The Pistons have taken a huge step back this season. Their early season foibles were easy to explain away behind Reggie Jackson’s knee injury. Yet since the starting point guard returned, things have stayed well south of where most thought the team would be this year after their promising run to the No. 8 seed a year ago. There are a lot of contributing factors to their downturn, and while their offense is chief among them, there are defensive concerns as well.
The Pistons rank 11th in defense, which is really good. There should be no problem there. Except that almost all of their good defense comes behind the bench units. Their franchise icons are posting near-league-worst numbers, and the eye test backs it up. When Jackson and Andre Drummond share the floor together, the Pistons are surrendering 110 points per 100 possessions, and that number only drops to 108 when Jackson sits and Drummond plays. So when their franchise center is on the court, their defense is eight points worse per 100 possessions.
If Drummond was 20 years old instead of 23, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But at his point, you want to see some signs under coach Stan Van Gundy of Drummond coming into his own as the kind of defensive player he’s capable of being, beyond just rebounds and blocking shots. His attention to detail and effort are his problems, which are honestly bigger concerns than inexperience or physical limitations.
As a result, Jackson remains on the trade block, which isn’t a surprise. Drummond, however, is at least conceivably tradeable. In his latest column, ESPN’s Zach Lowe reports that while a Drummond trade is extremely unlikely, the Pistons have “quietly explored” offers for their franchise center.
They needed talent; they would figure out the rest later. The figuring it out part has been harder than expected, especially with both Jackson and Drummond plateauing. Detroit has quietly explored the trade market for each of its franchise centerpieces, according to sources across the league, and come away disappointed with the potential return. (Van Gundy himself has said anyone is available for “the right price.”)
Any Drummond deal at the deadline is an extreme long shot, but Jackson remains in play for Minnesota, Orlando, New Orleans, or some mystery destination. Even if Detroit keeps him, missing the playoffs would put dramatic changes on the table this summer.
That’s an incredible development, even with how unlikely Lowe stresses it to be. But it’s also not entirely out of left field. If you spend any length of time close to the team, you hear rumblings of Drummond’s attention to detail and effort. He’s been benched in the fourth quarter of games for simply giving the team nothing. All players go through down stretches, but Drummond’s passion was a question mark going back to the draft.
Yet Drummond is still young and has a comparable defensive box-score plus minus this season, per Basketball Reference, as Dwight Howard did in 2007 -- the year before he leaped to an elite defensive status. (Howard was better, and two years younger, and his defensive win share numbers were better.) Many times big men don’t come into their own until age 25 or later. Even if Drummond won’t be the phenom he looked like he would be his first three seasons in the NBA, there’s still clearly a punishing rim protector and pick-and-roll finisher to build an offense around.
However, the issue here is Van Gundy. Lowe reports both Van Gundy and Drummond speak to owner Tom Gores in unflattering terms. That’s not a great dynamic. Does Van Gundy believe in Drummond? If he does, then the issue is settled, they’ll wait, and figure it out later as they continue to coach him up. If he doesn’t, moving him might bring a trade which could push them even further ahead in their plan.