Detroit Pistons Will Never Be Relevant Until They Develop a Point Guard
It isn't because this historically bad franchise is not fun to watch. They are.
It's because you will be reminded how important it is to have a good point guard.
Kemba Walker, in just his second season, has taken a major step forward and is now the unquestioned leader of a surprising Bobcats squad.
What's worse is that Walker very well could have been a Piston.
And one thing is certain during the history of the Pistons franchise: Their success has been inextricably linked to the play of their point guard.
The past points the way
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Pistons were a floundering franchise. They showed very little fight and were routinely out of the playoffs. They lacked a true identity once center Bob Lanier left town.
Enter Isiah Lord Thomas III. Detroit made Thomas the second overall pick in 1981 draft.
Thomas immediately energized the team and provided an identity. It took two years of slightly sub .500 ball with Thomas before the Pistons began an historic run that included two NBA titles and nine straight years in the playoffs.
What followed was another era of inconsistent play from the point guard spot and, as a result, little success.
That all changed once again in 2002 when Detroit signed Chauncey Billups with their mid-level exception.
Billups immediately led the Pistons to six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, two NBA Finals trips and the title in 2004.
Sure, the Pistons were a playoff-caliber team without him, but they were not a consistent winner. Billups, like Thomas before him, even won the NBA Finals MVP.
The Pistons have been able to buck a lot of the typical trends that winning teams share, such as winning without an MVP-caliber star on their team and winning without a dominant low post scorer.
But they haven't shown that they can consistently win without a star point guard. That is the franchise trend that they haven't been able to buck.
Knight might not be the answer
When Detroit had the eighth overall pick last year, I was ecstatic.
After scouting that year's potential lottery picks, I gave Kemba Walker my seal of approval.
Back then I said the following:
In my opinion, this is "the" pick for Detroit. Walker exhibits the same type of toughness, leadership and poise that brings to mind former NBA Finals MVPs Isiah Thomas and Billups. Walker would be the perfect player to bring in to help change the culture of failure and lackluster leadership in Detroit. If Walker is available when the Pistons draft, they must take him.
Sure, I liked Brandon Knight as well. But I saw that he was a gamble.
Detroit has already taken a shot at shoot first combo guards at the point. However, what separates Knight from Rodney Stuckey is that Knight can shoot from deep and Stuckey never developed that part of his game. Knight's shooting ability could eventually turn him into a Billups-type, but that is a big "if."
Now this isn't just about me patting myself on the back (well maybe a little). This is about the Pistons taking yet another gamble on a player that might not be the answer at the team's most important position.
The Pistons and armchair general managers like myself saw the gamble that Knight represented. Yet they still went with another combo guard and hoped that he could be developed into a true point guard.
Thus far, it appears that Knight has regressed. He still doesn't know when to shoot and when to pass, his ability to get to the hoop is inconsistent at best and he might be the worst defensive point guard in the division.
True, Knight is trying hard. He has a great attitude and has taken it upon himself to make a concerted effort to get his teammates more involved. He has upped his assists from a pathetic 3.8 as a rookie to a somewhat respectable 6.1 per game.
That being said, it has come at a price, as his turnovers have soared to 3.2 per game. His scoring is down and so are his steals and free throw percentage.
Meanwhile, Walker has flourished. His scoring is up a full six points to an excellent 18 per game. His assists are right where Knight's are (six per game), while he is averaging nearly a full turnover less per game.
What's more is that Walker is averaging over two steals per game as well as four rebounds and is shooting nearly 84 percent from the line.
Furthermore, the Bobcats are one of the league's surprise teams so far, going 7-5 in the first 12 games of the season.
Walker has been the key to that start. In their seven wins, Walker is averaging nearly 21 points per game.
Of course Walker isn't perfect. His shooting percentage from the field isn't great (41 percent), and his percentage from deep is terrible (less than 21 percent).
But Walker has shown that he is fast becoming one of the elite point guards in the league while Knight is regressing.
Few options on the horizon
The Pistons like Knight and with good reason. He is a bright kid with a strong work ethic. He also can score when he wants to, but like Rodney Stuckey before him, he might be better playing off of the ball at this point of his career.
This gives Detroit some options. They could choose to package Stuckey as well as a combination of Austin Daye, Charlie Villanueva and/or the expiring contracts of Corey Maggette and Jason Maxiell for a proven point guard.
Rajon Rondo is probably a pipe dream at this point, but he would be worth a shot even if it means giving up an unprotected first round pick.
It might be worth giving the Clippers a call about Eric Bledsoe even if it turns out to be an expensive proposition. But the Clips will have plenty of depth at the position once Chauncey Billups returns, so they might be willing to listen to offers.
Similarly the Lakers might field offers for Darius Morris once Steve Blake and Steve Nash come back from injuries.
Next year's free agent crop offers few solid options. There are a few restricted free agents that would be upgrades, such as Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague and Kyle Lowry. But those three will likely have their salaries matched by their current teams.
Chris Paul isn't going to come to Detroit, and Darren Collison, Jose Calderon and D.J. Augustin would not represent significant upgrades.
The draft could provide some options. Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State is an option, but he is also more of a combo guard and the Pistons need to get away from that type of player.
B.J. Young from Arkansas is super quick, but again he isn't a true point guard.
Myck Kabongo from Texas is a true point guard but might not project to be elite at the next level. So too could be the case with Michigan's Trey Burke.
Perhaps it is premature to say that Knight isn't the answer for Detroit. He could still develop into an elite point guard.
Chauncey Billups himself didn't figure out the point guard gig until later in his career.
Hopefully for Detroit's sake, Knight is a quicker learner.
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