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Archive → July, 2013

ESPN gives Pistons B+ for Brandon Jennings-Brandon Knight trade

Kevin Pelton of ESPN graded the Pistons-Bucks trade, and he gave the Pistons a B+ (and the Bucks a B-):

As with the Josh Smith signing earlier this summer, the potential problems for the Pistons center more on fit than talent. Detroit suddenly has a lot of players who operate best with the ball in their hands, and a spot-up shooter like Knight seemed like a better complement to the frontcourt trio of Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond than an isolation point guard like Jennings.

On a more positive note, Jennings is hardly a non-shooter; per Synergy Sports his effective field-goal percentage on spot-up attempts (.492) wasn’t much worse than Knight’s mark (.516). And both Jennings’ greatest strength (taking care of the basketball) and weakness (inaccurate shooting, especially in the paint) fit well with the Pistons’ big lineup. Detroit has an excellent chance of rebounding those misses, which isn’t possible with turnovers.

Joe Dumars has upgraded Detroit’s lineup this offseason without getting substantially older. A core of Jennings (23), Monroe (23) and Drummond (who doesn’t turn 20 until next month) has plenty of upside, and even Smith is just 27. Dumars is certainly taking a risk that these pieces will fit together, but if nothing else the 2013-14 Pistons will be a fascinating experiment. Compared to the extended run of boring mediocrity since the dissolution of the 2004 champions, I think the effort is worth it.

I believe Brandon Jennings can fill the spot-up role about as well as Brandon Knight, but I’m not as convinced Jennings is content to stand near the 3-point arc and away from the action for most of a possession like Knight was. Regardless, the Pistons need Jennings to be a playmaker, anyway.

As Pelton implies, a spot-up shooter will help create space for a Josh Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond frontline. That duty will likely fall primarily on the starting shooting guard – whether it’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (my early guess at the player who wins the job), Chauncey Billups or Kyle Singler.

Just because Jennings might downgrade the Pistons’ spot-up shooting, as Pelton says, there’s a lot more to like about the trade.

3-on-3: Brandon Jennings-Brandon Knight trade

1. How do you grade the trade for the Pistons?

Patrick Hayes: B. Brandon Jennings is better than Brandon Knight right now, and if there’s one thing we should take away from this offseason, it’s that Joe Dumars has fully committed to getting better immediately, future be damned. Any modest improvement will cost them a first-round pick in the loaded 2014 draft and, although I personally think it’s unlikely, Knight is still just 21. There’s at least a chance he develops into a better player than Jennings is right now.

Dan Feldman: A-. Once the Pistons signed Josh Smith and put themselves squarely in win-now mode, it became imperative they upgrade their starting point guard, and Jennings accomplishes that. If the Pistons are pushing themselves out of the top-eight of the draft – and signing Smith almost certainly did that – they had to get beyond the 9-14 range (The Disaster Zone, where they miss the playoffs and send their first-round pick to the Bobcats). Though Jennings’ flaws – erratic shot selection, attitude – could derail his positives, he projects to be much better than Knight, and that’s important for this team. Not getting a point guard better who would definitely be better next season than Knight has been the previous two would be like eating a hotdog without mustard. Sure the dog and bun are the most important ingredients, but without mustard to make it go down, the whole meal would have been ruined.

Jameson Draper: C. Just two months ago, the Pistons’ Andre Drummond-Greg Monroe foundation allowed for multiple possible directions to take the organization. Instead, they just spend loads of money on players who don’t necessarily fit so well in their system. It’s like Joe Dumars looked at points per game for each player in free agency and took the two two players with the highest totals who didn’t garner a lot of interest from other teams. Along the way, it seems the Pistons have lost direction. They specifically signed Chauncey Billups to mentor Knight and help him become a true point guard, but they gave up before the season actually started. Now Billups is an average, old bench player with a point guard, Jennings, who’s not quite as raw and therefore not quite as in need of mentorship. At least Jennings is a talent upgrade and could blossom outside Milwaukee.

