Four Pistons to watch as training camp opens
As the Pistons enter a pivotal season with a new coach and several lingering questions, they will look to some of their role players to have breakout years and a couple of starters to have marked increases in production to help them turn things around.
After a 39-43 season, the Pistons are poised to make it back to the playoffs, but will need improvement from their returning players, good health and some luck. Their most dependable players appear to be Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, but beyond that duo, there's plenty of room for improvement.
Here are four Pistons to watch this season:
► Reggie Jackson: He’s been limited in the summer, following a severe ankle sprain that caused him to miss 37 games last season. So far, he hasn’t done much in terms of full-contact workouts and it’s unclear whether he’ll be a full participant when training camp begins this week.
The new training staff and medical team have established a conservative program for Jackson’s workouts, which could mean that he doesn’t get cleared for full contact until the regular season. That might be for the better.
Regardless of fans’ opinions of Jackson and his contract, the Pistons play better with him in the lineup and the production falls off with the backup options of Ish Smith or Jose Calderon. There’s only a small sample size of eight games to judge the trio of Jackson, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond together, but the Pistons’ fortunes are built on that group.
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Jackson is a good 3-point shooter and when he has his full burst and strength, he has shown to be one of the best pick-and-roll options in the league when paired with Drummond. He’d be a difference maker if he can to get close to his 2015-16 production.
► Stanley Johnson: In his fourth season, it’s time for Johnson to answer his critics with the best season of his career or risk fading into relative anonymity. He’s been a good defender but his efficiency and production on the offensive end hasn’t caught up. His shooting (38 percent FG) and 3-point shooting (29 percent) leave plenty to be desired and he might end up in competition for a starting spot, with the acquisition of Glenn Robinson III.
The enticement for Johnson is next summer, when he can become a restricted free agent. A payday could be looming if Johnson has a breakout season and emerges into a 3-and-D impresario. That’s still a lot of maybes and ifs, but Johnson needs first to find a comfort level and get those shots to fall.
Without some drastic improvement, Johnson could become a trade chip by the February deadline. His production in the first part of the season will determine his value at that point, or beyond.
More: Pistons story lines: More questions than answers
► Luke Kennard: He had a solid rookie season, but will be inextricably linked to Donovan Mitchell for the rest of his career. Kennard could be a prominent piece of the Pistons’ bench this season, but has to bounce back from a knee injury that kept him out of Summer League.
The plan was for Kennard to play more with the ball in his hands during Summer League, and that opportunity may not be gone. It’ll be tougher to get those reps in the season, but that’s still a wrinkle the Pistons can show with their versatile reserve group. He’ll likely be the main option there, but in some hybrid lineups, he could initiate the offense.
At 6-foot-6, Kennard brings the size to give the Pistons an advantage there, but he’ll have to show more of that, plus back up his 42 percent on 3-pointers, to get a better sense of how he’ll fit in the longer term.
► Jon Leuer: He’s been snake-bitten by injuries for the past couple of years, which has made him something of a forgotten entity. A foot injury sidelined Leuer for almost all of last season and he sustained a knee injury in the offseason that could linger into the start of the regular season.
At 6-foot-10, he can play either power forward or backup center, but the best ability is availability, and Leuer played just eight games last season, after posting 75 games in 2016-17, when he was one of the surprises in the first half of the season. Behind Griffin, Leuer could provide a good 3-point presence — if he can get back to the court.
Without Leuer, the Pistons likely will lean to Henry Ellenson, who has a similar skill set.