The Detroit Pistons wind down their preseason slate Friday night at home against the Atlanta Hawks. This much we know. However, who exactly will comprise the rotation once the regular season begins on Halloween is still up in the air.
We know that non-guaranteed roster invitees Jonny Flynn and Terrence Williams will not be a part of this group, as both were waived this week.
We also know that the starting lineup is completely set with Greg Monroe, Jason Maxiell, Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight firmly entrenched at their respective spots.
However, that is really about all we know for certain. This team continues to struggle offensively, and while the defense is improving, they still are committing too many turnovers and not creating nearly enough.
What is the guard rotation?
Stuckey and Knight continue to show that they can pair well with one another. Stuckey is a classic slasher who uses his body to get to the hoop. He also has been working on improving his range. Heading into the last contest of the preseason, Stuckey leads the team in three-point makes. Of course he leads the team in attempts as well, and is only hitting those triples at a rate of about 31 percent. But the fact that he is taking more threes is a good sign and should free up even more penetration.
Knight has spent the entire preseason developing his passing ability. He has looked to set up his teammates first and foremost in an attempt to shed his shoot-first reputation. He leads the team in assists with nearly five per contest in 26 minutes of action. That is good. However, the nearly three turnovers a game is still troubling. In order for Knight to take the next step as a point guard, he will need to learn when to shoot and when to pass, as he has left a lot of points on the court.
Will Bynum, after playing himself out of coach Lawrence Frank's good graces, is back. He has been Knight's primary backup and severely outplayed Flynn. He also pairs well with Knight when Stuckey goes out, allowing the Pistons to play Knight off of the ball occasionally. It looks as though he will be getting a lot of regular minutes once the season begins.
But this brings us to the most intriguing back-court question. Who will be the primary backup shooting guard? The answer could just be a shifting one that can be answered one way now and another way in a couple months.
The smart money right now is that Corey Maggette will get the bulk of his minutes backing up Stuckey. He is big, strong and athletic and will be a big help in the transition game. Defensively, he is the only swing man that is in the same category as Stuckey as far as physicality goes.
But waiting patiently for their respective shots are rookies Kim English and Khris Middleton.
Both English and Middleton played well this fall, with each showing a facet of their games that we weren't entirely privy to when they were drafted in the second round this year.
English was known as a spot-up shooter in college who could score but struggled to create his own shot. In Detroit, he has shown more athleticism than previously thought, and is even showing a willingness to become a good on-the-ball defender. The one concern is that his perceived greatest strength in college, his shooting, has been perhaps his biggest weakness thus far (27 percent from three, only 29 percent overall from the field).
Middleton was thought of as a long and lean small forward but looks a little more equipped thus far to play shooting guard. In a lot of ways, he calls to mind Rip Hamilton. That being said, he will need to continue to work on his catch-and-shoot game and use his length to his advantage. But hitting five out of 10 three-pointers this fall certainly is a good start.
What is the story with the forward rotation?
Prince and Maxiell are likely to start the season as the starting forwards. Sure, we can call Maxiell a center on some nights, but the fact remains that the team isn't ready yet to move Monroe to the four, so he officially remains the center.
Prince needs to finally see his minutes get cut. He can't keep averaging around 33 minutes per game; he just isn't that effective when he is on the court. His defense is not nearly as good as it once was, his range is not improving and when the Pistons run, Prince always slows the team down.
If the Pistons are committed to an up-tempo game as a reward for defensive stops, Prince cannot be allowed to continue to be the wet blanket.
The Pistons need to start their transition away from Prince, and this happens by cutting his minutes. Bring Prince down to about 25-28 minutes per game. This will make him more effective when he does play and frees up extra time for the young guys and Maggette.
Based on minutes played this fall, it would appear that the primary backups for Prince will be Maggette, Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler.
Since Maggette will also be getting plenty of minutes backing up Stuckey, we will focus more on the other two.
Jerebko is a 'tweener. He isn't quite big enough to be a power forward and he isn't necessarily quick enough to be a small forward. That being said, he is much closer to a three than a four, but given the Pistons' current roster, he probably will play more as a four.
Jerebko has had a solid albeit unspectacular camp. He still has the same emotion and energy that fires up the crowd, but his three-point shot still isn't where it should be if he wants extended minutes at the three. More than likely, he will get his minutes but on a situational basis depending on the matchups.
Singler has been quite a surprise. Singler was always viewed as a smart player who was going to work hard on every possession, but there were questions about his range and athleticism.
Thus far, Singler has answered the critics. His athleticism isn't going to wow anyone, but he certainly will not be confused with Luke Babbitt. This kid has good size and what he lacks in quickness he makes up for with instincts. Shot-wise, his range has been good this camp, hitting four of nine threes and shooting solidly from the field (46 percent).
At the very least he has forced the issue and deserves some regular season minutes.
At the other spot, questions are far less easy to answer.
When the camp opened, it looked as though rookie Andre Drummond was going to be a project at center so would not offer much immediate help. Rookie Viacheslav Kravtsov looked to be a value addition that would offer much needed help at the four and five and would allow Monroe to eventually shift back to his more natural position of power forward.
Instead, the opposite has happened and now Drummond looks like he is much more ready than Kravtsov.
That being said, the team seems apprehensive to pair Drummond with Monroe, so instead those two should be the primary options at center.
Therefore, the power forward spot is exclusively Maxiell's with Jerebko as his primary backup.
Are Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva through in Detroit?
It would appear that the end is finally near for these two unpopular players.
Both came into camp claiming to be ready for a fresh start and the opportunity to take advantage of an open roster competition. Frank pegged each as stretch four players that ideally would create space down low given their ability to hit from deep.
After seven games, it appears that Frank has pulled the plug on these two. With Halloween right around the corner, let's review some truly frightening numbers.
Villanueva is shooting 18.9 percent from the field. That means if he takes 10 shots, he makes less than two of them. An overweight and 50-year-old Bill Laimbeer could do better than that.
Daye has as many turnovers as he has field goals and himself is shooting 17 percent from the field.
And for two guys that are supposed to be power forwards and are each at least 6'10", they have a combined 27 rebounds in 118 minutes of play. Per game, they are each averaging fewer rebounds per game than Knight, who is at least seven inches shorter than each of them!
Now for the scariest number of all. Daye and Villanueva, who count three-point range as their calling cards, are a combined one for 24 from three-point range. That is a whopping four percent on threes!
Detroit needs to get rid of these guys immediately. Daye has an expiring deal so they could probably unload him for a future second round pick. But Villanueva is a little trickier to get rid of. He is owed over $8 million this year and has a player option for next season. The Pistons will need to get creative to find a way to deal him.
Otherwise, they would be wise to deal Daye and then keep Villanueva inactive this year and use their Amnesty Clause on him next year.
The Pistons still need to figure out some things. And given that they are far from a finished product, they will have some leeway in finding their way.
The fact of the matter is that this team needs to embrace their youth movement. They have some good young players, but players that are in crucial development stages. One of the reasons that Detroit finds themselves entrenched in a rebuilding phase is the fact that they refused to embrace their young players for the last decade.
That was forgivable because this team was winning. But now they aren't, and they need to build on the foundation of youth.
Monroe, Stuckey and Knight are obviously going to get heavy minutes this year. But Singler, Drummond, English and Middleton need to also find their way into the rotation with Drummond and Singler easily needing upwards of 15-20 minutes per game.
Prince and Maggette are good players, but they are not the future. This team needs to commit to using the young assets that they have, or else they will be in a perpetual state of rebuilding for another 10 years.