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Archive → October, 2013

Playoff Push: Andre Drummond

What is the No. 1 thing Andre Drummond can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?

Anchor the defense

Drummond displayed an incredible proclivity for blocking shots last season, but like any rookie, his defensive rotations were sometimes off. If Drummond can transform from a players whose blocks are merely helpful into a player who can be counted upon to help and defend the rim, the Pistons can run Maurice Cheeksdesired aggressive defense in front of him

-Dan Feldman

Don’t let the pressure of grander expectations change his style

Along with being really talented, Drummond is a joy to watch. His two best skills – dunking and blocking shots – just happen to be arguably the two most exciting plays in basketball. Drummond seems fun-loving, and he’s been motivated since he entered the league. Even when he makes head-scratchingly bad play plays (as he does on occasion), they’re usually at least entertaining. This team hasn’t been good for a while and hasn’t had an individual prospect as exciting as Drummond since Grant Hill. Fans, media, coaches and teammates are going to expect more out of him than when he was a just happy to be here rookie, and hopefully, the weight of those expectations don’t change the all-out way he plays.

-Patrick Hayes

Improve defensive rotations

If you watched closely last season, you could see Drummond looking lost defensively. Often, Drummond made up for his errors later in the possession, but sometimes it created problems. If the budding star can improve to a high-quality defender this year, he will be a scary, scary player. Most say he should work on his free throws, but defense is probably more important to his game right now.

-Jameson Draper

Don’t shy from the moment

Part of the disappointment in Drummond’s season at Connecticut was his apathy in regards to being dominant. He should have dominated the Big East, but instead, he was content being a follower on a mediocre, Jeremy Lamb-led team. Drummond can’t take a back seat to anyone this year. He must embrace a larger role and play well because, really, he’s the lynchpin to this entire Pistons team succeeding.

-Brady Fredericksen

Playoff Push: Josh Smith

What is the No. 1 thing Josh Smith can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?

Shoot more 3-pointers

I already covered this one.

-Dan Feldman

Shoot all the 3s you’d like as long as you lock people down on D

Smith is a fringe All-Star who, if he fixes a couple of nagging elements in his game, would be a perennial All-Star. Because those weaknesses – shooting too many perimeter shots, especially long 2s – are so noticeable, people tend to dwell on what he isn’t and forget that, hey, fringe All-Star is still really really good. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Smith’s game to change all that much at this point. But if he’s committed on the other end, he could lead what has the potential to be a very stingy Pistons defense.

-Patrick Hayes

Be the No. 1 offensive player

When Brandon Knight, Jose Calderon or Rodney Stuckey couldn’t feed the ball inside to Greg Monroe or Andre Drummond last season, the Pistons offense stalled. With a lack of shot creators, there was no real easy way to score. This offseason, the Pistons added a few shot creators, primarily Smith, who was the biggest offensive option in Atlanta. He should be here, too. Smith tends to hang around the perimeter and jack 3-pointers, but he cannot do that this year. He must not only be the No. 1 offensive option, but use only the skills that show why he’s deserving of that role.

-Jameson Draper

Play like it is 2009-10

That was Smith’s best season, by far. He didn’t hang out and shoot 3-pointers and didn’t turn the ball over a ton. He just played within himself. Smith is probably going to be forced into some 3-pointers if he’s playing small forward this season, but that doesn’t mean he needs to hoist two a game. He’s one of the NBA’s most underrated passers, too. It’d be huge for the Pistons to get four assists a night from Smith.

-Brady Fredericksen

Playoff Push: Greg Monroe

What is the No. 1 thing Greg Monroe can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?

Defend the post

Andre Drummond and Josh Smith have potential to be the NBA’s best shot-blocking duo, but for those two to have the freedom to fly around and contest shots, it would be a huge help if Monroe fortified the Pistons’ man-to-man post defense. Rasheed Wallace’s ability to guard the opponent’s top interior threat one-on-one was a huge part of Ben Wallace’s off-ball success. He doesn’t have to defend as well as Sheed, but if Monroe holds his own defensively, the more-mobile Drummond and Smith can roam and help everywhere.

