Detroit Pistons: Long-Term Success Tied to Improving Small Forward
For nearly this entire short century, the Detroit Pistons have had only one primary small forward.
A late first round pick in 2002, Tayshaun Prince first cracked the rotation during the playoffs of that year when he stifled Tracy McGrady and others with his length, and provided a nice low post scoring option offensively.
Prince was the primary reason that Detroit did not draft Carmelo Anthony in 2003, and it was Prince that helped the Pistons win a title in 2004 with his iconic block of Reggie Miller in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Prince has always been more about potential and promise than he has been about actual production.
He was always on the cusp of stardom, but never truly made it there, preferring instead to defer to teammates on offense and compliment them on defense.
But now the Pistons are in rebuild mode, and unlike some of the other players that have been with the club for years (Rodney Stuckey, Jason Maxiell), there does not seem to be a great place for Prince in the Pistons' future.
The Pistons are fast becoming an up tempo team, getting out in transition after defensive stops and exploiting the athleticism they have in the back court.
Prince takes to the transition game like a fish takes to a desert. When he gets the ball, he always looks tentative, preferring to walk the ball back out to the perimeter and set up the half court game.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Prince is conservative, and prefers the half court game to the fast break.
But for Detroit, this will not work. The Pistons young guys want to run, and Prince does not.
Defensively, Prince is not much more than a solid team defender anymore. He still has his length, and solid instincts, but his athleticism is fading.
He still is a solid offensive player in the half court, but his current scoring, field goal percentage and three point shooting are career lows.
Never a very strong rebounder, Prince has further faded, dropping down to about four per game. Not good for a 6'9 small forward.
Despite his regressions, he still has some value for contending teams.
As a primary one-for-one trade option, it is hard to see what Prince would bring back.
The most likely scenario would involve a three team trade that would deposit Prince on a contender.
So this brings us to how to replace Prince in Detroit.
The Pistons ideally need an athletic small forward that can defend and get out in transition.
Through the draft, there is one player in particular that would fit this bill.
MKG is an absolutely gifted player and he has become the University of Kentucky's unquestioned leader. He loves to play defense, and pushes his teammates to match his intensity. When watching Kentucky games, I am always struck by how often MKG is in the right place at the right time. He relishes the opportunity to take on the opposing team's best offensive player, and is steadily improving his own offense. Right now, he still needs to add range to his jumper, but I love the way he attacks the rim on offense. He also has amazing jumping ability, and has a seven foot wingspan.
MKG could be an immediate fan favorite in Detroit, and would pair well with Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe.
The problem, however, is that he is probably a top five pick, and if the Pistons don't win the lottery they might not have a chance at him.
If the Pistons can find a way to get a second first rounder, from the Lakers perhaps, then they could package their likely mid-lottery pick with their late first rounder to move up into the top five to get him.
Harrison Barnes from North Carolina is another option for Detroit, and could be there when the Pistons draft.
Barnes is an excellent athlete with great range and a full offensive repertoire. Defensively he is solid, and has the athleticism to develop into a real stalwart. He does a great job of getting out in transition, and could be a star in this league.
Other than MKG and Barnes, there is not really another lottery-caliber small forward in the draft.
One player that has been mentioned in connection with Detroit is Minnesota's Michael Beasley.
Beasley is a very good offensive weapon with great range and a solid low post game. But Beasley is not a good defender and he is not an elite athlete.
The Blazers are probably going to shop Gerald Wallace, but at 29 he is not a long term solution for Detroit.
Josh Smith is a potential target, but the Hawks would want way too much from Detroit.
The Pistons could always inquire as to whether or not the Wizards are willing to shop Chris Singleton, but that does not seem likely given his youth.
Rodney Stuckey is Detroit's best trade chip, but the Pistons' brass seems unwilling to part with him. That leaves Prince and Jason Maxiell as their lone trade assets.
It does not seem likely that Detroit will find their future small forward through trades.
This is a woefully thin free agent small forward crop.
The only player with any kind of youth and talent is Nicolas Batum, but there is no way the Blazers will let him get away.
But these options are stop gaps at best.
With free agency and trades not likely to be where the long-term solution lies for Detroit, the answer is somewhere in the draft.
The best chance they have will be to secure a second first round pick and make small forward one of those two picks.
And if the Pistons have any shot at getting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, they would be wise to make it happen.
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