How do the Pistons big men stack up?
With eight new players on the roster, the Detroit Pistons are poised to be a drastically different team than they were a season ago.
Through the draft, free agency and a trade they added players at all five positions. And they aren't just bottom-of-the-rotation guys—three projected starters weren't with the team in May.
The Pistons added enough to talent to the roster to have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs. They continued to build for the future by adding four players under the age of 25, but also added veteran leadership to make the team competitive this season.
All 15 roster spots are full, so nobody else can be signed without another player being traded or waived. Unless GM Joe Dumars makes an unexpected move, this is the roster the Pistons will have when the season begins.
The Pistons made a low-risk, high-reward move when they drafted Tony Mitchell in the second round of June's NBA draft.
The 6'8" forward from Baylor was rated one of the best prospects in his class before a subpar sophomore season and questions about his attitude led Mitchell to drop out of the first round. But the No. 37 pick was worth taking a chance on because of his potential.
He's got the length and quickness to play both forward positions eventually, and a vertical leap that could get him into the dunk contest. He made 34 percent (48-of-141) of his threes at Baylor, and averaged 2.9 blocks, a skill set few can match in the entire league.
Even with his talent, he comes into the league incredibly raw, and the Pistons hope to make the playoffs in 2014. And with four other players on the roster who will see time at power forward, Mitchell is expected to be buried at the end of the bench if he isn't sent to the Developmental League.
The Pistons have had recent success developing a raw, athletic big man quicker than expected (see: Drummond, Andre), so maybe there is reason to believe he'll see meaningful minutes as early as this season. But for now, Mitchell is at the bottom of the rankings.
Peyton Siva was selected 19 spots after Mitchell, but he is the more NBA-ready player of the two Detroit second-round picks.
Siva, who helped lead Louisville to a national championship as a senior, is a solid ball-handler and a feisty on-ball defender, especially in the backcourt. He may get to see playing time at the end of games, defending opposing point guards in offense/defense subbing situations.
But just 6'0" and lacking great quickness, he's going to have trouble matching up physically on both ends of the court with many NBA point guards. And until he develops a reliable three-point shot—he shot just 28.8 percent as a senior—it will be impossible for him to crack the rotation, especially with all the point guards on Detroit's roster.
Josh Harrellson played just 31 NBA minutes in 2012-13, but he's only one season removed from being a rotation player on a playoff team.
With the New York Knicks in 2011-12 he averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14 minutes per game, and had a player efficiency rating (PER) near league average at 13.7. He was good defensively as well, giving up a PER of 12.4 to opposing centers and 11.7 to opposing power forwards, per 82games.com.
Best case scenario for Harrellson is that he will be that player from 2011-12 and become the fourth big man in the Pistons' rotation. Worst case scenario, he's a big body with six fouls to give off the bench.
His one successful season is enough to put him ahead of the rookies, but his inability to make an NBA roster last year keeps him from being ranked any higher.
Of the three veterans competing for frontcourt minutes off the bench, Charlie Villanueva is the worst defender and rebounder. But he's also the only big man on the Pistons roster with a reliable three-point jumper.
Opposing power forwards had their way against him last season, posting a PER of 18.3, per 82games. And at 6'11" he grabs very few rebounds—just 7.9 per 36 minutes in 2012-13, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Despite his glaring deficiencies, Villanueva has a chance to stay in the rotation. Outside shooting will be at a premium for the Pistons this season as they look to space the floor as much as possible so their big men can operate on the block. By default he may see minutes as their only real 'stretch-4.'
Then again, head coach Maurice Cheeks may have no interest in playing Charlie V with his issues on the defensive end. With so many frontcourt options, there will be no guaranteed playing time for him this season.
Jonas Jerebko will also be in the mix to play rotation minutes off the bench as the Pistons' fourth big man.
He's a better overall player than Villanueva, providing energy and crashing the glass every time he steps on the court. But he lacks a consistent outside jumper—he's never shot above 31 percent from behind the arc.
He's a better scorer than Harrellson and is more athletic, but Jerebko is far worse defender. According to 82games, opposing power forwards posted a 22.9 PER against him in 2012-13. To put that in perspective, the only power forwards with a PER above 22 for the season were Tim Duncan (24.45), Blake Griffin (22.44) and Amare Stoudemire (22.16), according to ESPN Insider.
While he can still help an NBA team, Jerebko could very well find himself buried in the depth chart because he lacks a single skill that sets him apart; Harrellson is the best defender of the three and Villanueva the best shooter. Jerebko needs to prove to the coaching staff that he brings something unique to the court.
After re-signing for two more years in July, Will Bynum will again be the Pistons' third point guard and a source of instant offense off the bench.
