Offseason moves allow Pistons to mix up rotation, vary player roles
In the four-game sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs, the Pistons’ weaknesses were exposed. Of course, they weren’t the same team without Blake Griffin, who had the best season of his career, but with his absence, they had to start Thon Maker instead.
Griffin’s knee injury wasn’t the only reason the Pistons struggled in the final weeks of the season, but it showed that their depth was a concern heading into this season. The front office, led by Ed Stefanski, made it a priority in the offseason.
The Pistons traded for forward Tony Snell, signed guards Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier, and added big men Markieff Morris and Christian Wood to bolster the bench. After drafting Sekou Doumbouya, they have revamped the reserve group — and in the process, added needed depth that could help them make a move in the East next season.
Here’s how each could be used in the rotation next season to fit in with the existing starting lineup of Griffin, Andre Dummond, Reggie Jackson and Bruce Brown.
►Tony Snell: With the departure of Wayne Ellington, a starting spot opened and the Pistons could use size in that position. At 6-foot-7, Snell most importantly has the ability to defend the position and will allow Brown to remain defending guards. Snell started 59 games in 2017-18 and 80 games the prior year. Snell shot 40 percent on 3-pointers last season and if he can stay around that clip, he’d be a good addition to the first group, as a safety valve for Griffin, Jackson and others.
►Derrick Rose: Rose, the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, turns 31 in October and he had a good bounce-back season with 18 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 27.3 minutes. Although some fans are clamoring for Rose to start ahead of Jackson, it’s very unlikely to happen — at least at the beginning of the season. The Pistons are more likely to monitor his minutes closely and ensure that they can keep him at peak performance level for most of the season. Rose played only 51 games last season and 25 games in 2017-18.
Rose seems better suited to be an impact scorer off the bench, possibly in tandem with Luke Kennard, if he doesn’t start ahead of Brown. The Pistons might monitor Rose’s minutes very closely and use some physiological analytics to determine what the sweet spot in number of minutes. It’ll be interesting to see how much Rose has remaining as he starts the season.
►Tim Frazier: Getting a quality third point guard may have been as important as getting Rose. Frazier, 28, has started 70 games in his five seasons and played well with the Pelicans and Bucks last season. In 12 games with Milwaukee, Frazier posted 6.3 points and 3.5 assists in 17.6 minutes. In a scenario where Jackson gets traded at the deadline and Rose encounters an injury, Frazier could end up being the starter, which would have been a sketchy proposition in years past, but Frazier’s arrival could ease some of those fears.
►Markieff Morris: In 58 games with the Wizards and Thunder last season, he posted 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds. He’s a big-bodied, versatile forward who can face-up or play with his back to the rim. Morris shot 37 percent on 2.8 attempts from beyond the arc in 2017-18 and if he can get back to that level, he could earn some increased playing time behind Griffin. The Pistons could choose to go to Maker for a defensive power forward or if Morris clicks, to him for more scoring and toughness. The depth and options are much better than last season.
►Christian Wood: A late addition after Summer League, Wood, 23, is a 6-foot-10 power forward who likely could play either center or power forward. In eight games with the Pelicans, he averaged 16.9 points and 7.9 rebounds and was a perimeter threat as well. He’s on a non-guaranteed contract, so it’s a gamble that could pay off big if they like what he does in training camp. Wood will be in the mix for some minutes and with more options than last year, they have closed up some of the issues of depth in the frontcourt behind Griffin and Drummond.
►Sekou Doumbouya: The first-round pick played limited minutes because of an injury. What was encouraging was his athleticism and movement for his size. Though Doumbouya was a first-round pick, the Pistons are not putting pressure on him to contribute immediately and they could look to give him a slow transition to the NBA without piling up the minutes. He could split time between small forward and power forward but given the other additions, Doumbouya could play more at small forward, behind Snell.