-Dan Feldman

Realize that winning will cement his status as a max-worthy player

Monroe is likely to get a max contract when he hits restricted free agency next offseason. But with such a big moment in his career looming, it could be easy to get distracted, under-perform or focus too much on his individual performance. Plenty of players before Monroe have been affected by contract year worries and plenty will continue to be. Monroe should be at ease knowing that all he has to do is play the way he always has while the new talent on the team leads the Pistons to a much better season. The exposure that comes with a drastic improvement of the team will inevitably lead to praise and attention for Monroe for what will surely be his significant role in that scenario.

-Patrick Hayes

Competence on defense

Monroe’s a really good offensive big man. He’s developing a little bit of range as well, and he’ll be an asset on that end of the floor. On defense, however, Monroe has been a liability. If he can develop into even a mediocre defender this year, the Pistons will get much, much better.

-Jameson Draper

Prove he’s a max-player

Monroe obviously has other strengths, but for this team to succeed, he needs to come into the year with a confident 15-foot jumper and some refined defense. There’s no reason he shouldn’t have improved in those areas since last season. If he has, everything should flow more smoothly for Drummond, Smith and every other Piston – and someone who makes his teammates better is often rewarded come contract-negotiation time.

-Brady Fredericksen

Brandon Jennings has opportunity with Pistons to transform his reputation

Brandon Jennings’ critics say he’s been inefficient.

They’re right.

But now that Jennings is with the Pistons, he has a real opportunity to limit his inefficiencies. Maybe then, observers will notice what he does well.

Pass

Jennings is actually a good passer with decent court vision.

In Milwaukee, he shot the ball a lot and probably didn’t pass enough. But even through all of his missed shots, he averaged 6.5 assists per game last year, which ranked 16th in the NBA. That’s not exactly an elite mark, but it’s decent for someone known to never pass.

Dan previously argued Jennings wasn’t actually surrounded by bad shooters earlier in his Bucks tenure, and that’s true. But Jennings was still expected to be the No. 1 scoring option, and that led him to take too many terrible shots.

That past mistake won’t necessarily affect Jennings with the Pistons, though.

In Detroit, with all of the offensive weapons around Jennings, nobody expects him to automatically assume the role of No. 1 option. Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are also capable of leading the team in scoring. And Chauncey Billups can still create his own shot in times of need when he’s on the court.

Get to the rim

Jennings is good at repeatedly driving to the rim – he ranked 29th in layup attempts last season – but he he’s not very good at finishing once he gets there. He shot just 49.5 percent on layups last year, 8.1 percentage points below the league average.

Too often, he collapsed in a heap around the basket near defenders or struggled with his dysfunctional right hand as he shot left-handed layups from the right side.

But as an excellent pick-and-roll ball handler, Jennings can use his slashing ability to set up teammates rather than just attempting to score – especially with the Pistons. Drummond and Monroe especially, but also Smith, are great at setting picks and rolling to the basket.

Defend well enough

Jennings regressed defensively the last couple years, a fact Bucks fans are quick to point out.

But the Pistons give Jennings a chance to look more competent defensive maybe if for no other reason than he seems to be more personally investing in this team than his previous one. But there are other reasons, too.

Jennings is a better defender than Monta Ellis, and that meant more defensive responsibility for Jennings in Milwaukee. In Detroit, Jennings won’t carry that burden.

Maurice Cheeks has raved about the defense of Rodney Stuckey, who very well could be Jennings’ primary backcourt partner. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has also shown good defense during summer league and preseason, and he could develop into getting big minutes at shooting guard.

Plus, a shot-blocking frontline that includes Drummond and Smith might be even more imposing the Bucks’ Larry Sanders-anchored defense. That should take pressure off Jennings, too.

Get a fresh start

So, where can Jennings, a once seemingly budding star who lost his way, play to his potential?

Maybe on a team where he can shoot a reasonable amount and pass to quality scorers rather than be the No. 1 offensive option.

Maybe on a team where he can drive and drop off passes rather than finish every time.

Maybe on a team where he can defend within his means rather than attempt to compensate a bad defensive shooting guard.

Maybe on the Detroit Pistons.

Playoff Push: Brandon Jennings

What is the No. 1 thing Brandon Jennings can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?

