2013-14 record: 29-53
Key Additions: DJ Augustin, Caron Butler, Spencer Dinwiddie, Aaron Gray, Jodie Meeks, Cartier Martin
Key Departures: Chauncey Billups, Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva, Peyton Siva
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG Brandon Jennings SG Jodie Meeks SF Josh Smith PF Greg Monroe C Andre Drummond
Many thought this would be a rebuilding year for Detroit, but Stan Van Gundy went out and got Jodie Meeks, DJ Augustin and Caron Butler to bolster the team’s offense and rotation. Instead of dropping for a solid draft pick, they think this team has a chance to win, and looking at the lineup of this team on paper, it’s hard to believe that they aren’t a shoo-in to be a playoff team in the East.
Last year things weren’t so pretty in Detroit, as the team was sloppy, disorganized, and led by Josh Smith. Though I suppose that last point explains the first two. But now, the Pistons have brought in Stan Van Gundy, a coach with a proven record of winning. They’re paying him a pretty penny, and hoping he’s going to be worth every cent. He’s tasked with turning around a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008-09 and hasn’t finished above .500 since 2007-08. Since then, they’ve had six coaches, none of whom have brought anything resembling success to the Motor City.
And unfortunately, it’s doubtful Van Gundy is going to either, at least not this year. This team isn’t going to be bad, they’re just not really going to be good either. As you can see above, talent is abundant, but guys you want to build a team around aren’t. And I’m not just talking about the unsavory personalities of a few players, Detroit is known for players in that ilk and has had a lot of success with it, rather I’m referencing the fact that there are very few players in this lineup that make their teammates better, and the one who definitely does was stuck in contract negotiations for the four months.
The strength here is definitely the frontline, as Monroe and Drummond are top tier big men. Having them on the court makes for a formidable pair on both sides of the ball, but things start to get crowded when Josh Smith is added to the mix. Smith and Monroe play relatively similar games and are capable of starting. That likely moves Smith to the three, which isn’t the best fit for him (more on that later). There are some concerns about Monroe’s play after the contract situation over the summer, but the guy’s a professional, and he’s not going to sulk about not getting the big money he likely deserves. He’s going to play like one of the better big men in the league this season and then get handed that hefty check by someone next summer.
This may be the deepest point guard rotation in the league, at least when it comes to explosive scoring. Any of those three guys could go off for 30 points on any given night. It actually reminds me a lot of the Bulls when they had Derrick Rose, CJ Watson and John Lucas, and the backend of this Pistons rotation is likely even stronger. Bynum is a solid player even as he gets into his 30s, but he isn’t likely to see much court time behind Jennings and Augustin, two legitimate starting point guards who are only on the same team due to the league’s abundance of talent at that position. Throw in the fact Bynum’s struggling to come back from a hamstring issue, and he isn’t likely to have much of an impact in the first part of the season. Still, look for all three to play a major role come January.
X-Factor: Jodie Meeks
Yes, Meeks was one of the best scorers for the Lakers last season, but he was beating out a mostly depleted roster. Still, 15 points, 1.4 steals, and over 40% from three is nothing to scoff at. If he’s able to replicate those numbers, he could provide a major boost for a team that was 18th in the league in adjusted offensive rating.1 But really, anything Meeks does is going to be better, at least on the offensive end, than starting Caldwell-Pope again.
Who Has The Most To Prove: Josh Smith
It seems to have finally caught up with the league that Josh Smith just isn’t good. He played on an Atlanta team that was built around his strengths, and he still managed to mess things up most of the time. Now, it’s been established that he’s not a small forward or a stretch four, but with the looks of this Detroit roster, he’s still going to have to play three unless Van Gundy is going to come up with some extremely unconventional rotation. But last year Smith shot 26% from three, yet he continued to shoot them, heaving up 265 throughout the course of the season. That’s more than three per game for a guy whose shot looks like something out of a fifth grade rec league. Smith doesn’t even have to play better this season, just smarter. Otherwise, his time in the league may be dwindling.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
My current rankings have the Pistons finishing ninth in the East, but things are going to be very close from seven to ten. Any of those teams could get the seven and eight spots, so every game the Pistons play this year is going to matter. If they do make the playoffs, I don’t see them making it beyond the first round, but it should be exciting to watch them compete for one of those spots.
Best Case: Josh Smith plays like an all-star again, the miffed contract situation doesn’t affect Monroe, and Jennings continues to score like a top-tier point guard. 44 wins.
Worst Case: Van Gundy’s positive impact on the team isn’t immediate, and the growing pains affect the entire roster, Meeks regresses away from last year’s form, and Josh Smith plays like Josh Smith. 35 wins.
Projected Record: 39-43