Last season: The Pistons’ two big offseason acquisitions, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, flopped. Detroit fired Maurice Cheeks mid-season, but he wasn’t the only problem, and the losing continued.
The Pistons finished 29-53 and missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season – extending their longest postseason drought since before the Bad Boys.
On the bright side, Andre Drummond established himself as the NBA’s top young big-man prospect behind Anthony Davis.
Signature highlight from last season: Drummond has quick hands runs the floor really well, and Jennings is foolish fun:
Key offseason moves:
Keys to the Pistons season:
Stan Van Gundy cleaning up this mess: If Stan Van Gundy simply stops playing Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond together – and he’s indicated that experiment is finished – the Pistons’ new coach will do wonders. That trio was simply abysmal last season.
But Van Gundy can and should do more. One of the NBA’s best coaches, he negotiated the position of president and gave himself more job security. He has the freedom to do as he pleases.
Get tough with Brandon Jennings. Teach Josh Smith to play smarter. Demand Greg Monroe plays defense.
The Pistons have talent, but their glaring flaws made a bigger mark last year. Van Gundy is charged with reversing that.
Making the most of Greg Monroe: Monroe will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and he can veto any trades.
He’s also the Pistons’ second-most valuable player behind Drummond.
Van Gundy, as coach and president, must get the most from Monroe on the court and figure out Monroe’s long-term situation in Detroit. Would he stay next summer? How much would it cost? What trades would he accept?
The roster-management aspects with Monroe are much trickier, but it’s not as if making the most of him on the court will be easy. Monroe excels near the basket on a team that also features Drummond and Smith, and Monroe’s defense has been lackluster to date.
The better Monroe plays, the more options he’ll have – and the more the Pistons will, too.
Getting Drummond to the next level: Drummond moved from rookie reserve to starting sophomore and maintained his incredible per-minute production. That’s no easy task. Many players falter as they handle more minutes against tougher competition.
Now, it’s time for Drummond to take the next step.
He makes an argument as the NBA’s best rebounder, and his pick-and-roll finishing is excellent. He must improve his defensive awareness, though. Drummond has all the raw tools to contend for Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s already blocking shots a high rate. But too often, he gets lost and is not positioned to protect the rim. A few post moves would help on the other end, but the Pistons have a greater need for him to serve as their defensive anchor.
Encouragingly, Van Gundy has a strong track record, having helped turn Dwight Howard into a superstar. Drummond has that same potential. Can Van Gundy help get another young center to the next level – and how quickly can he do it?
Why you should watch: Drummond is a beast. He’ll be an All-Star soon, and in the meantime, he’ll make some incredible plays that don’t seem reasonable for a man his size.
Oh, and Van Gundy might attack Jennings or Smith at any moment.
Prediction: 41-41. The Pistons shouldn’t have been as bad as they looked last season. It became quickly evident that the team’s defining three-man lineup – Smith, Monroe and Drummond – didn’t work. But the Pistons stuck with it. Why? Stubbornness? Stupidity? Tanking?
No matter the reason, it’s in the past. Van Gundy will fix that fatal flaw, giving Detroit a chance. Many questions remain – how Van Gundy will use the big three, whether Jennings can competently lead a team, just how good Drummond will be – but there will be room to explore them.
The Pistons should contend for a playoff spot, but the East is better and deeper this season. I have them just outside the postseason and looking in, but they easily could fall on the other side of that line.