- NBA Rank: 24
Conference Rank: 10
- Detroit Pistons
"I'd rather be lucky than good."
- Lefty Gomez
The Detroit Pistons have been an example of how not to run an NBA franchise for the better part of a decade. After constructing, or perhaps stumbling into, a Wins Produced's fanboy's dream roster that was built around underappreciated superstars Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups, Joe Dumars either a) forgot everything he knew about building a winning basketball team or b) showed just how lucky he got with Billups and Wallace in the first place.
Given that the Pistons haven't had a winning season since 2007-2008, coincidentally the season before Dumars turned Chauncey Billups into Allen Iverson, I'm inclined to go with the latter.
Last season, from start to finish, was an unmitigated disaster.
On the first day of free agency, Joe Dumars inked Josh Smith to the franchise's highest per year contract ever, with every intention of playing Josh Smith as the Piston's starting small forward. Yes, that Josh Smith. The Josh Smith with the career 28% three point percentage (Editor's note: unsurprisingly he was the worst offensive player in the NBA in 2013-14)
If that's not enough to illustrate just how rough it's been in Detroit, when Joe Dumars acquired Brandon Jennings via trade, the fans were mostly thrilled because of how big of an upgrade Brandon Jennings was. Oof.
|Rodney Stuckey ||1950.0||28||-.020||-.8|
|Peyton Siva ||224.0||23||-.115||-.5|
|Charlie Villanueva ||180.0||29||-.122||-.5|
Indicates that the player is no longer with the team.
Dumars' harebrained scheme was to start Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond, and it was implemented by hand-picked coach, Maurice Cheeks. Well, until he was fired and replaced by John Loyer, one of Cheeks' assistants...who ran all of the same schemes and played all of the same lineups as his predecessor.
The results? Predictable. Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith shot and missed a tremendous amount of shots, which is what they've been doing for several years now. The three-big lineup failed miserably. Josh Smith never figured out how to play on the perimeter on either side of the court, Greg Monroe - the Pistons' most versatile offensive weapon - struggled playing third fiddle to Smennings (Smith and Jennings for the uninitiated), and everyone else not named Andre Drummond had a minimal impact.
By far, Andre Drummond was the brightest spot for Detroit last season, and he appears to be a legitimate superstar in the making. But for fans, it was hard to even get excited about that... because, six, yes SIX, Pistons players managed to put up negative WP48 numbers last year.
The numbers were bad, but I can assure you the actual basketball games were even worse.
|Jodie Meeks ||2.0||1979.4||28||.096||4.0|
|D.J. Augustin ||1.0||1306.0||27||.118||3.2|
|Caron Butler ||3.0||1281.7||35||.069||1.8|
|Cartier Martin ||2.5||584.2||30||.060||.7|
|Spencer Dinwiddie ||1.0||316.8||0||.084||.6|
Indicates that the player is new to the team.
This year, everything is different, even though a lot stayed the same.
To start with, Pistons' owner Tom Gores didn't renew Dumars' contract, and Stan Van Gundy was hired to be the Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations. If you've heard SVG at Sloan, then you know why a guy like me would be pretty excited about this - SVG actually knows what a stat sheet is. After six years of Joe Dumars' eye test running the show, it's hard for me to overstate just how big of a culture shift this is for the organization.
That said, SVG's first summer was a bit of a mixed bag. He didn't have a lottery pick at his disposal, but he made a fantastic second round pick in Spencer Dinwiddie, who our numbers really like. He didn't sign any great players in the offseason, but he signed competent players whose skills address the existing roster's shortcomings. Jodie Meeks and DJ Augustin are the most significant additions, but Cartier Martin and Caron Butler are adequate role players as well. He didn't wildly overpay for anyone, especially in light of the expected increases to the salary cap, and he cleared out a lot of the dead weight. Going into the season, the Pistons won't have anyone as part of the regular rotation expected to put up a negative WP48.
And of course, Andre Drummond remains the single biggest reason to be excited about being a Pistons fan, and potentially the reason you should consider adding the Pistons to your League Pass subscription. Yeah, he's raw, but he's a joy to watch, and he's still got a lot of room to grow. He's the most productive Pistons prospect since Grant Hill, and he hasn't even learned how to play the game yet. The parallels between Drummond and Dwight Howard were already being drawn before SVG came to Detroit. Now? The fanbase is incredibly excited.
So, if all that's different, what's the same? Well, mostly Josh Smith - his play and the roster confusion he creates. Looking at just Wins Produced numbers doesn't reveal just how problematic Josh Smith was for Detroit last season. Not only was he one of the worst shooters in the NBA, he insisted shooting at his discretion, taking opportunities from teammates who were far better options. SVG has said all the right things about Josh Smith and how to use Josh Smith over the summer, but there's still room for concern, especially given that SVG wasn't able to come to terms for a new contract with Greg Monroe.
As a restricted free agent, Monroe chose to sign the qualifying offer in order to enter free agency next summer - something restricted free agents almost never do at all, and almost certainly if they have any interest in reupping with their current team. Monroe has underperformed the past two seasons. Two years ago, he struggled to adapt to his new role as the primary option, and last season, the clogged up frontcourt and demotion to third fiddle seemed to impact his performance. Will SVG be the coach that helps him take the next step? I hope so...but if he takes the next step and leaves next summer for nothing? Ouch.
I don't think the Pistons took a huge step forward in terms of wins and losses this season, but I don't think that was SVG's intent. I think his first year in Detroit was about incremental steps forward via free agency, Meeks and Augustin as examples. I think he is also relying on his abilities as a coach to get more out of guys who have underperformed in recent years. And I gotta hope he's looking to trade Josh Smith.
If SVG is the coach we think he is, we should see a few important things happen.
First, Josh Smith will play very limited minutes at small forward, which should maximize his strengths and mitigate his weaknesses. Smith at the four makes room on the perimeter for more productive players like Kyle Singler and Caron Butler. The data for this post was compiled before we wrote this post, and while the impact may not be dramatic, it moves the needle in the right direction.
Second, I expect Greg Monroe to take the next step that he's struggled to take the past two seasons. Adequate floor stretch at the 1, 2, and 3 should help him produce.
Third, I expect some of the role players to thrive under SVG, and I expect at least one of them to outperform the model. Jonas Jerebko seems most likely to me, but Kyle Singler, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Luigi Datome should all get a chance as well.
Fourth, the team should improve defensively.
And finally, I expect an offensive system that is built around maximizing the strengths of the roster - which should include the pick-and-roll with Drummond, Monroe in the post, and shooters spacing the perimeter and making open shots - which will help the team win games while making them approximately infinitely more watchable.
So what does it all add up to? I'm somewhere between the realistic and optimistic projection. Forty-one wins might be possible, but everything has to go right. The Pistons were about as bad as they could be a year ago, and they stumbled into twenty-nine wins.
Put me down somewhere in the middle, say thirty-seven wins, with a fighting chance at their first playoff berth in far too long.