AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Moments after his season ended, Detroit star Andre Drummond was asked about free throws — clearly not his favorite topic.
“You think I sit around all day and not work on it?” he asked.
Drummond’s woeful free throw shooting is becoming a bigger issue because the Pistons will face higher expectations in the future. Detroit — thanks in large part to Drummond’s impressive work around the basket — made the playoffs this year for the first time since 2009 before being swept by Cleveland in the first round. With a young roster that improved significantly this season, the Pistons will expect to be back in the postseason again, and the question now is whether they can take another step and actually win a series.
Or at least win a playoff game. Detroit has now lost 10 of those in a row and hasn’t won one since 2008.
To advance further, the Pistons will need to shore up a number of details. Drummond’s free throw shooting is a problem: He is at 38 percent for his four-year career, and this season (35.5 percent) was his worst yet. In the regular season and the playoffs, teams would foul him intentionally, and coach Stan Van Gundy felt he had no choice but to remove the NBA’s top rebounder at times, even late in games.
Here’s how things look for the Pistons heading into the offseason:
BIGGEST NEED: More consistency on defense. Although Detroit made a late push to reach the playoffs, Van Gundy wasn’t always happy with his team’s defensive performance. Guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was solid at that end of the court, and Drummond can block shots and rebound, but that’s not always enough against good opponents.
THE GOOD NEWS: The Pistons are young. Their five starters are Drummond (22 years old), Reggie Jackson (26), Caldwell-Pope (23), Marcus Morris (26) and Tobias Harris (23). It’s a nucleus that could be together for a while and could grow into a special team eventually.
THE BAD NEWS: On the surface, it seems like Detroit has put together a nice lineup for Van Gundy’s system, with a dominant big man surrounded by shooters, but the Pistons only shot 34 percent from 3-point range this season, finishing firmly in the bottom half of the league in that department.
EXPERIENCE COUNTS: Detroit can take solace in the fact that its four-game loss to Cleveland wasn’t as lopsided as some sweeps. The Pistons came close to winning three of the four games, and they did beat both Cleveland (three times) and Golden State during the regular season.
“We said this (postseason) would be a great experience for our guys,” Van Gundy said. “It has been, as has, really, the last five or six weeks of the season, fighting to get in.”
BENCH DEPTH: Detroit’s bench didn’t provide much help in the playoffs against Cleveland, but backup center Aron Baynes generally played fine when called upon this season, and Anthony Tolliver added some occasional outside shooting. The Pistons also have reason to be excited about Stanley Johnson, their lottery pick last year. He averaged 8.1 points a game as a rookie — and showed no fear in the playoffs going toe-to-toe with LeBron James.
“We know how hard we made these four games on them, and so do they,” Johnson said after the series. “LeBron is a great player — he’s the guy I looked up to when I was growing up — but I’m not going to back down from anyone.”
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