2. Is Brandon Jennings the Pistons’ long-term answer at point guard?

Patrick Hayes: He is now. His contract isn’t bad (at least by Ben Gordon standards). Jennings is only 23 and an occasionally brilliant scorer, and I’m interested to see whether his quickness can be deployed in passing lanes the way Allen Iverson’s was in Philadelphia under Larry Brown, when the team featured shot blockers Theo Ratliff and later Dikembe Mutombo to account for Iverson’s gambling. Jennings has yet to prove he can be a reliable NBA point guard, but he still could get better. And if he doesn’t, I doubt he’ll get worse enough that his contract becomes impossible to move.

Dan Feldman: Yes. Jennings has no internal competition, and though the Pistons are still on track to have cap room next summer, Kyle Lowry is the only appealing unrestricted free-agent point guard, and he’s not that appealing. A trade is still possible – I hear Rajon Rondo could be available later – but the impetus is lessened with Rondo, and I believe Joe Dumars will give the talented Jennings time to learn from Maurice Cheeks and Chauncey Billups. A caveat: It sure sure seemed like Rodney Stuckey would at least remain a starter when he signed a similar make-good-but-still-get-paid contract with Detroit, but he sure fell off. Jennings is younger than Stuckey was at that point, but Stuckey was actually playing better preceding that contract. I’ll wouldn’t write in Jennings as the Pistons’ point guard of the future with ink, but a pencil with a shoddy eraser? Sure.

Jameson Draper: It’s too early to tell, but I say no, because a long-term answer right now at point guard should be a pass-first guard. Though Jennings isn’t a pass-first guard, his style could fit the Pistons well enough for now. He’s no longer the No. 1 scoring option like he was with the Bucks, and he has the ability to get the ball down low for easy buckets. Perhaps, he might not shoot so much anymore. There’s always a chance that being in a new environment could change the way he plays. Jennings wasn’t going anywhere in Milwaukee, but he could play well enough in Detroit to please the Pistons and cause them to ignore the positives of a pass-first guard.

3. What is Brandon Knight’s long-term outlook?

Patrick Hayes: Somewhere between Jerryd Bayless and Jason Terry, only better defensively. Knight’s defense was often overlooked last season because of the holes in his game offensively, and the Pistons will miss that. Knight’s defense, work ethic and 3-point shooting are enough to keep him in the league in some capacity for a long time. I’m skeptical he will ever develop into a good starting point guard, but I’m convinced he’ll be a useful player in some capacity for quite a while.

Dan Feldman: He must stop insisting he’s a point guard, one of his paths for getting on the court and actually improving will be at least part hindered by his own stubbornness. A 32-year-old Luke Ridnour is a marginally bigger roadblock to starting at point guard for Knight than a 37-year-old Chauncey Billups would have been, and I’m not certain Knight can clear it, so he should get used to the idea of spending time at off guard. His best position might very well end up being point guard, where he’s indicated he can be a quality defender, but his means of sticking in the NBA might be as a spot-up shooter. It’s too early for him to close one of those options.Still, it’s not quite clear what the Bucks, who also have O.J. Mayo at shooting guard, have in mind. If Milwaukee dedicates to playing Knight big minutes at point guard and developing him – or if he’s forced into that role by a Ridnour injury or ineffectiveness – Knight might finally help the Pistons make the playoffs.

Jameson Draper: I really hope some team nurtures him better than the Pistons did. The Pistons pushed too much responsibility his way early in his career while he was still developing at point guard. Then, they  stunted his growth by pushing him to the wing when they traded for Jose Calderon. If a team allows Knight to grow organically in one position— whichever they choose— Knight could develop into a solid starting guard. He’ll never be a star, but he has the opportunity to be a solid starter with a little consistency.

