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