And it seems to be working.
Remember the Orlando Magic team, that in 2009, knocked off the extreme-favorite Cleveland Cavaliers in a relatively easy six game series? The series was not all that close, and would have been a five game wrap if not for one of LeBron James’ most famous shots, which won game two.
That team, which beat a Garnett-less Boston in the Eastern Conference Semis, and Cleveland in the Conference Finals, would eventually lose to the Lakers in five games in the Finals.
But Stan Van Gundy, considered an elite offensive coach, was able to take advantage of a strategy most successfully used by Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets of the ’90s:
Find a dominate big man, give him room in the paint, and surround him with enough wing scoring and shooting to create a system of harmonious inside and outside play.
Unfortunately, the Orlando fan base was robbed again of a transcendent team within a few years, when crunch-time wizard Hedo Turkoglu chased the money, when stretch-four Rashard Lewis left his prime, and when Dwight Howard lobbied to get Van Gundy fired, then eventually forced his own way out.
Since Howard left at the beginning of the 2012 season, Orlando has failed to even make a run at the playoffs. But for a three year window, Van Gundy looked like a genius and Orlando looked like a team worthy of a title.
Now in the second year of his first coaching job since Orlando, it would appear SVG is reviving his old model, and it seems to working.
Andre Drummond = Dwight Howard. That one is obvious. Drummond is the most complete and dominant center in the NBA since Howard.
Reggie Jackson = Jameer Nelson. Not exactly a spitting image of each other, but two ballsy point guards not afraid to shoot and score, who also understand the importance of getting the big guy the ball where he wants it. Drummond ranked third in the league in paint touches per game this season at 6.7, with most of those coming from Jackson, per NBA.com/stats.
Tobias Harris = Hedo Turkoglu. Both good offensive players with a lot of skill, but a lot of limitations. Neither were/are great distributors (slight nod to Turkoglu). But both suddenly look a whole lot better when you surround them with competent players and All-Stars.
Marcus Morris = Rashard Lewis. Both “big men” who have/had no problem surrendering the paint to their respective centers. Why do you think Howard led the league in rebounding in 2009, and Drummond this season?
Because Lewis and Morris got the hell out of the way.
Lewis led the league in made three-pointers and attempted three-pointers in 2009. Morris is a little less three-happy, but still shot 3.7 per game this season.
The player comparisons hold up, and up this point, the trajectory mostly holds up as well.
It took Drummond four years to reach the playoffs and become an All-Star. It took Howard one year less to do the same.
In Howard’s first playoff appearance (Orlando was 40-42 that season), his team was unceremoniously swept by the Detroit Pistons, ironically. The next season, the Magic hired SVG, acquired Turkoglu and Lewis, and won 52 games, reaching the Conference Semis.
In Drummond’s first playoff appearance (Detroit is 44-38 this season), his team will (most likely) be unceremoniously swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, an elite team with the opposite mindset of the Pistons. If Cleveland loses again the finals this season, expect changes. When Detroit loses in the first round in a few days, it will not matter at all. If anything, it will mean a higher pick for the Pistons in this year’s draft.
Next season, Drummond will be 23. Reggie Jackson, who will become an All-Star in the coming years, will be 27 and entering his prime. Tobias Harris will be 24. Marcus Morris will be 26.
Other promising players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (22 years old, 14.5 points per game) and Stanley Johnson (19 years old, 8th overall pick) fit nicely into the team’s long term vision.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the early-goings of these two teams, is that Drummond already has his important teammates settled in playoff season number one. Howard got his a year later.
When the Pistons lose the next three games (or steal one at home) and lose this series, there will no reason to panic in Detroit.
More likely than not, the end of this season will mark the beginning of something much bigger and much more successful for the Pistons.
Image via Reddit