Need4Sheed Guest Writer – Lefteris Aslanoglou – Pistons fan from Greece following his team and getting very little sleep watching games in the middle of the night: @Leftosa
This lockout has given us a season that’s going to be different. 66 games until April means that the schedule is quite crowded, and each team has 2 or 3 back-to-back-to-back’s. That’s 3 games in 3 nights, and that’s something that GMs can’t take lightly into account. Bench depth is going to be really important, as well as keeping your players healthy. Some veterans may have the experience in training to know how to keep their body sharp. Grant Hill, a Phoenix Suns great, is 39 years old and getting his career to a close sooner or later, but has managed to play over 80 games a season for the past 3 years. However, wear and tear comes with age, and a season like this requires fresh legs, durable players. The younger players will have a lot of playing time, and a lot to prove.
As the off-season is everything but over, teams must make sure their roster has the proper depth for a season like this, and that they can manage to put together a starting 5 with a good bench even on the third night of consecutive games. So how do the Pistons compare on this front?
The official Pistons roster currently has 14 players; that includes Kyle Singler who won’t be joining the Pistons until the next season, since he decided to stay in Spain. So, will 13 players cut it? The answer is, it depends on the players. Pistons have gotten some great picks the past few years, and are heading towards a younger, rebuilding direction. Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, are some of the young players that are the most promising, with the first two having played a good year each.
Let’s look at each position individually, starting from Center.
Greg Monroe played 80 games last year, averaging 28 minutes per game, and is sure to be staying on court for a few more this season. He’s one of the lone bright spots of the Pistons last year, bringing the team from the bottom of the pack as far as rebounding goes to the middle of it after the all-star break. Don’t let his minutes fool you, Last year’s Pistons coach, John Kuester, didn’t give Monroe many minutes until December, when he made his break-out with his first career start, recording 8 points, 15 rebounds and a block in 35 minutes. He’s a guy that can withstand both the amount of games as well as minutes, and perform great at the same time.
Problem is, the Pistons don’t have any durable backup on Center. Ben Wallace has reached the late part of his career, and was widely believed to be retiring, but decided to stay with the team for another year. He played 54 games last season, averaging 23 minutes and providing the Pistons with good defense, but he’s shown signs (his stat-line deteriorated in every single stat) that the team can’t depend on him.
So the Pistons will need to bring a forward that can play Center to rotate along with Greg and Ben at Center, but do the Pistons really have a player like that? Let’s look at the forwards, shall we?
The players noted in the official roster as both C and PF are Greg Monroe (who won’t have any time to play at PF, in my opinion) and Jason Maxiell, so let’s start with the baby-eater. Jason is, to say the least, inconsistent. We love him because he breaks out once in a while with put-backs and impressive plays, but those are way too sparse to consider him a steady role player. He played 57 games last season, 16 minutes per game, and had a second-lowest career year in scoring, with only 4.2 PPG (his best year was 07-08, with career highs in games, minutes, FT%, rebounds, assists, blocks and points). He didn’t contribute much in either rebounding or blocking up to last year, but he’s shown sparks of defensive quality, which under current coach Lawrence Frank, may shine even more, making him a needed part of the rotation in late 2nd and 4th quarter situations. He may get the same minutes as last year, but that’s only because of the crowded season.
So what else do we have? CV. And we won’t see him until the 4th game of the regular season, because of the suspension he’s carrying over from last season. He and Jerebko are going to be the main contenders for the starting spot at PF, and unless he picks up his game, he’s leaving a lot to the Swede.
Jonas Jerebko, who managed to become a fan favorite in just a year, is the player that seems to be needed the most to be durable and versatile. He’s active, he jumps for the rebound, he’s tall and with good reach, he can be grown into a good defender along with his good stroke. Main problem? He lost a year with injury. He said he learnt a lot from the sidelines, but we all know that another year’s experience on the court could be quite useful when challenged with this year’s season. In 09-10 he averaged 28 minutes with 9.3 points and 6 rebounds per game. His hustle doesn’t show in the stat-line, and if he worked on his game during the lock-out and made sure to get back to top physical condition, he and Monroe will be the main guys manning the front.
Vernon Macklin is something of a wildcard. We haven’t seem much of him; coach Frank says that he’s progressing well, and bringing some good time outside of the NBA, he will be a valuable piece in the rotation when his number is called during the 2nd and 3rd consecutive games. Here’s hoping that he proves to be the break-out guy that Jonas was, both of them being second-round quite unknown picks at the time of drafting. He started all 37 games that he played last year in Florida, averaging 60% on the floor over the past 3 years, with his points per game reaching a career high 11.6 last year, along with 5.5 rebounds and nearly a block per game.
Some of you might ask, why haven’t you mentioned Daye yet? Isn’t he a possible candidate for the PF spot? In my opinion… No. He does have the height and length, but he’s tied for second lightest in the roster, and he hasn’t done much work in the post to give me any reason to believe he’s right for the job. He’s a player that needs to run the wings, not the bored-out-of-my-head way Villanueva does, but the way that got Daye 18.5 PPG as a SF and SG in the two pre-season games. His lightness allows him to move around the court quickly, and when he hustles he provides the occasional block as well. However, his defense is nearly non-existant, so he’s mainly a scorer for the team, a player that should be developed as such, someone that Knight can pass the ball to and get his shot to fall as close to every time as possible. For me, Daye should be exactly what he was during the pre-season. A SF with the occasional rotational role as SG.
