NBA Preview: Detroit Pistons

Last Year: 29-53 for 4th place in the division; Leading scorer– Josh Smith (16.4); leading rebounds– Andre Drummond (13.2); leading assists– Brandon Jennings (7.6)

Changes: Added– Aaron Gray (signed), Caron Butler (signed), Cartier Martin (signed), D.J. Augustin (signed), Jodie Meeks (signed), Spencer Dinwiddle (draft); resigned– Greg Monroe (qualifying offer); lost– Chauncey Billups (declined team option), Charlie Villanueva (free agent)

Positions

Point Guard: Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin, Will Bynum, Spencer Dinwiddle

Brandon Jennings is a plus caliber player– he’s a good starter. He is valuable for his scoring, and for his overall play.  He is not, however, one of the better point guards in the league.  This position is simply too stacked league wide for that to be the case.  Which means that Jennings is stuck defending better players more often than not and being defended by better defenders than he is an offensive player more often than not.  That’s not a bad place to be, its just the main reason that this far into his career Jennings has never been a break out star– there is simply too much competition at his position.

D.J. showed he can really play as a quality backup last year for the Bulls. If he were the starter he would be in the same situation as Jennings, however playing against backups he will do well and overall Jennings + Augustin will be a net plus at this position.  There is a chance of a drop off once the Chicago defense frame and the system that is so very friendly to point guards the last few years.  Regardless, he won’t be asked to do much and the Pistons don’t expect to win a championship or probably even contend for the playoffs in the first year of new coach Scott Van Gundy’s tenure– and D.J. is enough like some of the Jameer Nelson/ Rafer Alston types that SVG had success with in Orlando previously.

Bynum has experience and a higher than average PER for a bench guy which is exactly what you would look for in a third point guard.  There just don’t project to be many minutes unless they Pistons shift Jennings up in some formations and play with two point guards on the floor– which they may have to do considering a lack of depth at shooting guard.

I don’t expect many minutes at all for Dinwiddle barring injuries (as usual for second round picks behind established starters and backups.)

Shooting Guard: Jodie Meeks, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Meeks brings above 40% three point shooting and fifteen points a game which should fit in nicely, and possibly offer the chance for Jennings to increase his assists numbers on the drive and kicks which SVG’s system will most likely use.  Caldwell-Pope is a definite downgrade, though with only one year in his shooting percentage could improve– 31% from 3 isn’t quite where the ideal for his spot would be, but he should get plenty of chances as there is no one else to back Meeks up at this position.  Since SVG’s Magic teams shot more threes at the time than any other team up till that point, its fair to expect a similar bevy of corner threes in Detroit and Caldwell-Pope will either do adjust and improve close to the 35-40% range or fall slowly out of rotation– there’s just not enough else for him to do with all the big bodies clogging the paint and all the driving point guards looking for targets to kick to.

Small Forward: Josh Smith, Kyle Singler, Luigi Datome

Josh Smith is in a very similar position to Brandon Jennings– he’s a very good player, but comparatively he is just not up there with the elite small forwards in this game.  Listing the starting 3’s for teams this year top to bottom he is going to come out somewhere in the 15 range– depending how you rank unknowns like Jabari Parker and over the hill has beens like Paul Pierce.  That’s the range you are looking at for Smith– better than your Mike Dunleavy’s and Jeff Greens, and Solomon Hills, but nowhere close to your Kawhi Leonard’s, never mind your KD and Lebrons.  This is a great place to have someone who is projected to be your third option be.  This is not a good spot to be in with the guy who is the best player on your team.

What’s worse for the Pistons, is that Josh Smith is the exact kind of high volume, low efficiency, low shooting percentage, even lower three point shooting percentage player that is the absolute worst possible fit in SVG’s 3 centered offense.  What Josh Smith does simply isn’t that highly valued in the past for Van Gundy.

Kyle Singler is a fraction of the player that Smith is, yet his shooting percentage– specifically 38% from 3 point land, ironically make him a better fit for what Van Gundy is known to do.  Don’t be surprised if Smith’s minutes slowly taper off throughout the season.  I’m pretty sure Van Gundy would trade Smith if he could, but with his monstrous contract I don’t see it being likely to have a trade partner.

Luigi Datome has worse shooting numbers than Smith.  I don’t expect him in games, except when the Pistons start putting players on the injury report for hang nails and trying to improve their draft chances with lots of losses.

Power Forward: Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko, Cartier Martin, Tony Mitchell

There’s a reason Monroe is back on only a qualifying offer– there are a lot of questions about fit with him and Andre Drummond.  Ideally, SVG would like a stretch four here– there’s a reason he started Rashard Lewis all those years and its not because of that sick goatee he rocked.  In a lot of ways, the Pistons would probably prefer to upshift Josh Smith to here and run Singler’s high percentage shot at the three in place of Monroe’s complete lack of the same.  I’d say I expect a trade coming, but I just don’t know if there will be that much of a market for him– after all, no one made a run at Monroe in restricted free agency this year.

Janas Jerebko is a less athletic, lower ceiling option, but his 41% 3 point shooting makes him a natural fit for Van Gundy.  Again, don’t be surprised to see the less skilled, better fitting player get a minutes increase across the course of the season.  Cartier Martin also seems to have a three point shot, but there won’t be many minutes left for him and Tony Mitchell so they will need to show a lot in limited looks to earn time going forward.

Center: Andre Drummond, Aaron Gray

Drummond is the only player on this squad with as PER over 20.  At 13 points/13 rebounds he is a beast on the glass and in the post, with athleticism that rates off the charts.  Clearly he is the future of this team.

If you compare Drummond stats last year (13/13) to Dwight Howard’s rookie season (7 rebounds/12 points) it compares favorably.  Dwight went on to climb through 12 boards/15 points for two years to a peak of 15 boards 20 points for two years in Orlando before being derailed by back troubles, free agency glitter, and the LA Lakers.  All while playing as the center piece of the system that Drummond is going to get his first crack at this year.

Do not be surprised if Andre Drummond is an All Star leading an otherwise bad squad by the mid-way point in points, rebounds, and all around hope.

Aaron Gray is a stiff, which is about what you can expect in a backup center on most teams.  Expect him to soak up 5-10 minutes and 1-2 shots attempts per night.  Also, don’t be surprised if Monroe ends up playing most of his minutes as the backup center, freeing the power forward minutes for the 3 point shooting Jerebko and Martin– after all, SVG didn’t shy away from keeping Marcin Gortat on the bench behind Howard and he was an all around better player than Monroe at the time

Outlook: The Pistons are most likely a few trades and 1 good draft pick away from being the team that they want to be.  Josh Smith is going to be moved out sooner or later, and while Brandon Jennings very well could be the answer, there needs to be some definite sorting out of which players do and don’t work in SVG’s three centered system.  Drummond has the chance to grow into a more athletic, better scoring version of Howard, so I fully expect this team to get to the playoffs– in a few years.  This year, they will be hovering in the mid=lottery until they make up their mind and start sitting players for allegedly bogus reasons and making trades to get worse– SVG will get this rebuild done, but it will take more than one off season to do it.

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