Pistons preview: Key season for Jackson, Caldwell-Pope
Final piece in a series examining the Pistons roster. Today: Guards
After a busy summer in free agency, the Pistons are looking to build on a surprising 44-win season and get back to the playoffs.
They begin training camp on Monday and the preseason in two weeks with only a few remaining questions about specific spots.
■Reggie Jackson, 26, 6-3/208, sixth season
Statistics: 18.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists
In his first full season as a starter, Jackson posted career-best numbers in points and assists and took the helm as one of the team leaders. The hard part will be taking the next step and pushing the Pistons past the first round of the playoffs. At times, he dribbles too much, milking the shot clock; at others, he’s able to take over games with his drives and 3-point acumen (35 percent last season).
Figuring out how to decrease the former and increase the latter is the task for this season. With a full summer to work with the full starting lineup, he’ll look to be a better distributor and facilitator.
■Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 23, 6-5/205, fourth season
Statistics: 14.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists
It’s a big year for KCP, who can become a restricted free agent next summer if he and the Pistons don’t reach a contract agreement by Oct. 31 — and coach Stan Van Gundy said talks are ongoing. He’s the only one of the starting group not signed to a long-term deal and if he stays, could command $16 million or more per season. Caldwell-Pope is one of the most underrated but effective players on the roster, because of his perimeter defense. The biggest issue is with his 3-point shooting, which dipped from 35 percent in 2015 to 31 percent last year, partly due to shot selection.
■Stanley Johnson, 20, 6-7/245, second season
Statistics: 8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists
After a solid rookie season, Johnson is positioned to be one of the breakout players on the roster this season, with his work on the offseason on some of his weaknesses. He showed flashes during Summer League and other informal action since, but he’ll need to carry that into the season. He carries some swagger on and off the court — which the Pistons feed off — and looks to be a centerpiece moving forward.
His versatility in playing three positions makes him a coveted asset and as his game grows, he could play a more significant role, especially if the Pistons can’t afford to keep Caldwell-Pope for the long term.
■Ish Smith, 28, 6-0/175, seventh season
Statistics: 12.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists
Smith was the first priority for the Pistons at the beginning of free agency and as he suits up for the 10th team in his career, he’ll look to stick around for the long term, with a three-year, $18 million deal. He’ll be an upgrade as the backup point guard, allowing the Pistons to run more and providing some needed scoring from that position.
He was effective as a starter for the Sixers last season and in a backup role, he’ll be more potent in shorter bursts with the reserves. Smith already is well liked and is respected by his teammates, which will make his transition easier.
■Michael Gbinije, 24, 6-7/200, first season
The Pistons passed on some other good prospects at point guard in the draft, favoring Gbinije’s versatility to play both guard positions and potentially small forward. He has good size but didn’t get to show much in Summer League before sustaining an ankle injury.
Gbinije is a big question mark this season, because of the young depth the Pistons have at both backcourt positions and among the wings. The likely scenario is that Gbinije will spend most of the season playing with the Pistons’ D-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive, to learn the ropes and get some playing time.
■Lorenzo Brown, 26, 6-5/189, fourth season
Statistics: 2.5 points, 0.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Brown had an outstanding Orlando Summer League, helping the Pistons youngsters get to the title game. He played eight games last season with the Suns and was an insurance policy after the Pistons suffered some injuries. He spent some time with the Drive last season and is familiar with the system already.
He’ll contend with Ray McCallum Jr. to be the third point guard in the only competition for a roster spot as training camp begins. Brown has a size advantage because of his size but will need to improve offensively.
■Ray McCallum Jr., 25, 6-3/190, fourth season
Statistics: 3.3 points, 1.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists
McCallum was signed to compete for the final roster spot and will have to beat out Lorenzo Brown. He’s more experienced, but since his first two seasons with the Kings, he’s seen his playing time diminish. He has local ties (Detroit Country Day, Detroit-Mercy) but that won’t be enough to secure a spot with the Pistons.
He shot 36 percent on 3-pointers last season and if he can show that offensive spark, along with good decision making, he could make the position competition more interesting.