ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Detroit Pistons

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Last season: The Pistons went 29-53, their fifth straight losing season and fourth straight season outside the playoffs. Andre Drummond emerged as a possible franchise player, producing at elite levels to match his impressive physical profile. Greg Monroe also operated at a near-All Star level for the second straight season, though somewhat ignores his defensive shortcomings. But the surrounding talent was lacking, and Lawrence Frank’s coaching was too grating.

Signature highlight from last season: The first sequence was incredible. That Drummond could do it again with Dwyane Wade’s attention drawn is astounding.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVDtx1NtwvY&w=560&h=315]

Key player changes: Talent!

The Pistons signed Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups and Luigi Datome, sign-and-traded for Brandon Jennings and drafted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tony Mitchell. It’s not entirely clear how those players fit together, but in isolation, they’re certainly better than what Detroit has had in recent seasons.

Brandon Knight, Jose Calderon and Jason Maxiell were lost in the process, minor casualties in the path of raising the Pistons’ ceiling.

The Pistons also exchanged Lawrence Frank for Maurice Cheeks.

Keys to the Pistons’ season:

1) How soon can Maurice Cheeks identify a viable rotation? The Pistons have three players who, individually, definitely deserve major roles: Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. Unfortunately, none of those three have have proven an ability to successfully shoot outside the paint, which could make floor spacing difficult when they share the court. Brandon Jennings stands a tier below, and he’ll also definitely play a big role. The next tier is packed with of varying skillsets, and it’s essentially comprised of the rest of the active roster. That’s a lot for the first-year coach to juggle. The Pistons’ early record, while Cheeks is experimenting with the rotation, could make the difference in whether they make the playoffs.

2) Is Andre Drummond the real deal? In limited minutes last season – obligatory boo, hiss for Lawrence Frank – Drummond played at an elite level. Whether he can maintain that production while playing longer stretches, likely including a higher percentage of his minutes coming against starters, will not only be crucial to the Pistons’ season, but also their long-term outlook.

3) Make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Pistons, this isn’t a question. Joe Dumars’ job seems to hinge on whether this happens, plus Detroit owes the Bobcats at top-8 protected pick in the loaded 2014 draft. The Pistons are too good to finish with one of the league’s worst eight records. So barring lottery luck, missing the postseason would be an utter disaster for Detroit.

Why you should watch the Pistons: They’re really athletic, and athletic teams often do exciting things. Brandon Jennings has boasted Detroit will turn into Lob City with him tossing oops to Josh Smith and Andre Drummond. If the Pistons are committed to running – they haven’t been in a long time – this could be a fun team. Floor spacing, at least the shooting-outside-the-paint aspect, doesn’t matter as much in transition.

Prediction: 43-39. The Pistons should make they playoffs. Beyond the Heat, Pacers, Nets, Bulls and Knicks, the East is pretty open. Joe Dumars has sacrificed a little bit of long-term upside in order to maximize postseason odds for 2013-14, and in a season where tanking is even more incentivized than usual, he’s probably done enough. If everything comes together perfectly, the Pistons could win a playoff series, but more likely than not, this is a one-and-done team. Still, in Detroit, that’s major progress.