The Detroit Pistons have shown some of their upside already in the early goings of the 2019-20 NBA season in a big road win against the Indiana Pacers, but they’ve also demonstrated some of their shortcomings which will hold them back both while they wait for Blake Griffin to return from injury and after.
While they adequately addressed depth issues this summer in free agency given their salary limitations, the whole calculus for this team goes out the window without Griffin. With him, they’re well-stocked with a solid rotation to surround a top-20 player. Without him, they’d better hope Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard and Andre Drummond all have it going, or they’re drawing dead.
They’re starting behind the eight-ball so far this season in Griffin’s absence, but they don’t need to exacerbate their problems.
One of the way they’ve made their issues worse so far this season is by rolling out an inadequate starting lineup. Thus far, the unit of Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown, Tony Snell, Markieff Morris and Andre Drummond has been anemic on the offensive end, and not remotely sufficient on the defensive side of the ball to counter their shortcomings.
The starting lineup has scored 86.4 points per 100 possessions in 21 minutes, a woeful rate which is the second-worst offensive rating in the NBA among all five-man units which have played 12 minutes or more.
Jackson hasn’t been healthy since the end of the preseason, Brown (and to a lesser extent Morris) are challenged on the offensive end, and Snell and Drummond both get most of their scoring opportunities off the creation of others (although Drummond gets plenty of opportunities on the offensive boards). The Pistons may find their hand forced if Jackson misses time, but it’s time for a change regardless.
Of course starting lineups can be somewhat overstated in their importance, as often a closing lineup has more direct impact on wins and losses, but starting lineups are generally the ones that play the most minutes, and winning those minutes rather than completely punting on them is essential for an underpowered team like the Detroit Pistons.
Quite simply, it’s hard to justify starting both Markieff Morris and Bruce Brown without incorporating more firepower on the offensive end. A possible fix to the situation if Jackson can play would be to start a lineup consisting of Jackson, Brown and Drummond, moving Snell to the four and starting Luke Kennard at the three.
This would be a small unit, but what dropping Morris from the starting lineup would give up in size, adding Kennard on the wing would gain in scoring punch. We haven’t seen this lineup hit the floor yet, but it’s something to watch for at least in spot duty going forward even if Pistons head coach Dwane Casey does not opt to make a starting lineup move.
Another option could be to incorporate Brown at point guard in place of Jackson, if he either misses time with injury or Casey decides to shake up the starting lineup. This unit could feature Brown at the one, Langston Galloway at the two, Kennard, Snell and Drummond.
Brown’s scoring ability leaves much to be desired, but he’s a good playmaker and his presence is always appreciated on a team with remarkably poor perimeter defense. The Pistons also went out of their way to give him reps at point guard in this summer’s Las Vegas Summer League, so it’s in the back of their minds at the very least.
Galloway is a streaky shooter but can provide some defense as well. It may actually be among the best scoring and defending five-man lineups the Pistons can put out while Blake Griffin is sidelined.
What the Detroit Pistons cannot afford to do is roll out the same starting lineup for a third straight game with a hampered Reggie Jackson. They also can’t roll that lineup out there, swapping Jackson for Tim Frazier (leaving Derrick Rose as the backup point guard who will likely play the bulk of the minutes anyway).
The Pistons are starting this season off in a difficult fashion, but they have a variety of ways to ensure they don’t make life harder on themselves than it needs to be.