For the Detroit Pistons, this year's training camp marks the beginning of the most anticipated season for the team since 2008-09.
After missing the playoffs for four-straight years, GM Joe Dumars decided to speed up the rebuilding process this offseason by hiring a new coach and spending significant money on the free-agent market.
With a returning core of promising young players now infused with veteran talent, the Pistons are expected to challenge for a playoff spot in 2014. They don't have the talent to challenge the Eastern Conference's elite just yet, but they will be significantly better than they were in 2012-13.
Pistons 2012-13 Results:
- 29-53 record (.354)
- Fourth in Central Division
- T-11th in Eastern Conference
- Finished nine games behind the No. 8 seed
Key Stats: The Good and the Bad
One of the areas where the Pistons excelled in 2012-13 was rebounding, particularly on the offensive end.
They averaged 12.1 offensive boards per contest, good for ninth in the NBA, and they were eighth in terms of offensive rebounding percentage at 28.3 percent.
They did that with their best offensive rebounder, Andre Drummond, averaging just 20.7 minutes per game. This offseason, they added two solid rebounding players on the wing in Josh Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, so the team's success on the glass should only improve in 2013-14.
On a negative note, they struggled mightily in taking care of the ball. They averaged 16.1 turnovers per 100 possessions, tied-for the third-highest rate in the league.
Brandon Knight was part of the issue, averaging 2.7 turnovers per game, and he is now a Milwaukee Buck. The guy whom the team brought in to replace him, Brandon Jennings, averaged fewer giveaways in five more minutes per game last season.
But that alone won't move the needle much. They'll need the rest of the newcomers' help in taking care of the ball as well.
Biggest Storylines Entering Training Camp
The greatest sources of excitement and concern surrounding the Pistons in the offseason stemmed from their talented trio of big men: Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and the newly acquired Josh Smith.
In 2012-13, the potential of an Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe frontcourt duo was one of the few bright spots for Pistons fans. Drummond's physical gifts and natural defensive ability seemed like a natural pairing with Monroe's scoring and passing skills on the block.
Armed with nearly $20 million in cap space this summer, it seemed inevitable that Dumars would look to add talent on the perimeter in free agency. Instead, the Pistons invested $54 million in Smith, a player who spent over 80 percent of his time at power forward or center for the Atlanta Hawks in 2012-13, per 82games.com.
The talent is clearly there, but the trio's ability to mesh on the court has been questioned. All three are at their best operating near the rim, and none pf them has proven to be a threat shooting the ball from the outside. It is presumed that floor spacing will be at a premium when they all share the court.
Those concerns led to questions about Cheeks finding a workable rotation for his team and an offense that fits all these new pieces. With eight new players to the roster along with a new coach, there is plenty of potential for a slow start to the season.
Key Additions & Losses
Key Additions: Josh Smith, SF/PF (Four years, $54 million); Brandon Jennings, PG (Three years, $24 million); Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG (Four years, $12 million); Chauncey Billups, PG/SG (Two years, $5 million); Luigi Datome, SF (Two years, $3.5 million); Tony Mitchell, SF/PF (Three years, $2.3 million); Josh Harrelson, PF (Two years, $1.8 million); Peyton Siva, PG (Two years, $1.3 million); Maurice Cheeks, head coach; Rasheed Wallace, assistant coach
Key Losses: Jose Calderon, PG (Four years, $29 million with DAL); Brandon Knight, PG/SG (Two years, $6.3 million remaining with MIL); Jason Maxiell, PF (Two years, $5 million with ORL); Khris Middleton, SG (Two years, $1.7 million remaining with MIL); Viacheslav Kravtsov, C (One year, $1.5 million remaining with PHO); Kim English, SG (One year, details unknown with Montepaschi Siena [Italy]); Corey Maggette, SF (Free agent); Lawrence Frank, head coach; Brian Hill, assistant coach; Roy Roger, assistant coach; Dee Brown, assistant coach; Charles Klask, assistant coach
Biggest Addition: Josh Smith
When the Pistons signed Smith in July, it immediately boosted the talent level on the roster. He's a borderline All-Star who has elite athleticism and can change a game on both ends of the court.
