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2014-2015 Detroit Pistons Season Preview

Basketball Insiders continues previewing the 2014-2015 NBA season with a look at the Detroit Pistons of the Central Division.

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The Detroit Pistons are a team with some newfound stability. Stan Van Gundy has taken over and is looking to lead the team back into the playoffs and eventually back into contention. They have one of the most talented young players in the game in Andre Drummond, who will look to continue to blossom this season, to build around. Thanks to some win-now roster moves in the offseason, the pieces are in place for marked improvement.

Basketball Insiders takes a look at the 2014-2015 Detroit Pistons…

Five Guys Think

Since Flip Saunders was fired back in 2008, the Detroit Pistons have gone through a staggering six head coaches, the most of any team in the league over that period of time, but the future looks pretty bright now that Stan Van Gundy is bringing some stability to both that position and that of President of Basketball Operations, mercifully vacated this offseason by the mercurial Joe Dumars. There is a lot to like in Detroit right now, but most of that optimism resides in the frontcourt, with burgeoning superstar Andre Drummond coming into his own and steady big man Greg Monroe heading into a contract year. Free agent acquisitions like Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin were perhaps more expensive than they should have been, but they all add shooting to a team that really needed it, and with the new coach and another year with a promising core, it looks like they’ll be right back in the conversation for a playoff spot this year, even if Josh Smith only shoots 20 percent from the field.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Joel Brigham

Former president of basketball operations Joe Dumars did succeed in bringing a title back to Detroit, but by the end of his tenure at the helm it was apparent a change in philosophy was needed. Enter Stan Van Gundy who is now calling the personnel shots and serving as the team’s head coach. Van Gundy was extremely active retooling the roster via free agency over the summer. While the Pistons, on paper, have one of the most talented frontcourts in the league, their supporting cast left much to be desired last season. Keep an eye on the relationship between forward Josh Smith and Van Gundy at the start of the season which could be an early  indicator of the team’s trajectory.

4th Place  – Central Division

– Lang Greene

Bringing in Stan Van Gundy was an excellent move for the Pistons, as he’s one of the best head coaches in the NBA and should be able to get the most out of their players. Detroit also has a superstar-in-the-making on their hands in Andre Drummond. In the final month of last season, Drummond averaged 18.4 points, 17.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent from the field. The 21-year-old should pick up right where he left off this season, and his experience with Team USA and the addition of Van Gundy should make him even better. It seems that Van Gundy will use Drummond like he used Dwight Howard in Orlando – running the offense through him and surrounding him with shooters. Detroit should make strides this season and will be one of several teams competing for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, but they’re playing in a very tough Central Division.

3rd place – Central Division

– Alex Kennedy

With Greg Monroe finally agreeing to sign the club’s one-year qualifying offer, newly installed head coach Stan Van Gundy will have at least one season to try to make sense of the Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe triumvirate. With Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin added to the team’s rotation, along with Brandon Jennings, the Pistons have a fairly talented top seven. They are clearly no match for the Cleveland Cavaliers or Chicago Bulls, but the mere presence of Van Gundy alone should help the team improve from last season’s 29-53 debacle. Playoffs may still be a long shot, but with Drummond seemingly in the team’s long-term plans, Van Gundy’s presence lends a credibility to the the franchise that immediate past president Joe Dumars seemed to have lost. This season is the first chapter in a new beginning, but the story is just beginning.

4th place – Central Division

– Moke Hamilton

Beyond all the control and money, it’s easy to see why the Pistons were able to get Stan Van Gundy to walk away from his self-imposed hiatus from coaching. This is a team with a ton of talent. They haven’t necessarily meshed together well up to this point, but Van Gundy has a lot to work with and should be able to get more out of guys immediately with his system and philosophy. People tend to forget in their criticism of the Pistons players how much instability there’s been at the head coaching position over the last couple of years. That’s now a thing of the past, and we should see Detroit climb closer to the top eight in the East as a result.

3rd place – Central Division

– Yannis Koutroupis

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: The Pistons had their fair share of struggles on the offensive end this past season, largely due to their lack of perimeter shooting. While the team may have struggled from the outside, Greg Monroe was once again very effective in the low to mid post. Although Monroe wasn’t the Pistons top scorer last season, finishing third in per game scoring with an average of 15.2 points per night behind Josh Smith (16.4) and Brandon Jennings (15.5) in that category, he certainly was the most efficient. Monroe was markedly better from the field than both Smith and Jennings shooting 49.7 percent, compared to 41.9 percent for Smith and 37.3 percent for Jennings. Monroe, who just recently officially signed the Pistons qualifying offer, will be hungry to put together another productive season and prove he is worthy of a big long-term deal.

Top Defensive Player: There is no doubt that Josh Smith fell short of expectations on the offensive end last season. Despite his inferior play offensively, he was, like he has been throughout his career, very active defensively. Smith was the team leader in blocks and finished second in steals in his first year with the club. He is big enough to go down low and battle with most fours, while still being quick enough to step out on the perimeter and match up with opposing wings. Again, while Detroit surely wasn’t pleased with what Smith provided offensively, it can’t be denied that he is still a very talented defender and will continue to be in 2014-2015.