Joe Dumars has built a team that should appeal to the Id of every basketball fan

For the past five seasons, I’ve been fighting an internal battle writing about the Pistons. There’s the rational side of me that fundamentally understands that contending teams typically aren’t built in the NBA without fully bottoming out (unless you’re a team with unlimited resources to spend your way out of ever needing to rebuild). The Pistons have been bad, to be sure, but never got spectacularly bad because of the team’s insistence on keeping around just enough veterans to prevent them from picking in the top half of the lottery in any draft during that stretch and to limit their financial flexibility because, typically, veterans are much more expensive than unproven players that usually fill out the rosters of the worst teams.

The Pistons have only halfheartedly committed to a rebuild, arguably making the process of improving take longer than it needed to. That’s what has made watching a run-of-the-mill bad team over the last several seasons even more frustrating from a fan’s perspective. Any objective analysis of the Pistons over this stretch has to include the fact that they’ve complicated the rebuilding process by their own confused strategy  and insistence on paying big money to limited veterans.

But there’s also the less rational side of me that, after years of little action other than firing coaches every other year and making their draft picks, just desperately craved the team making any moves again. After years of watching a boring, complacent, lifeless team and organization, I’m choosing to ignore being rational and embracing the chaos that has been the 2013 offseason.

Can Maurice Cheeks coach? Who knows. Can Josh Smith play productive minutes as a small forward? No clue. Can Brandon Jennings become an efficient point guard? Does Chauncey Billups still have functional legs? Was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over Trey Burke a genius move or another blunder? Don’t ask me.

Plenty of good analysis on this site and others has dug into why, collectively, these moves are questionable. Smith is the king of long twos and is most effective at power forward, a position Greg Monroe happens to occupy right now. Jennings is talented but tends to shoot too much and plays out of control. Cheeks has been average to terrible in all of his previous years as a head coach. But whether you fell more into the “just bottom out already” or the “just make a move already!” camp, I think everyone agrees the Pistons simply need more talent. Regardless of fit, Dumars has delivered.

This isn’t the summer of 2009 all over again, though. Caldwell-Pope’s Summer League performance was already enough to prove that, at the very least, he’s a better draft pick than Austin Daye was that year. Smith, unlike Charlie Villanueva in 2009, actually plays defense. Jennings, unlike Ben Gordon in 2009, is still young enough to not have peaked as a player. And, unlike in 2009, Monroe and Andre Drummond are around and improving still. If Monroe and Drummond are so good that Smith and Jennings only have to be the third and fourth best players on the team, the Pistons will be in great shape.

Objectively speaking, there is sound statistical analysis that doesn’t bode well for how this roster will fit together. For the time being though, I’m content to ignore that. This team is the eye test’s dream. I can choose to envision a team that runs relentlessly with Jennings and Will Bynum pushing the pace, that has Smith and Drummond filling lanes, forming arguably the best tandem of lob-receivers in the league (hell, the Pistons might as well sign Tyrus Thomas to fill out the roster while they’re at it and just get ALL THE DUNKS) and igniting fast breaks with great blocks. Hopefully Billups is healthy enough to play meaningful minutes late in games when the Pistons want a steadier hand running the offense. Hopefully there are finally enough weapons around for Monroe to operate like the high-post hub he was meant to be. Hopefully the team exceeds expectations enough so that Dumars’ reputation bounces back and we start to remember how great the first half of his tenure as team president was rather than how awful the last half has been. Hopefully the Pistons, whether they’re good or bad, play a brand of basketball that is exciting enough to draw some fans back to games and Billups and Rasheed Wallace don’t have to sit in a depressingly empty Palace every game. Hopefully the Pistons not having a roster spot for him last year didn’t deter Ben Wallace from staying in shape and he’s ready for ONE MORE SEASON as an end of the bench reserve.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I have no idea what to expect from this season, but I expect … something, I guess? … and that’s a definite improvement. If the team exceeds expectations and grabs the fourth or fifth spot in the East, I wouldn’t be totally shocked, although I certainly don’t think that’s likely. I also wouldn’t be shocked if the fact that some of the key pieces appear to be ill-fitting results in a disappointing season and another lottery appearance (or an extra lottery pick for Charlotte). Regardless of outcome though, the Pistons are undeniably intriguing entering the season for the first time since before the Billups trade. That in itself is a win for Dumars. It remains to be seen if it’s enough of a win for him to get a new contract, but it’s certainly a positive start.

