Pistons' 2012 Season Analysis


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For the first time since 1995, the Pistons have failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

And come to think of it, they're in a similar situation. In 1995, they had three promising blue chippers (Grant Hill, Allan Houston, and Lindsey Hunter), the veteran glue guy with experience (Joe Dumars), and an unconventional big man who brought the energy (Terry Mills).

And like in 1995, the Pistons have one very crucial need: A quality big man that can protect the rim and rebound the ball. There were tons of awesome bigs in the 1995 NBA Draft: Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Antonio McDyess, Joe Smith (don't laugh!). If the Pistons could have just gotten lucky and had a top three pick to select one of those players, they would have been amongst the Eastern Conference elite for years[1]. However, fate was not on the Pistons side. They ended up selecting Theo Ratliff in 1995, Allan Houston ended up leaving Detroit for New York after the '96 season, and the Pistons thus found themselves in no-man's land until Grant Hill was traded to Orlando.

[1]Holy shit. I just thought about how awesome the Pistons would have been had they landed McDyess, Garnett, or Wallace. We all know that Joe Smith turned out to be a bust. But imagine that core: Hill-Houston-Hunter-Garnett/McDyess/Wallace. That team would have been interesting in the late 90's, early 2000's, right? I think so, at least.

Imagine if KG came into the NBA teamed up with Grant Hill and Allan Houston


The Pistons are in the exact same position right now. Three blue chippers (Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey), veteran glue guy with experience (Tayshaun Prince), and an unconventional/energetic big (Jonas Jerebko). And most importantly, they need a top three pick in this year's draft if they want to contend for titles anytime soon. Sure, they can get a serviceable big in Tyler Zeller, John Henson, or Jarred Sullinger, and hope for the best with Monroe, Stuckey, and Knight. However, I highly doubt that a core of Monroe-BK-Stuckey-Jerebko-Zeller/Sullinger/Henson will knock on the NBA Finals door anytime soon.

The thought of getting Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist[2] makes me just as excited as the idea of the Pistons getting McDyess, Wallace, or KG back in 1995. We're talking about a core of four pretty good players that all play different positions, and compliment each other's games smoothly. Playing together, growing together, building chemistry, and winning games. Oklahoma City has that with Westbrook-Durant-Harden-Ibaka. Chicago has that with Rose-Deng-Noah. And on a bit of a lesser scale, Orlando had that with Howard-Nelson-Reddick.



[2]Even though MKG is not a power forward or a center, I still think that he would put the Pistons current core over the top. Prince is not impossible to move, and I doubt that he would have an issue coming off the bench in a year or two. MKG would still make the Pistons a lot better defensively, and I think that he fits the Pistons' mentality of hard work and defense.

Drafting a serviceable, average big man will put the Pistons no-man's land: A team that is good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to land a decent draft pick to significantly improve the team. Teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, and Phoenix Suns are in that category right now. To make matters worse, Detroit is not a high-profile destination for free agents, and the Pistons really don't have a proven marquee stud that can put them over the top.



Here are my grades for the Pistons this season:



The Good



Brandon Knight: B+

I really like what I saw out of Knight this season. While he was not the best rookie in the league this season, he showed flashes of brilliance, displayed awesome athleticism, and averaged 13 points and three assists per game, which is not too bad when you compare him to current elite point guards.

Rookie Season Statistics
Player
Points Per Game
Assists Per Game
FG%
3FG%
Derron Williams
10.8
4.5
42%
42%
Rajon Rondo
6.4
3.8
42%
20%
Chris Paul
16
5
43%
28%
Derrick Rose
17
6
47%
22%
Russel Westbrook
15
5.3
40%
27%
Brandon Knight
13
3.8
41%
38%


Here's what I love about Knight: He's already the hardest worker on the team, he doesn't get scared, always rises to challenges (played marvelous when matching up against rival young guards like Kyrie Irving, Brandon Jennings, and John Wall), seems intent on playing the point guard position, and is a true leader. He sort of reminds me of a more athletic Chauncey Billups - He's always looking to get others their shots first, only takes over when he has to, and has the same simplified scoring method: Shoot the wide open three if the defender is playing off, or penetrate if the defender looking to contest. I feel that Knight's presence alone has already made the Pistons significantly better and more mature.