Carry himself like the veteran he now is

On a team that added Josh Smith and should see continued development from Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, an upgrade from Brandon Knight to Brandon Jennings should be enough to get the Pistons into the playoffs. On the court, Jennings doesn’t really need to change (though it would be nice if he cut out his bad shots and defended harder).

But off the court, I hope Jennings progresses. Jennings was part of a reportedly toxic locker room in Milwaukee, and locker room problems are the last thing the Pistons need.

Teams, naturally, at least somewhat look to the point guard for leadership. He doesn’t have to be Chauncey Billups 2.0 in this regard, but Jennings can’t lower the team’s level of professionalism. I’d hope he raises it, especially on a team with three rookies and two second-year players, but I’d just take a neutral showing of professionalism.

-Dan Feldman

Evolve

The drastic highs and lows in Jennings’ Milwaukee tenure are well-documented, as are the legitimate questions about whether he can still develop into a consistent, pass-happy point guard. In Detroit, surrounded by bigs who can run, pass and finish, it will be very easy for Jennings to shed his reputation, deserved or not, as a shoot-first (and maybe shoot-second) point guard. All he has to do is let it happen.

-Patrick Hayes

Defend and pass

Jennings, contrary to popular belief, has  relatively high defending and passing skills. Now, he might not do those things, but he has the ability. If he’s not the No. 1 offensive option like he was in Milwaukee, Jennings can actually showcase those skills more. If he does, this Pistons are going to run really, really smoothly this season.

-Jameson Draper

Learn from his available mentors

There’s another point guard on the Pistons who went through a similar, “You’ll never be a real point guard” stage. Jennings needs to learn from Chauncey Billups. Billups needs can teach Jennings how manage that stigma and change that perception.

Maurice Cheeks was a pretty good point guard himself. There’s knowledge between those two. Jennings should take advantage.

And stop taking contested 20-footers.

-Brady Fredericksen

10 predictions, sane and insane, for the 2013-14 Detroit Pistons season

Although my presence at PistonPowered has become inconsistent over the past few months (that might be putting it kindly … I might be the Charlie Villanueva of PistonPowered right now, just collecting paychecks* and occasionally chucking threes), I assure you, I’ve still been lurking. And like many commenters, I share a great sense of optimism for the season.

* Note: Paychecks don’t actually exist at PistonPowered

Part of the reason my writing has become so sporadic is simply that this team became exhausting to write about. Although I’ve been a Pistons fan for my entire life, my first full season writing about the team was the 2009-10 season — the beginning of the John Kuester era. I don’t need to recap how dreadfully boring the past four seasons of Pistons basketball have been — you’ve all been paying attention. The challenge for me during that stretch has been trying to find fresh angles and interesting analysis to offer about a team that, let’s face it, had very few redeeming values. Once the abundant positives of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond were covered, once all of the many appropriate Jason Maxiell jokes were made, once all off the ridiculous commenters were properly insulted, there was very little of value that I could offer to the conversation.

I’m as excited for this season as I was during any approaching season in the most recent golden age of Pistons basketball. Not because I expect this team to be as good as any of those teams — they most assuredly won’t be. But because there are no shortage of interesting, meaningful storylines that will be worth following throughout the season. Whether those storylines ultimately end up playing out favorably or unfavorably, the results are going to be compelling — a high stakes failure, though certainly not what I’m rooting for, can ultimately be as interesting to watch as the more preferable exceeding of expectations. The uncertainty is what is appealing to me this season. The lead-ups to the past four seasons have simply been exercises in self-delusion — any non-ignorant fan could look at those rosters and know those teams were going to suck, those coaches were going to fail and that there was next to no talent on those rosters. Whether the Pistons win or lose this season won’t be a question of talent — they have it.

So, what better time than now to throw out a bunch of way-too-specific predictions with almost no supporting data? Don’t worry though … I’m not the type of writer who makes ridiculous predictions and then forgets about it. This column is bookmarked and we’ll revisit it after the season to see how badly I missed the mark.

