Pistons hoping for big step after busy offseason

BY foxsports • October 22, 2013

Andre Drummond is already excited about what this season has in store, now that he'll be playing alongside Greg Monroe and newly acquired Josh Smith.

''We all can pretty much do the same thing. Josh obviously shoots the 3 but can also bring the ball up the floor and create for the other players. Greg's passing of the ball and can create off the block,'' the 6-foot-11 Drummond said. ''I can just grab rebounds, block shots, and dunk everything I get my hands on. It is just fun.''

If all goes according to plan, the Detroit Pistons could indeed be one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA this season, and that would be quite a departure from the last few dreary years. But there's a lot of pressure on this group too. After four straight seasons without a playoff berth, this proud franchise needs a boost from a number of new faces.

Smith signed with Detroit as a free agent, and the Pistons also brought popular guard Chauncey Billups back after he spent the last five years elsewhere. Detroit also traded for a new point guard, acquiring Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee.

It remains to be seen how all these players will fit together on the court. Drummond was impressive as a rookie last season, and the 6-foot-11 Monroe has become a steady offensive force inside.

Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward, averaged 17.5 points for Atlanta last season.

''We are figuring it out and it is all starting to come together,'' Drummond said.

Here are five keys to Detroit's playoff hopes:

NEW COACH: Amid all the turnover on the roster, it was easy to forget that the Pistons also have a new coach. Maurice Cheeks replaced Lawrence Frank in the offseason, and he'll be the team's fourth coach in six seasons.

The Pistons haven't made the playoffs since being swept in the first round in 2009. Cheeks is Detroit's ninth coach since the 1999-2000 season.

AT THE POINT: Brandon Knight looked promising at times at point guard, but he was never the dynamic leader the team seemed to need. The Pistons traded Knight in the deal that brought Jennings to Detroit.

Jennings averaged a career-high 6.5 assists per game last season with Milwaukee, but he also shot 40 percent from the field, the worst mark in the NBA for a player who took over 1,200 shots.

He'll certainly add some scoring punch, but his ability to run the team is probably more important. Cheeks, a former point guard himself, may be able to mentor Jennings, and the Pistons also will look to Billups for veteran leadership.

DEFENSIVE STOPPER: Drummond averaged 1.6 blocks per game as a rookie, and his presence inside could cover for defensive deficiencies elsewhere.

The Pistons lost Drummond for an extended stretch last season because of a back injury, and that was part of the reason Detroit went 1-13 in March en route to a 29-53 record that cost Frank his job.

OUTSIDE SHOOTING: With Smith, Monroe and Drummond in the frontcourt, the Pistons will need to show they can stretch the defense. Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye were both traded last year, and Detroit will hope Italian star Luigi Datome can fill a void by making a quick adjustment to the NBA.

If the 6-foot-7 Datome doesn't pan out, Detroit doesn't seem to have many other great outside shooting options. Kyle Singer and Charlie Villanueva both shot 35 percent from 3-point range last year, and Rodney Stuckey was down at 30 percent.

Jennings shot 37.5 percent from long distance, but shooting 3s probably shouldn't be his top priority.

INJURY CONCERNS: Before the Pistons even take the court for their opener, they've had to deal with a couple injury issues.

Jennings is expected to be out until at least early November because of an impacted wisdom tooth and a hairline fracture on the mandible at the base of the tooth.

Stuckey broke his right thumb after catching it in a car door and needed surgery. He was expected to be re-evaluated around the end of this month.