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Eastern Conference Competition Preview: Are the Pistons better than the Bulls?

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Probably not! In the latest installment of Blog-a-Bull's look at the Eastern Conference, we examine Detroit.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA season inches closer, we're looking at the Bulls competition in the East. Today: the Detroit Pistons.

Last year: 32-50 (12th in Eastern Conference)

'15-'16 Vegas Over / Under: 33.5

Additions / Subtractions

IN: Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Aron Baynes, Steve Blake, Reggie Bullock, Danny Granger
OUT: Greg Monroe, Caron Butler, Quincy Miller, Shawne Williams, John Lucas III, Tayshaun Prince

It's tough to lose a player as good as Monroe for nothing, but Stan Van Gundy is betting that replacing a post-player like Monroe at the four with a shooter will open things up for everyone else in Detroit's lineup. That's clearly been the focus of Detroit's offseason: to build a team that accommodates the way Van Gundy likes to play.

It wasn't long ago that Van Gundy took the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals with a cutting-edge four-out system that surrounded Dwight Howard with shooters. Van Gundy has his replacement for Howard in Andre Drummond, a 22-year-old center entering his fourth season on the cusp of stardom. This summer has been about finding a way to replicate everything else that made those Magic teams so formidable.

As Monroe leaves for division rival Milwaukee, the Pistons replace  him with a number of different options: there's former Buck Ersan Illyasova, discarded Suns combo forward Marcus Morris and rookie man-child Stanley Johnson. Ilyasova, a 28-year-old who made 39 percent of 3.3 three-point attempts per game last season, looks to be the most NBA ready at the start of the season.

Morris and Johnson add versatility, which is always a nice option for a team searching for an identity like Detroit. Each can slide between the three and four and share minutes with former lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks on the wing. The goal will be for KCP to up his 34 percent clip from three-point range while also potentially developing his playmaking skills (he averaged just 1.3 assists per game last season). Former first round pick Reggie Bullock, acquired from the Suns in the same trade that brought over Morris, is the sleeper to watch.

The biggest bet was placed on Reggie Jackson, in the form of a five-year, $80 million contract. Jackson is a gifted 25-year-old who averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists in 27 games with Detroit last season. He's not the most efficient scorer or best decision maker (he also averaged 3.5 turnovers per game with the Pistons), but he's got all the tools (7-foot wingspan!!!!!!!!!) to be an NBA starter.

DEPTH CHART


POINT GUARD


SHOOTING GUARD


SMALL FORWARD


POWER FORWARD


CENTER


STARTER

Reggie Jackson
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Marcus Morris
Ersan Ilyasova
Andre Drummond

RESERVE

Brandon Jennings
Jodie Meeks
Stanley Johnson
Aron Baynes
Joel Anthony

RESERVE

Steve Blake

Reggie Bullock
Anthony Tolliver

RESERVE

Spencer Dinwiddie Danny Granger

There's a simple formula to get the Pistons to the playoffs. It requires Caldwell-Pope to become a dead-eye shooter, for Morris and Johnson to defend the wing and be able to hit spot-up jumpers, for Ilyasova to stay hot from three and Jackson and Drummond to thrive in the two-man game.

This is the way the league is trending, but it's the way Van Gundy has always wanted to play. There's very few players in the league who can match up with Drummond physically. If you put Jackson in space and let him operate pick-and-rolls with Drummond while dotting the floor with shooters, he's talented enough to make the opposition pay. It really all comes back to whether this team can put out a lineup that simultaneously spaces the floor and defends.

Copy and paste that last sentence for every team, because that's how coaches want to play in today's NBA. We can't end this section without noting Spencer Dinwiddie and his thick mustache are a treasure. With Jennings sidelined for a while, he could get a big opportunity backing up Jackson.

What to expect

The last time the Pistons made the playoffs, they employed Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace. Yeah, it's been a while. In the six long years that have passed since, Detroit has been looking for a core that would produce its next great team. Drummond is the one guy they hit on, but the rest of this roster does not resemble a team that bottomed out to get high draft picks for more than half a decade.

The Pistons were No. 17 in offense and No. 21 in defense last year. They were the third best offensive rebounding team in basketball, thanks mostly to Drummond. They also were the second worst free throw shooting team in the NBA, again thanks mostly to Drummond. They also had to deal with the Josh Smith saga and Monroe's free agency hanging over everything.

While this is Van Gundy's second season in town, it really feels like this is Year One of his operation. The intriguing thing about Detroit is that players like Dinwiddie, Bullock and KCP are talented enough to establish themselves as legitimate NBA players (or in KCP's case: a legit starter) this year. People will complain Jackson got too much money (looking at you, John Wall), but I think it's possible he lives up to that deal in the NBA's current financial climate.

The Pistons got better, I think. Are they better than Miami, Milwaukee, Toronto and Washington? Maybe the Raptors. I don't think the Bulls have much to worry about in terms of Detroit finishing with the better regular season record.

How they play the Bulls

Without looking it up, I'm going to guess Drummond averages 27 rebounds and six put-back dunks per game every time he plays the Bulls. That will continue to happen and there's nothing the Bulls will be able to do about it.

Jackson and Rose could be a fun battle at point guard. Mirotic certainly has a higher ceiling than Ilyasova, but Ersan shouldn't be discounted in that matchup this year. Jimmy Butler seems like the real trump card on Chicago's end, at least unless Stanley Johnson thinks he's ready for that challenge at 19 years of age. If the Bulls go big, Pau should be able to put buckets on Detroit's tiny fours all day.

FerriganFormula

[BaB's own Kevin Ferrigan gives his take using his own statistical model, described as: a plus-minus that used two years of data blended with predictive real plus-minus, and minutes projections from Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com]

The Pistons should improve, marginally, this season on their 32-50 record from last season, based on their projection. They have a lot of talent on the under-27 side of the aging curve and a top coach in Stan Van Gundy. I project them to win 38 games, after accounting for the schedule. They seem like a team who could overperform their projection given that they went 27-27 after waiving Josh Smith last season. They didn't improve a ton in the offseason, though, so close to .500 seems about right.