By: Will Burchfield
Stan Van Gundy knows the importance of star players in today’s NBA and he admits, in this regard, the Pistons have a dearth.
But he isn’t sure how to fix it.
“That’s just not something I can really answer. Most of the stars that teams have in the league have come through the draft. There are obviously exceptions, but not a whole lot. It’s usually high draft picks that turn into stars. We’ve got a team that doesn’t have anybody that was drafted in the top seven in any year on the roster, and it gets difficult,” Van Gundy told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.
The Pistons have picked no higher than eighth in the past six years and haven’t had a top-five pick since 2003 (Darko Milicic, second overall). Their highest draftees on the current roster are Stanley Johnson (2015, eighth overall) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (2013, eighth overall).
Detroit will most likely have the No. 12 pick in the upcoming draft, with a 2.5 percent chance of moving into the top three. Even in a deep draft class, it’s unlikely they’ll land a star player.
“Trades are your other way,” Van Gundy said, “but you’re generally not getting big stars in a trade. Doesn’t mean you can’t, it has happened, Boston got Isaiah Thomas and he turned into a star.”
The Pistons, and Van Gundy especially, are holding out hope that Reggie Jackson can develop in the same manner. He showed promising signs in his first two seasons in Detroit after being acquired from the Thunder, but regressed in his third, hampered by a balky left knee.
“I think that if you look back two years, Reggie and Isaiah Thomas were on very, very similar levels and then Isaiah really had a great year this year and blossomed, and Reggie, with the injury and everything else, went backward,” Van Gundy said.
Andre Drummond is another player who has star potential. But after progressing in each of his first four seasons and earning an All-Star selection in 2015-16, he seemed to plateau in 2016-17. His scoring average (13.6) fell by 2.6 points and his rebounds (13.8) fell by one.
“I think if you look, he essentially had almost exactly the same season he had a year ago,” Van Gundy said. “It wasn’t just with Andre, but we needed him to take a step forward. I don’t think he did that, but I don’t think he took the step back that people think he took, either. If you look at the numbers, they really couldn’t be much more similar, he really had the same year that he had a year ago. We needed him to be better, but it wasn’t a step back.”
Van Gundy is trying to emulate the roster construction of the mid-2000s Pistons, who were built around a core of solid players rather than a transcendent superstar or two. Given the current team’s relative youth, he still has faith in this plan.
“It’s really a tough proposition, getting stars in this league — not easy to do and not easy to become a great team without them. With us, I think it’s more the model of what happened here in 2004. But even with that, we need some guys to take some steps forward and, quite honestly, we didn’t get those steps forward from enough guys this year. We’re still in an age range where we should be able to expect significant improvement and we’re going to need to get that this offseason for us to move forward,” said Van Gundy.