- Jalen Rose
Stan Van Gundy, as enigmatic as he may be, can’t be faulted for being unclear on his personal vision of how his rosters should be built and how they should play. Looking back to his days with the Orlando Magic, Van Gundy stuck to his 4-out 1-in approach, which translated to sustained success for an extended period of time until the Dwight Howard era dramatically came to a conclusion.
Looking back at the 2009 Finals, they fielded a starting lineup with a dominant center (Howard), a 3 and D wing (Mickael Pietrus), a combination of big three point shooting forwards (Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu), and a steady floor general (Rafer Alston). Even though they lost the Finals in 5 games, they were able to put up some good fights, winning one game and losing two in overtime against a highly motivated Kobe Bryant, peak Pau Gasol and spark-plug Lamar Odom.
Looking at the 2015-2016 Detroit Pistons roster, it has Van Gundy’s fingerprints all over it, from both a play-style and roster composition standpoint. Andre Drummond was not signed to an extension this year and will be a restricted free agent, but their approach to that was similar to the way the Spurs handled Kawhi Leonard’s contract. The Pistons have every intention of resigning Drummond to a max deal (and he has every intention of accepting it), allowing him to become a restricted free agent simply gave them more cap space this summer – it was confirmed that both parties understood and agreed upon this in advance. There is no bad blood between the organization and Drummond: he wants the team to have as much money as possible to add pieces to the roster. The team’s ceiling is on par with Orlando’s circa 2007-2010. They will be able to put out 8-10 guys capable of scoring at a high clip and defending at an equally high level. If Van Gundy configures his lineups in a unique way, he might also be able to punish small-ball teams with his 6’11 monster.
With the drafting of Stanley Johnson and the acquisition of Marcus Morris on a team-friendly contract (you can thank his deep bond with his twin for that), Van Gundy has lineup versatility with these two flexible wings. While Johnson has been inconsistent and has dealt with some injury issues, he’s shown promise on the court. His nickname of “ The Stanimal” is fitting due to his strong frame, his motor, and his overall passion and aggressiveness that he plays the game with, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Furthermore, Johnson has shown promise as a three-point shooter to fit alongside the sharp-shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. There have been questions about Kentavious and his shot consistency in extended minutes while also playing the ‘defensive stopper’ role every night: Johnson should eventually be able to help with the fatigue associated with that role. Marcus Morris is shooting about 35% on 3-pointers this year but he’s a good enough shooter to stretch the floor effectively and is also prone to hot streaks when he can truly rip the chords:
The acquisition of Reggie Jackson has been another catalyzing move that has allowed this team to truly make strides forward. Having a high-echelon floor general opened up the offense and given Andre Drummond a dynamic partner to run extremely effective pick-and-rolls. With the shooters that Van Gundy put around Jackson and ‘Dre (once again, very Nelson/Howard-esque) fans are almost guaranteed to be treated to at least a few jaw-dropping lobs per game:
With an alpha-dog like Jackson, it might be hard to play second fiddle to Drummond in the offense sometimes, but what he will realize is that when they are winning at a high rate, the offense will balance out to where he can still occasionally exploit teams with his isolations and 1-on-1’s. Also, at the end of games this season, Van Gundy has not hesitated to trust Jackson and put the ball in his hands which is something that a guy with his personality thirsts for. Any guy who essentially demands to be traded from a title contender in OKC to prove himself as a starter and star in this league clearly has tons of confidence – a good quality to have in the highly competitive NBA when appropriately harnessed.
Why the Orlando Magic would give up a good young player like Tobias Harris under a solid contract for the next three years for a rental combo guard in Brandon Jennings and a year and a half of Ersan Ilyasova, is a mystery to me. It’s still puzzling that Orlando was not able to get at least a first round pick for Harris who, even though some of his stats have regressed, is only 23 and has a skill-set and body that fits quite nicely into the increasingly important role of a small ball 4.
Looking back at Orlando’s 2010 roster, the most comparable modern prototype is the 2016 Motor City Roster. With 10 players that fit Van Gundy’s system, they merged together to form a 59-win team that lost to a great Boston Celtics team in the eastern conference finals. Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson ,Mickael Pietrus, Rashard Lewis, J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass, Marcin Gortat, Ryan Anderson, Matt Barnes, and Vince Carter each contributed to squad with a unique mix of shooting, rim-protection and an overall dominant defensive presence – made complete with a hyper athletic big in the paint to cover up most defensive shortcomings. Howard and Gortat were a great pick-and-roll big man duo and Howard protected the paint at an elite level. Nelson and Redick shot the lights out, just like Reggie and Kentavius. Bass was a good rotational big for the Magic, playing a similar role to Aaron Baynes. Anderson and Lewis stretched the floor, and Barnes, Pietrus and Carter were all wings who could shoot and defend.
Flash-forward to the Pistons, they have a roster who could end up in developing into a team that could be pushing 50 wins a year consistently in the near future. This future hinges on a few important developments: first of all, Drummond is a very fun shot blocker to watch, but he has yet to develop into the defensive presence that Howard was in Orlando. He has the size and athleticism to get to that level, but it he must take on that mindset and develop the skill necessary for him to truly intimidate anyone who tries to get near the rim while he is patrolling the paint.
Next, Reggie Jackson needs to be a consistent top-10 point guard every night. His swagger gives confidence to the team, but sometimes his ego leads to unnecessary risks and shots that can inhibit his team. Jameer Nelson was an excellent leader and floor general for the Magic, and made himself into a good three-point shooter to compliment Howard and make clutch long distance shots. Jackson seems to have the ‘clutch gene’ as well; he should try and emulate Nelson’s leadership style while still utilizing his superior play-making ability.
Furthermore, the team has underperformed overall from a 3-point shooting percentage, so they are going to have to play to their full potential to maximize the space down-low for Drummond to work. Drummond hasn’t been a highly efficient score in the post this year, but I still believe in him because he has improved every year. He was a completely raw prospect coming out of UCONN and now has Rasheed Wallace to coach him every day.
Rounding out the roster are role big men such as Aron Baynes and Anthony Tolliver along with veteran guard Steve Blake (replaceable) and an oft-injured player in Jodie Meeks who was signed to a lucrative conflict to infuse some more shooting to the roster – hopefully the Pistons can get improved contributions from them going forward. They also managed to take a flyer on shooter Reggie Bullock who, as a young player, might develop into a nice player off the bench for them. The nixed Donatas Motiejunas trade is unfortunate because he would have been a very fun fit beside Drummond. Ultimately, saving their first round pick might be a blessing in disguise because the first round in the 2016 draft, as inconsistent as the players have been, is quite deep.
The biggest question mark surrounding this team is if building a team around a dominant true center works in today’s NBA. However, Van Gundy took the reigns to team with a cornerstone big man, so you can’t blame him for going all-in with this style. Doing it half-assed is going to get them nowhere, so the front office (led by Van Gundy) is pushing all their chips in the middle of the table, placing the future of the organization on the hairy shoulders of their 22 year old colossus. Van Gundy had success back in 2004 with an 18 year old native straight out of high school: if SVG’s track record is any indication, Detroit natives, including Jalen Rose, should be optimistic about their basketball team’s future.
Those are some hairy shoulders.