He played some of the basketball of his career last season, bouncing back from a dismal 2011-12 campaign. His 18.8 points per 36 minutes was the best mark of his career, as was his 46.9 field goal percentage, per Basketball-Reference. He also did a better job of running the offense than he had in the past.
But Bynum is still undersized and a defensive liability—opposing point guards had a 18.1 PER against him, per 82games. He's also on the wrong side of 30, an issue for a player who relies so much on quickness. The fact that he's shot above 30 percent from behind the arc only twice in his NBA career makes his age even more worrisome.
One of the players Dumars brought in this offseason to improve the Pistons' outside shooting was small forward Luigi Datome.
The 2013 Italian League MVP shot 51.5 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from the arc and 92.6 percent from the free-throw line for Virtus Roma. It remains to be seen how the rest of his game will translate to the NBA, but there is no doubt that the player they call 'Gigi' can shoot the ball.
He's also an above-average athlete and has good size for the position at 6'8". He runs the court well and can finish above the rim, which should make him a good fit with the youthful core of the team.
Early indications are that he will be an average defender at best, and he may struggle mightily at first against the size and strength of NBA competition.
But even with so many questions marks surrounding him before the season begins, No. 9 is a conservative ranking for Datome. Shooting is the skill the Pistons are most desperate for, and he's expected to see playing time right away. If one player can jump up the rankings, it's him.
If rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can acclimate himself to the NBA game quickly, he will have the chance to start for a team with serious playoff aspirations in 2013-14.
Heading into training camp, shooting guard appears to be the one position where there could be a serious competition. Chauncey Billups is the favorite, but he'll be 37 when the season starts and has played just 42 games in the past two seasons. Rodney Stuckey is another option, but he lacks the shooting range the Pistons will need next to their trio of bigs.
That could open the door for KCP, the No. 8 pick in June's draft. Dumars selected him because of his potential as a shooter and lockdown defender. He shot 37 percent on seven attempts from three per game as a sophomore at Georgia, and defensively averaged seven boards and two steals.
Like Datome, he has solid athleticism and can finish above the rim. But there are unknowns about how he quickly he will adapt to the speed and strength of the NBA game.
KCP isn't expected to begin the season as the Pistons' starting shooting guard, but it's in play. He has all the physical tools to play right away, and his shooting would help opposing defenses stay honest. And at just 20 years old, his development is very meaningful to the future of the franchise.
The player who Datome will be competing for minutes with at small forward is Kyle Singler.
As a rookie last season he showed that he absolutely belongs in an NBA rotation. He shot a respectable 35 percent from the arc and 80 percent from the line, and contributed 5.2 rebounds per 36 minutes from the wing, per Basketball-Reference.
He was often over-matched as the starting small forward, but the 15.9 PER he gave up to opposing 3s isn't terrible. And that number should improve as he moves into a reserve role.
Even if Datome plays exceptionally well, Singler isn't at risk of falling out of the rotation entirely. He played a significant portion of his minutes at shooting guard as a rookie, so they should be able to play together as long as they can make it work defensively.
With a bit of improvement on the defensive end, Singler can become a very solid three-and-D guy off the bench for the Pistons, two skills they lacked in 2012-13. He will be a key rotation player for them all season.
Billups re-joined the Pistons, not just to be a leader in the locker room, but on the court as well. Before the team traded for Brandon Jennings, he told the Detroit News he expected to be in the starting lineup:
That pride, competitiveness doesn't go with age. I feel like I’m gonna give us the best chance to win basketball games in the starting point guard role.
There's reason to believe he's better at the 2. According to 82games, opposing point guards had a PER of 18.6 against him, but opposing shooting guards only had a 13.1 PER. While he struggles to stay in front of quicker point guards, his strength and high basketball IQ allow him to stay competitive with bigger shooting guards.
The most important thing for him this season will be to stay healthy. He's played just 42 of the 148 regular season games the past two seasons with a variety of injuries.
Billups' 38.8 percent career mark from three will help space the floor and his 89.4 mark from the line will help close out games. And the leadership he will bring to the franchise is impossible to measure. But at 37 he may not finish the season in the starting lineup, even if he is there opening night.
Stuckey had a very disappointing 2012-13 season, but in the three previous seasons he was one of the best players on the roster.
A lot of his problems have stemmed from playing almost exclusively at point guard to now logging most of his minutes off the ball.
According to 82games, in 2012-13 he played 42 percent of the Pistons' total shooting guard minutes, and just six percent of their total point guard minutes. In 2010-11 he played just four percent of their total shooting guard minutes, but 50 percent of their point guard minutes.
When he was running the offense, Stuckey was attacking the rim and drawing fouls—5.4 per game in 2010-11. He was also taking just 1.3 three-pointers per game.
This past season he drew just 3.6 fouls per game, a 33 percent decrease. His three-pointers were also up 2.4 per game, a career high. And he hit just 30 percent of them.