1. The Pistons will have their first All-Star since Allen Iverson.

Despite a sound statistical case that Greg Monroe has played near an All-Star level the past two seasons, because of the team’s general irrelevance and terribleness, the Pistons have had no realistic shot at an All-Star. That changes this year. Monroe, already very good, is out to prove he’s worthy of a max extension. Prized free agent acquisition Josh Smith has been about as close to being an All-Star without actually being one as a player can get for most of his career. Brandon Jennings hasn’t ever played close to an All-Star level, but probably thinks he has and has plenty of motivation to prove critics from his Milwaukee days wrong. All three are very good bets to have breakout seasons, but none will represent the Pistons in the All-Star game because …

2. Andre Drummond will be an All-Star and win the Defensive Player of the Year award.

As we’ve seen in the preseason and his limited minutes last season, Drummond is capable of putting up astoundingly gaudy numbers. His play and personality have attracted national media attention (he’s arguably the darling of Grantland) and will continue to, his athleticism will continuously get him prominent highlights on SportsCenter and he’s one of the funniest social media personalities in the league. As we know, All-Star selections require both performance and buzz. Drummond is positioned to deliver both better than anyone on the Pistons, and those factors will be enough to garner him a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

As for Defensive Player of the Year, it won’t go to the player who should win it, LeBron James, because he’ll have to settle for another MVP. It won’t go to the most recent defensively dominant big man, Dwight Howard, because voters will be too influenced by the non-basketball ‘Dwightmare’ drama that has been going on for, what, like four straight offseasons now? So how about giving it to a likable, defensive game changer with outlandish numbers on a much-improved team?

3. Tom Gores will be annoying in a good way.

Gores has received some criticism for not showing his face much around the Palace since purchasing the team. But in all honesty, would you show your face around the bunch he inherited? With splashy offseason moves and an exciting roster, Gores finally has a chance to show off and brag about his investment. So expect a lot of scenes like this, with a goofy poofy-haired guy in too-tight jeans and too much exposed chest hair celebrating big wins with the players. Expect that to be hilarious every time and expect it to really annoy opposing teams but really endear Gores to Pistons fans.

4. Charlie Villanueva will be annoying in a bad way.

Although I’ve made my share of jabs at Villanueva, I’m far from his harshest critic among Pistons fans. Hell, I’ve even made occasionally tepid efforts to defend the guy. In the last year of his dreadful failure of a contract, on a team with enough talent to never have to worry about playing him and already with his new coach questioning his conditioning, Villaneuva is sure to be at optimum fan-irritating levels this season. For exhibit A of his lack of self-awareness, check out his tweets during yesterday’s amazing Detroit Lions game:

 

 

 

 

 

So much in that series — first, classic Charlie V move to leave a back-and-forth one possession game with over a minute left, then be upset when it has a wild ending that he missed; second, pretty funny that he blamed Romo for a meltdown that Romo had nothing to do with — did Romo get the holding penalty on Dallas’ final possession that stopped the clock when Detroit had no timeouts? Did Romo play poor pass defense on Detroit’s final drive?; third, LOL at Tony Romo … I can’t imagine a more embarrassing fellow athlete to clown your performance. Never change, Charlie. Unless we’re talking about changing teams … because in that case, totally change.

5. Rodney Stuckey will have a good season.

I once devoted an entire book chapter to my belief that Stuckey is the symbol of everything that has gone wrong during the second half of Joe Dumars’ tenure as team president, so I obviously have not been on the board of trustees of the Stuckey fan club (hypothetically speaking though, since no Stuckey fans exist … JK JK). Admittedly, I haven’t been a fan of his game, his lack of development and the free reign and seemingly limitless minutes the Pistons have given him in his career to develop into … whatever it is they thought he could develop into.  But criticisms aside, I also like to think I’ve been fairly realistic about what Stuckey is — a limited upside, versatile guard who can give quality minutes in the right situation at either backcourt spot. His size and athleticism will both come in handy for the Pistons this season, as will his knack for getting to the line. As soon as he returns healthy from his freak offseason injury, he’ll carve out a valuable rotation spot off the bench where his lack of shooting is less glaring an issue and give productive minutes all season.

6. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will not.