Here's what I don't like: He's still very raw. He's only 19 years old, struggles when defending bigger/more athletic point guards, and turns the ball over a little too much (although he cut down on his turnovers after the All Star break). And while Knight definitely has the potential to become a very, very good point guard in this league, he is playing during a golden age of point guards. Forget about becoming a top five point guard in the league - With Rose, Derron Williams, Wall, Rondo, and Irving - Knight will struggle to become a top five point guard in his own conference!

Nevertheless, if Knight continues to work hard and improve, he will become a very special player and a great leader in the NBA.


Greg Monroe: A-

Here's the list of young bigs that I would trade Greg Monroe for:

Kevin Love
Blake Griffin

That's it. I love Greg Monroe, and I think that the future and success of the Pistons rides on his shoulders. With how many teams rely on shooting guards, combo guards, and quality small forwards (Chicago, Miami, and OKC to name a few), there is no doubt that having a big that can score is a bigger X-Factor than ever. After all, even Dwight Howard, who is revered as the best center in basketball right now, is not a terrific scorer.

Here's what I like about Monroe: He can score down low, has a relatively high basketball IQ, has stellar passing skills, under rated help defender, and collects a ton of rebounds. He was statistically one of the best centers in the game this season, scoring 15 points per game on 52% shooting, and grabbed just under 10 rebounds per game. Best of all, it's only his second season! Factor that into the fact that he now has a nice, young backcourt, will continue to get better. There were many games where he was getting fouled and not getting the calls (and he still shot 40 more free throws despite the lockout). Once he starts getting the respect and recognition from the officials, he'll get to the line more often, get the Pistons in the bonus, and get opposing defenders in foul trouble.

Here's what I don't like: He's not a lights out, lock down defender. There were many games this season where opposing bigs like Pau Gasol, Carlos Boozer, Ama're Stoudemire, and DeMarcus Cousins relentless abused Monroe in the paint. If the Pistons need a stop, they simply cannot count on Monroe to defend the post. He's also questionable in crunch time - While there were moments where Monroe put the team on his back in the fourth quarter - Monroe had a Karl Malone-like tendency to make crucial mistakes at the worst times. I feel like if Monroe is not the focal point of the play , he briefly checks out. He needs to learn to focus when the game is on the line.

The future of the Pistons will depend on Monroe and Knight



Rodney Stuckey: B

Say what you want about Stuckey. He's a head case because he participated in the 2011 mutiny. He's selfish for holding out during the two week training camp to get his contract extension. He's a bust[4] just because he did not live up to Joe Dumar's expectations of being the franchise player and replacement point guard for Chauncey Billups.

[4]Three things have to happen to be considered a draft bust: 1) The pick has to be a high pick, 2) The player has to underachieve, and 3) A significantly superior player or number or significantly superior players have to be selected after the said pick. For being the 14th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Stuckey has averaged 14 points on 42% shooting and 4.4 assists throughout his career. The only significant player selected after him was Marc Gasol, who was in the second round. If you ask me, Stuckey is not a bust.

Say whatever, I don't care. Here's what I like about Stuckey: He looks a lot better playing the two. Now that he does not have the obligation of setting up other players, finding teammates their shots, and running an offense, Stuckey can focus a lot more on getting to the rim, which he did a lot of this season. Stuckey went through countless stretches where he get to the rim relentlessly, which shows considering he raised his free throws per game average from 5.4 to 5.8.

