It is a new day in Detroit. After years of mediocre front offices making misguided moves, the Pistons have a new general manager in Troy Weaver, who comes over from the Oklahoma City Thunder with a good reputation around the league. Weaver had been with the Thunder since 2008, and was part of the front office when the Thunder drafted and developed Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams, among others (Kevin Durant was drafted the year before Weaver got there).
It is good that he can draft well, because Weaver is walking into a bleak situation. The Pistons have an aging, oft-injured, expensive star in Blake Griffin, and not a lot else. Griffin could still get back to his best; he is 31, and only one year removed from an All-Star season in 2018–19 in which he averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. But even then, Detroit was only good enough to land the eighth seed and a first round sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, and the East has gotten stronger since then. When Griffin was limited to 18 games last season, the Pistons were a lottery team.
With his age and injury history, it is tough to count on Griffin. He has missed a lot of games over the past several seasons, and, even when healthy, his once-otherworldly athleticism is gone. But he can still play, and has added passing vision and better outside shooting to make up for his lost athleticism. Griffin is scheduled for a hefty $36.6 million paycheck next season, with a player option the following year. He has certainly earned that, given his play earlier in his career, but it will be nearly impossible to move him for anything other than a similar gargantuan contract (Russell Westbrook? Al Horford?). The Pistons’ best bet is probably keeping him on the team through the end of his contract in 2022.
Beyond Griffin, the roster is weak, but Detroit may have unearthed a potential star in Christian Wood. After yo-yoing between the G League and NBA with several other organizations, he shined for the Pistons last season, averaging 13.1 points per game in only 21.4 minutes. Wood can score inside (73.5% field goal percentage inside 5 feet on 4.4 attempts per game) and out (38.6% from three on 2.3 attempts per game), and, at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, has the length to block shots inside.
Wood’s defensive ability at this point is mostly theoretical, as he only blocked 3.4% of opponent shots while he was on the floor, and allowed opponents to shoot 56.9% at the rim on 4.1 attempts per game, middle of the pack numbers for a center. He is pretty lanky right now and can get bullied under the rim, but has the potential to develop into a good rim protector.
Unfortunately for Detroit, Wood is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and is sure to draw plenty of interest around the league. While betting big on a player with a limited track record is risky (see Hassan Whiteside), the potential reward for signing a center with Wood’s scoring ability is immense. The pandemic may depress the free agency market, which could bring Wood’s price down. But the Pistons should be major players for Wood (provided he wants to come back of course). They should be willing to go high to retain him, even as high as $20 million per season. They have no other potential stars on the roster, and are not going to be players in free agency otherwise at any point in the near future. After dumping Andre Drummond, they have the money.
The Pistons have not drafted well the last several years; of their first-round picks between 2013 and 2018, only Luke Kennard is still on the team, and they famously took him one spot ahead of Donovan Mitchell. Last year’s first-rounder, Sekou Doumbouya, has a lot of length and athleticism, but played like the raw teenage rookie he was last season. Down the depth chart, young players like Svi Mikhailyuk, Bruce Brown, and Luke Kennard can play but do not offer much reason for excitement.
Detroit will not win many games this season. It is time instead for Weaver to evaluate what he has, and see what works. Maybe they can pick up another Wood-type off the scrap heap. Maybe one of these young players can thrive in an expanded role. Who knows?
The past several years have been a rough time for Detroit Pistons fans. They have not won so much as a single game in the playoffs since 2008. The team is going to struggle this year, but they have a new front office who will run things differently. They have the seventh pick in the draft this year and a clean cap sheet starting in 2022. This is only the beginning of their journey.
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