Detroit Pistons 2017-2018 season preview: Drummond, Jackson seek playoff return

Pistons open new season at new arena with new faces on roster

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Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons tries to tip in a first half rebound while playing the New York Knicks at the Palace of Auburn Hills on March 11, 2017. Detroit won the game 112-92. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

DETROIT - The Detroit Pistons are ready for prove their doubters wrong.

After a tumultuous 2016 - 2017 campaign, the Detroit Pistons are ready for a clean slate as they begin their new season at Little Caesars Arena this week.

The Pistons finished 10th in the Eastern Conference last year with a 37-45 record, just one year after ending a six-year playoff drought.

Expectations were high entering last season, but an injury to point guard Reggie Jackson set the team back and the Pistons never fully recovered. Reggie Jackson is back and seemingly healthy as the team eases him back into regular play.

Can the Pistons return to form and make another run at the NBA playoffs? Here's what to watch for this year.

KCP, Marcus Morris out, Avery Bradley in

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope packed his bags and joined the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer and the Pistons decided to move on by trading Marcus Morris to the Celtics for Avery Bradley.

Bradley brings a defensive mindset to the Pistons starting lineup, as he was member of the NBA All-Defensive Team in 2013 and 2016.

Bradley can also score, averaging 16 points and six rebounds per game last year with Boston, shooting nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line.

Bradley is in the final year of his contract and is set to become a free agent if the Pistons don't extend him by the end of the year.

Andre Drummond in best shape of career

Andre Drummond lost "30-something" pounds in the offseason, and it shows. The Pistons big man looks lean and faster on the floor.

“I feel fantastic,” Drummond said in an interview. “Right now, I’m at 285. I lost 30-something pounds, ballpark. I’m moving faster, jumping higher. I feel great overall. A lot of conditioning this summer to really get myself in tip-top shape.”

One of the big questions for Drummond is free throws. Last year, Drummond shot under 40 percent from the charity stripe. During the Pistons preseason play, Drummond has shot the ball well, making 12 of 14 free throws. 

Stan Van Gundy has been forced to remove Drummond from close games in the fourth quarter due to his free-throw issues. If Drummond can correct this, it would be huge for the Pistons defensively, trying to close out games.

Big man depth uncertain

Aaron Baynes is no longer a member of the Pistons, leaving the backup duties to second year forward Henry Ellenson, 7-footer Boban Marjanovic, Eric Moreland and sharpshooters Anthony Tolliver and Jon Leuer.

Ellenson is likely to see increased minutes this year, showing some growth in summer league in preseason play, but it's not clear how much of an increase we'll see. 

The Pistons need help behind Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris, who will likely play power forward.

Can Stanley Johnson live up to potential?

One of the biggest mysteries last year was the disappearance of Stanley Johnson, who was a Pistons lottery pick two years ago.

Johnson's rookie year was filled with ups and downs - but finished on a high note, even while being swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Johnson spent time in the D-League last year - and looked a bit lost on the floor at times. He averaged 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds per game last year, after averaging nearly double those numbers in his rookie year.

Johnson's field goal percentage, 3-point shooting, free-throw shooting and rebounding numbers were all down from his rookie year.

Johnson is a projected starter this year for the Pistons. He'll need to be a difference maker if the Pistons have any shot of being competitive. 

Can Tobias Harris become a star?

Tobias Harris is one of those guys with HUGE talent: He's versatile, quick, can play multiple positions and has a high basketball IQ.

Harris played all 82 games for the Pistons last year - averaging 16 points and five rebounds per game, playing just over 31 minutes per game.

Harris spent most of his time playing small forward last year, but will likely see more play as a power forward this year.

Harris shot the best percentage from the field of his career last year, 48 percent, while shooting just under 35 percent from the 3-point line.

Rookie Luke Kennard looks to make early impact

The former Duke star was drafted 12th overall by the Pistons last year and the rookie will look to make an immediate impact, especially on offense.

Kennard, in early action, has shown the strong 3-point shooting that made him a go-to scorer at Duke, hitting 14 3-pointers in five preseason games.

Stan Van Gundy will likely use him as a scorer off the bench for now, but has said on several occasions that Kennard needs to improve on defense.

“Luke has a calm about him. On a night that was chaotic and sloppy, Luke slows down, looks at what’s going on and makes good, solid decisions," Van Gundy said during training camp.

Detroit Pistons projected starters and rotation

Point guard:
Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith

Shooting guard:
Avery Bradley, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway

Small forward:
Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock

Power forward:
Tobias Harris, John Leuer, Henry Ellenson, Anthony Tolliver

Center:
Andre Drummond, Boban Marjanovic, Eric Moreland

Detroit Pistons 2017 schedule: 12 games to mark on your NBA calendar

  • Home Opener at LCA - Oct. 18 vs. Charlotte Hornets
  • Oct. 25 at LCA vs. Minnesota Timberwolves 
  • Oct. 29 at Golden State Warriors
  • Nov. 20 at LCA vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Dec. 8 at LCA vs. Golden State Warriors (On ESPN)
  • Dec. 10 at LCA vs. Boston Celtics
  • Dec. 30 at LCA vs. San Antonio Spurs
  • Jan. 19 at LCA vs. Washington Wizards (on ESPN)
  • Jan. 27 at LCA vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Jan. 30 at LCA vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (On TNT)
  • March 7 at LCA vs. Toronto Raptors (on ESPN)
  • Last Home Game at LCA - April 9 vs. Toronto Raptors

The Pistons have a total of eight nationally televised games, with four NBATV games. The team also has 14 back-to-back games, compared to 18 last year.

See the full Pistons schedule here.

NBA Power Rankings 2017: Where do the Detroit Pistons rank?

Sports Illustrated: Pistons - No. 19: This seems like it could be a playoff team. It all depends on whether or not Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson play consistent basketball. Don’t sleep on them.

CBS Sports: Pistons - No. 19: Skepticism is smart with Detroit after how badly everything went last season, but with a weak East to beat up on, they could find their way to a good season very easily. Andre Drummond remains the bellwether.    

Bleacher Report: Pistons - No. 13

NBA.com: Pistons - No. 19: The Pistons are one of the East teams that could move up in the standings just by (mostly) standing pat. But standing pat meant keeping the pair of Jackson and Andre Drummond, who were pretty awful together last season. Detroit was outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions with both on the floor (with numbers that would have ranked 28th both offensively and defensively) and outscored their opponents by 8.1 with both on the bench. If Jackson's knee pain was the main issue last season, if he's healthy this season, and if he can play like he did at the end of the '15-16 season, the Pistons will be better.

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