Pistons mailbag: Expect Joe Johnson, Christian Wood to fight for 15th spot
After the Pistons agreed to a partially guaranteed deal with Joe Johnson last week, the questions started almost immediately. Who’s the 15th man?
Logic dictates that when the Pistons begin training camp in two weeks, the two players without fully guaranteed contracts — Johnson and big man Christian Wood — would be on the hot seat.
Two players vying for one spot. That’s what logic says.
The reality likely will match that, because with the Pistons’ financial situation of operating above the salary cap and perilously close to the luxury-tax line, there aren’t many other options. Having two players at different positions compete for one roster spot is odd, in that both could fill critical needs for the Pistons.
Wood, at 6-foot-11, is a potential backup to Andre Drummond, as are Markieff Morris and Thon Maker (and to a lesser degree, Blake Griffin). Johnson, 38, coming off an MVP season in the Big3, could be another option at small forward, maybe the position on the roster with the least depth.
► Question. In your humble opinion, is it more likely for someone to get traded ( ex. Langston Galloway) and have both Wood and Joe Johnson make the team or for Wood/Johnson to fight it out for the final spot? — @DeeetroitBBall
► Answer. It’s not completely out of the question that the Pistons could open a roster spot — and keep both Johnson and Wood — by making a trade before the season starts. Galloway is in the last year of his contract and at $7 million, it’s a contract that could be moved before the February deadline. That the Pistons have plenty of options at shooting guard also makes that a potential scenario.
Another possibility that readers brought up is Maker, who also is in his final year of his deals, at $3.6 million. That might be less likely, because of his positional versatility to play both big-man spots. It’s doubtful that one of the young players, such as Svi Mykhailiuk, Khyri Thomas or Bruce Brown could be dealt before the season.
Given the financial considerations, my guess is that the final roster spot will come down to Johnson or Wood.
► Q. Is Tony Snell going to be nothing more than a little used, catch and shoot 3 point guy or can he be more than that offensively? Is Thon's roster spot in jeopardy? — @rudyjuly2
► A. Snell could occupy much of the same role that Wayne Ellington had last season, which was mostly as a spot-up shooter. In his six-year career, he’s averaging 3.1 3-point attempts per game and 2.3 shots made inside the arc. Last season, it was 2.8/2.2.
With the current composition of the Pistons’ starting lineup and assuming that Snell starts, it’s very likely that the 3-point number will increase, especially if he can shoot 40 percent again. If Snell’s contribution on offense is noticeable, it’ll keep Johnson’s minutes lower and probably help all parties involved.
► Q. If Brown and Snell end up starting, does the first unit have enough offense? — @rudyjuly2
► A. There’s always enough offense with Griffin, Jackson and Drummond as the third option. Snell won’t have to create offense, but work off of Griffin and Jackson’s creativity and breaking down the defense. If Brown and Snell can hit open shots, they’ll find plenty more opportunities, as Griffin and a healthy Jackson can provide more open looks for them.
The starting lineup should be fine; more of the focus will be on gaining an advantage on the second unit, where Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard and Markieff Morris will anchor the offense. Gaining a balance when the starters go to the bench will help immensely and keep the Pistons in games much more than they were last year.
► Q. Who will play the most important role off the bench? — @MatSwrzntrb
► A. The easy answer is Derrick Rose. He’s the biggest name they got in free agency and playing alongside Kennard, he’ll take some of the defense’s attention. Rose could finish out some games with Reggie Jackson and most of all, coach Dwane Casey has more options in the second unit.
Morris also could be a big gain, if he comes back healthy and can contribute like he did in his time with the Wizards. He’s important because if he plays solid minutes, the Pistons can rest Griffin for longer periods, which will help in maintaining his health.