The 2012-2013 regular season is a long way off, but anticipation to see the Detroit Pistons play again is higher than it's been in years. That's because they're finally heading in the right direction.
They proved that last year by playing over .500 basketball in the second half of the season. GM Joe Dumars also had a successful offseason wheeling and dealing. He got value, and cap space, by trading Ben Gordon and he brought in three talented players via the draft.
Dumars is back on the right track and so is the team. Finally hope is returning to the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Excitement is certainly in the air as well and that makes it a perfect time for some (very) early predictions. Here are five Pistons to look for to have breakout years.
Before you roll your eyes in disgust at what this slide implies, hear me out.
There's no doubt that Charlie Villanueva has been an extremely disappointing player since his arrival in Detroit three years ago. He's grossly underperformed and his contract is laughable. Fans have every right to shake their fists in his general direction on a daily basis.
With that said, Villanueva was a solid player at one point in his career. In four years with Toronto and Millwaukee, he averaged 13 points and six rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 33 percent from behind the arc.
The Pistons still overpaid, but those numbers aren't bad.
There's no reason he can't approach those numbers again either.
He's finally healthy and with a new coach—he really didn't get to play for Lawrence Frank last year—he might find his motivation again.
Playing under John Kuester did nothing for him. Perhaps a new system, with a new role, will do wonders for his production.
It's clear what his role was under Kuester: shoot threes and do little else.
He doubled his shots from behind the arc—four threes per game with Detroit compared with two per game his first four years—while his overall scoring and rebounds significantly decreased.
Only time will tell how Frank uses Villanueva, but he'll be given every chance to prove his worth this season. If he's able to rediscover his former self, then Pistons fans might finally get off his back.
With a solid year he could be in contention for the NBA's Most Improved Player of the Year Award and win back some of the respect he's lost in the process.
Either that or he'll become the most expensive 12th man in the league.
I already wrote this article singing the praises of Kim English, so I'd be remiss if I didn't mention him again. With the departure of Ben Gordon, he is in a perfect situation to be successful in Detroit.
He has the skills that the Pistons desperately needed, high percentage perimeter scoring, and they'll surely work him into the rotation. He's the only shooting guard listed on the roster, according to ESPN.
Everyone would agree the Rodney Stuckey is more of a two guard, but not even he can equal the three-point accuracy that English brings.
The rookie could potentially be the Pistons best perimeter scorer if given the chance. Of course, knowing Lawrence Frank, English must prove himself adept in other areas as well. His defense, smarts, turnover ratio and work ethic will all play a part in determining how much time he sees on game day.
If he passes Frank's tests, English might challenge Andre Drummond for the Pistons' Rookie of the Year award.
Bienvenido, Kyle Singler! That's what the Pistons probably said when he returned to them from Spain last month. Given his performance in Orlando this summer, their excitement about what he can bring to the team has only increased.
His time playing overseas clearly paid off as he was one of the best players on the Pistons summer league team. As the Detroit Free Press' Vincent Ellis reported, Singler's all-around game made it hard to pull him out of games.
Not surprisingly the Pistons quickly signed the rookie to three-year deal.
Singler joins a crowded roster though. There are currently five small forwards—if you include Jonas Jerebko—who will all vie for playing time next season. Yet Singler has a chance to start. He arguably has the most complete game out of all them.
Plus, he's the future at the position for Detroit. Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva and Corey Maggette are not in the Pistons' long-term plans. That means the Pistons might be invested in giving Singler the lion's share of minutes.
If so, look for Singler to make a big impact. Given his game, he could easily have a big year and become a new fan favorite.
If not for Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye might be the Pistons' most disappointing player. He received his share of scorn from the fans after a dismal season in which he took several large steps backwards.
He was given every chance to succeed, but ultimately gave Lawrence Frank no choice but to bench him. Daye's shooting percentages were downright awful.
There is light at the end of the tunnel though. Daye finally found his shooting touch playing on the Pistons summer league team. He averaged 15 points per game on .510 percent shooting—.353 from behind the arc. He was rewarded with a selection to the league's First Team and was considered by some to be the MVP.
How this will translate to the regular season remains to be seen, but it's definitely an encouraging sign. Pistons fans have been waiting for the former Zag to put it all together.
If he can build on his success in Orlando, and continue to improve during the offseason, Daye could be poised for his best season with Detroit.
Rodney Stuckey has not always been the happiest camper in Detroit. His play often mirrored his emotions too. For that reason, fans' opinions on him are split. Many feel that he's the most dangerous scoring threat the Pistons have. Others believe he's overrated and will never be a top-tier scorer in the NBA.
Perhaps Stuckey's gotten a bad rap. It's not his fault he's played for four different coaches during his tenure with the Pistons. That would make it difficult for any player to reach their full potential.
His time under John Kuester was particularly rough, and looking back on it, that's understandable. It was not a good time to be a Detroit Piston.
Despite the lows, his numbers have remained remarkably consistent. In the last four years, he's averaged 13-16 points a game while slashing to the basket, drawing fouls and shooting an average percentage from three-point land.
His ability to penetrate and draw contact is his most important attribute. Brandon Knight might be quicker, but he's also younger and not as strong as Stuckey. For now Stuckey is the most versatile scorer the Pistons have, especially since Ben Gordon left.
This will make him a go-to player the entire year. In his second year in Frank's system, Stuckey might finally meet the expectations Joe Dumars set for him five years ago. He's finally got coaching stability and he's surrounded by the best talent the Pistons have had since he got there.
There's no more excuses. This is Stuckey's time to shine and he's in the best position to do so.