Category → Analysis
|Dan Feldman||Patrick Hayes||Brady Fredericksen||J.M. Poulard||Jameson Draper|
|Most Valuable Player||LeBron James||LeBron James||Kevin Durant||Kevin Durant||LeBron James|
|Rookie of the Year||Victor Oladipo||Kelly Olynyk||Cody Zeller||Victor Oladipo||Victor Oladipo|
|Defensive Player of the Year||Dwight Howard||Andre Drummond||Andre Igoudala||Dwight Howard||LeBron James|
|Sixth Man of the Year||Tyreke Evans||Jarrett Jack||Andrei Kirilenko||Jamal Crawford||Jarrett Jack|
|Most Improved Player||John Wall||Tristan Thompson||Tobias Harris||Tristan Thompson||Tristan Thompson|
|West-8||Trail Blazers||Pelicans||Trail Blazers||Timberwolves||Grizzlies|
|Pistons’ top player||Andre Drummond||Andre Drummond||Josh Smith||Greg Monroe||Josh Smith|
|Pistons’ top rookie||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope||Luigi Datome||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope|
|Pistons’ top defender||Josh Smith||Andre Drummond||Andre Drummond||Josh Smith||Josh Smith|
|Pistons top bench player||Rodney Stuckey||Will Bynum||Rodney Stuckey||Rodney Stuckey||Luigi Datome|
|Pistons’ most improved player||Andre Drummond||Andre Drummond||Andre Drummond||Andre Drummond||Andre Drummond|
|Pistons season ends…||First round||First round||First round||First round||First round|
I answered three questions about tonight’s Pistons-Wizards opener with Rashad Mobley (@rashad20 on Twitter) of great Washington Wizards site Truth About It. Among the topics of discussion — which team’s GM is under more pressure to make the playoffs this season, Joe Dumars or Ernie Grunfeld?
Oof… tough call there. Both probably need to make the playoffs to save their jobs, both are working for newish owners eager for some success… I’ll go with Grunfeld being on the hotter seat, ever so slightly. Dumars had a great offseason, landing a marquee free agent and upgrading the point guard position by acquiring Brandon Jennings. That, along with the fact that Dumars can still point to that championship team he put together, as well as his history as a beloved former Pistons player, are advantages that Grunfeld doesn’t have in any evaluation of his performance. But I think it’s entirely conceivable that if both teams underperform, both will have new GMs next season.
Also, I’ll be at the (hopefully) full Palace tonight in the cheap seats, eager to check out some of the gameday upgrades the team has been touting over the last year or so, so I’ll be tweeting any cool finds in the arena during the game if you care to follow.
What is the No. 1 thing the Detroit Pistons can do to step up and make the playoffs?
For the members of last season’s team who want to show losing was Lawrence Frank’s fault, not their own: Play hard every night. For Brandon Jennings, who wants to show the Bucks’ bad offensive options limited him: Play unselfishly. For Josh Smith, who wants to show the burden playing for his hometown Hawks put on him: Use your energy to highlight your best skills rather than your worst.
I’m not convinced any current Piston is looking at the above situations objectively, and the other sides of each dispute could at least make a case on their own behalf.
But if the returning Pistons play harder than they did last season, the competing case won’t matter. Frank will retroactively look bad.
If Jennings passes well and often, the competing case won’t matter. The Bucks will retroactively look bad.
If Smith plays just as hard as usual but even smart, the competing case won’t matter. The Hawks will retroactively look bad.
These Pistons have a chance to control the narrative, and if they take advantage of it, the team will be better for it.
Just win (within reason)
Pistons fans (the ones who have stuck it out through these lean years of boring, mostly unwatchable basketball) are desperately searching for a reason to stay invested in this franchise. There are glimmers of hope”
Josh Smith, a top-five free agent, willfully came to Detroit (contrary to the many voices who claim that star players wouldn’t sign in a market like Detroit).
Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace, two beloved stars of the past, are back in the fold, which should give a small reason for some of those fans who lost interest back around a bit more.
The rest of the roster is full of players who, even with their flaws, should have interesting enough motivations to compete hard for rotation spots.