However, Tayshaun Prince is also with us this year, and his experience at SF as well as incredible wingspan could serve the team well. He’s consistent even if unimpressive, is a veteran that could mentor the younger ones, can play both SF and PF, and is durable when not injured, having the Pistons record (not sure how close he was to the NBA one) for most consecutive games started over the years. He didn’t miss a game from 03 to 09, averaging about 35 minutes per game. He’s going to be the starter at SF, he’ll get us around 14 points a night on a .464, he’ll get his 3s, he’ll rebound, he’ll pass, he’ll block, he’ll hustle on the Defense and make life difficult for the opposing team. He has good support in Daye and Jerebko, and I think this will be a good year for him.
Damien Wilkins, entering his 8th season in the NBA, has been somewhat of a sleeper role player this far, and I guess he’s the second-round equivalent of a veteran. His best year was a long time ago and his stats have steadily decreased since then. 3.5 PPG in 13 minutes was what he got in 52 games last year in Atlanta, and should be able to come off the bench to provide some minutes in SF if he plays well. His minutes may be around that point, and maybe even lower, if CV and Maxiell manage to man the 4 spot and leave Prince, along with Daye and Jerebko at the 3.
Time for the backcourt, where we have Stuckey, Knight, Gordon and Bynum.
Rodney Stuckey was, up to last year, considered the centerpiece of the organization, the future of the Pistons. Until we actually got to see him play, which was to be frank, a disappointment. After an impressive 3rd year where he started 67 of 73, averaging 34 minutes per game along with 4 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal and a half, as well as near 17 points, last year, when the team needed a leader, he didn’t show up. He joined the whole buffoonery, and his performance was nowhere near an excuse for his attitude. His stat-line was actually quite close to the 3rd year, when everybody expected him to improve; his potential and high ceiling was touted as one of his main pros when he was drafted. There are some excuses regarding the low number of assists, such as that the receivers (-cough-Rip-cough-) didn’t score often enough. But truth is, Stuckey wasn’t in his natural environment at Point Guard. He likes to shoot the ball, he likes to attack the basket, get fouls, dunk on people. Right now, he needs to build his strength and get his shot above the .439 that he got from the floor, and act as the Pistons main SG. We know he can play the games and the minutes, and a good performance out of him is a necessity, especially since the other SG we have is…
Ben Gordon. –sigh- Oh Ben Gordon. He, along with CV, weere Joe Dumars’ big Free Agent pick-ups. Both were given contracts that could get a whole neighborhood out of poverty for life, and Ben Gordon managed to be worse than CV, as if that was even possible. In 7 less minutes than his career year (26 instead of 33), he managed to score almost half the points (11.2 vs 21.4). The Pistons needed a consistent scorer to come off the bench for Rip, and Ben Gordon will still need to be that, this time behind Stuckey. Whether this will be a 3rd year of mediocrity, or whether the absence of Rip, more minutes on the floor and a chance to shine will bring the old Ben Gordon back, is yet to be seen. We know he can get open, he can get up and shoot nearly every way possible, and he’s averaged .404 3P% in his career. He just needs to be the consistent 20 PPG scorer he was in Chicago his last 3 years there.
At Point Guard, we have Knight and Bynum. Knight is a quick, agile, highly-conditioned player who had the most impressive of High School and University years. Full of awards and honors, he’s already a record-breaker for points, assists, 3-pointers and free throw percentage. He’s intelligent, he plays the inside-out game impressively as we saw in the preseason games, he can pass from the most awkward of positions and get his man (usually Daye) open for the shot, as well as use his agility to open himself up; he has a nice shot from anywhere on the court, inside or outside of the 3pt line. He’s also a good defender, something the Pistons lacked in their backcourt, with Stuckey being unwilling to play defense most of the time, and his size allows him to guard both opposing guards.
Bynum can play the minutes to cover Knight, he proved this to be so back in 09-10, averaging 27 minutes per game along with 10 points and 4 assists. His stat-line may seem less impressive for the 10-11 season, but his minutes were quite less as well. He knows he’s going to man the point behind nobody else than Knight, and he’s worked on his game this offseason, along with the improvement he showed last year in 3P% and FT%. We know he hustles, he can steal the ball and finish explosively; he’s still averaging a steal per game and .45 from the floor even though he played 8 less minutes last year. So here’s hoping he’ll be a good backup at the point, providing the much needed minutes.
So, the Pistons have a less crowded backcourt with players that can pass (Knight, Bynum, Stuckey), players that if on a good year we know can score lots (Daye, Stuckey, Prince, Gordon, Knight, even Monroe) and we have a mixture of experienced and young forwards who can rotate well. The position that worries me the most this year? Center. We may criticize Villanueva and Maxiell a lot, but they have good backup in Jonas, and with Daye and Prince on the 3, he’ll be able to fulfill his duty quite well. However, if Pistons want to plan for the future, they need another PF/C combo player. There’s no player skilled enough to provide proper backup at the 5 if something happens to Monroe or Wallace, and even Wallace won’t be able to keep up with the crowded schedule so late in his career.
The Pistons could prove to be a good team, with a reliable bench. I’m not overly excited about our current roster, but with some luck, with better chemistry now in the team and Lawrence Frank at the helm, we might finally see some better performance from players who have disappointed us the past years, and see the younger ones develop into the stars the Pistons need after the departure of Billups and Wallace. We have sufficient depth, and if JD follows Danny’s advice and gets someone like Humphries out of free agency and into the team, we should be left with more positive things than any of the last few years have given us. Are we ready to contend for Playoffs yet? No, I don’t think so. But with the right moves and a bit of luck, we should be fighting near the middle of the Eastern Conference.