Offensively, he's among the best in the league at finishing near the basket. He's also an excellent passer who is more than capable of running an offense for short stretches as a point-forward.
Defensively, he has the size and talent to match up with nearly any player in the league. He has the quickness to defend guards and the strength and length to match up against bigger frontcourt players. He has averaged at least one block and one steal in each of the past seven seasons.
Biggest Loss: Jose Calderon
The Pistons struggled from behind the arc in 2012-13, and losing their best shooter doesn't help that situation.
Calderon shot 52 percent from three on 3.5 attempts per game in his 28 games with the Pistons last season. Their top returning shooter in 2013-14 will be Kyle Singler, who shot 35 percent. With the ability to space the floor being a major concern in Detroit, Calderon's range will be difficult to replace.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Billups vs. Caldwell-Pope
The 2013 version of Billups is a shell of the player that Dumars traded to the Denver Nuggets in 2008. The All-NBA point guard is gone, and in his place is a player that has missed 106 games over the past two seasons due to injury and struggles to defend quicker guards.
He is still a fantastic leader, an incredibly smart player and a solid shooter. It's just hard to say with confidence right now that Billups has enough left in the tank to start for a team with playoff aspirations.
KCP is just 20 years old, and he has yet to log an NBA minute, but he has the attributes you want to see in a shooting guard.
At 6'5" and 205 pounds, he has solid size for the position—he has 20 pounds on fellow rookie shooting guard Ben McLemore. He has also shown excellent range, making 2.6 threes per game as a sophomore at Georgia. He also led the Bulldogs in rebounding (7.1 per game) and steals (two per game) last season.
But for all the potential he brings, KCP is still just a rookie, and it's a big jump from the SEC to the NBA. He has yet to match up against the likes of Dwyane Wade or Joe Johnson on a nightly basis.
Billups is expected to win the job, but as the franchise's future at 2-guard, KCP could surprise some people.
Biggest X-Factor: Luigi Datome
Former Italian League MVP Luigi Datome has the potential to solve Detroit's shooting woes.
The rookie small forward shot 51.5 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from three and 92.6 percent from the stripe in his final season in Europe. His jump shot is pure, and he has enough athleticism to run the court and get open looks in the primary or secondary break.
The Pistons need him to adjust quickly to the NBA game on both ends of the court. He'll be facing stronger and faster opponents than he did in Italy, and they can't afford to play him if he's not effective.
But with the Pistons looking to run their offense from the inside-out, Datome can help stretch the floor for the big men if he's ready to play.
Pistons Best-Case Scenario 2013-14
Ideally, Drummond and Monroe will take steps forward in their development, the three bigs will punish opponents down low, and the team's wings will find consistency from beyond the arc. Also, the roster will avoid major injury and remain as one of the league's deepest units.
The Pistons will win 48 games and challenge for the No. 5 seed in the East. They will then face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, a team that could struggle to deal with the Pistons' young legs.
Pistons Worst-Case Scenario 2013-14
In a worst-cast scenario, Smith and Jennings will revert to their old habits and take contested jumper after contested jumper. Drummond will show no development on the offensive end or at the free throw line, and Monroe will again act as a human turnstile in the post defensively. Cheeks will also struggle to find a consistent rotation, and the floor spacing issues becomes a reality.
With pieces that don't fit and chemistry issues, the Pistons could get out to a slow start and finish below .500, missing the playoffs for the fifth-straight season.
44-38; No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference
The Pistons have too much talent to be an Eastern Conference doormat again. Jennings and Smith are upgrades at point guard and small forward, respectively, and an increased role for Drummond will help as well.
The bench is deeper as well, with KCP, Datome and Singler offering plenty of shooting. The roster is much more versatile than it was in 2012-13, giving Cheeks plenty of flexibility to match up with opponents.
There's no way to predict injuries, and Dumars has proven that he's not afraid of making big trades, so the roster could change drastically before the end of the season. But as presently assembled, the Pistons have a very intriguing team with plenty of potential.
And as they prepare for the 2013-14 season, it will be fascinating to see how Cheeks puts it all together.
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