Can Detroit Pistons Contend In The East?

Apr 24, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) walks to the bench during the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Cavs win 100-98. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 24, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) walks to the bench during the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Cavs win 100-98. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons finally made it make to the playoffs in 2015-16. Are they ready to contend in the Eastern Conference?

Last season was the first time since the 2008-09 season that the Detroit Pistons found themselves in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Their 44-38 record was good for the eighth and final playoff spot and the prize of being first in line to take on the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Now that Stan Van Gundy has brought playoff basketball back to the Motor City, how close are the Pistons to making some real noise?

Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. There is no doubt that the Pistons are not championship contenders right now.

The Warriors are miles better than the Pistons and they just added a MVP to their team, but is it crazy to speculate that the Pistons at least have a shot in the East?

Related Story: 25 Best Players To Play For The Detroit Pistons

I think it is fair to say the path through the East still runs through LeBron James and the Cavs. After all it was just a few weeks ago that LeBron put on one of the most spectacular shows in NBA Finals history and his recent comments prove that he’s not satisfied yet in his career.

More from Hoops Habit

The Cavs swept the Pistons in the opening round before moving on to the Finals by vanquishing Atlanta and Toronto, but of their three Eastern Conference foes it was the Pistons who played them the closest.

Cleveland’s average margin of victory in their series against Detroit was 8.5 points per game. The Cavs were 12.5 points per better than Atlanta and 15.5 points per better than Toronto.

The Pistons also gave up fewer points per game than either of those other opponents in their respective series.

The East has played musical chairs with talent this offseason. Indiana added Thaddeus Young from Brooklyn and Jeff Teague from Atlanta and are strong contenders for the East crown.

Boston nabbed Al Horford from Atlanta, Chicago poached Dwayne Wade from the Heat and acquired Robin Lopez from the Knicks, who got Derrick Rose in the deal and eventually Joakim Noah as well.

All of these teams are going to take a little while to get used to the new faces while Detroit will bring back its same starting lineup from last season along with some key additions to bolster their bench, which averaged a league-worst 25.7 points per game last year.

With so many teams fairly close in talent, a few wins could be the difference between third place and seventh place and Detroit’s already existing chemistry could account for those extra wins early on in the season.

Offseason free agent pickups Ish Smith and Jon Leuer will be able to provide the Pistons some of that aforementioned missing bench power.

Smith averaged 14.7 points per game and 7.0 assists per game last season as a starter for Philadelphia last season and got plenty of practice running the pick and roll with Nerlens Noel.

He will be able to spell Reggie Jackson some and throw plenty of lobs to Andre Drummond or run a nice two-man game in the second unit with Aron Baynes.

Leuer brings the much-sought-after stretch 4 to the second unit. With Drummond, Baynes and Boban Marjanovic needing as much space in the paint as possible to operate, Leuer will help extend defenses with his ability to both shoot the three and put the ball on the floor a bit.

Nearly one quarter of Leuer’s attempts last season were from beyond the arc and he shot 38 percent from downtown.

He also showed an ability to be more than just a stand-still shooter as 10.3 percent of his attempts were off the dribble – a key factor which will force defenses to be careful closing out especially if they are helping on Drummond on the block.

The biggest key guy off the bench will be second-year man Stanley Johnson. Johnson averaged 8.1 points and nearly a steal per game in just 23.1 minutes per game in his rookie year.

His presence on the floor as a wing defender will be key in matching up with the likes of Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Detroit has the luxury of being able to use Johnson as a defender first while being able to lean on other players for scoring.

Enough about the bench though – the starting unit is where the Pistons are better than many give them credit for. Reggie Jackson averaged nearly 19 points per game in his first full season as a starter last year and has shown supreme confidence in leading the team.

With so many elite point guards in the league. Jackson gets overlooked a little bit.

Center Andre Drummond has blossomed into one of the top big men in the game averaging a league-best 14.8 rebounds per game (nearly five of which are offensive rebounds) and being named to his first All-Star team last season.

Drummond has improved his scoring each season and if anyone knows how to build an offense around a dominant big man that needs the ball by the basket its Stan Van Gundy.

More from Hoops Habit

SVG built a team that made the Finals around Dwight Howard in Orlando – he can follow the same blueprint to do it here as well.

Tobias Harris was a key addition last season. After the Pistons literally stole him from Orlando by only giving up Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings, Harris helped Detroit to a 17-11 finish last season after joining the team.

Harris can contribute across the board being a very capable scorer and decent rebounder and has the ability to play either forward spot.

Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope round out the solid starting unit offering more floor spacers who are solid scorers and positive defensive players as well.

The Pistons did not make a splashy move like some of their Eastern Conference competitors but they didn’t need to.

More hoops habit: NBA: 25 Greatest Scorers of All-Time

Stan Van Gundy has made his moves via trades the last two seasons, bringing in Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris and with this nucleus heading into a full season with an upgraded bench Detroit has the tools to get themselves in the hunt for the Eastern Conference crown.