The Detroit Pistons Can Overcome Reggie Jackson's Absence

The Pistons will look to build on a playoff appearance, but they'll be without Jackson to start the year.

Coming into the season, it may have surprised some that the Detroit Pistons ranked seventh in our preseason team rankings.

The Pistons just managed to make the playoffs last season with a 44-38 record in a tough Central Division. With no major signings this offseason, a middle-of-the-road projection would be what most expect.

However, head coach Stan Van Gundy has always felt his team was on the verge of being a top team in the Eastern Conference.

These early projections were formulated with point guard Reggie Jackson being available, but that will not be the case as he was diagnosed with tendinosis in his left knee. The initial timetable has him set to miss roughly the first month of the season, although he is trying to speed up the process with specialized treatments.

The loss of Jackson, who was the second-ranked Piston and 60th overall player in the NBA last year by our nERD player rankings from last season, will certainly test the newly signed Ish Smith.

The former Philadelphia 76ers point guard agreed on a three-year deal with Detroit this summer, coming off a season in which he posted a solid line of 14.7 points, 7.0 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game in a partial season with the 76ers.

Undoubtedly, the biggest difference between Smith and Jackson is the shooting prowess of Jackson, who had a solid effective field goal percentage of 48.2% last season while Smith had a less-than-stellar mark of 44.0%.

For a Detroit team that was just 21st in three-point shooting percentage last season, the drop off could spell trouble.

Supporting Cast

Without Jackson, the team will need to see yet another jump in production from last year’s NBA rebounding champion, Andre Drummond. The 23-year-old star center averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and steals in 2015-16. However, as his usage has spiked to a high of 25.5% last season, Drummond did see a drop in his effective field goal percentage to just 52.2%, over a 10-point drop from his career high of 62.3% in 2013-2014.

Despite his worrisome shooting, Drummond’s value shines on the glass, as he had a remarkable rebounding rate of 24.3% last year, which helped push the team to second in the NBA in rebounding.

On a team that features only one other player with a rebounding rate of more than 18%, it is critical that Drummond continues to do things like this all season.

Another player who will help is Tobias Harris, who arrived late last season in a trade with the Orlando Magic. In just 27 games, Harris managed to climb his way to second on the team in scoring at 16.6 points per game and brought a much needed three-point threat. Expect Harris, with a full offseason under his belt, to lead the team in scoring without Jackson in the lineup.

After Drummond and Harris, the Pistons are an extremely balanced squad that had five players with a usage rate between 18.5% and 20.0% last season. Marcus Morris found a nice home after moving from Phoenix, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the team in three-pointers last season, and Stanley Johnson had a solid rookie campaign on the wing.

Newly acquired big man Boban Marjanovic also brings in big man depth should Drummond get into foul trouble.

Needed Improvements

Last season, Detroit recorded just 102 points per game, 19th in the league, which was in large part due to their meager 19.4 assists per game, which was 27th in the NBA.

Another reason for the low assist total was the fact that many of the Detroit players are isolation players who need time to work. This was shown by their average of 2.96 seconds per touch per, behind only the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder in terms of length of time holding the ball last season.

The Pistons were a bit better on the defensive end, as they allowed just 101.4 points per game, which was 12th in the league. Detroit ranked dead last in the NBA by allowing opponents a 56.2% shooting percentage at the rim.

However, as mentioned before, the defense was buoyed by a second-ranked rebounding rate, keeping second-shot chances to a minimum. The trio of Drummond, Aron Baynes, and Marjanovic will need to keep up their rebounding rate if the team does not want to fall in the bottom half of the NBA in defense.

Obstacles to Overcome

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the Pistons' rise to a top 10 NBA team is the presence of the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers in their own division. Cleveland was one of only two teams, along with the Toronto Raptors, to win more than 48 games in the Eastern Conference last season and ended Detroit’s season in the first round last season.

Also of note are the rising Indiana Pacers, who were just one game ahead of Detroit last year, but are expected to rise under new coach Nate McMillan.

The team also was boosted by a down year from the Chicago Bulls. Chicago should be improved with a healthy Jimmy Butler and the arrival of veterans Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Robin Lopez. The last-place team in the Central were the Milwaukee Bucks, who won only 33 games last year and could be in for an even worse year with the loss of Khris Middleton for up to six months.

Despite their tough division, Detroit was able to go 10-6 within the division last season but was only 19-17 against the rest of the Eastern Conference, which was a large part why they missed out on the 3 seed by just three games.

What It All Means

The loss of their leader in Jackson will undoubtedly hurt the first month of the season, which will amount to around 20 games or 25% of the season.

The one positive is that, if Jackson is able to get back my December 1st, he will only miss two division games, one of which is at Cleveland -- which would seem like a loss regardless.

With Ish Smith able to run the show until early December, Drummond being a dominant post player, and a plethora of wing players, Detroit should be able to progress from last season.

Although they are lacking the star power of a Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers squad, the team Stan Van Gundy has built will be a tough out each and every night.