Pistons near sign-and-trade for Brandon Jennings, who will receive three-year, $24 million contract

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

Detroit and Milwaukee are nearing a sign-and-trade agreement to send Brandon Jennings to the Pistons, league sources tell Y! Sports.

The sign-and-trade for Jennings to the Pistons will be a three-year, $24 million deal, sources tell Y! Sports.

Update: Wojnarowski:

The Pistons will send Brandon Knight to the Bucks as part of the package for Jennings, league sources tell Y! Sports.

Detroit will also send center Slava Kravtsov and forward Khris Middleton to Bucks as part of sign-and-trade for Jennings, sources tell Y!

The Pistons have not disguised their intent to make the playoffs this season, and Brandon Jennings will help achieve that goal.

I’ve previously dinged Joe Dumars’ offseason work for failing to land a point guard who will definitely be better next season than Brandon Knight was the previous two – hardly a high bar. Jennings provides that.

Still, Jennings is a league-average player and a below-average starter. At 23, he has potential to get better, and his issues have less to do with talent than playing style, which is a setup that is always oh so intriguing. Giving him $8 million a year is probably overpaying, but I don’t think the Pistons are as concerned with getting stuck with a moderately bad contract as they are with upgrading the roster right now.

Knight, who has two years remaining on his rookie deal, comes cheaper, but he’s still a long way from figuring out how to play point guard in the NBA, which might be why Dumars called him a dog. Jennings, who has his own issues running an offense, is at least more talented than Knight. Price aside, I’d definitely rather have Jennings, but it’s difficult to completely dismiss price.

Khris Middleton looked late last season like he could become a rotation-level backup, and Viacheslav Kravtsov has an outside shot of reaching that level. Those aren’t the type of players to worry about in a trade that acquires a starter, and barring a huge surprise, that’s what Jennings is. If an old Chauncey Billups or lost Rodney Stuckey takes the job, this trade has likely gone wrong.

On the bright side when it comes to marginal talent, the Pistons should have no trouble signing Peyton Siva now.

But all that is peripheral. This trade is about Jennings and making the playoffs this season.

Jennings is an upgrade for the Pistons. How much of one and at what cost will determine the long-term ramifications of the deal. For the Pistons, who seem to be thinking more short-term anyway, I don’t think they could have done much better.

Chauncey Billups talking with Pistons about front-office job

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

Pistons have talked with Billups about front office job when he is done playing.

Chauncey Billups has made no secret about his desire to one day become a general manager, and I’d be shocked if working with Joe Dumars weren’t a significant part of Billups’ decision to sign with Detroit. I hope Billups’ management career begins with the Pistons after he retires.

Ideally, that process begins with a couple successful seasons as a player first, but Billups is clearly smart enough to join a front office, and his playing career is winding down. It’s time to think about the future, and not too long from now, the Pistons would do well to hire Billups as a scout or assistant general manager or something of the like.

Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe left off Team USA roster projection

Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk projected the Team USA roster for the 2014 World Championships, and he omitted Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

Drummond and Monroe both just participated in the Team USA minicamp, so they’re at least in the mix. But Helin’s projection – an outlook I also see as likely given the positional disparity and the style of international play – gives Team USA a roster that skews small with an extra point guard replace a big. That would obviously hinder Drummond’s and Monroe’s chances, but I still wouldn’t count them out for 2014, when Helin predicts – another assessment I agree with – multiple top players will sit out.

