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Category → The Big Question

The Big Answer?: John Kuester

DF then: Will he develop a more creative offense?

In his Pistons season preview, John Hollinger wrote Detroit’s biggest strength was one-on-one scoring:

One thing we know about the Pistons is they’ll be able to find matchups they like and isolate for shots. Detroit’s lineup will be chock full of scoring at positions 1 through 4, with Wallace in the middle to clean up any misses.

Moreover, Stuckey and Prince are two of the better post-up players at their positions, allowing them to exploit size mismatches for close-in shots. Hamilton and Gordon can score in isolation as well, although they prefer to do their work off the ball and score off the catch. Bynum adds similar skills as an energizer off the bench. One other player to watch in this regard is second-year pro Daye, who is 6-11 with a sweet J that he can release over most defenders.

At the 4, Monroe and Villanueva can provide a different threat against opposing big men unaccustomed to playing on the perimeter. Moreover, their outside skills will help provide some space for the others to do their damage.

Kuester probably will have to run the offense this way, even if it’s a tad boring. (And man, these guys were hard on the eyes last season.) With no skilled passers in the backcourt, no outright stars and four players of roughly equal offensive skill on the court at most times, Kuester will do best to focus on attacking the opponent’s weak link.

I actually agree with Hollinger that this type of offense would be more productive than most fans think. But it’s taking the easy way out. An isolation-heavy offense, unless you have an offensive star the Pistons don’t, wont be great. It can be enough to get by, but it certainly won’t rank among the league’s best offenses.

If Kuester can show some imagination and design a gameplan that involves moving the ball more to create easy shots, that will be a significant way he can demonstrate his ability as a head coach.

DF now: Yes

The Pistons’ offense was actually a surprising – and overlooked – bright spot this year (if your expectations are low, which they should be). Detroit ranked 14th in offensive rating.

The Pistons weren’t as isolation-dependent as initially feared, although Tayshaun Prince all year and Richard Hamilton before his late-season turnaround didn’t exactly do much to move the ball. But overall, the team showed more creativity than expected

The Pistons finished third in the NBA by converting putbacks on 7.46 percent of their misses (behind the Grizzlies and Kings), using data tracked by Synergy. Besides putbacks – because, who would blame a team for not assisting a putback? – Detroit assisted  62.05 percent of its field goals, 14th in the league. That’s pretty good for a team without a natural point guard.

Kuester had a lot of problems this year, but he directed a surprisingly effective offense.

PH then: Can he prove he’s not George Irvine?

Pistons fans know the story with Irvine — he was a nice, respectable coach who the players didn’t hate and who got a team that was in transition in 2000-01 to play reasonably hard while not winning many games. The Pistons have to figure out if Kuester — a likable and respected coach — is a stopgap or if he can be around long-term based on how he performs with his full compliment of players.

PH now: No

That whole ‘likable’ thing Kuester had going for him last season? Kind of eroded. His players weren’t easy to coach, no doubt. The roster he was handed was full of flaws, no doubt. But Kuester’s inability to communicate about players’ roles, the perception that his discipline was selective and the fact that his strategic decisions were often perplexing all added up to about the worst possible season a coach on thin ice could hope for.

Kuester worked his whole life for a head coaching opportunity in the NBA, and he got about the most unworkable situation any coach could’ve been put in. That still doesn’t excuse the things he did to contribute to the chaos this season.

The Big Answer?: Jason Maxiell

DF then: Can he really be a reliable backup center?

At just 6-foot-7, Jason Maxiell was the Pistons’ most reliable backup center last year. Maxiell hadn’t held a defined role in years, but when pressed into a set spot, even one that doesn’t appear to naturally suit him, he thrived. Did the Pistons stumble onto something? Do Maxiell’s long arms, strong lower body and impressive hops negate his height mismatch against backup fives? If so, Greg Monroe might not be pressed into duty right away.

DF now: I don’t know

Although Maxiell played about half his minutes at center this season, he still played just 930 total – the fewest since his rookie year. And the most regular minutes he received came when he started at power forward early in the season. The Pistons never really committed to him as a backup center.

