#CrystalBasketball: Ranking the Detroit Pistons for 2017-18

How does every NBA player stack up heading into 2017-18, based solely on the level at which we expect them to play during the upcoming season?

That’s the question 16 NBA Math staff members and contributors sought to answer, ranking each and every player in the sport’s premier league on a 1-to-12 scale and then seeing who emerged with the highest averages. The distant past was irrelevant. Long-term potential doesn’t matter. Only what could come to pass in 2017-18 is factored in, assuming health for those currently healthy and full recoveries from those presently injured. For example, Brandon Knight will still be included in this analysis; we just assumed he’d already completed his rehab for the torn ACL and now has that as a prior portion of his overall injury history.

All players were graded on the following scale by each evaluator, and ties between players with identical averages were broken by sorting the 16 scores from best to worst and propping up the men who had the highest mark at any point in the top-down progression:

  1. Shouldn’t Get Minutes
  2. End-of-Bench Pieces
  3. Depth Pieces
  4. High-End Backups
  5. Low-End Starters
  6. Solid Starters
  7. High-End Starters, Non-All-Stars
  8. All-Star Candidates
  9. All-NBA Candidates, Non-MVP Candidates
  10. Lesser MVP Candidates
  11. MVP Frontrunners
  12. Best Player in the League (only one player could earn this grade on each ballot)

Journey with us team by team as we unveil the entirety of these rankings, culminating in a look at every player set to suit up for the 2017-18 campaign.

Today’s featured squad? The Detroit Pistons, who are attempting to bounce back from a disappointing campaign with a few key roster changes.

14. Eric Moreland: 1.19

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 12.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.7 steals, 2.7 blocks (for Canton Charge)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

“He always plays with an engine,” rookie shooting guard Luke Kennard said about his new teammate, per NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury. “He’s got a motor and it’s kind of contagious.  He’s a big body and very physical, really talented and skilled. He’s all over the boards and wherever the ball is, he’s around it. You can feed off that energy and I love playing with him. He’s a finisher and he makes the right plays; he knows if he needs to pass it out or score the ball.”

Grit defines Eric Moreland’s game, but he’ll need to do more if he’s to carve out a larger role in the rotation.

For all his strengths in the hustle departments and remarkable rebounding numbers with the NBA G League’s Canton Charge (13.2 boards per 36 minutes), the big man doesn’t have much shooting range and can struggle to pass out of double-teams. Board-cleaning vacuums will always have a place on rosters, but that can’t be the final goal for this 25-year-old, so further refinements are sorely needed.

13. Henry Ellenson: 2.00

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 20
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 3.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-23.7 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

As the sample size grows, Henry Ellenson’s shooting numbers should regress to the mean. He played in only 19 games for the Pistons during the 2016-17 campaign and slashed 35.9/28.6/50.0, which isn’t exactly what Detroit wanted to see from a power forward purported to be a future stretch 4. Even more concerning were the numbers earned with the G League’s Grand Rapids Drive: 17.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game while shooting 41.6 percent from the field, 32.8 percent from downtown and 80.6 percent from the stripe.

Ellenson was the No. 18 pick of the 2016 NBA draft. He clearly has some potential. That percentage at the free-throw line shows promise, as well. But until he gains confidence in his stroke and begins to find twine, the Pistons won’t be able to justify handing him minutes at the expense of their many other options at power forward.

12. Reggie Bullock: 2.13

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 26
  • Position: SG/SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 4.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 0.92 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Shooting was supposed to be Reggie Bullock’s forte when he entered the league out of North Carolina, but he quickly flopped with the Los Angeles Clippers. Four years later, he’s entering the 2017-18 campaign as a poor man’s three-and-D wing—an ideal fit for head coach Stan Van Gundy’s schemes if he’s able to carve out a bigger role and shore up his biggest weaknesses. Showing some semblance of passing ability would be useful, as would a bit of finishing ability inside the arc. Last year, he couldn’t convert unless he was downtown (38.4 percent) or right at the rim (65.5 percent).

Still, he made major strides defensively, and that skill is keeping his career afloat.

With a combination of strength and quickness, he was able to switch onto a variety of different positions and thrived when left alone to guard an isolation set. Screens could throw him off, but his work away from the primary action improved in his second full season with the Pistons, to the point that he swung from minus-1.98 in ESPN.com’s defensive real plus/minus for 2015-16 to 0.57 in 2016-17.

11. Anthony Tolliver: 2.81

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 32
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 7.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, minus-17.52 TPA (for Sacramento Kings)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Anthony Tolliver had bad timing.

If he’d entered the league right about now, his skill set would’ve been so much more appealing to general managers. The switchability on defense that stems from his light feet is coveted from today’s power forwards, and the same is true of his knack for hitting shots from all over the court. Not only did he knock down 39.1 percent of his triples during his lone season with the Sacramento Kings, but he made 42.1 percent of his two-pointers from at least 16 feet. Those are inefficient shots, sure, but they still drag bigger foes out of the paint.