His shots near the basket are down overall. According to NBA.com, in 2010-11, 46.6 percent of his field goal attempts (385-of-827) were with five feet of the basket. In 2012-13 that number was down to 39.6 percent (296-of-748).
Not all of Stuckey's troubles have come from the change in positions. He averaged 1.6 fewer assists per game in 2012-13, yet turned the ball over at almost an identical rate as 2010-11, despite not having ball-handling duties. He also simply took more bad shots.
With Jennings in Detroit, Stuckey will again be playing the majority of his minutes at shooting guard. The question is whether or not he can succeed without the ball in his hands.
His chances will be better if Cheeks surrounds him with shooters, spacing the floor and opening up driving lanes. He also should benefit from playing with Josh Smith, a very good passer and pick-and-roll passer.
If Stuckey plays like he did last season, No. 5 is several spots too high. But with a new coach, more talent around him and the incentive of a contract year, there's reason to believe he has a bounce-back season.
What a difference a year makes.
Heading into last season, Andre Drummond was considered a project big man, a player who, at just 19 years old, would take several seasons to grow into an effective player on both ends of the court.
Now? Multiple writers have named him as the most promising center in the NBA and predicted him to be the best center in the league in five years. Hes also being compared to the best center in the NBA.
He deserves much of the acclaim. His per 36 minutes numbers as a rookie: 13.8 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.7 steals. He shot 60.8 percent from the field and had a PER of 21.6, which ranked 17th in the entire league. And he was 19.
But he's still incredibly raw as a player. His post moves are limited, and has no jump shot whatsoever. He gets drawn out of position too easily on defense and shot just 37.1 percent from the free throw line, an improvement from the 29.5 percent he shot in college.
Drummond has more upside than nearly anybody in the NBA right now, and it's a great sign that he has improved so much at such a young age. But until he duplicates his numbers from last year in an expanded role and against starting centers, he won't crack the top three.
By trading for Jennings, the Pistons will have stability at point guard for the first time since 2008.
He immediately boosts the offensive production from their backcourt—he averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 assists last season. He also takes very good care of the ball; he's never averaged more than 2.5 turnovers in a season.
Most importantly, he's a player that can put pressure on opposing defenses off the dribble, something the Pistons have lacked in recent years. Dumars talked to Grantland's Zach Lowe about that skill:
We like his ability to score off the bounce, if you will — to be able to pull up and make shots, and come off a pick and penetrate, and dish, and score those little floaters in the lane. We feel it’s imperative to do all of that in today’s game.
Where Jennings struggles is on defense, as he's prone to losing focus and not putting forth maximum effort. He has averaged 1.5 steals over his career, but some of those come from taking risks by jumping passing lanes.
The Pistons will improve with Jennings on the roster, even if he makes no improvements from a year ago. But at just 23 years old, they hope he still has room to grow as a player.
With Greg Monroe, the Pistons have one of the best young offensive big men in the entire NBA.
He's just 23, but Monroe averaged at least 15 points the past two seasons. He has a variety of post moves and uses both hands better than most players his age.
What is most impressive about his offensive game is his evolution as a passer. As a rookie he averaged just 1.3 assists, but that has improved to 3.5 in his third year. He passes well out of double teams down low, but also can effectively throw post-to-post passes in the paint. His ability to see the court helped get Drummond easy looks near the basket.
Monroe has the offensive talent of an All-Star, but he is poor on the other end of the court. Opposing power forwards had a PER of 16 against him in 2012-13, and he gave up a dreadful 19.6 PER to opposing centers, per 82games.
Monroe is just an average athlete and he doesn't have the length of a player like Drummond. But that doesn't excuse slow rotations or bad footwork on the defense. All too often, he lacks effort and concentration on that end of the court.
Hopefully he'll benefit from playing on a team with real playoff aspirations and with veteran leadership. If he can become even an average defender, the Pistons will improve significantly.
The best player on the Pistons is free-agent acquisition Josh Smith.
The 27-year-old forward is in his prime as a basketball player, and he is the only Piston capable of being a difference-maker on both ends of the court.
He averaged 17.5 points last season on 46.5 percent shooting from the field. He is prone to taking too many long jumpers—he shot 2.6 threes per game, but made just 30 percent—but is one of the best in the league in the paint, shooting over 70 percent from within five feet of the basket.
And like Monroe, Smith is a skilled passer for a big man, although he is capable of making plays off the dribble. He averaged 4.2 assists per game, and will offer Cheeks the option of running big-big pick-and-rolls.
Defensively, Smith protects the rim better than most forwards, with a career average of 2.1 blocks. He also causes turnovers, averaging 1.2 steals last season.
Smith has never made an All-Star team, but he's been close for years because of his two-way play. While he can use improved focus and shot selection at times, he is the best all-around player the Pistons have, and he hasn't even played a game yet.