In the longrun, Caldwell-Pope will be fine. He seems hard-working, he’s strong, athletic and a prototypical NBA perimeter defender and his shooting mechanics aren’t bad. But expect his offensive inconsistencies from Summer League and preseason to carry over into the season. The Pistons desperately need shooting and they can ill-afford a slow start to the season, so if KCP’s shot isn’t falling early, they have other rotation options in Chauncey Billups, Kyle Singler and, when he gets healthy, Gigi Datome, they can try. If Caldwell-Pope makes an impact as a rookie, it won’t be until later in the season.

7. Greg Monroe will get traded.

I closed my eyes when I typed that (impressive, right?). I don’t want the Pistons to trade Monroe because I think it will be nearly impossible to get equal value for him, but I’m also not convinced they want to pay him max money when Smith is making near that amount and Drummond most assuredly will be getting the max in time. That’s a very expensive frontcourt on a team that has always operated within a budget and could use upgrades at other positions. I fully expect Monroe to continue to improve and having a season that justifies him receiving the max deal he’s earned to this point in his career. As that realization becomes more clear, other teams will notice and, more importantly, be willing to invest high level assets for Monroe. I think the Pistons will be offered a package for Monroe that features a really good shooting guard or small forward this season and I think they will take it. Also, any commenter who interprets ‘really good shooting guard or small forward’ as ‘Rudy Gay’ will immediately be banned for life.

8. The point guard play will stabilize, but still underwhelm.

Early in the preseason, a Milwaukee Bucks writer I follow on Twitter wrote something like (paraphrasing … can’t find the exact tweet), “Brandon Knight just really clumsily tried to split a double team. That will lead to TOs if he does that a lot.” Sorry Bucks fans … good luck with that. One thing I will absolutely not miss about the past two seasons — all of the storylines pretending that Knight is a can’t-miss prospect simply because he’s hard-working. He’s likely not a starting-caliber NBA point guard. Now, he’s some other team’s reclamation project. I’m not rooting against his success by any stretch — I root for everyone’s success, with the exception of a few commenters who I openly root against. But it became frustrating to try and find silver linings in Knight, generally, being a poor basketball player during his Detroit tenure. He has a chance to figure it out, and I honestly hope he does, but I’m glad I don’t have to watch the struggle to do it anymore.

So what are the Pistons left with as an alternative? Jennings will be less shot-happy, particularly early in the season, as he tries to ditch the reputation of playing selfishly that he earned in Milwaukee. Less shots for Jennings will be good for this offense, and his speed and passing in the open court should be good for the team’s bigs. Will Bynum will continue to mix great plays with occasional sloppiness, but his ability to create shots for himself and others, particularly Drummond, will prove valuable when the offense is stodgy or the pace needs to be picked up. Billups will provide a comfortable security blanket for when either of the aforementioned become too erratic.

The trio will combine to provide more consistent play, but by the end of the season, Jennings’ shoot-first tendencies and the fact that Bynum is old and Billups is really old might have the Pistons still considering options to upgrade the PG spot in the future.

9. The coaching situation will stabilize, but still underwhelm.

Maurice Cheeks is a retread coach who hasn’t distinguished himself as anything but in two previous coaching spots. I expect the Pistons to be better this season because they have more talent, not because they hired one retread coach to replace another. Best case scenario is that the team plays hard for Cheeks, gets off to a strong start (or at least not a disastrously crippling start like the previous two coaches were known for) and, within a year or so, the team has improved enough that Joe Dumars can hit the market for an upgrade. There’s little evidence to suggest that Cheeks is going to suddenly figure out how to be a difference-making head coach in the NBA. It rarely happens that coaches have multiple failures with other teams then put it together elsewhere. That’s not really a knock on Cheeks though — the NBA is full of retread coaches. Unless you have one of the few best or few worst, coaches have very little positive or negative impact on a team. If Cheeks can get the Pistons to maximize their talent and play competently, he’ll have a job for a couple of years. Then, once the team has improved enough to truly need a difference-making (and expensive) coach, Dumars can look for a replacement and Cheeks will have done enough in two years of helping the Pistons improve to be in play for other head coaching gigs.

10. The Pistons will be the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

That’s a pretty big jump for a team that would probably just be happy to sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed. But really, if you believe in the defensive potential of a Drummond and Smith-led frontline, the matchup problems Smith/Monroe/Drummond create and believe that the backcourt can stay modestly healthy and run a competent offense, moving up into the fifth spot is not that big a stretch.

