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3-on-3: Figuring the frontcourt

Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.

1.  Entering the season, the Pistons were aware of the limitations their big frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith presented. What’s been the biggest limitation so far?

Dan Feldman: Shooting range. Other unexpected issues have arisen, especially on defense, but the expected problem has been the biggest. Smith, Monroe and Drummond have made just 26.2 percent of their shots outside the paint. That’s by far the lowest mark in the league among frontcourt trios with the most starts on each team. Minnesota, 29th in the NBA, has made 32.0 percent.

Brady Fredericksen: The defense, or better yet, the lack-thereof. Sure, it’s tough to watch the Pistons try to cram 900 pounds of basketball players into the paint on offense — and it’s tough watching Smith forced to play way outside of his comfort zone — but the defense is a atrocious. Originally, I though Smith’s athleticism/shot-altering ability would offset some of his limits, but alas, he’s been slow on rotations and unable to play screens adequately. Good defense, which we’ve seen from these guys occasionally, can fix all that dysfunction on offense.

Tim Thielke: The biggest limitation has been a lack of shooting ability. But we knew that going into the season. A more disappointing development has been the fact that Smith is a terrible perimeter defender.

2. With the Smith-Monroe duo, what has been a bigger issue: offense or defense?

Dan Feldman: Defense, but that’s a limited assessment. As we’ve covered before, the Pistons’ jumbo frontcourt is collectively too slow to cover enough ground in a conventional scheme. When Smith and Monroe have played together, Drummond has joined them 85 percent of the time. So, I’m judging Smith-Monroe nearly entirely as a small forward-power forward combination. The answer might differ if they were a power forward-center pairing.

Brady Fredericksen: Both? Like I noted above, defense is where it all starts, but offense has been odd. Both Smith and Monroe can score, and both have redeeming traits on that end of the floor. It just feels like whenever the Pistons commit to getting one of them involved, the other one just gets left out to dry. That’s problematic because when your best offensive options both overlap, you get Smith hoisting jumpers because he has nowhere else to go.

Tim Thielke: Defense has been the bigger issue, but offense should be. Monroe is good at holding his ground in the post, but bad at dealing with cutting, driving or floor-stretching players. Smith is good at challenging shots moving to the basket and weak side shot blocking, but bad at rotating and protecting the arc. Drummond is good at covering ground, defending the post and corralling perimeter players, but bad at avoiding fouls. If Maurice Cheeks would have each player do what he’s good at instead of simply matching up by position, the defense shouldn’t be a problem.

3. Some have suggested that the best current solution for these frontcourt issues is to bring one of Monroe or Smith off the bench — agree or disagree?

Dan Feldman: Disagree, specifically because the question says “current.” Eventually, that might be the best solution if their troubles don’t improve, but the Pistons’ ceiling is much higher if Smith, Monroe and Drummond can play together. Because the Eastern Conference is so bad, the Pistons have more time to work through their issues the best way possible – during live-game action, even if the consequence is losses – while remaining a likely playoff team.

Brady Fredericksen: Disagree. If anything, stagger their minutes to where you only have two of the three top big men on the floor at any time. If that eliminates Jonas Jerebko or Josh Harrellson from the rotation, then so be it. Something else people are forgetting about is that Smith can create. Brandon Jennings has done a serviceable job creating for others, but if Smith were used more as a creator and not an "oh crap the clock is running down SHOOT" guy, that’d be a step in the right direction. The Pistons are 6-2 when Smith has four-plus assists.

Tim Thielke: That is worth trying, but I think it misses the point. Currently the threesome spend 19 minutes a night on the floor together, 18 with two of them on the floor, nine with one on the floor and two mpg with none playing. That last number isn’t changing, that’s just garbage time. There should be more time with two of them on the floor and less with three or one.

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