Initial Report Card Grades for Every Key Detroit Pistons Player
While the Detroit Pistons have had a disappointing start to their 2013-14 campaign, falling multiple games below .500, so has seemingly the entire Eastern Conference.
Only the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks and maybe the Chicago Bulls (depending on MRI results) have emerged from the pack so far. So while the Pistons have struggled, there is plenty of time to right the ship.
That being said, there have definitely been players who have performed better than others in the early going. Coach Maurice Cheeks certainly will need to continue adjusting his rotation to get this group humming properly.
The individual grades are based on expectations for each player coming into the 2013-14 season, not how they rate in comparison to their teammates or even the rest of the league. A role player who outperforms expectations will grade highly, whereas a starter who has seen his performance dip will grade poorly.
*All statistics compiled from NBA.com and are accurate as of Friday, Nov. 22 unless otherwise noted.
The Pistons have started the season shooting just 28.5 percent from the arc, the worst mark in the NBA. One guy who may be able to boost that number is Luigi Datome.
The former Italian League MVP can definitely shoot the ball—39.4 percent from the arc last season overseas. He has yet to find his range in Detroit, but it's understandable after missing the entire preseason and playing limited minutes when he has been healthy.
Things looked particularly bad after Datome missed the first six threes of his career, but since that point he's been 4-of-11. His best performance of the season came against the Golden State Warriors, when he scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting (two threes).
Datome's 23.5 percent shooting looks bad, but there's some reason to be optimistic with the success he's had after his first two shooting performances. One thing is for sure: The Pistons need somebody to step up who can hit some threes.
In 2012-13 Kyle Singler brought three-point shooting and rebounding to the Pistons starting lineup. He has fallen off in both of those areas while coming off the bench in the early parts of 2013-14.
Singler is shooting just 18.5 percent from the arc so far, down from 35 percent in 2012-13. He failed to make more than one three in any of his first 12 games, something he did 15 times a year ago.
His rebounding is also down, from 5.2 to 4.3 per 36 minutes. It's not a drastic drop, but it's a problem because it's one of the few areas where Singler has excelled. He doesn't force turnovers or block shots (.3 steals and blocks per game) and he doesn't distribute the ball (.7 assists per game).
With all the big men on the roster, the Pistons don't need Singler to rebound. So if the jumper doesn't start falling, expect his minute totals to do the same.
Will Bynum has built on his success from 2012-13 and is again one of the most important players off the bench for the Pistons.
He has missed a handful of games with groin and hamstring issues, but when he has been healthy Bynum has averaged 9.5 points and 3.6 assists in just over 20 minutes per game. His current 18.1 PER would be the best mark of his career.
His efficiency has stemmed from three-point shooting and drawing fouls. He has started the season shooting 42.9 percent from the arc—his career high for a season is 32 percent (2010-11). He's also getting to the line 3.4 times per game, which would also be a career best.
But Bynum isn't expected to make an impact on the defensive end. He comes off the bench to provide the team with an offensive spark, whether he's scoring himself or setting up teammates. And he's done both of those things quite well in this young season.
When the Pistons reacquired Chauncey Billups this offseason, nobody expected him to be the same player he was the last time he was in Detroit. It's still hard to see how far his game has declined.
He has missed several games due to a knee injury, but has averaged just 5.3 points and 2.4 assists in 22 minutes per contest. He's making just one-third of his total field goals, and his PER is a dreadful 7.95.
Billups has had success on the defensive end, holding opposing shooting guards to a PER of 11.5. The problem is that Billups is being held a PER of 5.4 when he is at the 2 himself.
At this point in his career, Billups' role is more about leadership than anything else, and that's something this roster needs. But his on-court production has not justified the minutes he's gotten when healthy.
The Pistons have had a hole in their starting lineup at shooting guard in the early parts of the season, and Cheeks must be hoping that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can grow into that role sooner rather than later.
He's shown flashes of the player they want him to be: Against the New York Knicks he had 13 points, four rebounds and shot 3-of-7 from the arc. He also added a steal and finished without a turnover.
Unfortunately, there have only been glimpses of that KCP so far. He's shooting just 34.1 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from the arc so far. He's also only grabbing two rebounds per contest after averaging more than five in preseason.