Along with the aforementioned, for this to happen, we’d have to be working with a few givens. The Heat, Pacers and Bulls are the consensus top three, in some order. Charlotte, Orlando, Philadelphia and Boston will catch you next season. So that leaves eight teams — the Pistons, Knicks, Nets, Raptors, Wizards, Cavs, Raptors and Hawks — competing for those five spots. The Knicks and Nets were playoff teams last season and should be this season, but they’re really old too. It’s not far-fetched to think at least one will take a dive down the standings this season. The Hawks were a playoff team and lost Smith to free agency, but I also think they had an underrated offseason (Paul Millsap was a nice get) and I’m a huge Al Horford fan. So we’ll pencil the in for the fourth seed. To get the fifth seed, the Pistons would have to rely on age/injuries pushing the Knicks and Nets down and they’d have to hope they improve at a more rapid rate than the Raps, Wizards and Cavs. Improbable? Absolutely. Impossible? Not at all.

Who wouldn’t love to see the Pistons and Hawks rekindle their two-year rivalry from the Grant Hill-Dikembe Mutomobo years that also included two of the most hideous jersey designs ever?

From the Vault

I’m going to add a little recurring feature to my Monday columns this season … looking back at some of the worst stuff I’ve written over the years. Enjoy the first installment.

So everyone here knows about my Will Bynum infatuation. In fact, I’ve long argued that Bynum is the superior player to Rodney Stuckey. That point isn’t far-fetched, although it is certainly debatable, and some key stats back the position. But I took it a step further for MLive in 2010 and tried to decide whether Bynum or Stuckey (or both!) should be looked at as a franchise cornerstone at the point guard spot:

The Pistons have a problem that many teams would love: two young, promising point guards, both who have experienced some NBA success, both who should continue to get much better.

But who’s the guy?

Stay tuned for my column later this season when I discuss how Peyton Siva and Kim English could’ve been the next Isiah/Dumars.

Top Tweet

Which Piston was the best Twitter personality this week? Each Monday, I’ll hand out this meaningless award.

There’s a Pistons fan on Twitter named Karl. This is not hyperbole — he’s the most persistent, odd Pistons fan I’ve ever encountered. Anyone who writes about the Pistons has probably been bombarded by Karl with the same questions over and over again (for me, he kept insisting for months leading up to last year’s draft that the Pistons would be crazy to pass on Arnett Moultrie in the lottery … I’m sure every other writer has a story about a question Karl bashed them over the head with as well).

Anyway, a big talking point for Karl related to Josh Harrellson was splitting hairs over whether he’s a center or power forward (as if that distinction matters anymore in today’s NBA). Keith Langlois of Pistons.com posted a story about Harrellson and Karl immediately responded, worried that Harrellson did not meet some arbitrary height minimum to be a NBA center (incidentally, Ben Wallace did pretty well as an undersized center).

 

Now, I suspect that weird, random and uninformed commentary from fans is just something that every athlete deals with. But I thought it was cool that Harrellson took the time to politely say that was a really stupid question:

 

Unfortunately for Harrellson, it opened the floodgates for this series of questions that seem like they were posed by a curious (but still ignorant) 7-year-old. Oh well. Keep fighting the good fight, Josh. Also, who is taller? A cloned version of yourself standing on the real you’s shoulders or a giraffe?

We’re going to try out a weekly mailbag feature …

This will only be as successful as your participation, but I’d like to kick off a PistonPowered mailbag next week. If you have questions about the team, the NBA, grooming tips, this week’s episode of Raw … basically, whatever’s on your mind (seriously … no question is too weird for me to consider), send away. You can email me at patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or find me on Twitter @patrick_hayes. We’ll see how it goes next week.

Also, I haven’t been around here much lately … according to Feldman’s posts, am I obligated to end every post by writing, “Read my thoughts at NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk?”

Playoff Push: Chauncey Billups

What is the No. 1 thing Chauncey Billups can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?

