
Are Blake Griffin’s All-Star Days Done?
The Pistons had a decent 2018-19 season, led by an All-Star campaign from veteran forward Blake Griffin. He averaged career highs in points (24.5) and assists (5.4) per game, as well as three-point makes per game (2.5). The veteran seemed to be reinventing himself as a versatile big man who could space well and also facilitate with his ball-handling and passing skills.
In 2019-20, though, Griffin was a completely different player. Knee injuries hampered him all year and he finally had surgery on his left knee in January. He had easily the worst campaign of his career in his 18 appearances, averaging a very inefficient 15.5 points with a measly 4.7 rebounds in 28.4 minutes per contest. His poor performance contributed significantly to the Pistons’ disappointing season.
Griffin’s skill set has improved considerably since he entered the league in 2009, but power and athleticism are still key parts of his game. If those attributes become significantly affected by his bad knees, it is very unlikely that he will ever play like an All-Star again.
The reason Griffin’s injury status is so important for the Pistons is because his contract is massive. He is due nearly $75.6 million over the next two seasons and Detroit will have trouble constructing a respectable roster if Griffin and his huge contract are essentially dead weight.
Can Christian Wood Keep Shining When Games Matter?
Pistons fans are understandably excited about the potential of big man Christian Wood. The 24-year-old improved his production as his role increased throughout the season. He averaged a fantastic 24 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest in nine games after the All-Star break. This was his first season earning significant minutes in the NBA, so his learning curve was extremely steep.
The athletic 6’10” forward/center is very bouncy around the rim and he also has a respectable three-point shot. His length helps him tremendously on defense, though he still needs to add strength and improve his instincts on that end.
However, one thing that is important to keep in mind about Wood’s massive production right before the season was suspended is that the Pistons were not playing meaningful games at that point. They were sustaining several injuries and losing nearly every game (12 losses in their last 13 games) against teams that weren’t taking them seriously.
In the event that the Pistons take a step forward next season, what will happen with Wood’s impact? Can he succeed with more pressure on him or was his production slightly misleading since it occurred when teams likely weren’t working hard to game plan against him?
Can Troy Weaver Nail His First Offseason in Detroit?
The Pistons hired Troy Weaver as their general manager in June. This will be Weaver’s first job as an NBA team’s head general manager, but he has earned a lot of respect around the league for his work in other capacities since he started working in the NBA in 2004.
He started as a head scout and then the director of player personnel for the Utah Jazz between 2004 and 2008. The Oklahoma City Thunder hired him in 2008 as an assistant general manager before promoting him to vice president of basketball operations in 2018, a position he held until this summer. Weaver was instrumental in Oklahoma City selecting point guard Russell Westbrook in the 2008 draft. He helped influence many other decisions that made the Thunder a title contender for many years in the 2010s.
Under the leadership of GMs Joe Dumars, Jeff Bower and Ed Stefanski, the Pistons have made many head-scratching roster moves in the last 10 to 15 years. Free agency signings like Josh Smith, Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon still haunt the fanbase. Chauncey Billups, Khris Middleton and Spencer Dinwiddie were all traded away for scraps, and the team also made bad draft picks such as Stanley Johnson, Brandon Knight and Austin Daye when several better players were available in each draft.
This offseason, Weaver has the chance to get the Pistons trending in the right direction. That starts with a solid draft. Detroit could use help at any position, but the most pressing need is probably at the primary ball-handler slot. Can Weaver find his next Russell Westbrook? In terms of free agency, can Weaver be wise not to make major commitments to the wrong players or to pass on players who can help?
How Can the Front Office Excite the Pistons’ Fan Base Again?
The Pistons used to have one of the NBA’s most passionate fanbases. Between the 2002-03 and 2008-09 seasons, Detroit finished first in the league in fan attendance six times in seven years.
Fast forward to 2019-20, and the Pistons have now ranked 18th or lower in fan attendance for the past 10 years. Their ranking this season was No. 28, which is tied for the team’s worst ranking yet. Many of Detroit’s fans are clearly tired of the front office’s inability to put a high-quality product on the floor after experiencing so much success between the middle of the 1980s and the late 2000s.
Winning almost always gets fans excited, but it is a lot easier to start winning as a team when you have momentum with the fanbase. Troy Weaver’s moves as the general manager will certainly be key in galvanizing the Pistons fanbase, but it is also important for the coaching staff to be on board with Weaver’s plans.
Detroit needs to prioritize youthful energy and entertaining play styles as it gets to work on its rebuild. The Pistons have been too focused on the short term in recent years, bringing in veterans who can help keep the team competitive, but who won’t be major pieces on a title-contending team. The franchise needs to break the cycle of bouncing back and forth between average and bad, opting instead for a full-on youth movement in an attempt to build a strong team for the long-term future.