Using lineup data from BasketballValue, Maxiell played 52 percent of his minutes without Greg Monroe or Ben Wallace on the court and 50 percent without either those two or Chris Wilcox, who sometimes played the five with Maxiell at the four. 82games has Maxiell playing about 45 percent of his minutes at power forward.

But in that limited time, the results were encouraging. His net PER at center was –5.7, as opposed to –17.6 at power forward, according to 82games. His offensive rating without Wallace and Monroe on the floor was 108 and otherwise, 104. His defensive rating remained 113.

I wouldn’t call this a large enough sample size to prove anything, but I’d still like to see Maxiell’s primary position next season – whether it’s second- or third-string – become center.

PH then: Have the Pistons finally figured out how to use him?

Maxiell has had an up and down career with the Pistons. He’s been in and out of the rotation. At times, he’s played well and hasn’t been rewarded with more minutes. At times, he’s played poorly and been left in the game. Last year, he was given his first extended opportunity to start, with mixed results. What we know is this: Maxiell is no worse than the Pistons third best big man (not counting Jerebko) and, if healthy, will be a rotation player all season.

PH now: No

Maxiell was a no-show in the rotation most of the season. Consequently, when he did play, he often looked out of shape from not seeing game action this season. It has been a couple years now since Maxiell was a productive, consistent member of the rotation. I really have no idea where he’s at as far as being able to play a role on this or any team. His production has declined for three straight seasons.

The Big Answer?: Will Bynum

DF then: Did his ankle injuries rob him of his all-around game?

At the beginning of last year, Will Bynum did an excellent job of scoring, passing, rebounding and even defending. Then, he was hit with a pair of ankle injuries. When he came back, he was more the one-dimensional scorer he appeared to be the season before.

So, I want to know whether that early-season production was skewed by a small sample size or derailed by injury. Bynum says his ankles are fine, so we should know the answer early.

DF now: Not as much as I had hoped

Bynum doesn’t get enough credit for his passing, and his man-on-man defense became manageable. So, I think I’d guess his ankle injuries held him back last year.

But he never consistently displayed such an all-around game. Sure, he had few-game spurts, but that’s all he had last year, too. It would take major improvement for him to be capable of doing it more often.

PH then: Can he win the starting point guard job?

The Pistons maintain that there is open competition at all spots. Rodney Stuckey is the presumed starter at point guard, but the Pistons have also expressed a desire to “return to their roots” and focus on the blue-collar style that has won the franchise three titles.

Bynum, the unheralded guy who has had to fight for everything in his career, better embodies that philosophy than Stuckey, the first round pick who was handed a starting job two years ago and shown little improvement.

PH now: Kind of

Bynum was finally given an opportunity to start when Rodney Stuckey was benched for insubordination late in the season. Then, just a couple games in, Bynum’s season was finished after he injured his knee.

Bynum isn’t a starter in this league, but he’s a very good, energetic backup who will push the pace, put pressure on the defense, score points and set up teammates by relentlessly attacking the paint. He has flaws for sure, but he played as hard as any Piston this season and has a reasonable contract. He’s fun to watch and worth having around.

The Big Answer?: Austin Daye

DF then: Is he really mentally stronger?

At media day, Austin Daye didn’t look any bigger or stronger than he did last season, but I’ll take the Pistons’ word that he gained 10 pounds of muscle. My bigger question is whether Daye has grown mentally.

To be honest, I don’t think he has the edge necessary to compete in high-level situations. Maybe he’ll develop it, and he’ll have time. The Pistons won’t have many crucial moments anytime soon.

Still, I’d like to see at least some progress in that regard this season.

DF now: Yes, but…

There’s still more work to do.

Daye showed a lot more resiliency when opponents got physical with him this year. I was impressed by his ability to make shots late in close games, too.

But his body language wasn’t always great, and he showed up late to the Philadelphia practice. He’s not as mature as he needs to become, but there’s still plenty of time to get there.

Daye made steps this year, and I’m pleased with that. Still, I might have the same question about him heading into next year.

PH then: What will he learn from T-Mac?