Stay healthy

Rodney Stuckey is a poor fit when the Pistons have Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the court and only an OK fit when Kyle Singler rather than Luigi Datome plays small forward with a two-big lineup. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is behind where many hoped he’d be. Kyle Singler is straining his versatility to fit into the backcourt.

Billups, who missed 106 games the last two seasons, very well could be the Pistons’ best shooting guard option – as long as he can play.

Obviously, injuries aren’t always avoidable, especially for 37-year-olds. But anything Billups can do to keep his body in prime shape could go a long way.

-Dan Feldman

Be old, just not super old

General consensus is that Billups is back in Detroit more for symbolic/leadership/unquantifiable intangibles that hacky sportswriters love type of reasons than for anything he might contribute on the court. Unfortunately, the Pistons can’t shoot, and Billups can. So, if he stays healthy enough to be a competent perimeter threat in limited minutes, his signing will be worth it.

-Patrick Hayes

Mentor

Even if Billups starts – which sounds increasingly – he won’t play as much as a typical starter, which is fine. Billups can contribute more by molding Brandon Jennings into a better point guard. Although Jennings is already seasoned, he still room to grow for him, and Billups can help by sharing his wisdom.

-Jameson Draper

Retake his never-filled throne as a leader

Among the laundry list of problems faced by this team in recent seasons, a lack leadership ranks near the top. There have been veteran players throughout that time, but none have been the locker-room leaders Detroit needed. Though his outside shooting will probably hold up, Billups might not have much left physically. But leadership doesn’t fade with age.

- Brady Fredericksen

Playoff Push: Rodney Stuckey

What is the No. 1 thing Rodney Stuckey can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?

Don’t tempt Maurice Cheeks to start him

The Pistons need a starting off guard who can shoot from the perimeter. The spacing issues presented by a Josh Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond frontline are real, and a slashing guard like Stuckey would create even more problems for himself and the frontcourt.

Chauncey Billups or even Kyle Singler would be better options. (As would Kentavious Caldwell-Pope once he finds his outside shooting stroke.)

Stuckey can be a good defender and good player, but Stuckey shouldn’t start, even if he’s the team’s best two guard. It would make Cheeks’ decision easier if Stuckey simply weren’t the best off guard option, even without considering fit.

So far, well done.

-Dan Feldman

Play well enough to get traded

If Stuckey returns healthy from his recent unfortunate injury, he should also be motivated to perform well in a contract year. The problem is, because of his inability to hit shots from the perimeter, he’s not a particularly good fit for these Pistons. So if he can come back and give some good minutes at both guard spots, maybe his versatility entices a guard-needy team to give up something minimal to take a short-term flyer on Stuckey.

-Patrick Hayes

Find rotation niche

With such a deep rotation at guard , Stuckey, former starter (it seems so long ago) will have to find his niche. While most Pistons guards have found their role (Will Bynum a scorer, Peyton Siva a defender, Brandon Jennings a playmaker, etc.), Stuckey is seemingly in flux. He could become a solid backup at both or either guard positions, as he’s competent on both ends of the court. Only time will tell to see what Stuckey’s niche becomes, but he must find one rather than float directionless.

-Jameson Draper

Play like he want to be paid

The entire Pistons’ guard rotation is murky, and Stuckey’s status may be the murkiest. He’s coming off a down year, and Joe Dumars reportedly tried to trade him in the offseason. Not a great showing of support, and the fact that Dumars found no one to bit might be even more telling.

Stuckey can do his best to excel in whatever role he falls into. If he plays well, gets back into good graces and maybe he’ll fetch the Pistons something in a trade – and himself a few million dollars in July.

-Brady Fredericksen

Playoff Push: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

What is the No. 1 thing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?

Find confidence on 3-pointers

Between summer league and preseason, Caldwell-Pope made just 15-of-63 3-pointers (23.8 percent). That won’t cut it.

Caldwell-Pope rebounds well for his position, but that doesn’t matter quite as much considering how well Detroit’s frontline rebounds (diminishing returns). He defends well for his age, but that doesn’t matter quite as much when veteran and contract-year motivated Rodney Stuckey is healthy.

Caldwell-Pope’s edge should be outside shooting, a skill the Pistons desperately need. If he can’t shoot better from the perimeter, he faces an uphill battle even to make the rotation this season.

