Where to begin?
Following a dismal 29-53 season in 2012-13, the Detroit Pistons organization decided to make a couple of blockbuster moves over the summer in hopes of igniting the fan base and lifting the squad back to the playoffs. Trouble is, none of the moves have worked. So we have poor roster construction, plus a new coach that refuses to use his roster in a way that might be conducive to winning. Ladies and gentleman, your 2013-14 Pistons.
The underwhelming and underachieving point guard sign-and-trade of Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings with the Milwaukee Bucks netted the Pistons the better player, but it was a fairly marginal upgrade at a steep cost. Jennings is now inked to a 3-year, $24 million contract, and provides production that is pretty borderline for a starter.
The signing of Josh Smith was a complete and utter disaster, though many folks saw that coming from a mile away. But it’s been worse than that. He hasn’t just struggled, he’s posting career-lows in nearly every single rate-based statistic. He’s shooting three pointers at a career-high clip — 23.5% of his shot attempts are from beyond the arc! His next closest season was the 17% rate that he jacked up long-range jumpers last year. And the kicker, of course, is that he’s shooting exactly 23.8% from deep. Ick.
And it gets worse. His trigger-happy nature from three-point land has led to drawing fouls at a career-low pace. Smith is shooting just .26 free throws per field goal attempt, and when he gets to the charity stripe, he’s shooting just 57.6%. That’s second-lowest in his career, after last year’s 51.7% mark.
Pairing a “stretch four” with big man Greg Monroe seems to be a smart basketball move, in a vacuum. But the Pistons aren’t a vacuum, except for in the sucking-the-life-out-of-the-game-of-basketball type of way. They also are allowing Smith’s usage rate to continually sit above Monroe, who is the most consistent offensive performer on the squad.
Andre Drummond has been the best all-around player for the Pistons, but he isn’t exactly a low-post savant. And the overlapping skills of the Pistons’ ambitious three-headed monster have created a number of issues. Surrounded by long-range assassins, however, it could have worked. Which was at least the idea behind selecting Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
But Caldwell-Pope has largely struggled in the first half of his rookie season, shooting just 32.3% from three-point range and not doing a whole lot else positively on the court. Veteran Chauncey Billups has next to nothing left in the tank, and has been awful in the 18 games that he’s managed to play.
Kyle Singler has been one of the lone bright spots for the Pistons this year, but he’s still shooting just 33.6% from deep and only playing about 24 minutes per game. Rodney Stuckey has bounced-back nicely from a rough 2012-13 campaign, but is only getting 26 minutes per game off the bench behind Jennings.
So here’s what we have in the Pistons. A team whose two best players are 3rd and 4th on the roster in minutes played, and are forced to lost court time to one of the worst forwards in the league this season in Smith. Their backup point guard (Stuckey) has been better than the starter (Jennings), but they’re still siphoning off minutes to washed-up and ineffective players like Billups and Will Bynum.
A lot of the above points to one thing: coaching. Why is Maurice Cheeks allowing Smith to jack up 3.6 three-pointers per-36 minutes while shooting such an unsightly percentage? Why isn’t the offense entirely and only centered around Monroe in the low-post and a Jennings/Stuckey and Drummond pick-and-roll? The misuse of what is technically a very talented roster is frustrating.
Why would a coach allow this to happen?
It looks like something that a nepotism-ridden JV coach would allow his cocky kid to get away with. And it isn’t only shot selection either. Look at that 6 for 34 mark on the left baseline. Or the 3 for 17 from right around the free throw line. Smith has simply been a terrible offensive player this season, and there’s no way around it.
What gives? The tanking argument would be tempting, but the Pistons a) seem to still think that they’re good, and b) are legitimately only one game out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. And they’re still better than the tanking teams that are doing things right, like Philadelphia, Boston, and Orlando. That’s the sad thing. They’re still trying to be good.
The Pistons have $54 million over four years tied up in what is apparently this terribly ineffective version of Josh Smith. They inexplicably gave Bynum a two-year deal before the season. And they still owe all that money to Jennings. It’s tough to see the plan here, as the Pistons passed on the likes of Trey Burke in the draft because they thought they were okay with the stable of point guards that were already on the roster.
As it stands, the Pistons have a couple of expensive, mediocre point guards, a pair of very good, young, talented big men, and an over-priced, selfish, inefficient forward. There isn’t much else there, other than some young, bench-quality wings. They’ll have Charlie Villaneueva’s $8.5 million and Stuckey’s $8.5 million coming off the books over the summer, but there isn’t a whole lot that will entice free agents to come to the Motor City.
Hopefully, Mo Cheeks can figure out how to reign Smith in a bit, and the Pistons do the right thing when it comes to keeping/trading/developing Monroe and Drummond. But it sure seems like a mess, and with no end in sight.