If Monroe’s defense really has taken the next step, he’ll be a decent contender for a roster spot. He has the type of high-post passing game that works well in the international game, but Team USA should be able to do better than the one-way player Monroe has been for most of his NBA career. If Monroe is truly a capable defender now, not one who just helps on that end sporadically, that bodes well for his chances.

Drummond is the real wild card. He’s looked great in the minutes he’s gotten, but unfortunately, he hasn’t gotten many. (Thanks, Lawrence Frank.) Even counting college minutes, Drummond lags well behind nearly all the other participants in the minicamp.

The darker portions of the bars represent NBA minutes, and the lighter portions represent college minutes.

With all due respect to Marcus Smart, the Oklahoma State point guard who hasn’t yet been drafted, every one of Drummond’s major competitors for a roster spot has a significant advantage here. USA basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo just hasn’t had enough opportunities to see Drummond play.

At least Drummond and Monroe can prove themselves during at least part of the 2013-14 season before the roster is set. I think Drummond, if his per-minute production holds up in what should be a larger role this season, will make the Team USA roster. Monroe’s case is more doubtful, because the flaws in his candidacy are more under his control, and he’s had more time to improve them but still hasn’t done so.

At this point, both are on the verge, and they have a real chance to make their cases. I don’t see enough evidence to disagree with Helin leaving off Drummond and Monroe now, but hopefully they’ll give him reason to reconsider his prediction before the actual selection.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rookie of the Year?

ESPN’s David Thorpe:

KCP finished with a flourish in Orlando, looking every bit the part of a strong and athletic player who can impact the game at both ends. He’s going to be dealing with a number of talented, veteran guards in the rotation, but he’s got the best long-term potential of the group as a shooting guard.

Thorpe’s early grouping of Rookie of the Year candidates lists Caldwell-Pope in a pretty diverse group of guys in the running.

However, he’s listed as one of three rookies who, despite impressing in Summer League, won’t be in the running for the award; joining Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroeder and Phoenix shooting guard Archie Goodwin.

Considering Caldwell-Pope played pretty poorly for half of the games in Orlando, it’s actually a pretty positive take from Thorpe. What people have kind of ignored is that, slow start aside, he really took off in the final games of the week.

His role is simple; he’s a role player. He’s not going to have to try to make all the plays like a Michael Carter-Williams in Philly or Trey Burke in Utah (though, that helps for this award). All Caldwell-Pope is really going to be relied upon for is defense and perimeter shooting — kind of Detroit’s version of Danny Green, if you will.

The Pistons desperately needed a 3-point shooter (or three) going into this offseason, and at this point he’s got a pretty good chance of being one of the guys Mo Cheeks throws onto the court to help give the Josh Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond frontcourt some breathing room.

There probably isn’t a great chance he ends up as the Rookie of the Year, but with the recent run of success the Pistons have had with putting rookies on the All-Rookie teams — Jonas Jerebko in 2009, Monroe in 2010, Brandon Knight in 2011 and Drummond last season — if Caldwell-Pope can hit some shots and play decent enough defense to play 20-25 minutes, he could very well slide into that.

But, if just to humor you on the idea of Caldwell-Pope being Rookie of the Year, Mike Miller did win the award back in 2001 after putting up a rather modest 12-4-2 line while playing for a lowly-seeded Magic team.

Greg Monroe stands out in Team USA scrimmage … with defense

Kyrie Irving continue his ascension as the NBA’s newest superstar, Anthony Davis showing why he was the No. 1 pick last year and Dion Waiters shooting a lot, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond were both effective in the USA Basketball Blue-White scrimmage Thursday.

Monroe finished with 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting with six rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes as a starter for the blue team. But that type of production is nothing new — we know Monroe can score efficiently, rebound and pass. It was his defense that made an impression. Monroe had a steal, forced a turnover and blocked a shot in the game. It definitely helped that he was matched up against the offensively awkward DeAndre Jordan, but Monroe looked more comfortable defensively. Check out the great help defense on a Jrue Holiday drive that resulted in a blocked shot. Those are the types of plays Monroe has routinely been late rotating on in his career so far.

