Scouting the Opposition: Detroit Pistons

Wednesday, December 26, 2012
By Micah Hart

For every home game this season, we’ll be gathering some intel on the opposing team from someone who knows them best — a team employee, a rival blogger, beat writer or broadcaster.

For the Hawks’ home game Wednesday night against the Pistons we reached out to Mike Payne, who writes about Detroit for the site Detroit Bad Boys, for his take on their team.

His answers are below: The Pistons got off to a rough start, but have won two straight coming into tonight’s game with the Hawks. What’s been the key to the team’s recent success?

Mike Payne: The schedule has been kind to the Detroit Pistons over the last week.  The recent three-night holiday rest was preceded by two games against the league’s worst team, the Washington Wizards.  Without John Wall (or a healthy Nene), the Wizards are one of a few teams to experience a worse start than Detroit, and the Pistons don’t have injuries to blame.  That said, Detroit did have its best game of the season on Friday at the Palace of Auburn Hills.  The Pistons held the Wizards to 68 points on big games from Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond (who had a career night with 14 rebounds and 5 blocks).  To some, this was a good sign for Detroit’s future.  For me, it was a reflection of playing one of the few teams in the league with a worse start than the Pistons themselves. Greg Monroe has quietly established himself as one of the best young big men in the East. What is his ceiling as a player?

MP: Despite his struggles to start this season, Monroe is an absolute gem of a basketball player.  His shooting touch is continuing to improve after his sloppy start, as he grows into the increased role the team has laid out for him.  He’s one of the handful of players in the league capable of 20/10 production, and the only thing holding him back is playing time and shot attempts.  He’s attempting 13 shots per game in 32-and-a-half minutes, rather pedestrian numbers for a team’s offensive stand-out.  Without having a real pick-and-roll partner in the backcourt, Monroe is still an under-utilized weapon that is clearly in need of some ammunition.

As for his ceiling, he’s got a long way to grow from his current age of 22.  By his prime, if he’s receiving 16 shots per game and 36 or more minutes of burn, you can pencil him in for 20+ points and 10+ rebounds per outing.  If he’s used as a second point of distribution, his high-post passing could lead all big men in assists.  He currently holds the franchise record for single-game assists from a big man with 11, a record by a wide margin.  He achieved that against DeMarcus Cousins back in November for his first career triple double, notching 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Detroit has a lot of young bigs, including rookie Andre Drummond. Many saw Drummond as a long-term project, but he’s been playing nearly 19 minutes a night in his first year. Is that more than you expected at this stage?

MP: On draft night last summer, I did not foresee this pick paying dividends for at least a year or two.  Drummond’s rise has surprised nearly every honest Pistons fan, as very few expected to see him push this hard for a starting role so soon.  If this kind of a performance was expected, he certainly wouldn’t have fallen into Detroit’s lap at number nine in the 2012 Draft.  He did, and the Pistons are now looking at the player that could be the effective rookie of the year, even though he won’t be seriously considered for the award.  That’s okay with us, as the Detroit Pistons franchise used to hang its hat on results, not rewards.

In June, Damian Lillard or Anthony Davis will likely hear their number called for Rookie of the Year.  Typically, the player with the most playing time and shot attempts (Lillard) gets the prize, although the number one pick has the best chance if he can at least scrape his expectations without sitting out too many games (Davis).  In an objective world, the advanced metrics currently point to Drummond as the rookie stand-out.  If he can crack the starting lineup by the All-Star Break, he’ll give Davis and Lillard a run for their money in ROY voting.

In short, yes– his production has surprised me and most Pistons fans so far this season.  The calls for Drummond to join the starting lineup are nearly constant, and it’s an inevitability that I see improving the team’s record once he’s firmly in place. Kyle Singler took a circuitous route to the NBA, playing last year in Europe before joining the Pistons this season as a rookie. Did that move pay off?

MP: Singler’s long road to the NBA was so successful it might even inspire a similar route from players in the future.  Of course, Singler’s decision to play in Europe was precipitated by the impending lockout, and the multi-year extension of Tayshaun Prince certainly didn’t sound a welcome horn.  Yet the Kyle Singler of 2012-13 may be the most seasoned rookie I have ever seen.  You don’t see rookie mistakes with Kyle, you see constant hustle and a clean offense that is largely the result of his work on defense.  While his numbers have fallen back to Earth in recent weeks, he’s started out as a sure-thing perimeter scorer and a tough defender thanks to a hefty size advantage at shooting guard.  Where Atlanta seems to use a committee of big guards to man the small forward role (and it’s working), Detroit seems to be doing the opposite with Singler at shooting guard (and so far, it’s working too).  I didn’t expect this guy to have much impact in Detroit, but this team could use every ounce of good luck it can get its hands on. The Pistons are still a franchise in rebuilding mode. Which players do you see the team most wanting to build around for the future?

MP: Sadly, the Pistons are undergoing its second rebuild in four years.  It fully rebuilt when it parted ways with Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace and Flip Saunders in one season, while bringing in Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and promoting Rodney Stuckey the following season.  The team has spent the last several years trying to undo those mistakes, and it was moments away from embracing its youth movement until it extended Tayshaun Prince as its offensive centerpiece through to age 35 (and buying out Richard Hamilton to do it).  Thanks to some excellent luck in the draft, it has one of the league’s most promising future frontcourts in Monroe and Drummond, but the roster remains financially insolvent and in need of a gutting.

Personally, I’ve long supported a change in the front office for a team so badly in need of a new set of hands up top.  Here on DetroitBadBoys, I had spent a few years calling for ex-Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry to take the reins, as he had a history of quick, dramatic cuts that ultimately improved his team.  The Cavaliers went from a 45 win team to a 66 win team in 2008-09 thanks to some excellent moves by Ferry, and I wanted to see that kind of wise adjustment for my own team of choice.  Sadly for Pistons fans, but to the benefit of Hawks fans, Ferry joined Atlanta this summer and the results have been predictably solid.

The Pistons should be committed to building around its frontcourt, but they seem to be equally focused on Brandon Knight.  Knight is an excellent shooter, but he’s not been capable of running a five-man offense so far in his career (college and professional alike).  Over the last 20 games, he’s averaging less than 4 assists per game despite having a nice level of usage for a sophomore player.  Fans preach patience on Knight, but I’m personally unconvinced.  This team spent four years waiting for Stuckey, a similar and possibly more talented combo guard, to figure it out at point guard.  They seem to be content to wait for Knight to do the same.  The sooner they can make wise adjustments and bring in a traditional point guard, the better this team can make use of its stellar frontcourt of the future.

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