The Detroit Pistons have missed the taste of playoff basketball for some time now-4 seasons to be exact. Joe Dumars has made questionable decision after questionable decision, but I believe that things might be looking up after ownership made the move and hired Phil Jackson as a consultant to advise on the head coaching vacancy after Lawrence Frank was fired. After a few weeks, Maurice Cheeks was inserted as the new head coach. Then, the team locked in Josh Smith with a max contract and saved Brandon Jennings from the soap opera that was the Milwaukee Bucks via trade. All of a sudden you have a resemblance of a pretty good NBA team with a successful coach with a lot of promise.
Key Losses: PG Jose Calderon (Free Agent); PF Jason Maxiell (Free Agent); PG Brandon Knight (Trade w/Bucks)
Player to Watch For: I wonder how fans of the Milwaukee Bucks would feel if Brandon Jennings became the dominant and efficient point guard they have been begging him to be for years, in another uniform. My guess is they would be angry, and they have a right to be. But I could argue that he has not had a good coach to help him reach his potential. If I had any bold prediction of the upcoming NBA season, it would be that Brandon Jennings could be the most improved player in the league. Mo Cheeks will command that Jennings be the point guard many critics have begged him to develop into. He has the quickness to take most point guards off the dribble and he can score with the best of them when he gets hot. The main problem with Jennings is his shot selection and lack of wanting to pass. In Milwaukee he had to carry the load most nights, even with Monta Ellis in the backcourt with him. Putting Jennings along side Josh Smith, Drummond and Monroe, he should never feel the crunch of having to carry the load. The biggest benefit is the fact that he will also have a former Finals MVP in Chauncey Billups to guide and groom him on and off the court.
Area of Focus: The only problem I see with the Pistons is chemistry. Now most teams will have chemistry issues with all new players having to come in and adjust and learn a new system while meshing with new teammates. The Pistons biggest challenge in this area will be Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. Will this be the year Josh Smith finally stops taking ill-advised three pointers? He shot an horrific 29.9 % from 3 point range last season while attempting 221 3 point shots. Brandon Jennings is no better. According to Hoopsstats, Brandon Jennings shot an awful 39.4% from the field. That ranked him 63 among point guards while managing to take 1,304 shot attempts. That total ranked 3rd among point guards. If Maurice Cheeks can get Smith and Jennings to buy into his system and build trust with their new teammates, this team can go far and become competitive for many years to come. And if they fail to listen and result back to hero basketball, this experiment can go down the drain very fast.
Intriguing Question: What is the best lineup for the Pistons?
The signing of Josh Smith raised a lot of questions about the Pistons front court rotation. Josh Smith is truly a small forward, but was forced into playing power forward. He did a good job of excelling at the 4 spot, but when you have a young, strong, and athletic big man waiting in the wings like Andre Drummond, you cannot let that kind of talent come off the bench. The Jennings trade actually made the point guard position much easier to project even with Billups in the fold. Billups is undersized to play the shooting guard spot even though he did it the last two years with the Clippers. I would like to think that while Caldwell-Pope learns the NBA game, you have to go the the veteran at the end of games in crunch time. Add in Monroe as your center, and you have a very solid starting five that could give any team trouble on any given night.
Season Prediction: 45-37
This Pistons team will be exciting, fast, and problematic this upcoming season. Joe Dumars has quitely put together a very nice team that could be good for many years to come. If Maurice Cheeks is the right coach for this team, the sky is the limit for this Detroit Pistons team and they will have enough firepower to make the playoffs in the East.