At this point in the offseason, the excitement is all but over for the Pistons (if you want to call their offseason exciting). They appear dead set on staying under the luxury tax, and with them being so close to the luxury tax line, the roster as it currently stands is likely the roster we will see on opening night. The Pistons could trade a player like Ish Smith or Langston Galloway to clear out a bit of salary, but the likelihood of a deal coming along for either player is slim-to-none.
With all that being said, it is time to start looking at potential starting lineups for next season. There are a variety of directions that the Pistons could go with their starting lineup, but there are three players who are set as starters: Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond. With the Pistons in win-now mode, the other two starters need to have a specific skill set in order to compliment the Pistons “Big 3.”
The options that the Pistons have on the wings for their starting lineup is likely a combination of four different players. Those four players are: Luke Kennard, Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson, and Glenn Robinson III.
Each player has their own unique skill set and different reasons on why they should start. The key will be picking the two starting wings that compliment the Pistons “Big 3” the best, and not necessarily picking the best player. A low usage wing that can defend and knock down three pointers will be the best due to the fact that Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson will have the ball a lot and will likely control most of the offense.
The first player who should start regardless of what starting lineup the Pistons opt to go with is Reggie Bullock. He fits the ideal starting wing skill set that I mentioned above to a “T.”
He was second in the league last season with a 44.5 percentage from three-point range. He did it on a career-high 281 attempts, so it is a relatively large sample size. More importantly are his numbers after Blake Griffin joined the team on January 29 after a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. These numbers are courtesy of my friend from Twitter Steve Hinson: Blake Griffin assisted on 32 threes that Reggie Bullock made in the 24 games the pair played together. Bullock’s slash line after Griffin joined the team was 47/44/86 and 14.5 points per game. Not only is Reggie Bullock the best three-point shooter on the Pistons roster, but he also has great chemistry with Blake Griffin, who is likely going to be the focal point of the offense.
Reggie Bullock also shot 46.6 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers on 4.1 attempts per game, which was fifth in the NBA according to NBA.com. Bullock also only had a 15.7 usage percentage according to Basketball-Reference, which means he does not need the ball in his hands a lot and can still be very effective as his numbers show.
Another thing about Bullock is that he can defend his position adequately and has the size at 6’7″ to play either the two or the three. He uses his size well defensively, but struggles a bit when he has to defend a quicker guard due to having average lateral quickness.
Bullock’s versatility on the wing is important because figuring out the other player in the starting lineup is a lot more difficult and Bullock’s ability to play either wing position will prove very useful because he can complement any of the Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard, or Glenn Robinson III trio who are likely to start next to him. I would personally start Reggie Bullock at his more natural position of shooting guard, but the shooting guard and small forward are likely to have very similar roles in the Pistons offense so where Bullock starts depends on who the Pistons pick to start next to him.
Many Pistons fans are going to want Luke Kennard in the starting lineup next to Reggie Bullock. He was their lottery pick last season and showed a lot of promise as a rookie as a potential scorer and knockdown shooter. Some fans may want Stanley Johnson due to his defensive abilities and the fact that this is a make-or-break year for him with him eligible for an extension as he goes into the final year of his rookie contract.
However, the player that I think should be the fifth starter is actually new addition Glenn Robinson III. He signed a two-year deal worth $8.3 million that has a team option on the second year on July 1 after three seasons with the Indiana Pacers. He is only 24 years old, but has a reputation as an up-and-coming 3-and-D wing. While I think Luke Kennard is the better player and Stanley Johnson still has some untapped potential that new coach Dwane Casey might be able to get out of him, there are reasons why I like Glenn Robinson III as a starter and Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson off the bench that I will get into.
The first thing that I will touch on is why I like Glenn Robinson III as the low-usage fifth starter at the small forward position for the Detroit Pistons.
In 2017-2018, Glenn Robinson shot 42.4 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers. Although this is not as high as Luke Kennard’s mark of 44.2 percent, it is still a very solid percentage and the kind of percentage the Pistons need out of a player starting on the wing for them. The appeal of Glenn Robinson comes in his ability to defend multiple positions due to his size at 6’7″ and wingspan of 6’9″. Robinson III can defend any position two through four which combined with Reggie Bullock’s size and switchability on the wing allows for the Pistons to switch on almost every possession. Luke Kennard can defend adequately in a team setting, but would not provide near the level of switchability that Robinson III would provide.
Robinson is also another low usage player with a usage percentage that is even less than Bullock’s at 12.5. He also shot a ridiculous 62.5 percent on corner threes last season, which he will get a lot of as the starting small forward. It came on a small sample size of only 23 games, but he shot 44 percent on corner threes the season before in 69 games so he has proven to be lethal from the corners.
I did not mention Stanley Johnson in this conversation due to the fact that his shooting is not anywhere near what it needs to be as of now to start next to a frontline of Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. He shot an abysmal 37.5 percent from the field last season and 28.6 percent from three-point range. His usage percentage was also 16.4, which was higher than Bullock’s or Robinson’s, and way too high for a player as inefficient offensively as Johnson. If Johnson shows improvement in his ability to shoot the ball, especially in a catch-and-shoot setting where he only shot 31.2 percent last season, his defense could be a game changer in the starting lineup, but I won’t hold my breath for it.
Now on to why I like Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson off the bench. Luke Kennard is the shooting guard of the future, especially with Reggie Bullock’s contract expiring after this season, and he also has the most appeal as a starter due to his scoring ability offensively. It is this scoring ability why I like him off the bench. As a starter, Luke Kennard is not going to get the kind of touches he needs to develop his full offensive game. I want Luke Kennard to be a secondary creator who can put his full offensive skill set on display without camping on the wing for three-pointers.
Giving Luke Kennard a featured role off the bench where he can create offense and learn from mistakes will be great for his development. It is similar to what the Utah Jazz did last year with every Pistons fan’s favorite missed pick Donovan Mitchell. They ran the offense through him and let him work through some of the mistakes that come with being a rookie. There are too many chefs in the kitchen in the starting lineup and I am afraid he would just be a catch-and-shoot player as a starter. Obviously, the numbers above show that he can thrive in that role, but I think he is in for bigger and better things offensively once he develops.
Stanley Johnson would benefit equally as a bench player where he can have the ball in his hands more and attack instead of standing in the corners waiting for shots he is simply not that good at as of now. He can focus on being a bulldog defensively and subbing in to try and shut down the opposing team’s best wing players while also having a bit more freedom as a secondary creator.
Plus, Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard developed some pretty good chemistry as the season went on and keeping them together is ideal in my eyes. Stanley Johnson is able to cover up for some of Luke Kennard’s flaws defensively while Luke Kennard can provide shooting to cover up for Stanley Johnson’s poor shooting. If both players develop well they are the wings of the future and having them play together as much as they can will be beneficial for the future of the Detroit Pistons.
I am aware that basketball isn’t all about shooting as the end all be all. But I think this theoretical starting lineup has enough playmaking from the “Big 3” for there to be a couple of complementary 3-and-D wings. By having Kennard and Johnson on the bench it will also allow for a bit more playmaking off the bench to lessen the burden on backup point guard Ish Smith and allow for a more free-flowing bench lineup that won’t get run off the court like many Pistons’ bench lineups did last season.