-Dan Feldman

Be better than Trey Burke

JK JK. But seriously … if he’s better than Trey Burke, there might be a person or two in the front office who would appreciate that.

-Patrick Hayes

Mature, mentally and physically

I’m convinced Caldwell-Pope could become a really solid NBA shooting guard. At Georgia, he created his own shot, knocked down 3-pointers and defended effectively on the wing.

With Chauncey Billups the apparent starter at shooting guard, Caldwell-Pope will have a little time to improve his defensive rotations and blossom offensively. Caldwell-Pope is also rendered ineffective as soon as he takes contact. He must get a little stronger.

-Jameson Draper

Shoot confidently, defend well

Unlike the Pistons’ recent lottery picks, Caldwell-Pope enters his rookie year without the burden of massive expectations. If he focuses on his strengths, defending and shooting well, a merely solid output in those areas could make him the starter before the season ends.

A regular season like Spurs guard Danny Green’s would be a huge success.

-Brady Fredericksen

Greg Monroe’s effectiveness not captured by Kirk Goldsberry’s ShotScore

Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland developed a new metric call ShotScore. Here’s an explanation, though I recommend clicking through to see the accompanying graphics for a better understanding:

The inconvenient truth is that every NBA field goal attempt has its own level of difficulty that’s determined by several factors, including the shooter’s location on the court. Even though previous approaches have mostly ignored this thorny reality, thanks to relatively new forms of NBA data we can now begin to understand it.

Last year, NBA players took just about 200,000 shots. The league’s collective shot chart reveals the spatial nature of the NBA’s average shooting efficiency.

But this chart also provides a useful baseline that we can use to evaluate individual shooting performances. By overlaying players’ shot constellations, we can estimate the expected total number of points that an average NBA shooter would produce, based on where he took his shots; then we can compare a particular player’s actual yield against it.

For example, last season LeBron James attempted 1,354 shots. Using that league-wide baseline as our guide, if an average NBA shooter attempted this exact same set of 1,354 shots, he would produce a yield of 1,397 total points.

Greg Monroe posted the second-worst ShotScore in the NBA last season, ahead of only Monta Ellis. Goldsberry (again, click through to see the graphic):

Monroe was by far the NBA’s most active shooter near the basket last year. That’s good, except that he struggled to convert his shots down there. He has never met a close-range shot he doesn’t like. This is compounded by his immature midrange game. Although Monroe’s interior numbers weren’t terrible, his slightly below-average production combined with his extreme volume resulted in him arriving at the bottom of the ShotScore list.

Despite his troubles last season, Monroe remains a very strong NBA prospect. With Monroe, Andre Drummond, and Josh Smith the Pistons seem well positioned to dominate the interior for years to come. There is little doubt that Monroe will improve both close to the basket and away from it as his game matures, but as it stands, he is notable for his inefficiency.

I responded at the Detroit Free Press:

the final word of his Monroe analysis — “inefficiency” — is misleading.

Monroe led the league in shots inside 5 feet last season, but he made just 57.8% of them, less than league average. So he had a negative ShotScore in that zone.

Between 20 and 24 feet, Monroe made 44% of his attempts, better than league average. In that zone, Monroe posted a positive ShotScore.

Does that mean Monroe should take more shots between 20 and 24 feet and fewer inside 5 feet? No, of course not.

Inside 5 feet, Monroe scores 1.156 points per shot. Between 20 and 24 feet, Monroe scores 0.88 points per shot. Obviously, the former mark is better.

When games begin, it doesn’t matter how the NBA shoots from each shot location. It matters how many points players score per shot.

Though Monroe shoots below the league average inside 5 feet, his percentage from that range would rank No. 1 in the NBA from 5-to-9 feet, 10-to-14 feet, 15-to-19 feet and 20-to-24 feet (at least 40 shots from each zone).

Monroe’s skill is not making shots near the rim. It’s creating shots near the rim, the highest-efficiency area on the court.

ShotScore has value, but it does a terrible job of capturing Monroe’s ability.

Is Monroe a skilled shooter? Probably not, or he at least wasn’t last season. But he’s an effective shooter, and that’s more important.