Following a 41-41 season and first-round playoff exit, the Pistons again are projected to be in the bottom half of the playoff teams — if they even make the playoffs at all. Some predictions have them getting fewer than 40 wins, which could put them on the borderline.
In the offseason, they didn’t add a big name to the starting lineup that could shake up the status quo. But a few of their new reserves could exceed expectations and propel the Pistons to a few more wins, which could mean the difference between missing the playoffs, the eighth seed or something higher.
If nothing else, the Pistons strengthened their bench with Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris and added some muscle and versatility to a group that struggled at times last season, even when one or two of the starters was paired to maintain some continuity.
Monitoring the playing time for Blake Griffin and Rose, especially, will put the onus on others to play more minutes and produce more during that time.
Here are three players to watch who could be bigger contributors than projected:
This seems like the most likely choice of anyone on the roster, because of the opportunity Brown got last season. The guess for now is that he’ll be used much like he was last season, when he started 56 of his 74 games. Luke Kennard is the other option but there’s something to having Brown, the team's best perimeter defender, on the court to open games.
Brown has been working on his 3-point shot in the offseason and although he looked better in playing with the ball in his hands — with 33 assists and just nine turnovers in four Summer League games — he hasn’t shown that his offense is developed enough to keep defenses honest.
“If I come back next year shooting the ball well — better than last year — it’s going to make the game easier for Blake and they’re not going to double him as much,” Brown said at Summer League. “They left me all year last year, so I want to come back shooting the ball well and it’ll be good.”
Brown has spent a significant part of his summer working on 3-pointers, but he’s also improved as a pick-and-roll passer, which could be just as valuable. If Brown continues to play alongside Andre Drummond and Griffin, he’ll do well to vary his offensive attack and threaten the paint off the dribble instead of just from beyond the arc, where he hit just 26 percent last season as a rookie.
“Brown is interesting. The one thing that made him valuable is his fire and ability to play defense or whatever else they needed,” Fox Sports Detroit analyst Greg Kelser said. “He didn’t run away from anything. A lot will depend on how he improves his shot.
“I look for him to have an even better year. He was a starter on a playoff team and he can do way more offensively — especially finishing at the rim. I’m looking for him to improve in that area as much as the team is looking for him to improve his outside shot.”
Wood's signing last month went under the radar and his contract isn’t guaranteed unless he makes the regular-season roster. He could be one of the biggest additions if he settles into the role of backup center behind Drummond, who averaged about 34 minutes last season. Drummond sometimes had to log extended minutes because the matchups didn’t favor using Zaza Pachulia.
Wood is harder to defend because of his 3-point shooting, which was a respectable 35 percent last season. It’s not that Drummond needs fewer minutes, but Wood has shined when given ample opportunity. The big question is whether he’s closer to the 16.9 points and 7.9 rebounds he averaged in eight games with the Pelicans or the 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds he posted in 13 games with the Bucks.
Even if the answer is somewhere in between, he could provide a physical and athletic option at backup center that the Pistons haven’t had in years.
Granted, he’ll be the third point guard behind Reggie Jackson and Rose. That’s part of the point of signing him, though. Because of their injury histories, both Jackson and Rose need a quality backup.
“What happens to those guys determines the minutes he plays. I see maybe eight to 10 minutes a game and on maybe some nights a little more or less,” Kelser said. “His veteran experience and his understanding of the point guard position should bode well for him in the limited minutes I see him playing.”
Considering the recent history of third point guards, with Jose Calderon, Steve Blake, Beno Udrih and others, Frazier isn’t any worse than that group. And with 70 starts in his five-year career, he’s a step ahead of the other developmental prospects they’ve used as a third option.
It’s not just who Frazier isn’t — he’s a good player in his own right. He averaged 5.3 points and 4.2 assists last season with the Pelicans and Bucks and hit 37 percent on 3-pointers. If he’s pushed into a backup role or even a starting spot, he could fill the role and not look out of place.
Frazier can be more of a traditional point guard and shot creator than Jackson and Rose and with a good 3-point shot, he can be a scoring option when the defense doubles others.
“The game is more than making threes,” Frazier said. “(More than) layups or 2-pointers and everybody is focusing on threes. My game is doing the same.”