One bright spot has been his perimeter defense; according to 82games.com, KCP has held opposing 2 guards to a PER of just 8.1 through nine games. He's also been able to force a good number of turnovers—1.6 steals per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
KCP has been very good defensively for a 20-year-old shooting guard, but he just has not found his shooting touch in the early season. But with the glaring hole at the position for the Pistons, he will get plenty of chances to prove himself going forward.
Rodney Stuckey had arguably the worst season of his career in 2012-13, but he's bounced back splendidly to start his latest campaign.
Stuckey had a PER of 13 last season, the lowest mark of his career. His field goal, three-point and free throw percentages were all down from the previous season, as was his scoring average. Each one of those numbers is back up to start the 2013-14 season.
He has shot a career-high 46.1 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from the arc thus far, and his 84.4 free throw percentage is his second-highest mark. He's playing almost exclusively at the 2—just nine percent of his minutes have come at point guard through nine games, per 82games.com—and it seems to be the right move so far.
Stuckey has not started a game this season, but he's averaging more minutes than every guard on the roster but Brandon Jennings. He seems to have embraced the role of sixth man, and has been a very efficient scorer off the bench thus far.
Jennings was acquired this offseason from the Milwaukee Bucks to bring some stability to the point guard position. His play hasn't been spectacular, but Jennings has been the best point guard the Pistons have had since Billups was traded in 2008.
He came into this season with the reputation of being a shoot-first player, but to start the season he was looking for his teammates more than ever before. He has averaged 7.8 assists per game, a jump up from the 6.5 he averaged last season and from his career average of 5.8.
Jennings still is struggling to find his jump shot—he's shooting just 37.4 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from the arc. But if he does that and continues to look for teammates, he'll continue to be a boost for the Pistons at point guard.
When Josh Smith was signed this summer, there were questions from fans and analysts about how he would fit at small forward alongside the Pistons' young big men. There is plenty of time for things to change, but let's just say that the results have not been great thus far.
Offensively, the move to the perimeter has made Smith a less-efficient player than he had been in past seasons. He's shooting 40.1 percent from the field—the lowest of his career—but per 36 minutes he's taking shots at the third-highest rate of his career, per Basketball-Reference.com.
A big part of the shooting woes has been Smith's insistence on shooting three pointers. He has attempted 5.2 per game thus far, double the rate of last season—his previous career high. And he has not had the success from behind the arc necessary to justify taking so many; he's shooting 29 percent from three thus far, very close to his career average of 28.4 percent.
Defensively, the move to small forward has been a struggle as well. While he is averaging more steals (1.8) than ever before in his career, he has been unable to defend opposing wing players. According to 82games.com, Smith was giving up a PER of 28.5 to opposing small forwards. That is higher than the PER anybody not named "LeBron James" had in 2012-13 (Kevin Durant was second at 28.3).
Smith's scoring, rebounding, assists and shooting percentage are all down from 2012-13. It seems fair to say that the start to his Pistons career has been disappointing.
Through the first seven games of the season, Greg Monroe looked as if he had made a major leap in his fourth season. Unfortunately for the Pistons, his play has tailed off since.
Monroe averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 boards during that early stretch, including a monster 24-point, 16 rebound performance in the season opener. He shot at least 50 percent from the field in five of the seven games.
But since then his play has been quite pedestrian—he's averaged just 11.8 points and 7.4 rebounds. He had looked poised to have a career season, instead his averages were a slightly down from 2012-13 (16 points, 9.6 boards and 3.5 assists in 2012-13 to 15.5, 8.9 and two this season).
Monroe has still been one of the best players for the Pistons thus far, but his performance has been a relative disappointment considering his 2012-13 play and how well he played during the first two weeks of the season.
The 20-year-old center is averaging over 12 points and 12 boards to start the season, chipping in two steals and 1.5 blocks per contest. He is also shooting 65 percent from the field, tops in the league. He's quelled doubts about his ability to stay on the court because of fouls and conditioning; he's averaging just 3.2 fouls in 35.1 minutes per night.
He still hasn't shown much talent away from the basket—94 of his 107 field goal attempts have come from within five feet of the hoop—but he has plenty of time to develop that part of his game. The biggest worry for the Pistons has to be that his free throw shooting has somehow gotten worse this year, down from 37.1 percent as a rookie to 17.6 percent currently.
Overall, Drummond has been a much-improved player from his rookie season. But he must work to cut out that major weakness.
*Jakub Rudnik covers the Detroit Pistons for B/R. Follow him on Twitter.