5 Players Who Must Step Up for the Detroit Pistons in 2013-14
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After a very active offseason, the Detroit Pistons are preparing for a season with serious aspirations of finishing with a winning record for the first time since 2008.
With a lottery pick and nearly $20 million in cap space, general manager Joe Dumars spent the summer acquiring young players capable of improving the team immediately, thereby speeding up the rebuilding process.
Now the Pistons have their sights set on making the playoffs in a top-heavy Eastern Conference. With the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks overhauling their rosters, the final three playoff spots from a year ago are up for grabs.
Even with all their moves, the Pistons are not a lock for a spot. In addition to all the new faces on the roster, they have a new coach, Maurice Cheeks, with new offensive and defensive systems. There will inevitably be a learning curve with one of the youngest rosters in the NBA.
To make the playoffs, they will need big performances from returning players and new acquisitions alike in order to live up to their potential.
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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will have the chance to be one of the most effective rookies in 2013-14.
The No. 8 overall pick was selected out of Georgia because of his outside shooting and perimeter defense, two things the Pistons seriously lacked a season ago.
KCP shot 37.3 percent from the arc on seven attempts per game as a sophomore. Defensively, he averaged seven boards and two steals per game—both team highs.
Chauncey Billups is currently the favorite to start the season at off guard, but KCP will have plenty of chances to prove himself as the only natural shooting guard on the roster. His ability to stretch the floor will be in high demand, especially with the talent the Pistons have on the block.
If he can find his shooting touch early in the season and prove he can defend NBA 2s, KCP will be one of the most important rookies in the NBA this season.
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Another player who will see minutes at shooting guard is Rodney Stuckey, who is in the final season of his three-year contract.
The combo guard isn't a great shooter—he has a career three-point percentage of 28.8—but his size and strength allow him to attack defenders and make plays at the rim. Unfortunately, that's something he got away from a in 2012-13.
Stuckey attempted 3.6 free throws per game a season ago, his lowest average since 2007-08, his rookie season. The previous three seasons, he had averaged at least 4.9 attempts from the stripe.
On the flip side, his 2.4 threes attempted per game was the highest of his career, and he made just 30.2 percent of them. The number of threes Stuckey has attempted has increased every single season of his career.
Stuckey may not have become the point guard Dumars expected him to become when the Pistons traded Billups in 2008, but he can still provide valuable scoring as a sixth man. However, he needs to stop taking jumpers and return to attacking the basket.
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The Pistons need new acquisition Josh Smith to be both their best player and a team leader in the locker room.
He'll be paid like an All-Star after signing a four-year, $54 million deal in free agency, and they'll need him to play like one if they have serious playoff aspirations this season.
He averaged 17.5 points per game last season as one of the top two offensive options for the Atlanta Hawks, and he'll be in a similar role for the Pistons. Like with Stuckey, what they need from Smith is to cut down on the outside jumpers and to attack the paint.
With his elite athleticism, Smith finished an incredible 70.3 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket, which ranked eighth in the NBA among the 249 players who attempted at least 100 such shots, per NBA.com. The problem was that he made just 31.2 percent of his shots from everywhere else.
Smith will need to make it a point to get to the rim this season. He needs to take opposing power forwards off the dribble and go down on the block against small forwards.
Defensively, Smith needs to help Andre Drummond protect the rim and also be the best individual defender on the team. With his size and athleticism, he has the ability to defend four positions.
Most importantly, he needs to be a positive influence in a locker room full of young players. There are just two players above 30 on the roster, and he'll need to be a mentor for Drummond and Greg Monroe.
Smith is one of the best players to have never made an All-Star team, but if he helps the Pistons get off to a strong start, that could change this season.
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As the new starting point guard, Brandon Jennings will play a major role in how quickly the new-look Pistons can develop on-court chemistry. With a new coach and seven new faces on the roster, there is plenty of potential for early struggles.
In the past, Jennings has been seen as shoot-first point guard with poor court vision, but he's developed into a solid floor general in the past two years (even if he does shoot 15 times per game). Grantland's Zach Lowe detailed his development at the position:
Jennings can play point guard, and he’s gotten better at it over time. He understands the rhythms of a pick-and-roll — how to read layers of help defense, the art of an inside-out dribble, the prodding impact of a well-timed hesitation bounce, and the trajectory of a slick wraparound pass in the lane. He’s got a little Chris Paul–style start-and-stop to his pick-and-roll game now, and he uses that to get further into the paint, in more dangerous ways, more often than he did one or two seasons ago.
While he won't be an All-Star—a pretty difficult task with the likes of Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Deron Williams in the East—Jennings is an above-average point guard who can shoot the three and get others involved. He's the best the Pistons have had at the position since they traded Billups in 2008.
Defensively, he's averaged at least one steal in each of his four seasons but has lacked the consistent effort necessary to be a really solid player on that end of the court. Improved focus and attention to detail will go a long way in his development as a player.
Jennings will be just 24 when the season starts, and he still has plenty of room to grow. The Pistons need him to realize some of that potential in order to contend in the top-heavy East.
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This season has major implications for Greg Monroe, who is in the final year of his rookie contract.
The 23-year-old is one of the best young offensive big men in the game. He scored 16 points per game last season and has developed into a very efficient low-post passer, averaging 3.5 assists.
His troubles are on the defensive end of the court, where he is a liability as both an individual and team defender.
Individually, he is slow-footed and can be overpowered. According to 82games.com, opposing centers had a PER of 19.6 against him last season. He was better against power forwards, giving up a PER of 16, but still below the league average.
In help defense, he was slow on rotations and failed to offer resistance at the rim. He's averaged less than one block in each of his three NBA seasons and was 176th in block percentage among qualified players last season, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Monroe should benefit from playing next to Drummond and Smith this season, but he needs to be stronger in the post and improve his footwork. If he can become even an average defender, he is an All-Star-level player. If he can't, his future in Detroit may be limited.