Tolliver won’t play too many minutes and can’t hold his own on the boards. But he’s an ideal fit in Detroit’s schemes, especially when playing next to Andre Drummond—a center more than capable of mitigating his flaws.

10. Boban Marjanovic: 3.00

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 29
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 5.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 0.58 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Remember when Boban Marjanovic was ready to break out as a member of the San Antonio Spurs? Well, as so often seems to be the case, he regressed significantly once he left that model organization.

The hulking center no longer displayed nearly as much range when he worked his way onto the floor, and his shooting percentages declined in every area except within three feet of the basket. The occasionally cerebral passing also disappeared, though it’s worth noting that he avoided coughing the ball up as frequently. But perhaps most importantly—and this is where we veer into the positives—he continued functioning as a brick wall around the basket.

Marjanovic allowed opponents to shoot just 39.7 percent when he was stationed at the rim, and it might behoove the Pistons to see if that’s sustainable in a larger role. Even if he’s only an interior defender and dominant rebounder, the 7’3″ big man would have substantial value as a depth piece.

9. Langston Galloway: 3.13

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 7.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-78.72 TPA (for New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

Which is the real Langston Galloway?

Is he the version who averaged 8.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists while shooting 37.4 percent on field-goal attempts and 37.7 percent on triples for the New Orleans Pelicans? Is he the one who notched 6.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists but slashed 40.4/47.5/91.7 for the Sacramento Kings? The latter has a smaller sample (just 19 games and two starts), but it’s seemingly the one Detroit bought into while offering Galloway a three-year contract worth $21 million at the onset of this summer’s free-agency period.

Ideally, this combo guard just has to serve as a backup 2, draining triples and helping space the floor around Drummond. It’s more problematic if he’s forced to log major minutes at the point, since selfless distribution is the weakest part of his game.

8. Luke Kennard: 3.13

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 21
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 220.43 TPA (for Duke Blue Devils)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (Nick Birdsong)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

The one vote that pegged Luke Kennard as a solid starter was a significant outlier. No one else had him as anything more than a top-end backup, while three voters thought him worthy of an end-of-bench role. But it’s also not hard to see how the Duke product’s potential could be so convincing.

With his combination of offensive skill and shooting acumen, he was one of the most dangerous point-producers in college basketball last year. Only two players finished with a higher score in NBA Math’s offensive points added: Kansas’ Frank Mason and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball. That’s what happens when you explode for 19.5 points per game while shooting 49.0 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from beyond the rainbow and 85.6 percent at the stripe.

And these numbers seem legitimate. Kennard morphed from a limited player into a well-rounded scorer during his sophomore year, showing off an ability to get buckets from all over the half-court set. Even if his deep shooting regresses a bit, he can throw up big numbers in too many different ways to flop completely.

7. Jon Leuer: 3.50

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 10.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 3.85 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

As Duncan Smith wrote for Piston Powered, a change in role was partly responsible for Jon Leuer’s value slipping after his torrid start to the Detroit tenure:

Leuer was moved into the starting lineup in place of Tobias Harris in late December, and the decline began. He was overmatched playing the bulk of his minutes against superior opponents for longer stretches, he struggled from the perimeter and his confidence wavered. He would linger inside the three-point line rather than stretch the floor optimally, he would opt to step inside the line when he got the ball behind the arc, and he was a big piece of why the Pistons offense got off to such rocky starts in first quarters.

Move Leuer back to the bench and allow him to serve as a de facto sixth man, and his value could skyrocket.

All in all, he still managed to serve as a defensive positive (thank you, fantastic off-ball work against rangy 4s) while contributing in nearly every other area. Only his three-point shooting was a distinct negative, and that should change as his 29.3 percent clip moves closer to either his 38.2 percent in 2015-16 or his 37.5 percent career average heading into last year.

6. Ish Smith: 3.56

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 29
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 9.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, minus-30.95 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (Brian Sampson)

Ish Smith isn’t supposed to be a starting point guard. He’s far better served as a change-of-pace floor general who can come into the game and constantly probe a defense.

This 29-year-old isn’t much of a scorer and possesses little range with his jumper. But he’s fantastic when coming off a screen and diving into the teeth of the opposition, keeping his eyes up in constant search of teammates patrolling the perimeter. Among the 200 players who embarked on at least 100 drives during the 2016-17 season, only 15 players averaged more assists per relevant set. Just Dion Waiters, Ty Lawson, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Goran Dragic posted more driving dimes per 36 minutes.

These are elite numbers—in that one area, at least.

5. Stanley Johnson: 3.69

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 21
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 4.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, minus-54.27 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (Dan Favale)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

Stanley Johnson’s 2016-17 shooting figures may go down as some of the worst of all time. In the last two decades, only 10 players have posted worse true shooting percentages while suiting up in at least 75 games and taking no fewer than four field-goal attempts per contest. That’s…not ideal.

And yet, Johnson still keeps getting minutes. No voters viewed him as anything less than a depth piece, while one was convinced he could function as a low-end starter in 2017-18.

That’s all because of defense.