Austin Daye is not strong enough, athletic enough or good enough for us to expect him to ever have Tracy McGrady-like production. But he, like McGrady, is a really tall wing player, has a nice jumper and can put the ball on the floor pretty well for a guy his height.

If I could choose any player for Daye to watch offensively, it would be T-Mac, simply to learn how McGrady effectively uses his body on drives and takes advantage of his height to get pretty clean looks even on contested shots.

PH now: Not much

It’s not that McGrady wasn’t a good teammate, he really seemed to be. It’s just that with McGrady at point guard so much this season, Daye didn’t play behind T-Mac at small forward as much as I thought he would at first.

Daye showed flashes of potential. He’s the best pure shooter on the team, he can put the ball on the floor and he’s a bothersome defender because of his length, even if he gets pushed around a lot by small forwards and power forwards alike.

I don’t really have a good feel for what his best future position is or what his ceiling is, but I like his temperament, like his shot and like his dog.

The Big Answer?: Greg Monroe

DF then: Can he play up-tempo?

When I analyzed Greg Monroe after the draft, I saw a pure half-court player. It seemed all his skills were best utilized in a slower tempo. But he got up and down the court well, with or without the ball, during summer league.

If he can play fast, the Pistons might have two excellent pieces in Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey going forward. If he can’t, they might have to choose one.

DF now: I still don’t know

He didn’t have much opportunity to do so. If Detroit sheds Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace and re-signs Rodney Stuckey, maybe we’ll find out next season.

If the Pistons follow that plan, they better hope Monroe can. Otherwise, a Stuckey-Monroe pairing probably wouldn’t last long.

PH then: Will he play?

Last year’s first round pick, Austin Daye, rarely saw the court because his strengths are undoubtedly on offense and his weaknesses are more obvious at the defensive end. This year’s first round pick, Monroe, could be described similarly.

The assumption is Monroe will have to play some simply because the team is thin up front. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case — if he doesn’t show that he’ll battle defensively, it’s conceivable he could lose minutes to the Ben Wallace-Jason Maxiell-Charlie Villanueva group (assuming Charlie V. is more focused defensively this year). I hope it plays out differently, but it’s rare a Pistons rookie earns big minutes his first season.

PH now: Yes he will

After two DNP-CDs to open the season, it looked like Monroe would experience a repeat of what happened with Daye last season – being glued to the bench in favor of limited veterans.

Instead, Monroe took the advice of coaches, focused on defense and rebounding, earned minutes and then continued to earn more by – surprise – working hard and playing the role he was asked to play. Monroe was no worse than the third best rookie in the league this season. He was an absolute steal in the draft, and he was the single-most exciting thing about this Pistons season.

The Big Answer?: DaJuan Summers

DF then: Can he do one thing very well?

DaJuan Summers is an alright shooter, alright slasher, alright passer, alright rebounder, alright defender… you get the idea. At Georgetown, that’s great. As the 13th man (at best) on a deep Pistons squad, it doesn’t cut it.

Barring injuries in front of him, Summers will need to develop a specialty if he wants to play much this year.

DF now: Maybe, but he hasn’t proven it

Summers played just 199 minutes this season, fewer than half of the paltry 405 he played last year. So, he didn’t get much of a chance to impress anyone.

But if there’s any single skill that emerged in his game, it’s outside shooting. Summers made 9-of-21 3-pointers this season (42.9 percent), which is a pretty good mark. His 15-of-42 3-point shooting last year (35.7) is strong enough that this year’s stellar shooting doesn’t seem like too much of a fluke.

I suspect Summers’ all-around talent will earn him an NBA-roster spot next season. Whether he receives regular minutes will, again, likely depend on whether a specific skill emerges.

PH then: Why isn’t he better?

Last year, I believed one thing would get DaJuan Summers on the court over fellow rookies Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko: defense. Summers has a legit NBA build. He’s athletic, he’s strong, he’s tall, plus he played in the Big East against tough competition in college. And yet, he couldn’t get a sniff of the regular rotation even with all of last season’s injuries.