Top Playmaker: Brandon Jennings, like Josh Smith, arrived in Detroit last summer. Both were brought in with the expectation that they would push the Pistons right into the thick of the second tier in the East, behind Indiana and Miami but give them the chance to compete with the rest of the pack. That obviously never came to fruition, but on the bright side Jennings had a career year passing the ball. He was able to make a sizable jump from his career average of 6.1 assists per game, dishing out 7.6 assists a night in 2013-2014. Jennings and Andre Drummond built a nice chemistry with each other and connected frequently this past season. Despite Jennings having a down year overall, he improved his passing and that is one thing that Pistons fans can take solace in.

Top Clutch Player: The Pistons found themselves on the wrong end of a couple buzzer beaters in 2013-2014, being victimized by both Dion Waiters and Damien Lilliard on last second game winners. That is one trend they will aim to reverse this coming season. Brandon Jennings may be the best shot creator on the roster, but the best option in the clutch remains Greg Monroe. Jennings is just too inefficient and too willing to take poor looks to be trusted in crunch time. The previous statement also, just as easily, could be made about Josh Smith. Monroe is the Pistons most consistent offensive player and is the guy who gives the team the best chance to score when the pressure is on.

Top Unheralded Player: The Pistons bench was one of their biggest weaknesses in 2013-2014. They allowed opposing benches to shoot a league high 46.7 percent from the field, while their second unit was near the bottom of the league, shooting 41.9 percent. One guy who the Pistons brought in who should help improve the team’s bench is D.J. Augustin. Augustin comes to Detroit after a terrific season with the Bulls. He will likely start the season behind Brandon Jennings, but will offer the Pistons a great option at point guard off the bench.

Best New Addition: After a very busy offseason in Detroit there are quite a few new additions to choose from. The Pistons not only made moves to their roster but to their front office as well. The biggest addition in long run may be Stan Van Gundy, he joins the team as the new head coach and will also serve as the president of basketball operations. As far as the best roster addition, that goes to Jodie Meeks. It could be argued that the price tag for Meeks, the Pistons signed him to a three-year contract worth a total of $18.81 million, may be a little steep. However, the addition of Meeks addresses a pressing need for the team, and that’s a lack of three-point shooting. The Pistons were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last season, they shot only 32.1 percent from downtown and finished 27th in the league in total three point shots made. Meeks is coming off the best year of his career shooting the ball after shooting 40.1 percent from deep with Lakers. His shooting should prove beneficial from day one.

– John Zitzler

Who We Like

1. Andre Drummond: The future of the Pistons starts and ends with Andre Drummond. The young big man has out of this world potential and has the chance to be a truly special player. At only 21 years old, Drummond is already one of the top centers in the league. He has quickly developed into an elite rebounder; his massive frame combined with his impressive mobility allows Drummond to dominate the glass on most nights. When you consider how productive Drummond has already been in his young career and how much room he still has to grow, he is easily the Pistons most valuable asset going forward. He will be big factor next season and even bigger factor for years to come.

2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Caldwell-Pope will enter his second season as a pro this coming season after a rookie season where he showed signs that he could be a promising player down the road. In his first year of NBA action, Caldwell-Pope played just under 20 minutes a game, experience that should prove very valuable for him next year. With the Pistons making a sizeable investment in Jodie Meeks, he is the favorite to be the starting two guard, however, Caldwell-Pope certainly has the talent to challenge Meeks for that role. He will look to build off the momentum of a strong Orlando Summer League where he led the league in scoring, averaging 24 points a game.

3. Greg Monroe: Monroe has been one the most productive options for the Pistons since being drafted out of Georgetown four years ago. Over his short career, Monroe has averaged 14 points and nine rebounds a game. As well, during his four year tenure with the team Monroe has been remarkably durable, missing only three games over that span. However, his long-term future with the team is a bit cloudy, he is only under contract for one more year after signing a one-year qualifying offer from the Pistons. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Monroe he is eager for the chance to play under new coach Stan Van Gundy. “I look forward to playing for Coach Van Gundy and his staff,” said Monroe. “He has a proven track record and I’m excited about working with my teammates to get better and prepare for the season.”

4. Stan Van Gundy: Van Gundy will bring some fresh blood into an organization that, as of late, hasn’t appeared to have too much direction. His experience and success in Orlando is something he’ll be able draw from as he looks to build the Pistons into a contender. In particular, the time spent working with Dwight Howard will be especially useful in the development of Andre Drummond. Van Gundy has a career winning percentage of 64.1% and has had success in the playoffs. The Pistons aren’t going to become a contender overnight but will be in good hands going forward with Van Gundy at the helm.

– John Zitzler

Strengths

The frontcourt duo of Drummond and Monroe will once again do much of the heavy lifting for the Pistons. The two proved last year, despite some skepticism, that they can not only coexist together in the paint, but excel. The combination will again be a major concern for opponents and a major strength for the Pistons.

