The Pistons haven’t won a playoff series in a decade; they haven’t even won a playoff game since falling to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals. There’s been a lot of LeBron James dominating the East in the interim, but the Pistons look to have their best chance to end that drought with the squad they’ve assembled for this season.
After acquiring Blake Griffin at the trade deadline last season, they stumbled and finished 39-43, finishing ninth in the East. With a healthy Griffin and Reggie Jackson returning, the Pistons are ready to challenge not only for a postseason spot, but Griffin said at media day that they’re aiming to host a first-round series.
First-year coach Dwane Casey and the Pistons will need a lot of things to go right for them to achieve that goal. Here’s a look at five things they’ll need to do to make the playoffs:
1. Stay healthy
This one isn’t brain surgery or rocket science. The Pistons were hampered by losing Jackson for 37 games last season and 30 in 2016-17. In those 37 games, the Pistons were 12-25 without Jackson and — whether fans like it or not — he’s simply an integral part of their success.
The training staff and medical staff have been very cautious with Jackson in the preseason, especially after he had a scare from a tight groin last week. Jackson was on a minutes limit in the preseason, but will be full-go when the season begins on Wednesday.
Griffin also was limited in the preseason but he didn’t have a specific injury; it was more of a move to reduce the wear and tear and ensure that he was healthy and ready to go for the regular season.
Jon Leuer missed 74 games last season and is coming along slowly, according to Casey, but he’ll also be in the mix for playing time.
John Niyo and Rod Beard preview the 2018-19 Pistons under new coach Dwane Casey. The Detroit News
2. Three, the magic number
The Pistons ranked fifth in the NBA in 3-point shooting (37.3 percent) last season and will need to have similar production this season. They were only 16th in the league in attempts (29), which likely will go up drastically this season, in Casey’s fast-paced, read-and-react offense.
Casey puts emphasis not only on 3-pointers, but smart 3-pointers, which could take a while for the Pistons to adjust to discerning. Reggie Bullock finished second individually in the league at 45 percent, but they’ll need to get bigger contributions from Griffin, Jackson, Stanley Johnson and Glenn Robinson III.
3. Steady Stanley
Entering his fourth season, Johnson has been up and down, but will need to be more consistent and more efficient on offense. Johnson shot just 29 percent on 3-pointers and seemed to fall into Stan Van Gundy’s bad graces. He’s getting a do-over with Casey, who has invigorated Johnson with confidence to continue shooting and to find a consistent level in his game. That’ll do wonders for Johnson’s psyche, but it has to bring production as well.
Johnson is known for his defensive prowess, but if he continues to start, he’ll need to make shots — just to keep defenses honest — and create more off the dribble. If Johnson falters, look for Glenn Robinson III to move into a starting role.
4. Win, for starters
The schedule is somewhat quirky. The Pistons don’t go west of the Mississippi until January. Both their western trips are later in the season, so they will have a significant chunk of their games against the weaker Eastern Conference, where — much like last season — they can get off to a good start and build confidence. There are some troublesome teams in the East, but they can manage that for the first 20 games or so.
Their 14-6 start last year opened some eyes, but the Pistons folded just after that and once they fell below .500, they struggled to keep their heads above water. With Griffin’s leadership and Drummond’s maturation, that likely won’t happen again.
5. In Casey we trust
Casey knows how to build winning teams. The Raptors increased their win total almost every season during his seven-year tenure there. While the Pistons have fallen into a rut of mediocre seasons, they can’t rely on the things they’ve done in the past. It may take some adjustment in the first few months, but Casey’s philosophies have proven successful.
Casey’s player-centered approach has paid dividends already but when they face adversity and a truer test, the players will need to pull together and find their direction.