Blueprint to Mo Cheeks Reviving the Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons finally have their man.
While the signing of Maurice Cheeks has been ripped by plenty of pundits in the media, at the very least the Pistons have made a decision, and they are moving forward.
Personally, I would have loved to have seen Mike Budenholzer get a shot at the job, but that's just me. It appears that it came down to Cheeks and Nate McMillan for the top job, and both are solid coaches with less than impressive career records.
The Pistons basically played it safe on this one. They were looking for a calm player's coach, and that's exactly what Cheeks is.
So now that the Pistons have made their move, what exactly should be the focus of Cheeks' tenure in Detroit?
Here is a basic blueprint for success for Mo Cheeks.
Build up Brandon Knight
More than any other aspect of his job, Cheeks' success in Detroit will be predicated on whether he can develop Brandon Knight into a starting-caliber point guard.
Knight has proven he can score in the NBA. He has the quickness to create his own shot and the toughness to earn the respect of his teammates. He also has a very strong mental approach to the game.
What he has not shown is the ability to be a distributor at this level. His court vision is lacking, he fails to anticipate the right pass to teammates and when he does finally see it, he tends to be late with the ball.
Given that the Pistons' strength is their big men down low, it is imperative that they have a distributing point guard setting them up.
Cheeks needs to make the development of Knight his top priority. He basically needs to break him down completely and build him up as a point guard.
Now we aren't looking for Knight to become the next Isiah Thomas; those types of players aren't developed, they are born.
A nice player for Knight to model his game after is Chauncey Billups. He can be a shoot-first point guard who knows how to set up his teammates. He also has excellent range, which will help to open up things down low.
The one aspect of Knight's game that should be somewhat disconcerting is that he doesn't like to shoot off the dribble.
Regardless, Cheeks needs to work tirelessly with Knight and see if he can be the Pistons' point guard of the future.
Develop the Young Bench Players
One of my biggest gripes with former coach Lawrence Frank was that he had a very inconsistent rotation. Players ended up in his doghouse way too easily and were then benched for weeks at a time.
He also failed to develop young players, aside from Kyle Singler.
Jonas Jerebko, Kim English and Khris Middleton were basically in bench purgatory until the end of the year when everyone knew Frank was history.
Cheeks needs to immediately find the best role for each of these guys.
Jerebko should be one of the first big men off the bench and must be developed into a stretch 4. He lacks the quickness to be a small forward, but he could be groomed to replace Charlie Villanueva in the rotation.
English should be groomed to be a three-point and defensive specialist. I could see him easily becoming a Trent Tucker-type player. But he needs to know that his only way to get minutes will be to focus on these two things and leave the rest to somebody else.
Middleton is an intriguing player who could easily be groomed to become a poor man's Rip Hamilton. He needs to be instructed on how to move without the ball and keep working on his mid-range game.
Singler also figures into this mix as he should not be starting, but I am less concerned with his development.
Find Creative Ways for the Bigs to Succeed
Anyone that reads my articles knows I am not a believer in the Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond pairing. I feel that Monroe lacks the athleticism and jumper to pair well with Drummond.
But in all honesty, I hope I am wrong. There have been examples of teams with two bigs working well together. Heck, this postseason alone saw the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies all have success with traditional big men.
But in each of those cases, there was one big man who could stick a deep jumper to free up space for the other.
Right now, Monroe and Drummond are ill-suited next to one another. But who's to say that can't change?
Cheeks needs to be in Monroe's ear, imploring the big man to work on two things this summer: his 15- to 18-foot jumper and his lateral quickness.
Monroe, if he is going to play power forward, may even want to slim down a little bit. Not saying he is fat, but rather he may need to drop 10 pounds or so in order to keep up with some of the more athletic 4s in the league.
Drummond also needs to improve his game. If I were Cheeks, I would be working with him on back-to-the-basket moves. Drummond doesn't need to work on his jumper, but he should develop a baby hook and a drop step.
He has the physical tools to become a Shaquille O'Neal-type player; he just needs to develop his offensive game.
Develop a Team Identity
For all of his faults, former coach Larry Brown was excellent at developing a team identity. He stepped in on day one and said that the team was going to play the right way.
This meant tough man-to-man defense, ball control on offense and few turnovers.
They didn't settle for three-pointers when drives were possible, and they always looked for the extra pass.
In the years that followed, the Pistons struggled to find their identity.
Cheeks needs to find the right identity for this team and hammer it through.
Are they going to be a run-and-gun team? Are they going to be a half-court, pound-the-paint team? Is defense going to be their bread and butter?
With the current personnel, they can go in a few different directions. But defense must be the focus.
Pistons fans love defense. They are one of the last remaining demographics that does. And Cheeks has played with great defensive players. He himself was highly adept at picking pockets.
This team needs to develop an identity and remain consistent with it. There is plenty of talent on this team. It just needs to be unlocked.
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