Immediate Hurdles the Detroit Pistons Will Face This Season

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Immediate Hurdles the Detroit Pistons Will Face This Season
Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Pistons need to get their trio of big men on the same page during the preseason.

In one offseason, the Detroit Pistons went from Eastern Conference afterthought to one of the NBA's most exciting teams. 

They made two of the summer's most intriguing moves, acquiring Josh Smith in free agency and Brandon Jennings in a sign-and-trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. Both are talented players, but they bring real concerns about attitude and shot selection with them to Detroit.

The Pistons also have highly-regarded homegrown talent.

Andre Drummond has more upside than nearly any big man in the league, and Greg Monroe—at just 22 years old—was one of just seven players to average 16 points and nine rebounds in 2012-13.

With all of the talent on the roster, the Pistons have serious playoff aspirations for the first time in half a decade, but they won't get there without overcoming some major obstacles.

 

On-court chemistry

Nick Laham/Getty Images
The Pistons have eight new players this season, including four rookies.

When training camp begins on Oct. 1, Pistons players will have to become comfortable with one another as quickly as possible.

While every team deals with a degree of roster turnover, over half of their players (eight of 15) weren't on the squad last season. These aren't end-of-the-rotation players either; three of the projected starters—Jennings, Smith and either Chauncey Billups or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard—were elsewhere a year ago.

On top of that, four of the newcomers will be playing in the NBA for the first time. Second-round picks Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell won't do much yet, but lottery pick KCP and Italian free agent Luigi Datome were brought in to improve the team's three-point shooting. Granted, The Pistons need them to develop quickly and play meaningful minutes right from the start.

To make things even more difficult, there is a completely new coaching staff in Detroit this season.

Maurice Cheeks replaces Lawrence Frank as head coach, and he has brought in two new assistant coaches: John Loyer and former Piston Rasheed Wallace.  

The players need to be dedicated to learning Cheeks' offensive and defensive schemes as quickly as possible. How quickly they can get on the same page from an Xs and Os standpoint will have a big impact on their early season success. 

 

Floor Spacing

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Smith is a willing shooter, but an inefficient one.

When the Pistons signed Smith in July, serious concerns were raised by experts and fans alike about how well he would fit in with their current roster. 

Smith's size and athleticism allow him to play minutes at all three frontcourt positions, but his natural spot is at power forward. He played 51 percent of available minutes at the 4 for the Atlanta Hawks in 2012-13, per 82games.com. And he played no more than nine percent of the available minutes at either center or small forward.

But with Drummond and Monroe on the roster, Smith will see a big jump in his time at the 3.

Defensively, that is not much of a concern; Smith fared well against opposing small forwards a year ago, albeit in limited time. 

On the other end of the court, there is reason for worry.

All three players are at their best when operating in the paint. Smith is willing to move to the perimeter, but the other two are out of their comfort zones away from the hoop.

Last season, the three combined to shoot 62.9 percent (938-of-1491) from within five feet of the basket, per NBA.com. Smith was among the league's elite from that range, finishing over 70 percent of such shots.

It's a different story when they move away from the basket. From five feet and beyond they combined to shoot a woeful 30.6 percent (334-of-1091). Drummond showed virtually no ability outside the paint, as just 12 percent of his total field goal attempts were from five feet or further.

Naturally, there simply isn't room for all three players to operate around the basket.

Smith will be pushed to the perimeter when they share the court, where he was terribly inefficient last season, shooting 31.2 percent (224-of-718) from five feet and beyond.

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Smart teams will sag off Smith defensively, daring him to shoot and clogging passing lanes, particularly to the post. 

This is why Datome's and KCP's quick adjustment is so important to the Pistons. They need knockdown three-point shooters, and only Billups (36.7 percent) and Jennings (37.5 percent) shot above the league average (35.9 percent) last season, and neither was an elite shooter.

Cheeks will have his hands full finding a way to make it work with all three big men, drawing up plays that get them easy looks at the basket and creating a rotation that best suits them.

Bottom line: The Pistons are much more talented than they were a year ago and will make a jump forward in the standings. But because of all the new pieces and the way the roster is configured, they are more susceptible than most teams to early season struggles.

 

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