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A Detroit Pistons Q&A with Aaron Johnson of Palace of Pistons

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On Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and more

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In the second edition of our Q&As for this season, I got the chance to talk to Aaron Johnson. Aaron is the co-founder of Palace of Pistons as well as a contributor for Def Pen Hoops and ClutchPoints.

The Pistons are a team I’ve struggled to figure out. I’m not sure how good their roster is and what reasonable expectations are. So you tell me: what are the best and worst case scenarios for the Pistons this year?

The best case obviously starts with health for this team. With key players on the roster in Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose, and even Luke Kennard to an extent with shaky injury histories, the Pistons’ success relies on health in the direst way. Even at their best, they’d likely top out as a five seed. Blake Griffin is a star, Andre Drummond is an all-star, and beyond that are some decent supporting pieces, but Detroit doesn’t have enough talent to cause a real stir even in the East. But if Luke Kennard can take that next step as a cerebral scorer and be confident as a ball-handler and secondary distributor, he’ll raise the Pistons’ ceiling a bit. They’ll also need Jackson to play at the level he played at after the All-Star break last year, because he was really solid towards the end of the season and in the playoffs. Detroit’s worst-case scenario outside of poor health is that Griffin regresses after what may have been the best season of his career, Drummond doesn’t use his athleticism and strength on the offensive end of the floor while playing with a more finesse style (which he was dreadful at last year when he fell into that habit — more on this soon), and Kennard/Bruce Brown don’t show any growth. In this situation, they could easily be looking at a 10th or 11th place finish in the conference.

Andre Drummond is often mocked around these parts for obvious reasons. But he’s entering a pivotal season — with a player option for next year that he is likely to decline, this is essentially a contract year barring some sort of catastrophic injury. What are you expecting from Drummond as he attempts to increase his value before the summer of 2020?

I cannot stress this enough, but Drummond just needs to be himself. Be the player he actually is, rather than trying to be something he isn’t. He is the best rebounder in the league, a fantastic pick-and-roll partner, and a growing defensive monster. But at times, he tends to stray away from what his strengths are and plays a different style. I already alluded to it when I talked about his struggles when he plays with the goal of being cute with the ball rather than expound his force on weaker opponents. Whether he tries to bring the ball up the court himself or would go at the rim attempting a finesse style finish, those are not where Drummond excels. When he plays to his strengths as he did in the second half of last season, he is one of the best centers in the league (obviously behind Joel, please do not attack me). I don’t think we will see Drummond shooting three-pointers; he’s worked on the shot and it hasn’t progressed to the point where he’s a reliable threat from there yet. The best way for him to get paid is for him to dominate at his best qualities and focus on his strengths. If he does that and has the season he’s capable of having, he very well could be looking at a max or near max-level contract.

Blake Griffin is a fantastic player, but the Pistons are not a fantastic team. With that kind of situation, trade rumors are inevitable. Are there any scenarios in which you would approve shopping Griffin at some point this season?

Owner Tom Gores and front office liaison Ed Stefanski are deadset on building a contender. While they have not done that yet, and don’t have the assets to truly do so, they will continue to go down that path for better or for worse. That being said, if the Pistons are not a current playoff team at the trade deadline, they should probably be opening up to trading the star forward. If the roster they have is flailing at the deadline, or close to it, then it may be time to reset. Detroit can’t accept being an 8th seed every year. Griffin will have value assuming he’s healthy and would help Detroit recoup assets to begin a rebuild if they deem it necessary. I don’t expect that to be the case, but if the Pistons come out and underachieve then they’ll have some franchise-altering decisions to make, especially with Drummond and Jackson both likely being unrestricted free agents in July.

Big thank you to Aaron for lending us some of his knowledge!