The Detroit Pistons head into this season with hope and optimism. After a dreadful, awful 4-20 start where it looked like they would finish with the worst winning percentage in NBA history. They went 21-21 down the stretch and beat playoffs teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, and the Atlanta Hawks. According to nba.com, during the 21-21 finish, the Pistons improved in major statistical categories such as; points per game, field goal percentage, opponents points per game, opponents field goal percentage, and rebounding margin.
The Pistons are led by young, up and coming big man, Greg Monroe. Monroe led the team in points with 15.4 points, threw in an average of 9.7 boards, and had a player efficiency rating of 22.0. He demonstrated good leadership skills, improved his jump shot, and showed that this is his team. He’s an excellent passer and that makes him dangerous if teams start to double-team him. Monroe does struggle at blocking shots. He only averaged 0.7 per game and that’s really the one area in his game that could improve. With Ben Wallace no longer around, Monroe is going to have to remember all of the big man’s teachings and become a better defender quickly.
Point guard Brandon Knight had a solid rookie season. He averaged 12.8 points, set the Pistons rookie record with 105 made 3-pointers, and scored the second-most points by a Pistons rookie since the 1985-86 season with 847 points. However, 3.8 assists just is not going to cut it. He also can improve the defense. According to sports synergy technology, Knight game up 0.869 PPP(Points Per Possession) on pick and roll plays, he gave up 1.05 PPP to spot up shooters, and gave up 0.992 PPP on isolation plays. Good for a ranking of 196th, 348th, and 356th, respectively, in the NBA. So he can improve in those areas, along with his ball handling. Knight averaged 2.6 turnovers per game. Better ball handling and defense means more opportunities in transition, which means higher assist numbers due to passes to a streaking Rodney Stuckey and Corey Maggette.
Coach Lawrence Frank and his coaching staff had an epiphany after about the 6th game of last season, they realized that Rodney Stuckey is not a point guard. Frank moved Stuckey to the shooting guard position and gave Stuckey the freedom to do what he does best, get to the bucket, draw fouls, and just score the basketball. That’s exactly what Stuckey did. He averaged 5.8 free throw attempts per game while knocking down 83.4 percent of them. His most impressive stretch came in a 17 game stretch during February and the beginning of March. Stuckey scored 20 points or more 11 times during those 17 games. He came up clutch against stronger competition, knocking down big shots against the Lakers, Celtics, and Hawks. Injuries hampered him down after that. Monroe may be the best player and leader of this team but Stuckey is going to be a big key this season. If he can reharness that ability during that 17 game stretch then I think he can average somewhere in the high teens in scoring this season.
Tayshaun Prince, the last remaining player from the 2004 Championship team, had a down year by his standards. He averaged 12.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. What Prince brings to the table at this point in his career, is a guy who can provide that cool, calm veteran head and he can teach some of these guys how to be a pro. Once in awhile, Tayshaun will bring out one of those games that gives Pistons’ fans flashbacks of the glory days and that’s always good too.
When Jason Maxiell was inserted into the starting lineup after the 18th game, it was just seen as another lineup change for a struggling team. Interestingly, when Maxiell was placed into the starting lineup was when Detroit went on the 21-21 finish. Maxiell is unersized to play power forward at 6’7″ but he has a heart that outplays his size. Maxiell brought energy, hustle, rim rattling and highlight reel dunks, and nice jump shot from 10-15 feet out. I don’t think Maxiell should be the starter at power forward due to his size, but he’ll be a nice shot of energy off the bench.
6’10″ 270 pound rookie Andre Drummond, selected 9th overall, is the most intriguing player on the Pistons. He could be the next Dwight Howard but he could also be the next Kwame Brown. Drummond averaged 10.0 points and 7.6 rebounds in his freshman season at Connecticut. However, he also sometimes looked lost out there and he’s only 19 years old. So Pistons fans will have to be patient with him as he matures into the player the Pistons expect him to be.
Jonas Jerebko had a nice bounce-back season after missing all of the 2010-11 season due to an Achillies injury. He averaged 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds. He looked slow defensively and that’s where the injury looked like it affected him the most. Jerebko is that hustle guy that every team needs and he shoots the ball efficiently at 46.8 percent.
Pint sized backup, Will Bynum struggled with injuries all season that limited him to only 36 games. When Bynum did play, he struggled. He averaged 5.7 points, only 1.8 assists, and only shot 38.1 percent from the field. With Ben Gordon gone he’ll only have to battle new comer Kim English for a spot in the guard rotation.
English, a second round pick out of Missouri, is a very hard worker and had an impressive summer league. He averaged 11.4 points on 41.3 percent shooting and 45.5 percent from 3-point range in the five games at the Orlando Summer League. Fellow rookie Kyle Singler averaged 10.0 points on 50.0 percent shooting in three games in Orlando. Singler showed a knack to just make the right play and he always knew where to be and where to go. He’s a very intelligent player. That’s what playing for Coach K at Duke will do to you.
The Pistons aquired Corey Maggette from the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for Gordon. Maggette has an expiring contract and is an oft-injured player. He played in only 32 games last season and averaged 15.0 points on 37.3 percent shooting. If anything, he will draw fouls. He averaged 6.5 free thow attempts last season and made 85.6 percent of them.
Undrafted rookie Slava Kravtsov, from the Ukraine, is a rarity among European players. He actually likes to mix it up inside with the big boys. Kravtsov averaged 1.7 blocks last season in the European league to go along with 8.2 points per game. He brings two big needs to the Pistons; shot blocking and athleticism. He can throw down some rim-rattling dunks. And to all Pistons fans wondering, no he isn’t like Darko Milicic.
Now that we’ve covered all of that, it’s time to adress two question marks on the team, Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva. Daye last season had his shot disappear and his confidence went with it. He seemed to gain some of that shooting range and confidence back in summer league play. He averaged 15.8 points on 51.0 percent shooting, 35.3 from 3-point range. He also threw in 2.0 blocks and 7.4 rebounds. Villanueva played a grand total of 13 games last season. He struggled with foot problems and he was in coach Frank’s dog house all season. Most fans, including myself, wondered why GM Joe Dumars didn’t use the amnesty clause on him.
On media day the players, coach Frank, owner Tom Gores, and GM Dumars all have voiced their opinions that this is a playoff team. To accomplish that feat they have to come together as a team and continue the momentum that their 21-21 finish brought them. I think they can do it. In the Eastern Conference, any team can get that 8th or 7th spot.