Sorting out the Detroit Pistons' Logjam at Small Forward

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 30: Head coach Lawrence Frank of the Detroit Pistons and Tayshaun Prince #22 listen to referee Tony Brothers #25 during a loss to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 30, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Pistons 83-71. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons have a problem.

For the last decade, they have been set at the small forward position. It has been a roller-coaster ride of consistent inconsistency with Tayshaun Prince that reached its climax with a title in 2004. And while Prince certainly figures into the Pistons' plans for the immediate future, the team has also taken steps to boost the depth at the position in an attempt to get younger and hopefully better.

But instead of drafting a small forward high in the draft and grooming said 3 for the job, the Pistons have accumulated a handful of players that can play the spot, and now they are forced to sort out this logjam.


The incumbent

Tayshaun Prince burst onto the scene in Detroit during their playoff run in 2003. Little used throughout the regular season, Prince found himself thrust into the spotlight when Orlando's Tracy McGrady got on a roll and took advantage of Michael Curry's lack of mobility and height.

Prince came in for defensive purposes, and due to his length, caused trouble for McGrady. From that point forward, there was no turning back as Prince turned in six double-digit scoring efforts over the next two series and won a spot in the hearts of Pistons fans.

Over the next decade, he would be the regular fixture at the small forward spot. He was a solid if unspectacular defender; he had a nice back to the basket game in the post, and he even developed a fairly consistent three-point shot.

But Prince never truly realized his potential in the minds of most fans, and his lack of consistent scoring efforts frustrated plenty of folks. Fans kept hoping for the breakout season that would never come.

Now, Prince is entering his 11th season in Detroit with a contract that should keep him in town through 2015. His deal isn't unbearable (an average of $7 million over the next three years), but his production has certainly begun to slow.

Last year, Prince had his lowest scoring average since his sophomore campaign, shooting a pathetic 42 percent from the floor. His defense has certainly taken a step back, and he is settling for more three-point shots.

Prince does have value as a team defender and a voice in the locker room, but at this point, he is an average small forward at best, and should certainly see his minutes start to be limited this year.

Perhaps fewer minutes will lead to better production?


The new vet

Pistons fans are sure to welcome Corey Maggette with open arms if for no other reason than he was traded for the colossally disappointing Ben Gordon.

Maggette, like Prince, is getting up there in age. Once known as an explosive leaper and slasher, Maggette has certainly lost a step or two and plays a little bit less above the rim.

He still has plenty of value for a team like Detroit; Maggette immediately becomes a valuable perimeter defender due to his superior strength and still effective athleticism.

If the Pistons are serious about playing for a playoff spot and putting the best team on the court each night, Maggette certainly will get plenty of playing time.

At the very least, Maggette will take plenty of pressure off of Rodney Stuckey. Too often last year Stuckey was forced to play against the likes of LeBron James and some of the other more physical shooting guards. Maggette can pick up some of the slack on that end of the court.

Offensively, Maggette will be a welcomed sight to Brandon Knight. When Knight would initiate the transition offense via the fast break, too often Prince would slow things down and essentially throw a wet blanket over the excitement. Maggette will get out and run, and should be a nice finisher.

Contractually speaking, Maggette figures to, at the very least, act as a nice trading chip. He has an expiring contract and could provide a nice veteran presence on the right up-and-coming playoff team.


The 'tweener

Jonas Jerebko has been a fan favorite since he joined Detroit out of Sweden a few years ago. With his boy-band good looks and hustling play, it was easy to like the kid.

Throw in the customary viking call in the Palace of Auburn Hills, and you have the makings of a legend.

The one problem with Jonas is that he doesn't really have a set position. He is not quite strong enough to play power forward and not quite quick enough to play the 3.

Of the two positions, however, he probably figures to play more time at the 3. Jerebko is an impressive athlete that is still attempting to improve his perimeter game. He already is a solid rebounder and has a nose for the ball on defense, but he needs to cut down on his fouls (nearly three per game).

And while he is a good passer, he needs to play under control. He is still learning when to take the ball to the hoop and when to settle for the shot.

Jerebko, ideally speaking, would be the team's super sub, coming off the bench and providing energy at both forward positions.

It will be interesting to see what happens with minutes.


The wild card

Kyle Singler was a second-round draft pick two years ago out of Duke. After a stellar college career that included titles and personal acclaim, he spent last year playing in Spain in order to hone his game.

When Singler was at Duke, the knock on him was that he wasn't athletic enough to play small forward and not strong enough to play the 4. But Singler certainly has improved both of those aspects of his game and during the Summer League in Orlando, he showed sneaky athleticism, an improved jumper and great hustle.

Sure, this is a small sample size, but Singler could find himself in the regular rotation if he impresses during training camp. Given his mental toughness and intangibles, he might become a Lawrence Frank favorite.

Especially when he matches up with Austin Daye.


The disappointment

If Jonas Jerebko has played himself into the hearts of Pistons fans, then Austin Daye has certainly played his way into their doghouses.

Daye was selected in the first round four years ago, and through three full NBA campaigns he has proven utterly nothing positive about his future.

His numbers were beyond pathetic last year, having career lows in almost every offensive and defensive category, shooting a putrid 32 percent from the floor and an inept 21 percent from three-point range.

Daye has a few things going against him.

One, he has yet to put on enough bulk to his slight frame to live up to the punishment that is prone to happen in the league. As a result of this lack of bulk, his options position-wise are limited. He isn't strong enough to play against most of the stronger small forwards, and he isn't quick enough to play against the smaller ones.

Two, he is in the last year of his rookie contract and has not shown nearly enough to warrant the Pistons making a qualifying offer to him next year. This makes him prime trade bait.

Three, his lackadaisical approach, terrible defensive instincts and poor body language have landed him justifiably in Frank's doghouse, and given the depth at his position, he might not make the regular rotation.

In fact, the things that he struggles at (focus, intensity, attitude) are things that Singler and Jerebko have going for them, and he should be looking pretty bad once training camp opens.

In my mind, I see Singler and Jerebko trying to one-up each other in the hustle department, with Daye sulking in the corner.

Now, of course, Daye could surprise all of us. During the Summer League, Daye turned in some impressive performances, even leading the league in scoring. But Daye turned in similarly great performances during each of the previous two Summer Leagues, and those efforts did not translate into the regular season.

At this point it appears that Daye is the odd man out in this equation.


The project

Khris Middleton was a surprise draft pick for Detroit.

During his first couple seasons in college, Middleton looked like he could be a breakout star and a potential first-round pick.

But a disappointing final season dropped him into the second round.

Middleton is long, fairly athletic and a solid shooter. He has a good mid-range game and could develop into a catch-and-shoot type of swing man.

But Middleton is not a lock to make the 12-man rotation, and will most certainly find himself in the Developmental League for long stretches of the season.

Personally, I would love to see Middleton develop into a Rip Hamilton type of player, but right now the only similarity he shares with Hamilton is his slight frame and long arms.


The assessment

Prince certainly is going to be the starter again, but his minutes are sure to go down. The Pistons just have too many good young options to leave the aging Prince in the game for too long.

My thoughts are that Prince, Maggette and Jerebko play the majority of the minutes at the 3 during the first half of the year, and Singler gets into the action by midseason.

I think Maggette and Daye will each be traded at some point this year, and Singler will surprise with his gritty play.

That being said, this is probably the Pistons weakest position from a talent standpoint, and nobody on the roster at this position figures to have any All-Star Game appearances in their future.


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