In Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe they have two starting-caliber centers in a league where many teams have gone small. Only a handful of teams can match their depth at the position.
Barring a major injury to one of the two, no other Piston will play much at center. The pair played a combined 87 percent of the available minutes at center in 2012-13 (per 82games.com), and Drummond is expected to see increased playing time going forward—he played 20.7 minutes per game as a rookie.
The expectation is that Josh Smith will join them in the starting frontcourt, but that all three players won't play major minutes together. GM Joe Dumars discussed the rotation with Grantland's Zach Lowe:
And I don't know how many minutes we’ll have that front line [Drummond, Smith, Monroe] on the floor together, once you get past the first six minutes for the first quarter. It's not like it’s going to be 40 minutes a night with that front line. Monroe will slide to [center], Josh will slide to [power forward].
The rotation will provide plenty of versatility for new head coach Maurice Cheeks. Smith and Drummond together will run the court and be best defensive pairing. Smith and Monroe are both excellent passers and should be part of Detroit's best offensive units. Drummond and Monroe have enough size to create mismatches down low against most teams.
Charlie Villanueva played some minutes at center a year ago, and he could again when they need three-point shooting. Smith saw time there for the Hawks and will be an option against small-ball lineups. But the Pistons will really only use two centers in 2013-14, provided they stay healthy.
Drummond exceeded expectations as a rookie, earning All-Rookie Second Team honors after being considered a project coming out of UConn. He averaged 13.8 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.7 steals per 36 minutes, and his 21.6 PER was 17th in the league.
Now analysts and fans are looking for those stats to carry over to a starting role. ESPN Insider Bradford Doolittle has projected him as the league's No. 2 center in terms of WARP (wins above replacement level), behind only Dwight Howard. Two of five ESPN analysts named him when asked "Who's the most promising center in the NBA?"
That's not to say that Drummond is a finished product. He's far from it.
He grabs a good number of offensive rebounds and finishes at the rim incredibly well, but he has no game outside of the paint. Just 41 of his 342 shots came five feet or further from the rim, and he averaged .5 assists per game. Spacing will be at a premium when he shares the floor with Smith and Monroe.
Still, he has great instincts as a shot-blocker and forces a good deal of turnovers for a center. He isn't an elite individual defender yet, but there's no doubt that he has the tools to get there.
Drummond's development will be reliant on playing as much basketball as possible, and he's put in the work this summer at summer league in Orlando and with the U.S. National Team. And there have been reports that his conditioning problems have been solved.
Drummond will inevitably go through tough stretches in 2013-14 as a 20-year-old playing for a new coach with a number of new teammates. There will be many other times where he looks like the next great NBA big man. The Pistons will need plenty of the latter to make serious noise in the playoffs.
Monroe's offensive talents will provide a change of pace for the Pistons whenever Drummond heads to the bench.
While he lacks Drummond's elite athleticism, Monroe is a very good scorer in the post and gets to the line nearly five times per game (21st in the league). He has also become one of the best passing big men in the game, averaging 3.8 assists per 36 minutes, up from 1.7 as a rookie.
Offensively, he must improve his mid-range shooting. He shot just 30.4 percent between five and nine feet from the basket, which adds to the spacing issues that Detroit will have. Big improvement in that area will be key to their offensive success.
He also needs to become a respectable defender. He's a good rebounder and averaged over a steal per game, but he has been a consistently poor individual and team defender. Opposing centers posted a PER of 19.6 against him in 2012-13, per 82games.com.
Monroe needs to improve his footwork in one-on-one situations and offer some resistance at the rim—he has averaged .8 blocks per 36 minutes in his career. Monroe will never become a shut-down defender, but he needs to at least become an average one.
If he can improve those two aspects of his game, Monroe has borderline All-Star talent. He is entering his fourth NBA season, but he turned 23 in June and is still several years from his prime. The Pistons need to believe he can reach that level as he plays out the final year of his rookie deal.