The Detroit Pistons' Top Training Camp Storylines
Suddenly, that long road back to respectability appears to be quite a bit shorter.
The Detroit Pistons, a proud franchise that had fallen on hard times of late, appear to have finally figured it out.
And they did it the right way.
Most Pistons fans have long maintained that the only way for this franchise to become a winner again would be to build through the draft. Given that Detroit is far from an ideal destination for preferred free agents, and trades require a team to have enough talent to secure incoming talent, that appeared to be the correct diagnosis.
So the Pistons set out to do that.
They resisted the desire to pull the trigger on big free-agent signings or major cap-expanding trades and simply stood pat and drafted the best players available.
And after Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko and Brandon Knight all proved to be wise draft picks, the Pistons appear to have gotten lucky again with Andre Drummond. Drummond has come on exceptionally strong during the Pistons' early preseason run, showing exceptional athleticism and a surprisingly soft touch.
Drummond's sudden emergence has Pistons fans cautiously optimistic, and it is just one of the major storylines heading into this season.
Is Andre Drummond Really This Good?
When Detroit drafted Andre Drummond, the nearly unanimous assumption in Pistons Nation was that he could eventually become a very good player, but he was certainly at least a year or two away from being a solid contributor.
In his first preseason game, he scored 12 points, grabbed seven boards and blocked two shots. He also made a put-back that gave them the victory.
That was good, but his third game was even better.
Drummond was everywhere: Blocking shots, running the court like a gazelle and throwing down thunderous dunks. In fact, he actually did all of that on one play, resulting in the posterization of Ersan Ilyasova.
He finished with his first career double-double, consisting of 19 points and 10 boards. He also had two blocks and a pair of steals.
Most importantly, Drummond appears to pair extremely well with Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight. He takes a lot of pressure off of Monroe down low, and his ability to run the court and finish gives Knight yet another strong option.
The question becomes whether or not coach Lawrence Frank trusts Drummond enough to disrupt the lineup that served Detroit so well during the last half of the season, when the Pistons were a .500 ball club. Doing so would require them to park Jason Maxiell on the bench, something that Frank might not be daring enough to do so early in the season.
The good news for Pistons fans is that it appears Drummond at least has the potential to be great for this team, and probably sooner rather than later.
Can Brandon Knight Become a Pure Point Guard?
If the mark of a good point guard is his assist to turnover ratio, then Brandon Knight's rookie season was a failure. He only had 3.8 assists per game and paired that with a turnover clip of over two and a half.
But few people viewed Knight's rookie season as a failure, due in large part to the talent he showed in other aspects of his game. He was a tremendous shooter, especially from long range, and he was able to get to the hoop seemingly at will.
His defense certainly needs work, but he has the athletic ability to become good at that end of the court too.
Getting back to the initial point, the only way that this team will flourish and become a playoff-caliber squad is if Knight can consistently create easy shots for his teammates. He needs to get his assists total closer to seven or eight, while keeping his turnover rate in the twos or low threes.
If we can extrapolate anything from the early preseason it is that Knight is looking to make this perceived weakness a strength.
He is thinking pass-first in his approach, resulting in 19 assists versus 11 turnovers through three games. That works out to roughly six assists and slightly less than four turnovers per contest.
That first number is trending in the right direction, the second one is not.
In his most recent game, he had eight assists, which is certainly a good number. However, he had a very high six turnovers.
It is good if your point guard is getting assists, but he cancels those assists out when he turns the ball over on a regular basis.
Truly, this will be an ongoing question during training camp and through the season.
Position Battle No.1: Kyle Singler vs. Khris Middleton vs. Terrence Williams
The Pistons are set at four of the five starting spots.
Greg Monroe will be up front, Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey will be in the backcourt and Tayshaun Prince will be the starter at small forward.
That last position is of particular interest for Detroit.
While Prince is certain to be the starter at the 3, and Corey Maggette and Jonas Jerebko are certain to get some minutes at that position, the Pistons likely will have one remaining small forward spot open on the roster.
The good and bad news for Detroit is that they have quite a few players vying for that spot.
Last year's second round pick Kyle Singler, this year's second round pick Khris Middleton and non-guaranteed roster invitee Terrence Williams.
Williams is the most athletic, Middleton is the best shooter and Singler has the best all-around game.
Williams likely is playing on borrowed time, and Middleton is probably destined for a long stint in the developmental league.
Singler's versatility and high basketball intelligence make him a likely candidate for the 12th man on the roster, since not only does he add a good basketball player but a great locker room presence as well.
Position Battle No. 2: Charlie Villanueva vs. Austin Daye
Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye have one thing in common: Both have been utter disappointments in Detroit and are the focus of most fans' ire.
They also appear to be battling for the same position—backup power forward.
Obviously Jonas Jerebko and Jason Maxiell also figure to get minutes at the 4, but Daye and Villanueva are better perimeter shooters and represent your classic stretch-4 player, meaning a big man who can stretch the floor with perimeter shooting.
Some fans might argue that the Pistons would be better served dumping both of these guys, and I wouldn't argue with that. But with Villanueva holding a still sizable contract and Daye possessing very little trade value, the Pistons likely will be stuck with at least one of these guys going forward.
Villanueva appears to have the slight edge in this contest. He is bigger, stronger and has a better history as a scorer.
That being said, Daye is younger and has a higher ceiling.
However, it can be argued that if Daye hasn't shown the Pistons that he is deserving of a roster spot after three years, he probably doesn't deserve a shot at a fourth.
What Type of Role Will Slava Kravtsov Have?
When Detroit signed Slava Kravtsov, nearly all fans rushed to their laptops to figure out just who this kid was.
After careful YouTube consultation, the belief amongst Pistons fans is that Kravtsov is a Joel Przybilla type who will provide immediate rebounding and defensive help, while using his size and athleticism to get garbage buckets on the offensive side of the ball.
But after a couple of lackluster preseason performances, fans may be tempering their expectations regarding the talented European player.
Kravtsov appears to have trouble with the NBA game, especially in avoiding foul trouble and turnovers. He no longer appears to be a lock to get substantial minutes this season, especially in light of the sudden emergence of Drummond.
But Kravtsov does have great size and athleticism and could give the Pistons a boost on some nights, especially versus teams with strong centers, like Philly's Andrew Bynum and the Lakers' Dwight Howard.
The key for Kravtsov will be in limiting his mistakes while still playing hard. If he can do that, he may gain the trust of his coach and secure a future role on this team.
Otherwise, he will become an afterthought this year and risk being the next in a long line of disappointing Eastern European big men to wear the Pistons jersey.
Can Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey Take the Next Step Forward?
Last year, both Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey took major steps forward.
Monroe became the face of the franchise, making huge strides both offensively and defensively, and became one of the best and brightest young big men in the league.
Stuckey shed his reputation as a petulant whiner and upon shifting to his more natural position of shooting guard, he even saw his numbers rise.
This year, these two need to both raise their games to the next level.
For Monroe, that means becoming the primary option on offense.
He needs to get himself into position to get the ball every possession and model his game after some of the all-time great post players, like Patrick Ewing and Tim Duncan. The offense needs to flow through him, and he needs to step up and take advantage of these opportunities.
For Stuckey, it means attacking early and often on the offensive side of the ball.
He needs to penetrate and look to finish those opportunities, or at least get to the free-throw line consistently.
Both men should take their scoring averages up quite a bit, perhaps as high as 20 PPG each—but more likely right around 18.