It was just an exhibition game, but it’s certainly worth noting and being cautiously optimistic about. Monroe has added to his game each of his three seasons — he’s obviously still improving and works hard in the offseason. If he put as much work into his defense this offseason as he has into his offense in the past, this season has the potential to be really exciting. Monroe was already a near All-Star with just his offensive production. His quick hands and ability to get steals are already an asset, and if he becomes even average defensively with the talent around him, the Pistons will be one of the league’s best defenses.

Drummond, meanwhile, filled up the stat sheet in limited minutes (after all, he has a lot of experience with that sort of thing). He scored 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting with six rebounds and a block in just nine minutes for the white team. Foul trouble did impact his minutes though — he picked up four in those nine minutes.

Whether Drummond and/or Monroe make the final roster or not, it’s great to see both getting a chance to show their immense potential on a national stage.

(Finally) Making the Dwight Howard-Andre Drummond comparison

I’ve always considered myself a crusader against making outlandish comparisons for young players to established stars, setting the bar too high before they’ve even had a chance to develop. Last season, because of his size and amazing athleticism, Andre Drummond drew frequent Dwight Howard comparisons and I mostly resisted because, come on … it’s Dwight freaking Howard, a top five player in the league who has already had a couple of near-MVP-worthy seasons and led a team featuring himself and a bunch of shooting guards to the NBA Finals.

Well, Drummond now has a full year under his belt and, as we all know, had monster production on a per-minute basis. This offseason, he’s reportedly “attacked” the team’s offseason conditioning program, working on his biggest non-free throw shooting weakness, his conditioning. So with Drummond putting up insane per-minute numbers, with another year of experience, with more talent around him and, hopefully, improved conditioning that allows him to stay on the court for extended minutes, it’s time to call this what it is. There’s at least a decent chance that after this season is over, Drummond is better after two seasons in the league than Howard was at this point in his career. I wrote about the exciting potential of a Monroe-Drummond frontcourt in today’s Detroit Free Press column:

Last month, I discussed how Greg Monroe’s offensive progression and skill set is remarkably similar to Gasol’s. And in Drummond, the Pistons have their Howard. In fact, as preposterous as it would’ve sounded when eight teams were passing on Drummond because of the all-too-famous and mysterious “red flags” he had coming out of college, there is a sound case that Drummond actually is better than Howard was at this point in their careers.

I was hesitant to say that while Drummond was putting together stretches of great play during his rookie season, but the results are undeniable. Howard made incremental improvements from his first year to his second year. They were noticeable but not huge leaps statistically, simply because he handled a large workload as a rookie.

Drummond doesn’t have to prove he can fill up a stat sheet, he has to figure out how to stay on the court. If he can do that, it’s not out of the question to envision him playing at an All-Star level as soon as this season, even as he works to refine the more fundamental elements of his game.

NBA executives reportedly sour on Pistons signing Josh Smith

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

Covered at length here. Executives have mostly panned the Josh Smith signing, and as I made clear in that piece, some of that criticism has probably gone overboard. Giving Greg Monroe the max contract he’ll want next summer (or the max extension he wants now) makes even rival execs queasy — and it should — and the Pistons still have a lot of moves to make going forward. Smith’s contract doesn’t impair their flexibility in going about those moves, and he’s a quality piece.

There is a contingent of fans who don’t believe the media is capable of intelligent analysis (though I don’t know why those fans would be reading this site), and though I suppose those fans would argue Lowe has manipulated the facts or something else moronic, this comes from a source those fans would have more trouble refuting.

NBA executives mostly dislike the Pistons’ signing of Josh Smith. That stings to see written out.

Of course, Lowe didn’t conduct a scientific poll of front offices, and even NBA executives widely view the move as foolish, they’re not necessarily right.

But I do find it telling – and worrisome – that people in the highest levels of basketball analysis are against this signing.