Detroit Pistons season preview
The new-look Pistons aren't quite ready to go.
Unfortunately, they don't have a choice.
Joe Dumars rebuilt the roster during the offseason, adding Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups and Brandon Jennings, and has turned one of the worst teams in the NBA into one that should be exciting if not always smooth.
The problem is that Rodney Stuckey slammed his hand in a car door and Jennings has a hairline fracture of his jaw, so the Pistons will be struggling in the backcourt when the season starts Wednesday against the Wizards -- a team that features John Wall and Bradley Beal at guard.
The Pistons might get some good news on the injury front, as Italian small forward Gigi Datome, another off-season addition, has finally started the practice after missing the entire preseason with leg injuries. He's a longshot to play against the Wizards -- he only started practicing over the weekend -- but he would help with Detroit's most obvious weakness: 3-point shooting.
With Smith and Drummond, the Pistons have two of the NBA's best shot-blockers, and if Drummond continues to progress like he did as a rookie, they also will have two of the league's elite defensive big men. Add in Monroe's offensive skills and rebounding -- he was a double-double machine last season -- and there's no question about Detroit's talent up front.
The issue that, while all three players bring talent to the floor, they are far from a natural fit on the offensive end of the floor. Smith is a power forward being used at small forward, and is most effective when he can drive to the basket. Monroe doesn't have much of a jump shot either, and Drummond's offensive skills are mostly dunks and baskets off his own offensive rebounds.
Of the three, Smith is the only one with the ability to spread the floor, but while he is a very enthusiastic 3-point shooter, he's not a good one. Hawks coach Mike Woodson finally convinced Smith to give up the three -- he went 0-7 in 2009-10 -- but he brought it back into his game under Larry Drew. Last year, he took over 200 triples, but hit only 30.3 percent of them.
In order to prevent teams from collapsing into the paint and daring the Pistons to shoot over them, Detroit needed to find a outside shooting threat. Instead, they ended up with Jennings.
The 24-year-old can certainly score -- he had a 55-point game as a rookie -- but he's only a 35 percent 3-point shooter in his career. Like Smith, he's certainly capable of falling in love with the outside shot -- he averaged nearly six 3-point attempts a game last season, but the Pistons need someone who can consistently hit those shots, not just fire them up in bulk.
Jennings is also a shoot-first, pass-second point guard, which might be trouble for a team that is already facing spacing issues on the floor. To be successful on the floor with Smith, Monroe and Drummond, Jennings will have to be able to run a half-court offense that doesn't involve him trying to drive to the basket through an already-crowded paint.
For those reasons and more, Dumars reached back into Detroit's recent past to sign Billups as a free agent. Not only can he still hit threes at the age of 37, he plans to serve almost as a player-coach when it comes to tutoring Jennings in the fine art of running the point.
Because of the injury situation, Billups will probably start the season as Detroit's point guard, but once Jennings returns, he'll see action at shooting guard to provide leadership and the threat of an outside shot.
Until then, Detroit is going to need Kyle Singler or rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to step up at the two-guard spot. Singler wowed fans across the league with his trick-shot videos and played in every game last season as a rookie, but didn't have nearly as much success on the floor. If he can't show a marked improvement with the three -- one of his only skills -- he'll struggle to find playing time.
That leaves Caldwell-Pope, but one of the knocks against him at Georgia was that he wasn't a consistent outside shooter. He hit just 34 percent of his outside shots at Georgia, even with the shorter NCAA line, so he's not likely to be a threat for the 3-Point Contest any time soon.
And that's where the Pistons are as they prepare to open the regular season. They should be a very good defensive team, and when they are healthy, they will be devastating when they are able to run fast breaks.
Smith and Drummond should have a great time throwing down alley-oops from Jennings and Billups, all of which should bring an excitement level to the Palace that hasn't been there since the breakup of the 2004 championship team.
The big question, though, remains how they will function in a halfcourt offense with so many players that need to be inside 10 feet in order to score. At times, the Pistons will probably be a frustrating team and force fans to remember that this is just year one of a major rebuilding project.
Will the Pistons compete for an NBA title this season? No, but they should be in the hunt for a playoff spot, and they should be entertaining. That alone will be a major step forward.