Dwane Casey’s first season as Pistons coach delivered them to the playoffs after a two-season absence. The Pistons have 11 of the 15 players who finished the season either under contract for next season or holding team options to retain them.
With the No. 15 and 45 picks in the June 20 draft and the mid-level and biannual exceptions available to supplement the roster, there will be several new additions on board when they gather in September to open training camp.
But as Casey said after the Pistons were eliminated by Milwaukee in the first round, “We’re going to have to grow from within. We have a lot of talent with our young guys, but they have some areas they can get much better.”
Blake Griffin emphatically returned to All-Star status, Andre Drummond likely would have joined him there had the Pistons not slumped during injury-riddled months of December and January, and Reggie Jackson bounced back from two injury-plagued seasons. They again figure to be central to the 2019-20 Pistons.
Then comes the group of young players that played major roles during the playoff stretch drive: rookie Bruce Brown and former lottery picks Luke Kennard and Thon Maker, the latter acquired in February from Milwaukee. The Pistons also will have two other 2018-19 rookies who did most of their work behind the scenes, in practices and the G League in Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk.
In our 2018-19 Season in Review series, we’ll take a look at the key players returning for the Pistons in Dwane Casey’s second season.
PLAYER: Blake Griffin
PROFILE: 6-foot-10 power forward/30 years old/9 NBA seasons
2018-19 STATS: 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 35 minutes a game
STATUS: Griffin has 3 years remaining on his contract
DID YOU KNOW?: Griffin’s career-high 24.5 points a game was the most for a Pistons player since Jerry Stackhouse averaged 29.8 points in the 2000-01 season. Griffin became the first player in Pistons history to average at least 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game.
A LOOK BACK: The key to Blake Griffin putting together one of the best individual seasons in franchise history? Being able to suit up for 75 games. Until Griffin missed four of the season’s final seven regular-season games and the first two playoff games with a left knee injury that required a surgical procedure after the season, Griffin had missed only two games – both for rest on the second night of a back to back. The 75 games Griffin played were his most since playing 80 games in 2013-14. Griffin’s All-Star berth was his first since 2014-15, his absence owing solely to the run of injuries that limited him to 35, 61 and 58 games the next three seasons. Griffin’s metamorphosis as a player is best illustrated by the 522 3-point shots he attempted this season, nearly as many as he’d taken in the first eight years of his career (590). Griffin’s 3-point attempts were a franchise record, ahead of Stackhouse’s 473 in 2000-01. If not for missing the four late-season games, Griffin would have set the franchise record for 3-pointers made, as well. His 189 came up two shy of Allan Houston’s record set in 1995-96. Griffin’s 30.2 percent usage rage, a career high, underscored his central role in Dwane Casey’s offense.
A LOOK AHEAD: Though no specifics were given as to the extent of Griffin’s postseason knee surgery, he said the day after the season ended that he was confident his rehabilitation would not infringe on his off-season conditioning routine. That’s important because Griffin credited his superb 2018-19 season to having a full summer – for the first time in four years – to devote to fine tuning his game as he continues to diversify and become more proficient as a perimeter shooter and facilitator. With a year under his belt in Casey’s offense, Griffin will have a clearer understanding of the areas in which to focus summer workouts. One example Griffin cited was shooting 3-pointers off of the dribble. “I didn’t necessarily anticipate shooting that many, so I’ll work a lot (on that), ballhandling in the pick and roll. Taking care of the ball in different situations will be big for me this summer, continuing to work on my shot. And then a lot of read-and-react stuff because that’s how we play. It’s really nice going into this off-season knowing our offense, knowing our coaches, knowing our players a little bit better. I just feel a lot more confident and feel I can fine tune some of this stuff to improve on all the areas that I need to improve on.”
MONEY QUOTE: “Early in your career, you just don’t realize what could happen or what might happen. You sort of take teams and seasons for granted. I’ve been on some teams with a lot of talent and a lot of potential, a lot of expectations, and ultimately didn’t reach those. But I don’t take for granted being around a group of guys that are the way we are or are the way we were this season. It was special. I said to the guys (after the season-ending loss to Milwaukee in the playoffs) and I hope our rookies and Luke (Kennard) and guys like that realize that because nothing’s guaranteed and you might not get a chance to be on a team that you genuinely enjoy being around everybody and rooting for everybody.” – Blake Griffin on the satisfaction he felt after his first full season with the Pistons