The 21-year-old doesn’t have to stop bending his knees so much and start shooting the ball with a loftier trajectory to find success in this league. He’s so strong and skilled on the preventing end that he can legitimately lock down multiple positions, flitting around the half-court set to wreak plenty of havoc in an opponent’s schemes. Few players this young are so talented defensively, and that trait isn’t going away anytime soon. If he develops more discipline, we’re not too far away from hearing him called the prototypical LeBron James stopper.

4. Reggie Jackson: 5.00

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 27
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-42.28 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 7 (Nick Birdsong)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

The voting spread here shouldn’t be shocking. Reggie Jackson enters the upcoming season as a legitimately polarizing player, which is a natural result of going from a fringe All-Star candidate to one of the league’s least-valuable high-minute players in just one year. That we have no idea how healthy he’ll be doesn’t help the matter.

Is he going to keep suffering from knee tendinitis and continue to serve as a glaring defensive liability who can’t get past foes to finish near the hoop? Is he going to use the offseason to get healthy and then remind onlookers why he was once viewed as a franchise centerpiece? Only time will tell.

As so often seems to be the case, the answer will likely lie somewhere in the middle, making it all the more appropriate that Jackson’s average grade here left him exactly as a low-end starter. He might need to play himself back into shape after taking so long to be cleared for full basketball activities, but the Pistons are handling him properly this offseason, rather than pushing him too hard and unintentionally forcing him into performing at a lesser level.

3. Tobias Harris: 5.88

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: SF/PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 16.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, 60.97 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)

Somehow, Tobias Harris remains one of the league’s most underrated players. Not here, but in the eyes of the average NBA-watcher.

The 25-year-old combo forward is a versatile offensive contributor who can capably score in transition, as an off-ball cutter, posting up a smaller opponent, running an oversized pick-and-roll or spotting up for a catch-and-shoot opportunity. On the other end, he can play quality on-ball defense against a variety of opponents and stifle PnR sets, though he sometimes tends to stray too far from his man to contest passing lanes.

In previous eras, Harris would have been viewed as a “tweener” and written off. Now, he’s showcasing his value to the Pistons in so many different ways, helping increase their net rating by 2.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. Detroit just needs to recognize that he was the team’s best player last year and act accordingly, upping his usage rate and making him a mainstay in an opening quintet that desperately needs an infusion of high-quality offense.

2. Avery Bradley: 6.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 26
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-18.5 TPA (for Boston Celtics)
  • Highest Grade: 8 (Nick Birdsong)
  • Lowest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)

Avery Bradley should be a perfect fit for the Detroit Pistons, potentially even jumping into the All-Star conversation—not because of his overall skill level, but because the Eastern Conference has a far weaker pool of players for selection.

The 26-year-old guard is widely viewed as one of the league’s premier on-ball defenders. His advanced metrics don’t look quite as stellar, but that’s largely because he was so often tasked with covering up for Isaiah Thomas while they both played for the Boston Celtics. Now in Detroit, he should assert himself as an elite stopper who doesn’t have to crossmatch constantly, and it doesn’t hurt that he has a big body cleaning up behind him.

Offensively, he’s not quite as exciting but remains a potential standout. Bradley can create for his teammates occasionally, but he truly stands out because of his three-point marksmanship. A limited shooter when he left Texas for the 2010 NBA draft, he’s developed into a player who can take five attempts per game while hitting at a 39 percent clip.

1. Andre Drummond: 6.63

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 13.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks, 38.15 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 8 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)

In some senses, Andre Drummond is massively disappointing.

The 24-year-old center has seen his development almost completely stagnate. He remains an atrocious distributor who can’t hit free throws, and he struggles tremendously out of the post. Considering he shot 38.6 percent on his freebies, it’s more than a bit troubling that he produced more points per possession (0.772, assuming two free-throw attempts per trip) at the line than on his back-to-the-basket tries (0.73) last year.

But why view him solely through that frame? Even if he continues along this plateau, he’ll be arguably the league’s best rebounder, a devastating finisher around the hoop on rolls and clean-up chances and a decent defender whose quick hands and feet make up for some of his misplaced positionings. Not only was Drummond No. 2 in rebounds per game last season, but he was also one of just 10 qualified players to average at least a steal and a block. The only other true big men to join the club? Gorgui Dieng, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

If you look at Drummond’s game in comparison to the level he should be at by now, he’s nowhere near those prior expectations. But if you look solely at his actual value, it’s hard to complain too much about a 24-year-old playing at this level.

 

Who’s rated too high? Who are we selling short? Join the conversation using #CrystalBasketball on Twitter.

Follow NBA Math on Twitter @NBA_Math and on Facebook.

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from NBA Math or NBA.com.

Many thanks to our entire panel of voters: Andrew BaileyArjun BaradwajNick BirdsongMichael BrockTony EastDan FavaleAdam FromalRyan JarvisJordan McGillisTom RendeBrian SampsonAdam SpinellaEric SpyropolousTim StubbsFrank UrbinaLouis Vicchiollo

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