The most depressed city in America is might experience a revival in spirit from an unlikely source, the Detroit Pistons. There were a few bright stars in Detroit, guys like Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe showed promise for the future. But, much like Dell Demps in New Orleans, Joe Dumars decided it was time for a change in player
personal. With the load of cap space the Pistons had this summer, they went out and acquire Atlanta Hawks power forward Josh Smith and Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings. In addition to these pickups, the draft saw the Pistons pickup Georgia Bulldogs shooting guard Kentavius Caldwell-Pope and Louisville point guard Payton Siva. Veteran Chauncey Billups has inked a new contract and will be returning the place where his professional career began. In the top heavy Eastern Conference, Detroit snagging one of the final playoff spots should be a shock to nobody.
When you talk about the foundation for an NBA team, it starts with an elite wing player or an elite point guard. Brandon Jennings is one of the best volume shooters in the PG position in the league currently. Jennings is a significant upgrade from Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, but the question of his maturity still remains and his ability to mesh with this Detroit Pistons team will be something to watch this coming season. If Jennings begins to mature, he could bring that 6.5 assists per game up to 8 or 9. I expect his 17.5 points per game to remain around the same, but I think his shooting percentage will be higher because he does not need to shoot the basketball as much as he did when in Milwaukee.
Thirty-six year old Chauncey Billups will be assuming the starting two guard position, which raises a few questions. Billups is not getting any young so his conditioning could be an issue. His decision making and leadership is fantastic and it’s something I think Jennings will benefit from. Billups is not their because of the production he brings, he is there because Detroit is somewhere he feels comfortable and his primary job this season is to become the glue for the Pistons starting unit. His health will be an issue, he has not played a full season in around seven years, but that’s to be expected of guys his age. His backups are Rodney Stuckey and rookie Caldwell-Pope who the Pistons are really excited about. Stuckey saw his numbers fall last season and with this team planning for the future, I’d expect to see a fair amount of Caldwell-Pope this season. Hopefully Billups can stay healthy and help guide this team back to the playoffs.
My good friend Ranny Kennon( a Pistons beat writer) and myself have spent a lot of time this offseason discussing the positioning of Josh Smith. With Greg Monroe at power forward, it’s unlikely Smith will see a lot of time there and those positions might get mixed in instances when guys like Charlie Villanueva are on the court because he likes to spread the floor. Smith is one of the leagues premier athletes in the league and the Pistons would like to utilize that
athleticism and the goal will to be to limit his three point shots. Over he last two years Smith shot around 28% from behind the arc. Smith is the centerpiece of this team at this point and you will see him average close to twenty points per game this season and will pull down somewhere around 8 boards, making his game a very good foundation for this team.
Another reason for the buzz around the Pistons organization is the young big man tandem of twenty-three year old Greg Monroe and twenty-one year old Andre Drummond. Although Drummond is the shorter of the two at 6’10 his athletic and defensive abilities make him the better fit at the five. With the rise in popularity of small ball lineups, Drummond should feel right at home in Detroit. Drummond averaged a solid eight points per game last season combined with close to eight rebounds per game and 1.6 blocks per game. He only played around twenty minutes per game yesterday in the sixty games he was featured in and Coach Maurice Cheeks will be looking to increase his roll in the coming season.
Drummond’s position is similar to the one which Greg Monroe was in two years ago, a guy with a lot of potential. For Monroe, his potential is now being realized as he averaged an impressive 17 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Monroe did a fantastic job remaining healthy last season as he started 81 games last season and played around 33 minutes per game last season. Monroe has worked on becoming a strong inside out big man, not only in scoring but in passing as well and this was apparent in his 3.5 assists per contest he averaged last season, which is over an assist more from last season. The Monroe inside out combination with Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups could cause some serious problems for defenses in the eastern conference. Ball movement will be paramount this
season for the Pistons as they will attempt to really stretch defenses with their solid inside play and good permitter shooting.
With a solid mixture of young talent and tested veterans on the bench, the coaching staff won’t have to worry to much about the subs holding the fort while the starters get a rest. Guys like Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey, who have seen minutes in starting roles, will be valuable assets coming off the bench. The key for the team this year will be the maturation of point guard Brandon Jennings. He recently was quoted in say that “the Pistons have better forwards than the Bucks do.” This prompted a response from former teammate and current Buck Larry Sanders who said well you got to pass to the first”, which holds some weight because we have seen Jennings tendency to make mental errors which manifest his lack of maturation.
This Detroit Pistons team has a fantastic mixture of young talent and veteran leadership and Joe Dumars deserves a lot of the credit for this. In my mind, the Pistons have enough to grab a 7 or an 8 seed this season. This team has sparked the most interest in terms of offseason moves and the collection of talent which they’ve assembled and it will be extremely compelling to watch the team dynamic throughout this first season. This Pistons “project” could show team potential this season, or could become a group of individuals and prove to be an in-cohesive unit. Let’s hope it’s the earlier, because this city of Detroit needs something to smile about.