I may be in the minority on this, but I think that Stuckey will continue to get better. As I said before, Knight's presence alone has changed this team. Stuckey is already talking about working with Knight during the offseason on improving their game and chemistry. Not to mention, Stuckey still had to play his fair share of point guard this season. There were plenty of moments where Stuckey had to take over at the helm because Knight simply did not have it. I think that the more Knight improves at running the offense, and the more they play together, the more effective Stuckey will become.

Here's what I don't like: Stuckey is way too inconsistent. There were games where I watched Stuckey thinking "Wow, Stuckey is legit. I'm confident in him being the leader of this team going forward." And there were games where I thought "Is Stuckey aware that this is game still counts as a regular season game?" When Stuckey doesn't have it, neither do the Pistons. His attitude really does set the tone. If Stuckey is aggressive, so is the rest of the team. They really feed off of his energy. Whenever Stuckey struggles, everyone else's game suffers as a result. And I saw too much of that this season. If Stuckey is going to be the leader of the Pistons, he's going to have to bring it every quarter, every game, every night.


Jonas Jerebko: B-

I like Jonas Jerebko, but I am still uncertain what his role should be. He looked really promising in 2010, starting for the Pistons as a rookie. But after sitting out the entire 2011 season, 2012 was essentially his rookie year all over again. He still brought a lot of energy, and looks stellar on the defensive end. On the other hand, he picked up a lot of cheap fouls and took a step back offensively.

To me, Jerebko's role should be as the energy guy off the bench. He can guard both small forwards and power forwards around the league, and does not kill the offensive productivity while on the floor. He doesn't turn the ball over (only averaged 1 turnover per game playing 23 minutes per game), and can focus on hitting wide open threes and cleaning up the offensive glass. Jerebko is definitely not good enough to start at the three, but I feel he can start at the four if he can add some bulk and crash the boards more efficiently. He has a lot to prove if he wants to be a key player to the Piston's success.


Tayshaun Prince: B

Nobody hated the Prince resigning at the time than me. With Rip Hamilton still on the team, I was ready to boycott the Pistons until a move was made. Two days later, Hamilton was bought out, and I was able to not hate Joe Dumars again.

I always felt that the old guard (Hamilton, Prince, Wallace, and to a lesser extent, Stuckey) held the Pistons back from moving forward. The season after Billups was traded, the Pistons continued to struggle, and stories about the locker room divide began to surface. It was obvious when watching games: Whenever Prince and and Hamilton were on the floor together, they primarily passed to each other, and did little to get the new guys involved in the offense. It killed the team chemistry, which was really fucking frustrating.

However, with Hamilton gone, Prince fell in line, and is transitioning into the veteran/chemistry guy perfectly. There's no question that the Prince resigning was vastly unpopular last December, but young teams need guys like Prince. After the 2011 NBA Finals, Tyson Chandler bought up how crucial it is for young, struggling teams to have that presence in the locker room, as the Baby Bulls lacked that presence when Chandler came into the NBA. For this Pistons team, that guy is Prince.


Jason Maxiell: C+

I don't have much to say about Maxiell. He fulfilled his role and expectations pretty efficiently, while slightly stepping up his game on offense. I have always been a huge Maxiell fan, but I don't think that the Pistons can be successful if he is the starting power forward.


Damien Wilkins: C

He did his job. I don't think anyone expected much of him. And I highly doubt he's a part of any long-term plans for the Pistons


The Bad


Ben Gordon: C-

It's funny to me that three of Joe Dumars's biggest mistakes all came within a two week span:

1) Drafting Ausitn Daye
2) Overpaying Charlie Villanueva
3) Overpaying Ben Gordon

I really wanted to like the Ben Gordon signing. He played out of his mind in the 2009 playoffs, and looked to still have a little upside. But boy oh boy is he a shadow of his former self. And he's only 29!

