Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
And we arrive at the Detroit Pistons. Or, as I like to call them, the SuperBucks. Mostly mediocre, always depressing, and carrying a strange affinity for volume scorers that struggle to score.
There are plenty of sad parallels between the two organizations, from Charlie Villanueva and his oversized contract to this off-season’s Brandon Jennings-Brandon Knight swap. Both teams have been wallowing in the NBA’s no-man’s land, with the Bucks never losing more than 31 games since the 2008-09 season, and the Pistons bottoming out at 25 wins. Each squad has made the playoffs in that time, with the Bucks squeaking in twice and the Pistons once.
Each team managed to land a playoff berth with a losing record, as well, which is a depressing snapshot of how both organizations are simply doing it wrong (“it” being rebuilding), and the Eastern Conference has by and large been pretty terrible of late.
So while the Bucks had a miserable off-season, only furthering their plight into mediocrity without the purpose of tankers like Orlando, Phoenix, or Philadelphia, the Pistons at least made a decisive push in one direction or the other. The only issue is, of course, how far upwards have they pushed? How much did the roster really improve in the off-season? And what is the ceiling of the current core moving forward?
For the record, I think it’s very likely that the Pistons make the playoffs in 2013-14. A rotation that features Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, and Josh Smith looks like it should be pretty decent. Of course, three of the aforementioned players would all play the 4/5 in an ideal world, and a lineup of Jennings, Smith, Drummond, Monroe, and someone like Chauncey Billups or the rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard would be fun, albeit clumsy and inefficient.
A lineup with Smith, Drummond, and Monroe all on the court at once will work in stretches, but Smith simply isn’t a great fit with the current collection of talent. Yes, he’s a very good player, and his signing absolutely improves the Pistons’ roster. But the improvement will be stunted by the imperfect match of a high-usage, mid-range-loving point guard (Jennings) with a high-usage, mid-range-loving forward (Smith). Drummond and Monroe are both fantastic, and were easily the two best players in Detroit last year. Smith will only clog the painted/mid-range areas and take shots away from the ultra-efficient duo.
Add in Smith’s hefty four-year, $54 million contract, and it seems as though the writing is on the wall that either Drummond or Monroe will be moved at some point in the next couple of years (Monroe’s rookie deal expires at the end of the season, so it could very well be him on the move by the deadline if an extension isn’t reached.). A team with the issues that Detroit has had of late cannot afford the luxury of moving one of their top-four players, but it looks as though that’s what they’re set up to do.
Outside shooting will be the main issue with this particular Pistons squad. Caldwell-Pope is a college sharpshooter that will be relied on heavily to space the floor, along with the aging Billups, who is now entering his age-37 season. Jonas Jerekbo (30.6% career from 3-point range) will be expected to take another step forward in the coming year in all facets of his game after having a decent 2012-13. Will Bynum (26.9%) has been an all-around disappointment and will likely lose considerable minutes to Billups.
Defense will be dicey as well, as a back court/wing defense made up of Jennings, Billups, and Smith won’t be slowing too many opponents down at the point of attack. While Smith is individually an okay defender, he’ll struggle if/when relied upon to slow down threes or stretch-fours.
Truthfully, the team improved, and probably enough to make the playoffs in the top-heavy Eastern Conference. A likely first round match-up with the likes of Miami, Brooklyn, or Indiana would be looming, of course, and with Smith’s large contract and an odd collection of talent, the chance of attaining what might be deemed “success” in Detroit is certainly a moving target.
Best Case Scenario
Jennings and Smith make a pact to avoid shooting such a ridiculous amount of mid-range jump shots, and new head coach Mo Cheeks makes a concerted effort to get the ball down low to Drummond and Monroe to drastically improve the Pistons’ offensive efficiency. Rookie swingman Caldwell-Pope shoots as expected, and Jerekbo continues his development as Billups holds off Father Time for one more year. The talent on this team is great enough that this team could manage 44-47 wins if everything clicks.
Worst Case Scenario
Any significant injuries to rotation players will be difficult to cover for, and this squad will still rely on Villanueva and Bynum to play minutes on a regular basis anyways. The 7 through 10 slots on the roster aren’t too great, and there aren’t a ton of defenders on this roster, 1-12.
The expected high volume of shots jacked up by Jennings and Smith at a rate that simply won’t be conducive to winning basketball games will hurt, and while Drummond and Monroe should be able to get a ton of put-backs off misses beneath the basket, well, they can’t clean up all of the misses. If Jennings-Smith doesn’t work, this team will stumble to something around 35-38 wins and narrowly miss the playoffs.
Most Likely Outcome
In case you haven’t been able to tell, I’m no fan of Detroit’s methods of roster construction. I do, however, have high hopes for Caldwell-Pope, and I am a huge fan of both Drummond and Monroe. In addition, it’s impossible to deny that adding Josh Smith to a team’s starting lineup would improve pretty much every team in the league. Ironically, the Pistons were one of a handful of teams that the fit wasn’t great for, but they’re the team that brought him aboard.
I’ll enjoy watching this team, if only because a lineup that features Jennings-Smith and Drummond-Monroe tandems is tantalizing for countless reasons. I do think they’ll make the playoffs in the East, even if they’d only be the ninth or tenth best team in the West. They’ll manage 40-43 wins, and have a legitimate shot at the seventh seed or better.
|Toronto Raptors (22)||Washington Wizards (19)|
|Boston Celtics (24)||Detroit Pistons (18)||Charlotte Bobcats (26)|
Philadelphia 76ers (30)
|Milwaukee Bucks (20)||Orlando Magic (27)|
|Los Angeles Lakers (23)|
|Sacramento Kings (25)|
Utah Jazz (29)
Phoenix Suns (28)
|Dallas Mavericks (21)|