Projecting the 2017-18 Pistons three-point shooting

GREENVILLE, SC - MARCH 17: Luke Kennard
GREENVILLE, SC - MARCH 17: Luke Kennard /

After being one of the worst shooting teams in the league in 2016-17, the Detroit Pistons focused their offseason on adding quality shooters.  Those efforts may not have been as successful as it appears on the surface.

Entering the offseason, it was no secret that the Detroit Pistons needed to improve their three-point shooting.  Spacing was a problem all last season – the team ranked 28th in the league in three-point shooting.  That poor shooting was a large factor in the team ranking 25th in the league in offensive rating.

Poised to change the Pistons’ shooting woes, the team drafted Luke Kennard, regarded as one of the best shooters in the draft. Then they signed Langston Galloway, a combo guard who made 39 percent of his three-point attempts a year ago.  Not satisfied, the Pistons traded for Avery Bradley.  Bradley is known as a defensive stopper, but he too shot 39 percent from behind the arc last season.  The Pistons then brought back everyone’s favorite stretch-four, Anthony Tolliver, to boot.

On the surface, the Pistons’ conscious effort to bring in shooters should bring about better spacing, and a much more competent shooting team.  Looking closer into the numbers and doing a bit of projecting, things may not have changed so dramatically.

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To project the Pistons’ three-point shooting for 2017-18, we first need to look backwards at the roster’s history.  Determining how far back to go can be tricky – three-point shooting is rather volatile from year to year, but some players also become better shooters by virtue of practice and repetition.

To balance both the variance in shooting and recent improvement, we’ll look, for the most part, at three-year averages for purposes of these projections.  Two of the three exceptions are Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson, who haven’t been in the league for three years.  The third exception is Reggie Jackson, who greatly improved his three-point shooting after a mechanical change in the summer of 2015.  To give Jackson the benefit of the doubt, we’ll look at his last two seasons.

Projecting the shooting efficiency is only part of the equation, though.  To calculate an accurate team shooting efficiency, we also need to project how often each player is going to shoot.  To project that, we’re again going to look at their three-year averages (three-point attempts per 48 minutes) with the exception of Stanley Johnson and Reggie Jackson.  For Henry Ellenson, we’ll project him to shoot a generous seven three-pointers per 48 minutes.

For Luke Kennard’s projections, we’ll use projections from Andrew Johnson of Nylon Calculus.

The last part of the equation is projecting how many minutes each player is going to play.  From there, we can do some basic math to project each player’s three-point shooting per game to come up with a team total.

Now, let’s be clear – these are all rough projections based on assumptions of minute allocations and the past three years of each player’s production.  Both the shooting numbers and minute projections are likely to change a year from now.  Some players will shoot better than their projections.  Some will shoot worse.  But, knowing what we know today, this is a reasonable projection for what to expect from the Pistons in terms of three-point shooting next season.

Projecting backup shooting guard minutes are especially difficult.  Reggie Bullock may not see the floor for 12 minutes per game, but given how Stan Van Gundy treats rookies, it’s tough to project Kennard for a ton of minutes.  Regardless, Bullock’s and Kennard’s projections are fairly similar so their minute allocation won’t change a whole lot in the bigger picture.

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So, what does it mean?

For starters, both the attempts per game and shooting percentage would be higher than the numbers the Pistons put up last year.  The increases are minimal, though.  The Pistons would still be well below league-average in both shooting efficiency and volume.

One of the biggest reasons that the numbers didn’t change much from last year despite adding three good shooters is the increased minutes projection for Stanley Johnson.  Johnson’s poor shooting the past two years has the potential to undo a lot of the good work the Detroit Pistons front office did this year in terms of spacing the floor.  Should he improve his three-point shooting, that could, of course, change.  Johnson’s shooting efficiency could be a real key to the Pistons’ offensive outlook in 2017-18.

The other real wild card in the equation is rookie Luke Kennard.  Kennard was extremely efficient in Summer League, but the sample size in Orlando is way too small to be of any predictive value.  Projecting how shooting will translate from college to the NBA is a very inexact science.  But, if Kennard’s shooting translates well to the NBA and his defense is at least passable, he could see increased minutes to improve what appears to be yet another year of a below-average shooting in Detroit.

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If Johnson doesn’t improve or Kennard’s shooting doesn’t translate, the veterans are going to have to shoot much better than they have in the past or the Detroit Pistons’ shooting woes are likely to continue.  If that happens after an offseason focused on adding good shooters, Van Gundy and Jeff Bowers will be on the hot seat very quickly.