– John Zitzler

Weaknesses

Even with the acquisitions of Jodie Meeks, DJ Augustin and Caron Butler, all capable three point shooters, it’s hard to imagine the Pistons lighting it up from the perimeter. The problem being that two of Pistons highest usage rate players, Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, are also two of teams’ most inefficient players. Both settle for poor outside shots far too often and despite their past struggles, and so far haven’t been willing to adjust their game. If the team hopes to improve offensively, the first step will be reigning in both Smith and Jennings.

– John Zitzler

The Salary Cap

The Pistons dropped under the cap this offseason, using their space to sign free-agent veterans Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler.  Greg Monroe, formerly a restricted free agent, chose to accept Detroit’s $5.5 million qualifying offer — giving the forward/center the ability to block any trade this season.  Monroe will also be unrestricted next summer.  Meanwhile, the Pistons have $3.1 million in remaining cap space (plus the $2.7 million Room Exception, if that space is used).  The issue now is roster space; the Pistons are locked into 16 guaranteed players — one more than the regular-season maximum.  Will Bynum, who is guaranteed $2.9 million for the coming season, may be expendable with the addition of guards Augustin and Meeks.

– Eric Pincus

Dunc’d On

The last few years have been a far cry from the halcyon days of a franchise that produced some of the most memorable defenses of all-time in the late 80s and mid 2000s.  Last year I cited the Pistons and the Charlotte Bobcats as fascinating test cases for the value of new coaches for bad defenses.  The Bobcats rocketed to sixth in defense under the stewardship of Steve Clifford, while the Pistons remained rather miserable under Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer despite the infusion of defensive talent in Josh Smith.  Stan Van Gundy, a defensive guru in previous stops in Miami and Orlando, is now the coach and President of Basketball Operations.  He will provide yet another fascinating data point in how coaching can affect defense with most of the major players back from last year.

This is certainly a team with a ton of raw defensive talent.  Andre Drummond and Smith are both mobile and bouncy, and Smith has been an elite defender from the power forward spot in previous years.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is also an excellent athlete with a nose for the ball at shooting guard, assuming he plays his way into significant minutes.

Another reason to believe the Pistons may improve is the fact that they very well might have played far below their potential toward the end of last season in an endeavor to keep their draft pick, which was top-eight protected and owed to the now-Hornets.  Detroit finished with the eighth-worst record, but Cleveland leapfrogged the Pistons in the lottery, pushing the pick to ninth (and to the Hornets).  While there was no particularly overt tanking behavior, the Pistons did finish a mere 8-24 under Loyer after going 21-29 under Cheeks, leading one to believe the desire to keep the pick may have resulted in worse play.

Throw in the fact the Pistons underperformed their Pythagorean record by two games last year, and there is ample reason to believe the squad will be substantially better this year.

Best Case

47-35

The Pistons register an 18 win improvement over last year’s 29-53 abomination.  A team with this kind of potential on defense has no business ranking 25th defensively as they did last year, and Van Gundy gets them to their potential–above the league average.  Caldwell-Pope builds on a strong summer league and provides three and D on the wing as the starting shooting guard, the overpriced shooting Van Gundy signed during summer spaces the floor, and Brandon Jennings and Smith bounce back. Drummond, Smith, and Greg Monroe distribute the minutes evenly among them, allowing them to stay fresh and crash the offensive boards at a furious rate. Van Gundy employs some sort of automatic shocking device that eventually provokes a negative Pavlovian response whenever he tried to put Drummond, Smith, and Monroe in the game together, and the Pistons grab a mid-tier seed in the East.

Worst Case

35-47

An anonymous whistle-blower in the Pistons organization alerts OSHA to Van Gundy’s shocking device, preventing him from using it.  Or, more realistically, Van Gundy realizes that he has nobody to play the three aside from Smith, and trots out the three-headed monster due to a lack of other options.  Caldwell-Pope is not ready, and Jodie Meeks, Smith, and Caron Butler prevent any significant defensive improvement on the wings.  Monroe struggles defensively, and Drummond continues to exhibit a curious inability to defend shots at the rim despite his athleticism.  Smith and Jennings prove last year was no fluke offensively, and the spacing is again awful.  By January, Van Gundy the President longs to relieve Van Gundy the coach so he can spend more time with his family.

– Nate Duncan

Burning Question

Can Stan Van Gundy fix the Pistons?

The Pistons are a team with a number of burning questions that now, all that must be answered by Stan Van Gundy. Can the team trade Josh Smith? Is Brandon Jennings the point guard of the future? Should the team offer Greg Monroe a long-term deal, and if so, at what price next summer? Van Gundy certainly has some tough decisions ahead of him, but with his history there is no reason to believe that he isn’t the right guy for the job. Next season will mark the first year of the Stan Van Gundy era in Detroit, it will be very interesting to see what types of changes he has in store to help bring the Pistons back to prominence.

– John Zitzler

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