How to Solve the Detroit Pistons' Backcourt Woes
The Detroit Pistons largely have been the model of inconsistency this season. They began the season unable to beat anyone, but have come on strong lately in winning with relative ease.
At the heart of their inconsistency has been the play of their backcourt. Brandon Knight has been hot and cold, as he figures out how to play the point guard position, but that is just to be expected.
What has been maddening has been the play of the Pistons' two guards.
The long-term plan at the shooting guard spot is perhaps the one decision that has thus far eluded the Pistons, and the one decision that must be addressed immediately.
Rodney Stuckey had a strong season last year and many fans were hoping that he may have finally figured out his true role with the team. But so far this year, Stuckey is having some of his worst numbers as a professional. He is shooting less than 35 percent from the field, which for a slasher is pathetic, and his three-point shooting is a meager 22 percent.
Stuckey not only has struggled with his shooting, but he is taking terrible shots. Not only does he wreck the flow of the offense by calling his own number when other players are in better position, but he is struggling to finish when he gets to the hoop.
Defensively, Stuckey has regressed. Things have gotten so bad with Stuckey's game that the Pistons have been forced to bench the enigmatic guard and play rookie small forward Kyle Singler at the position.
Singler steps up
Singler has been a revelation as a rookie, doing all of the little things that don't necessarily show up in the box score. But it has enabled him to routinely have a positive plus/minus number, a rarity on this squad.
Singler is the type of player that forces those around him to step up, or else they look like they aren't trying in comparison. He is a vocal player on defense and, despite being just a first-year player, he already is showing tremendous leadership.
He also has been bringing some fantastic perimeter shooting to the equation. He not only is hitting a fantastic 51 percent from the field, but he is also scorching the net to the tune of 45 percent from three-point range.
And to make matters better, he is only improving. Over his past three games, he is averaging nearly 15 points per game while hitting all but four of his last 10 three-pointers. Add to the mix improved rebounding numbers, and you have quite a nice run.
But Singler is not the long term answer at shooting guard. He lacks the athleticism and quickness to stay in front of the elite guards in the league, and offensively, he is fairly one-dimensional given his inability to slash.
Singler's future role with this team will be at the small forward spot.
Few internal options
One of the more difficult trends during Joe Dumars' tenure as team president has been his propensity to try to develop combo guards. In an ideal situation, combo guards would do so many things effectively that they would essentially give you the best of both worlds. They could play effectively as both a shooting guard and a point.
But for the Pistons, their combo guards have largely been truly ineffective at both roles, leading to a lack of positional identity.
Brandon Knight seems bent on learning to play the point guard spot, and his play over the last week shows that he is improving in a lot of ways.
But he will probably never be a true point guard, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Knight can score in a variety of ways and, most importantly, he has unlimited range. In order for the Pistons to continue to develop young big men like Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, they will need guards that can stretch the floor and open up space for them.
Therefore, the Pistons have the option of shifting Knight into the shooting guard role if they are able to secure a point guard. But of course there are no internal options at the point guard spot either, so let's just assume that Knight will stay at the one spot.
Kim English has shown glimpses of talent so far this year, but has largely fallen out of the rotation. He has great range and is improving defensively, but his lack of athleticism makes him too one-dimensional to be a starter. Right now, his role will be three-point specialist off of the bench, which suits him fine.
Khris Middleton has a similar frame to former star Rip Hamilton, but that is about all that he has in common with him. He is too raw to be considered an option.
And Austin Daye is, well, Austin Daye. He is perhaps playing his last year with the team, if you can consider that playing.
Free agent options
The Pistons lack good trading chips, so they likely will have to look in other directions to address this position.
The free agent landscape at shooting guard offers some options, although none are really ideal.
Kevin Martin would be an upgrade for Detroit, but he will be 30 when he signs his next contract, not exactly when shooting guards are hitting their prime.
Gerald Henderson is a good player that stepped up big for Charlotte last year, but he is a terrible shooter from the perimeter, and the Pistons really need a good shooter at that spot.
Monta Ellis is a pure scorer, but he is undersized and jacks up way too many bad shots.
Shannon Brown has good athleticism, but his play over his career has just been too inconsistent, and his three-pointer leaves something to be desired.
The real prize in this free agent pool is certain to be O.J. Mayo. Mayo can score from anywhere on the court. He can slash to the hoop, and so far this season, he is hitting over 51 percent of his threes.
He has a player option for next season that he is sure to exercise given the weakness of the position. He is sure to demand a huge contract, perhaps even a max deal.
This likely puts him out of the Pistons' range.
Look to the draft
The NBA Draft this upcoming season will be ripe with lots of talent in the frontcourt, but the guard spots figure to be somewhat sparse.
The best swingman in this year's draft as of now is Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad is a big, physical slasher that is perhaps the most athletic player in college basketball.
He can finish strong and plays with a high motor. The problem with Muhammad is consistency with his jump shot. Additionally, does he project better as a small forward or a guard?
That being said, he is probably going to be gone within the top three picks, and unless Detroit gets very lucky in the lottery, they likely won't have a shot at him.
Archie Goodwin has a lot of the same traits as Muhammad, but also the same problem, which is consistency with his jumper. However, both have prototypical size and athleticism and could be game-changers for this franchise.
Goodwin could potentially fall to Detroit if they draft near where they drafted each of the last two years.
Obviously, the Pistons could elect to draft a point guard like Myck Kabongo and then shift Knight to the two.
For now, the Pistons will need to continue to play Singler at the shooting guard spot as they are clean out of other options. Stuckey seems to be better suited to his role as backup guard and instant offense sub.
You can't argue with the immediate results with Detroit going 5-3 during the eight games Singler has started.
But you also can't have Singler as your long-term option at a position that he is not ideally suited for. I love Singler as our small forward, but despite the recent success at the position, it is important that Detroit has another option at the two guard spot next year.
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