A lot of fans are calling to amnesty Ben Gordon because of his fat contract. But honestly, what would that accomplish? Even though he has dropped off, I still like him coming off the bench. Especially considering the fact that Stuckey and Knight have yet to prove that they can play consistently. Besides, his contract expires in 2014, the same season that Greg Monroe will be due for and extension. The Pistons could use the extra cap space then much more than they could now.


Charlie Villaneuva: Incomplete

Nobody likes Charlie Villanueva. I personally have no beef with him, but I'm pretty sure that all of the animosity comes from the fact that he makes over $7 million a year playing basketball and probably does not deserve it. Also with the fact that many of the local fans and media expected CV to fill the shoes of Rasheed Wallace, and evolve into the Pistons then-current and future starting forward[5].

[5]For the record, I never expected Villanueva to become anything more than a role player. He has a few unique skills, but cannot do everything that a team needs from a starting big. He was barely making more money than Antonio McDyess, and prior to coming to Detroit, he overachieved on a bad Milwaukee Bucks team. And honestly, I think that Dumars was expecting to sign Carlos Boozer until Boozer decided to not opt out of his contract with Utah, leaving Villanueva with his only option.

Villanueva barely played this season. I have not read much into it, because I honestly could care less about why Villanueva is not playing. I'm guessing it's because he does not fit in with coach Frank's defense-first system (Villanueva is an awful defender), coupled with the fact that the young bigs like Monroe and Jerebko need their minutes.


Austin Daye: F

Austin Daye is another player that I wanted to like. He came into the league with a long, lean body, and had the tools to become the perfect bench guy: A player that can create mismatches and sub at any position because he is tall and athletic enough to play everything but the five. He looked promising in the beginning of the 2011 season with this un-blockable pull-up shot, and he could shoot wide open treys.

There was one major problem: With Jerebko out for the season, Villanueva starting the season hurt, and Monroe being just a rookie, the Pistons had a shortage of bigs. Daye was forced to start at power forward, and spent a ton of time getting his ass kicked by bigger forwards. Poor Austin Daye, watching him try to post-up and guard the likes of Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, Al Horford, and Ama're Stoudemire was beyond painful.

I honestly believe that getting destroyed on a nightly basis, coupled with the fact that Jon Kuester was an abomination of a coach, completely shattered Daye's confidence. That's my theory, anyway. Whenever I watch him now, he looks lost. He does not know what he's doing on defense, does not know which position he should be playing, is out of the flow on offense, it's a mess. Although I am very hard on Daye, I still want to see him succeed. However, it's not a good sign when Daye is in his third season and cannot crack the rotation over a guy like Damien Wilkins.


Walker D Russell/Vernon Macklin: Incomplete

Not much to say about these guys. Played minor roles on the team, and will probably find themselves out of the league sooner than later.



Analysis

With all of that said, I feel pretty optimistic about this Piston's team. For a young team, they played pretty decent after their rugged 4-22 start. Two of their best, most promising players are only 19 (Knight) and 21 (Monroe). Coach Lawrence Frank also seems to be reestablishing the hard working, defense first mentality that always emerges as the identity for successful Pistons teams (Bad Boy Pistons in the 80's, Goin' to Work Pistons in the 2000's). As a Pistons fan, I love the work ethic and progress that the young guns showed this season, and am excited to see what this team can become.

Nevertheless, this team still needs a lot of work if they want to run with the big dogs. I do think that the Pistons will have a good shot at making the playoffs next season, but am unsure if they will ever become a serious threat in the Eastern Conference. While I love Monroe and Knight, I think that both of their ceilings in the NBA are as second bananas, which is good, but unlikely able to bring home the Larry O'Brien trophy without some serious help. Either Stuckey needs to shift gears and prove himself as a consistent alpha-dog (I loved Stuckey at times this season, but I don't see this happening), or the Pistons will need to find a game changer in this summer's NBA Draft. If neither of these things happen, it is very likely that we will see a rerun of the teal era Pistons that found itself in no-man's land.

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