With Reggie Jackson sidelined with knee tendonitis, the Pistons have looked like a team trying to solidify an identity. Here are 5 observations through 5 preseason games:
1. Drummond looks more assertive on offense
It's only the preseason, but Dre' is playing with a confidence he didn't have last year. Whether this is the work of Stan Van Gundy, Drummond's own personal growth, or a mix of the two, Drummond has an air of self-belief that should be troubling for the rest of the league. His rim runs are more decisive, he's added a few nifty moves to get to his favorite over-the-shoulder hook on the right block, and he's even converted on a few face-up drives from the baseline. Again, it's way too early to read into any of this, but it looks like Dre is taking the right steps to destroy his "soft" mentality -- one of his biggest criticisms from his first few years.
2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is still subject to long cold streaks from the perimeter
Before finally heating up against the Bucks with 23 points on 6/11 shooting, KCP was hitting just 26.3% of his shots (12.5% from deep). His stroke looks fine, mechanically, but he's shown the past few seasons that when he gets out of a rhythm, he has a hard time righting the ship. For a team that is sorely lacking perimeter shooters, especially with Reggie Jackson out, KCP needs to be a consistent threat from the outside. We've seen players struggle with their shot early in the season as they get re-adjusted to NBA speeds, but KCP has a history of streakiness. When he gets hot, he's a sniper and the Pistons can run a beautifully spaced 4-out offense. When he's cold, things can get very cramped. Hopefully, he'll be able to steady his shot as the season gets rolling.
3. The Backup PG position remains unclear
With Jackson out, many singled out Ray McCallum to fill the void at backup PG created by Ish Smith moving to the starting position. But McCallum's shot has been god-awful (35/0/50), and Lorenzo Brown hasn't been better, by any stretch of the imagination (28/33/50). While those two are more seasoned at playing point guard in the NBA, it's been rookie Michael Gbinije that has stood out among the pack. He's shot 50% from the field and 60% from deep, but his hot shooting screams "regression," and Gbinije isn't really a point guard -- not as good at running an offense or playing team defense as McCallum and Smith are. He didn't play the position in college until his senior year, and he hasn't had a lot of reps at PG throughout the Pistons' summer camp. As good as he's looked, Gbinije's shot will cool off, and when that happens the Pistons backcourt will look even thinner than they do now. Detroit desperately needs an outside threat on the perimeter that is also a serviceable floor general.
4. Jon Leuer and will play significant minutes
I'm beating a dead horse here, but you can't overstate the the Pistons' need for outside shooting, and Leuer has shown signs that he can hit from deep. Leuer hasn't posted great percentages (40/27/71), but he shoots with sound mechanics -- balanced feet, good lift, smooth release -- and he's made a fair share of open looks from the perimeter. If his percentages creep up towards 45/35/75 marks, that should be all he needs to earn a lot of minutes as a sixth or seventh man. A stretch-4, even an average one like Leuer, can really address a lot of this Pistons roster's weaknesses. Leuer is good at making plays off the bounce, he's a smart passer, and he can knock down enough jumpers to keep defenses honest.
Side note: rookie Henry Ellenson has shot much better than Leuer (47/50/50), and he's a legitimate 6'11. But he looks raw on both ends of the floor, and given how much Stan Van Gundy values crisp defensive rotations from his bigs, it's doubtful that Ellenson sees a ton of playing time his first year, given how much more versatile Leuer is.
5. Drummond still looks terrible from the free-throw line
Both Van Gundy and Drummond hinted at emphasizing improvement from the FT line this summer for Dre', sparking the hopes of fans throughout the state of Michigan. If Drummond can hit his free throws, he can stay on the floor more in fourth quarters, and Detroit desperately needs its best overall player to play fourth quarters. There were whispers of trying underhand free throws, and virtual reality practice, but through five preseason games, Drummond looks about as lost as ever from the charity stripe. He's only attempting three FT's per preseason game, but he's made only 33% of those looks, and his form looks more or less the same as last year.