A year later, Summers still has all of those physical tools, but with improved health and the addition of Tracy McGrady, his chance to figure into the team’s long-term plans might be over.

PH now: I have no idea

After Summers couldn’t earn playing time last year with all of the injuries, he had no shot this season with a healthy roster, more minutes for Austin Daye and the addition of Tracy McGrady.

Summers has shown he has range when he has played, and he’s strong enough to be a good defensive player. By keeping a good attitude and working hard in practice, he may earn himself a look somewhere next season, but it’s pretty clear it won’t be Detroit.

The Big Answer: Terrico White

DF then: Is his jump shot for real?

Perhaps, the most peasant surprise of the summer league was Terrico White‘s smooth jumper. Prior to the draft, I’d seen it as labeled as streaky, so it’s certainly possible he was on just for a few games.

I thought White’s only chance of receiving significant plaything time this year was as a defensive specialist, but if he can shoot as well as he did in Las Vegas, that’s another avenue to the court.

DF now: No idea

Obviously, White lost his entire season to injury. Considering there won’t be a summer league this year to judge White, this will probably be my question for next year, too.

PH then: Is he Rodney Stuckey insurance?

Joe Dumars has an affection for strong combo guards, mainly because he himself was a strong combo guard.

Incumbent starter Rodney Stuckey hasn’t been offered a contract extension and after three years in the league (two as a full-time starter), it’s fair to say this is a make-good year for Stuckey.

And if he doesn’t “make good?” The Pistons have another athletic, strong hybrid guard in White, who many considered a first round talent, possibly being groomed for a larger role down the road.

PH now: Not anymore

It’s really sad that White lost his entire season to injury. His athletic tools are still intriguing, but as DaJuan Summers found out, it’s hard for second-round picks to get a look in their first season in the league, let alone a second season after barely playing in their first.

I expect White will be in camp next season, but he might have a tougher time making the team depending on who is added to the roster and who leaves.

The Big Answer: Chris Wilcox

Patrick and I are going to revisit our The Big Question series, where we each identified what we saw as the key  question facing each Piston entering the season. We’re skipping Vernon Hamilton and Ike Diogu, neither of whom lasted with the team past the preseason. So, let’s start with Chris Wilcox.

DF then: Is he a PINO?

PINO is Piston In Name Only. He doesn’t play much. His teammates and coaches don’t talk about him. Does he practice with the team? Could 80 percent of his teammates pick him out of a crowd? Does he have any emotional attachment to the franchise, and vice-versa.

OK, I wrote the above paragraph before Vincent Goodwill’s glowing report. But with news that Wilcox’s hamstring will keep him out of tonight’s preseason opener against the Miami Heat, I still think there’s a solid chance this is the last meaningful news you hear about Wilcox as a Piston.

DF now: No – at least for now

Chris Wilcox had his best season since he played for the Sonics. He emerged as a good offensive rebounder, a capable finisher, a better-than-average-on-this-team defender and even a solid passer.

Wilcox led Detroit in starts at power forward and started more games at the position than the Pistons’ first two options this season – Austin Daye and Jason Maxiell – combined. On the court, he was definitely a key contributor.

But I’m not sure which clique he fit into. We learned a good deal about which players meshed with which other players during the Philadelphia boycott, but Wilcox supposedly overslept for the whole thing. Would he have sided with the protesting veterans or the six practicers? We’ll probably never know where his allegiance would have lied.

So, in some respects, I still view him as a lone wolf on the team – albeit a way more productive one than I imagined. If he signs elsewhere this offseason, I’ll claim partial credit for my question. Wilcox will never have made a real mark as Piston. But the way he played this year, if he re-signs, he could establish himself in Detroit.

PH then: Can he be traded?

If John Kuester is trying to foster a renewed focus on defense, Chris Wilcox can’t see court time. The Pistons were much worse defensively when he played last season, and with Greg Monroe added to the frontcourt mix, the team has even less incentive to play him. The question is whether Wilcox, who didn’t show much of anything last year, can show enough to entice a team to take him off the Pistons hands.

