Enemy: Detroit Pistons
3SOB Forecast*: 33-49
What’s up in Motor City?
As far as eye-catching off-seasons go, the boys up in Detroit have got to rank atop the list.
By facilitating as a third party in the locally resonant Rudy Gay trade, the Pistons were able to get off of Tayshaun Prince’s relatively sizable contract via swapping it out for Jose Calderon’s expiring deal. In addition, they got out from under the contracts of the waived Richard Hamilton, the no longer productive Corey Maggette, and long-time backup forward Jason Maxiell, via expiration. With truckloads of cap space in tow, Joe Dumars and company decided this summer that the timing was as good as any to be aggressive with their cash.
On paper, it seems they have constructed a “wild wild west” concoction of sorts, and thrown newly minted head coach (a phrase that is becoming an Assessing the Enemy mainstay) Maurice Cheeks to the fire to figure it all out. With free agent acquisitions Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith comfortable running the all over the place, and Greg Monroe and Dre Drummond suited to anchor down in the paint, there are many different directions for Cheeks to take this squad.
While the particulars on the horizon are cloudy, the message is clear; management is tired of treading the bottom of the standings. To perpetuate the message of going full throttle on the cusp of a new age of Detroit Pistons basketball, they introduced the sleek new “Motor City” uniforms, pictured above.
Like the Cavaliers, whom we discussed in yesterday’s primer, the Pistons expect that their most recent trip to the lottery should be the last one for some time. With this year’s draft selection, the Pistons opted to address a sore area of need by drafting touted sharpshooter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out of Georgia.
Caldwell-Pope is far from alone in the regard of pressure to improve Detroit’s perimeter proficiency, however. The Pistons have also brought in top Grizzlies target, the sweet-shooting Italian import Gigi Datome, as well as the familiar face fans came to know as “Mr. Big Shot,” Chauncey Billups. Again — Cheeks is being given many options to play with in his first season at the helm.
I don’t expect that the Pistons new-found aggressiveness will end here, either. They’ve got another round of cap room freeing up at this season’s end, with the combined $17+ million of Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey to pop off the books, allowing them room to either lock up Monroe long-term, or make investments in other places. The Pistons are back on the block, and if they play their cards right they should be around for a while.
Lastly, if tangentially Pistons-related gossip is your cup of tea, look no further than the development of Drummond’s virtual relationship with Nickelodeon starlet Jennette McCurdy, offering a brilliant exhibition in the art of millennial romance.
Who are they cooking with?
More compelling to us basketball purists than the development of Drummond’s love life (who am I kidding?), is his rapid development into an object of absolute force on the Palace at Auburn Hills floor. Prior to running into the wall of nagging injuries, he was posting off the charts numbers in terms of efficiency and per-minute production, especially as far as rookies are concerned. To put into perspective just how productive Drummond was in his rookie season, he posted per-48 stats of 18.4 points, 17.6 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, and 2.3 steals, on 60.8% shooting. It’s hard to ask for more than that, but issues regarding his health, abysmal free throw shooting, and foul rate, can stand to be improved upon.
Much of how Drummond’s development unfolds may depend on the types of lineups that he is a part of. With a frontcourt rotation consisting of Drummond, Smith, and Monroe, combinations of any two, or even all three are possible to be trotted out onto the court for extended stretches. One thing is for sure — they all deserve to play.Monroe has surely earned the right to his share of touches over the past few seasons as one of the most efficient and versatile offensive big men in the league. With his passing ability, he could become a dangerous kick-out threat given shooters surrounding him. Looking at Smith, he should be discouraged at most if not all costs from camping out beyond the arc, so while the trio may start games together, I would imagine that the bulk of his minutes still come at the four.
If the system in Detroit is going to revolve around the bigs, which it should, given their diverse talents, there will be a lot of focus on how the engine fires at the point guard spot. Over the course of Jennings’ career thus far, he has had to assume a heavy load of the scoring responsibility, at times due to a lack of scoring prowess beside him, and at other times due to an urgency to get his shots up when he could, while playing beside Monta Ellis. This year his core responsibility will be to run the show and ensure that the ball finds its way into the post and the hands of the newly added “space the floor” guys. It will be interesting to watch how he adapts to a potential alteration in responsibility, and it certainly will not hurt to have Chauncey around to mentor him along the way.
How do the good guys stack up?
The Pistons are a young team developing an identity not too far removed from the identity of the team’s glory years in the early 2000s. With Greg Monroe (6-11, 250 pounds), Josh Smith (6-9, 225) and Andre Drummond (6-10, 270) on the inside, the Pistons are have a physical front line capable of handling even the strength of the Grizzlies. The problem for the Pistons is the depth behind the starting front line. The return of Chauncey Billups brings experienced leadership although his ability is questionable as 37 years old. Brandon Jennings will be bringing the jets at the point but his leadership skills will be tested against Conley who has been known to disrupt competent floor leaders. The Pistons will likely scare a lot of teams when their perimeter shots are falling but will be an up and down team over the course of the season. If the Grizzlies catch the Pistons on a night the outside shots aren’t falling then they shouldn’t have too much trouble. If the Pistons are firing and the Grizzlies can’t match from the perimeter then Memphis will struggle to look good against Detroit.
Patrick Hayes (of Piston Powered):
Entering the offseason, I looked at the Grizzlies and their recent success as a best-case example of what the Pistons could become. Not long ago, the Grizzlies were a team trying to figure out how to function with a super-sized frontcourt in an increasingly perimeter-oriented league, a point guard trying to figure out how to be a point guard and not much perimeter shooting to pull it all together. So when the coach who made that all work in Memphis was suddenly on the market while the Pistons also happened to have a coaching vacancy, I was excited at the franchise’s good fortune. Then they hired Maurice Cheeks.
After a busy offseason, the Pistons now have an even more super-sized frontcourt with Josh Smith added to the Andre Drummond/Greg Monroe duo and, although they upgraded the point guard spot, Brandon Jennings can still be reasonably defined as trying to figure the position out. Memphis has been a brutal matchup for the Pistons in recent years because the team has lacked bigs with the strength to not be bullied by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Now, with the addition of the defensively sound Smith and the emergence of the rim-protecting Drummond, Monroe’s defensive shortcomings against teams like Memphis should be masked.
The Pistons and Grizzlies are still poor perimeter shooting teams, though both made moves to address those deficiencies in the offseason. So I think the matchups between these teams this season will simply come down to style. The Grizzlies are already established as one of the best halfcourt teams in the league and arguably the most physical team in the league. The Pistons are still crafting an identity, but if I had to guess based on their personnel, they’ll favor a faster pace to highlight the team’s athleticism. In the past two seasons, Pistons-Grizzlies matchups have resulted in the Pistons largely being easily bullied at both ends of the court. This season, I have a bit of hope, not that the Pistons can match the Memphis physicality, but that they finally have the talent to make teams like Memphis have to adjust and play an uncomfortable style on occasion.
When and Where do they square off?
November 1st: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
January 5th: 12:00PM at the Palace of Auburn Hills
For more Pistons content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Piston Powered.
*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.