No one is expecting a miracle season from this bunch, but if the Pistons play hard, finish above .500 and make the playoffs, it would be hard to argue the season was not a success. If they fail to reach those very reasonable goals, well … the next few years could look familiar to the last few years.
Play with a chip on their shoulders.
It sounds cliché, but it’s true. This is a franchise that’s really been an NBA nothing during the last five seasons. There’s buzz now. This is one of the "League Pass darlings" people want to see. Two of the most important players — Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings — were hailed as bad apples, poor signings and bad fits.
They can use that disrespect. Prove you can play right. Prove you are a good fit. Prove that this team is bound for success and not failure. That mentality is big for a franchise that’s been stuck in the gutter for years.
What is the No. 1 thing Joe Dumars can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?
Trade Greg Monroe
Trading Monroe for a proven wing player would probably make the Pistons better in the short term and increase their odds of reaching the postseason. Suddenly, the difficult task of making a jumbo frontline work would vanish. Every Piston could fill a role without straining himself.
But that would likely lower the Pistons’ ceiling, and I don’t want to do that. I believe in Monroe’s upside, and unless it’s clear a Monroe-Josh Smith-Andre Drummond frontline won’t work, I wouldn’t want to sell low on Monroe.
This Playoff Push series is about, well, making a playoff push this season. That seems to be the Pistons’ No. 1 goal, and that makes sense for an owner looking to make money right now. But I’m aiming bigger and thinking longer term, and through that lens, Monroe is more valuable.
Don’t treat this roster as a finished product
If this truly is a make-or-break season for Dumars, I hope he’s willing to go down fighting. At his best (and sometimes, at his worst), Dumars has explored compelling trades. As the team has declined into irrelevance and burned through coaches, the constant has been Dumars doing very little tinkering with failed rosters he’s put together in previous seasons. This roster certainly has more talent, but if the pieces don’t quite fit as expected, I hope Dumars is willing to make a bold move in-season if one comes along.
There’s a lot on the line this season, but Dumars’ job may be the biggest. He’s built a team capable of making the playoffs, and now he’s got to make sure it does. There are two key pieces that could make that effort a sure thing — the expiring contracts of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva. If those two produce all this year, their $17 million of expiring deals could fetch someone capable of helping the Pistons in their push for the postseason.
What is the No. 1 thing Maurice Cheeks can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?
Identify the optimal rotation – quickly
This is the whole season. The Pistons have talent. It’s just spread across many players, the most-talented of whom have overlapping skills. Cheeks doesn’t have an easy job, but it’s an extremely important one. I think the Pistons will make the playoffs, but I’m totally convinced they have a playoff-caliber rotation somewhere within the roster. It’s just a matter of how quickly Cheeks identifies it and how many games the Pistons lose before he does.
The teams that make the playoffs aren’t necessarily the ones that play the best. They’re the ones that have the best records. If the Pistons lose too much early before they fine the right lineup, their early-season record could keep them from the postseason.
Don’t get comfortable
It is not easy to coach for Joe Dumars. Three straight coaches – with far less talented teams – have each had two seasons or fewer and been shown the door. Cheeks is a retread coach without much success elsewhere and Dumars is an executive whose seat is allegedly one of the leagues’ hottest. The Pistons spent significantly to upgrade their roster in the offseason and they have a flashy, still-newish owner who is antsy to have a playoff team. It’s not necessarily fair to Cheeks, but if the team starts poorly, he may have even more limited time than his predecessors to right the ship.
Cheeks might not be a coaching genius, but he doesn’t need to do anything crazy to succeed. He has pieces, albeit ones that might not fit perfectly, but he has serious talent — something the Lawrence Frank and John Kuester eras lacked. In childhood terms, Joe Dumars has dumped a nice pile of Legos in Cheeks’ lap, now it’s Cheeks’ job to turn that pile of mismatched pieces into something good. He doesn’t need to create any of these this year, but a well-put-together boat should have the Pistons floating into the playoffs.
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 Cheeks’ desired aggressive defense in front of him
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.
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.
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.
What is the No. 1 thing Josh Smith can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?
Shoot more 3-pointers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brandon Jennings’ critics say he’s been inefficient.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.