Enemy: Detroit Pistons
Coach: Lawrence Frank
Potential Starting 5: Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshawn Prince, Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe
Other Key Players: Andre Drummond, Corey Maggette, Will Bynum, Jason Maxiell, Charlie Villanueva
Threats: Length and versatility, Post depth, Seasoned wings (makes me hungry…)
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 2-0
Since their last reign as the bad boys of Detroit, the Pistons have flamed out considerably. Less than a decade ago, the Pistons were the trendsetting team in the league, with their trademarked suffocating defense, team play, pace control, and of course Ben Wallace’s totally awesome headband-and-hairstyle aesthetic. In the early-to-mid 2000’s, they made it cool to strip basketball back to the basics and emphasize playing for the greater good of the team. They also helped spearhead the movement of doing away with the “out there” designs of 90’s uniforms, in favor of reviving the streamlined old-school look. They embodied the narrative of hard work vs. star power, assembling misfit and misused, but hard-working veteran talents, and dethroning the Act I of the Kobe-Lakers in the process. With the current NBA dominated by the mainstream and “power teams”, we could use a good grungy, smash-mouth, defensively oriented bad boy to come in and break up the party. Surely I’d love for that guy to be our grit n’ grind Grizzlies, and likewise I’m sure that the fan-base in Detroit would love to again add that claim to their illustrious history of tenacity. Seemingly eons since that recent reign of relevance, the Pistons have made significant strides in the past few years towards restoring dignity to their name. Initially in the wake of the good ol’ days, they attempted to replicate the success they had by using the same team-building method of acquiring talented but somewhat misfit veterans, in welcoming Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to the roster. This model proved to backfire like an old rotten engine, and the Pistons were forced to rely on their lottery status to improve the team. Which brings us to where they stand today, and the draft has been pretty kind to them thus far, providing hope in the forms of Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, and now Andre Drummond. Now, I make no claim that Monroe, Knight and Drummond are avatars of Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, and Big Ben, but they all possess the necessary talent and potential to carve out their own niche as a formidable unit in this league. They don’t need to be the Pistons of old, but it is up to them to establish an identity.
Looking at the snapshot of where the team stands right now, the three young guys of the core pop out boldly against the backdrop. The rock of the group will be the longest tenured of the trio, 6’11 southpaw big man, Greg Monroe. Monroe is efficient, broad shouldered and incredibly smooth in the post, with great passing vision on the block and a surprisingly refined array of moves for a guy his age. He can also rebound with the best of ‘em. On the defensive end, however, he’s not quite the grinder you’d expect from somebody his size, so he’s really more suited as a power forward matchup. Well isn’t it convenient then that with a little bit of luck, and of course some scouting, this year’s draft yielded mammoth UConn product, Andre Drummond. A shade under seven foot, and a 280 pound physical marvel, Drummond also boasts the on-court skillset that figures to fulfill all you can ask for out of a big man that Monroe does not offer. It is true that Drummond is inconsistent, but he landed on one of the best possible situations for him, here in Detroit, and will have every opportunity to perform, in a great position to succeed. Individually I see ceilings for both these guys, but I shudder at the thought of what a handful they as a tandem can grow to become… who says the NBA post game is dead! Drummond will likely begin the year coming off the bench, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him slide up and claim residency in the starting gig, as soon as before the All-star break. Besides, Jonas Jerebko is very well equipped to equip as the first big man off the bench… and I do not mean this as a slight to him. He’s got the body to play the four, with the shot to stretch the floor. Add the bruising Jason Maxiell, lengthy Austin Daye, promising rookie Slava Kravtsov, and disappointing-but-useful Charlie Villanueva to the mix, and you have a potentially very productive, very deep rotation of big men. Drop down to the wing slots and you find longtime prince of the Palace of Auburn Hills, Tayshaun Prince, along with recently acquired Corey Maggette. You know exactly what you’re going to get from each of these two Yin and Yang veterans, characterized by the lanky Prince’s defensive prowess, and the hulking Maggette’s possession of every offensive tool outside of a knockdown jumper. Jumpshooting rookies Kyle Singler and Kim English figure to get a chance to make a difference as well. We cannot dance around guard situation any longer, though. With Rodney Stuckey taking his poor-man’s Dwyane Wade skillset off the ball to the shooting guard position, full time, the Pistons will be relying on Brandon Knight to play a whole heck of a lot of minutes this season. Being backed by only the not-so-often used Will Bynum, much like Mike Conley was for us last year, Knight will be the tell-tale heart of what his team is to accomplish this season. I’ve had a lot of good things to say about the rest of the roster, but it all falters if nobody is able to get the ball to them. Knight proved in his rookie season that he is a gamer and a talented scorer, and to continue his development must show that he can add game manager and distributor to his list of qualifications.
With the weapons that the Pistons possess, there is some reason for concern when the Grizzlies play them, but until they can sure up the guard-play, the rest of their puzzle will not come together cohesively enough to pose a true threat to their opponents. Knight is going to be a fabulous player in this league, but he has some work to do to get to the point where he can make his teammates better. I’ve been pretty complimentary of their post depth, but y’all know how I feel about ours. While Drummond and Monroe absolutely have the athleticism and size to take Big Spain and Zbo off their games, it is going to take some time before they develop the rapport on the court to take advantage of it. While Prince is the type of heady, harassing player that Rudy would generally struggle against, our small forward has been able to hold his own against him in the past, and should be able to continue to do so as Prince gets older. Finally, we arrive at the guards’ matchup. It may not be as shallow as ours was last year, but the Pistons could definitely stand to improve their depth in the guard department. With ours likely to be much improved from a season ago, I like the way that the cards stack in our favor. So all things considered, we should absolutely walk away from them with a W, as they obviously lack the seasoning of a veteran bunch, but if Lawrence Frank coaches his behind off, the Pistons will start firing in the right direction sooner, rather than later.