Detroit Pistons: Improved Bench Key To Taking Next Step

Nov 3, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) sits on the bench during the game against the Indiana Pacers at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 3, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) sits on the bench during the game against the Indiana Pacers at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

Stan Van Gundy and his Detroit Pistons will have options on the bench next year, thanks to three solid moves in free agency.

For the first time in six dreadful seasons, the Detroit Pistons marched to the playoffs last season with a 44-38 record. Stan Van Gundy has revived Detroit basketball, giving hope and optimism leading into the next 82-game campaign.

Their young core is exciting to watch, lead by Reggie Jackson at point guard and Andre Drummond, the 6’11” All-Star center. What seemed to kill last year’s squad was the ineffectiveness of the bench. Their second unit featured seasoned veterans like Steve Blake, Anthony Tolliver and promising rookies in Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard.

According to, the Pistons bench was the worst in the entire league with just 26.2 points per game last year. Van Gundy’s backups were also tied for third worst in all of basketball with 13.9 rebounds per game, and ranked last with steals per game (1.8,) and minutes per game (15.5). No wonder they were bounced in four games by the champions-to-be Cleveland Cavaliers.

The starting five, however, was nearly the exact opposite. Jackson, Drummond, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, and part-timers Ersan Ilysovia and Tobias Harris ranked first in the league with 33.0 MPG and 32.5 RPG, and third overall with 75.8 PPG.

To no one’s surprise, the Pistons were in need of bench help heading into the offseason. After a solid first round draft pick with Henry Ellenson, and three cost-efficient free agents, Stan Van Gundy quickly revamped the league’s worst bench to supplement an up-and-coming team in the Eastern Conference.

Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower decided that Blake’s 4.4 PPG and 17.0 MPG were not enough to back up Jackson as the Pistons gear up for a season with sights set on postseason basketball.

So, on July 1, Ish Smith landed a deal to come to Detroit for three years for $18 million. Smith has bounced around from team to team, but seemed to have found a home last season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Smith enjoyed the best year of his career last season, scoring 14.7 points per game and appeared in 32.4 minutes every night.

It’s certainly an improvement over what Van Gundy had on last season’s bench. Smith will most likely serve as Jackson’s backup heading into the 2016-17 campaign.

Van Gundy drafted one big man, but decided to add two more within the last week. Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic are the newest additions to a bench that is now fully stocked.

Entering his sixth year in the league with his fifth different team, Leuer has always been a role player. Next year when he rocks the Pistons’ threads, he’ll be doing the exact same thing.

Like Smith, the Pistons are getting Leuer fresh off the best season of his career. He scored 8.5 per game last year and recorded 5.6 rebounds. Leuer’s four-year deal worth $40 million gives Van Gundy the opportunity to have him be an option on the bench for years to come. Leuer is expected to slide into the power forward position and back up starter Tobias Harris.

The latest move, and probably the most exciting, was the signing of former Spurs’ big man, Boban Marjanovic. Marjanovic, the Serbian center, stands at 7’3″ and evolved into a fan favorite last year with the Spurs.

Last season in San Antonio, Marjanovic shot 60.3% from the field in 54 games played. He only averaged 5.5 points and 3.6 rebounds, but he will give Van Gundy solid minutes off the bench. Marjanovic will form a wicked one-two punch next year when he backs up All-Star Andre Drummond. The Pistons’ star is already is pleased with the signing, too.

Heading into free agency, the Pistons didn’t have to reload and overspend on just one free agent. Instead, they revamped the bench just like they needed to do.

Next: Detroit Red Wings 2000-09 All-Decade Team

The Pistons’ management is doing all they can to ensure last year was no fluke. This team really may be contenders in the Eastern Conference for years to come. Well done, Stan Van Gundy.