Foster: Inexperience will hold back Pistons

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

The Stan Van Gundy game plan is working. The Pistons are more talented. They have roster players who can play more positions, and this should be a team that works its way into the playoffs and becomes a title contender.

It simply won’t happen this season, although the Pistons should improve slightly over the 32-50 record in Van Gundy’s first season. But that is OK. Rome was not built in a day.

This was a team with no future before the Pistons shook up the roster. Now you can see signs of life as young buds blossom. The biggest problem is the working parts are so young and inexperienced that veteran teams will outthink them and pick them apart and send them packing down the stretch.

The Pistons will work their magic and explode some nights. Other nights they will be confused.

“We are not quite where we want to be,” Pistons guard Reggie Jackson said. “I think we’ve progressed a lot more from last season than what people probably expect. I am excited to get it started and excited to see if we can transfer over what we learned in practice.” We are probably a little bit ahead of schedule from what people expected but we are not quite where we want to be.”

Here is a breakdown of the 2014-2015 Pistons compared to the 2015-2016 Pistons.


2015-2016: Reggie Jackson, 6-foot-3

2014-2015: Brandon Jennings, 6-0 and Jackson

Jackson did all the right things to become a leader. He took teammates out to dinner. He texted them and he told them what is expected of them. The key is, do they trust him? Do they trust his leadership and do they trust him to put them in the best position to succeed?

We won’t know that until the heat of the battle when the bullets are flying against the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Jackson should be better because he’s gone through a Van Gundy training camp. He is more comfortable with the system and his teammates. Last season, Jackson felt like an outsider even though teammates were quick to embrace him.

The tricky part comes when Jennings returns. Before an Achilles injury sidelined him, Jennings shed much of his selfish ways and ran the team well. His problems came in the second half of games when half-court possessions became critical.

Advantage: 2015-2016 Pistons


2015-2016: Ersan Ilyasova, 6-10

2014-2015: Greg Monroe, 6-10

Monroe is a better player than Ilyasova, but Ilyasova is a better fit for the Van Gundy system. The Pistons never wanted to say it, but they were better when Monroe was out of the lineup. It was a tough concession because they respected the young veteran.

The Moose needed his space inside as he became a poor man’s version of Hall of Fame player Bob Lanier. But Andre Drummond worked best inside, as did Josh Smith before he was traded. For a while, it was as crowded in the paint as a New York subway during rush hour.

Ilyasova is not as strong physically, but what he brings is outside shooting, and he can initiate the offense inside by reversing the ball and setting up teammates. Monroe was not as good at doing that.

Advantage: 2015-2016 Pistons


2015-2016: Marcus Morris, 6-9

2014-2015: Caron Butler, 6-7, and Tayshaun Prince, 6-9

Small forwards are supposed to score. Prince (7.3 points per game) and Butler (5.9) did not. They were both old and limited physically. Both were frustrated by the style and what they were asked to do. Prince and Butler often stood in a corner and watched with the best seats in the house as the Pistons offense worked without them.

Morris is angry and wants to prove he can be a major player in this league. He is an isolation player who needs touches on the block. He has a nice fadeaway jumper but also likes to dip up and under for buckets at the rim. He must be appreciably better than Prince and Butler for this to work.

Advantage: 2015-2016 Pistons


2014-2015: Andre Drummond, 6-11

2015-2016: Drummond

Here is the good news: Coaches have worked with Drummond’s inside game all summer. He has an up and under move, a jump hook and a flipper move where he flicks the ball at the basket. Here is the problem: These remain project moves, and they are not going to work at the rate Drummond wants. And when things go wrong, Drummond sometimes gives up and does not work as hard on the defensive end.

He is a great player when he has high energy and is working his magic on both ends in the paint. Drummond is just another guy when he mopes.

The Pistons cannot become a championship caliber team with Drummond simply crashing the boards and getting his offense that way. He must become a well-rounded player. This season he takes a tiny step backwards in order to become better for the future.

Advantage: 2014-2015 Pistons


2015-2016: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 6-5

2014-2015: Caldwell-Pope

KCP can shoot, but can he make the big shots? That needs to be his goal this season. He will get plenty of chances to shoot the three off transition. Now he must make more. My guess is he will attack the rim more. Defenses are setting up to limit his 3-point shots, and he’s worked on his handle to be able to do that.

He is a very good defender, but tired legs caused his defense to flicker near the end of the season. Van Gundy criticized KCP, which was a huge mistake because he is respected for his work ethic. He should hold up longer this season, thus remaining a dangerous two-way threat into March.

Advantage: 2015-2016 Pistons


2015-2016: Stanley Johnson, 6-7 F; Steve Blake, 6-3 G; Spencer Dinwiddie, 6-6 G; Anthony Tolliver 6-8 F; Aron Baynes, 6-10 C; Jodie Meeks, 6-4 G

2014-2015: Meeks, Prince, Tolliver, Dinwiddie

Stanley Johnson can be special. He is the wild card coming off the bench. He does not have to be a gunslinger or a guy who lights up the scoreboard each night. Instead, he must read the game because he can pass, rebound and at times be a volume scorer. The gunslinger is Meeks, who should have better legs and a better shot this season.

Baynes is on the roster to give Drummond a break and provide toughness. But Tolliver provides more scoring and can play defensively inside.

Last season, the bench was set up to allow the Pistons to survive. At times this bench must make the Pistons thrive.

Advantage: 2015-2016 Pistons