PH now: At least I didn’t botch this one as bad as Feldman.

Whether it was the realization that this is a contract year or finally realizing some of his potential, Chris Wilcox was pretty consistent offensively down the stretch for the Pistons.

He became an important player with the injuries to Jonas Jerebko and Ben Wallace and the ineffectiveness of Jason Maxiell. His size and athleticism are still intriguing, as is his good chemistry with Greg Monroe, who often found Wilcox for lobs around the basket.

In the preseason, I didn’t think Wilcox would play at all. Now, part of me hopes the Pistons can bring him back on a one-year deal next season.

The Big Question: Rodney Stuckey

With a cloud uncertainty thunder-storming, snowing and hailing on the Detroit Pistons, we wanted our Pistons preview series to capture that. So for each Piston, Patrick Hayes and I will identify and explain what we each see as the biggest question surrounding him entering the season.

DF: How will losing 10 pounds in the offseason affect Stuckey’s game?

In three years, Rodney Stuckey has yet to turn the corner. Several reasons have been offered, but none of them have involved his weight (at least that I’ve heard).

Regardless, Stuckey lost 10 pounds this summer. I have absolutely no idea how this makes him better. (I’m not saying it won’t. I’m just saying I don’t see how it will.)

I keep hearing about playing for the same coach two years in a row making a big difference, but I don’t buy that. I just don’t think it’s that big a deal in the NBA, where players switch teams mid-season and contribute the next night.

So, if Stuckey takes the next step, I’m not sure what the reason will be. Maybe it will be the weight loss.

PH: Will he make people want to play with him?

I’m sure Rodney Stuckey’s teammates like him just fine. But the thing that struck me most about his “need to be a vocal leader” comments from media day was my belief that great point guards don’t need to let everyone know they are going to be the vocal leader.

People want to play with Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Chauncey Billups. Those guys do one thing despite their very different styles: they make their teammates better. Some of them, like Rose, Westbrook and Rondo, aren’t pure points. Some of them love to run (Nash, Paul) and some are masters of the halfcourt (Williams, Billups). But whether it’s through their ability to find open teammates, or their ability to draw the defense with their scoring ability, or their ability to lock up the other team’s best backcourt player, all of them do something unique that creates opportunities for teammates to excel.

To this point in his career, Stuckey doesn’t do that. If he finds what his “it” is, something that he always does that makes him a unique player, he won’t have to go around telling people about his intentions to be a leader anymore.

The Big Question: Detroit Pistons

With a cloud uncertainty thunder-storming, snowing and hailing on the Detroit Pistons, we wanted our Pistons preview series to capture that. So for each Piston, Patrick Hayes and I will identify and explain what we each see as the biggest question surrounding him entering the season.

DF: Can they find the right rotation before it’s too late?

I firmly believe the Pistons have a playoff team on their roster. The trick will be finding it.

On a team so deep, there are a lot of possibilities for playing time. Many of those combinations will result in a bad team. But I think there’s a quality rotation to be found.

If the Pistons can find it, that would solve a world of problems.

Players would be in the best position to succeed, and their trade values would be maximized. Plus, there would be a clear indicator the players not in the rotation (unless youth is the only reason) don’t fit with the team.

The team would also win, which is the end goal, right?

PH: Can they connect with a spurned fan base?

Pistons fans have grown accustomed to a “brand” of basketball. You play hard, you assert your will on the other team through toughness and you make up for talent deficiencies by out-working your opponent. It was the trademark of the Laimbeer/Thomas/Dumars/Rodman/Mahorn/Salley teams of the late 1980s, and it was a trademark of the beloved Wallace/Wallace/Hamilton/Prince/Billups crew in the 2000s.

The Pistons have a roster of guys who are currently viewed as overpaid, underachieving, finesse players or some combination of the three. I’m not saying all of those characterizations are fair, but unless the Pistons come out of the gate with consistent effort and passion, fans are going to ignore this team.

The Pistons are skilled and could be fun to watch, regardless of how many games they win. But last season, the team had no spirit and often no effort, and that has resulted in a very ornery fan base that is skeptical heading into the season.