What We Learned About Detroit Pistons During Season's 1st Half
Things have gone downhill in a hurry for the Detroit Pistons.
On Christmas, they were 14-16 and right in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Now? They've won just three of their past 13 games and are two games back in the win column for the No. 8 seed.
Fortunately for Detroit, it does play in the East, where a .500 record is currently good enough for the No. 5 seed and seven games below .500 makes you a playoff team. There is still plenty of time to turn things around and salvage the season.
That being said, there is plenty that can be taken away from the Pistons' season thus far, both good and bad. Will they be able to build on the positives and correct their shortcomings before they slip even further in the standings?
Andre Drummond Is for Real, but Developing
If he didn't convince you after his rookie season, it's now safe to say that Andre Drummond is special.
The second-year center won't turn 21 until the offseason, and yet he's averaging 12.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.
There was some concern that he might struggle in an increased role and against tougher competition when he moved to the starting lineup, but he's actually averaging more points and rebounds per 36 minutes than he did last season, per Basketball-Reference.
While Drummond has met, if not exceeded, expectations this season, he is just scratching the surface of his potential.
Offensively, he still scores almost exclusively on dunks and layups—90.3 percent of his field-goal attempts have come from within five feet of the basket, per NBA.com—and he averages under half an assist per game.
On defense, he's typically done a solid job of playing team defense, as evidenced by his blocks and steals. But he can still appear lost at times, and he's not a great one-on-one post defender at this point. Case in points: Dwight Howard's 35-point, 19-rebound night in Detroit on Dec. 21.
So while there is plenty—emphasis on plenty—of reason to be excited about Drummond's future with the Pistons, he's also reminded everyone that he's still one of the NBA's youngest players.
Rodney Stuckey Is Still Talented
After a dismal 2012-13 campaign, Rodney Stuckey has shown this season that he still can play at a high level.
The seventh-year guard has thrived off the bench for coach Maurice Cheeks and even looked like a Sixth Man of the Year Candidate before getting hurt. Even so, he's playing some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 14.3 points with a PER of 16.04.
If the Pistons are able to right the ship, Stuckey will be key to any postseason success as he's one of the best scorers on the team and frequently closes games alongside Brandon Jennings.
If they aren't able to figure things out, there will likely be a market for his services before the trade deadline. Before the season, he looked like no more than an expiring contract. Now, any contender in need of improving backcourt depth may consider surrendering an asset for his services.
The Pistons Can't Shoot from Outside
The Pistons have one of the best frontcourts in the NBA, but their bigs can't be effective if there is no spacing around them.
That's an issue when opponents don't have to respect your perimeter shooting—and they're currently making an NBA-worst 30.7 percent of their attempts from the arc.
Of the eight players on the roster currently attempting over one three per game, not a single one is shooting above the league average (according to Basketball-Reference) of 35.9 percent.
The Pistons were a below-average shooting team last year, but made 35.6 percent. They tried to address the problem in the offseason, but Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups are shooting below their career averages, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Luigi Datome have failed to live up to expectations.
If the Pistons are looking to make a trade before February's deadline, they would do well to look for someone who can really stretch the floor.
They Can't Defend the Perimeter Either
It's not just offensively where the Pistons struggle from the outside.
With the NBA becoming a more perimeter-oriented league for most teams, the Pistons choosing to use bigger lineups has opened up the outside for opponents, and they lack enough defensive talent to make up for that.
Rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been very good defensively, but he's in the minority. Brandon Jennings is prone to taking chances and getting out of position, Chauncey Billups has aged significantly, Kyle Singler plays good team defense but gets beat by quicker players and Josh Smith is a sieve on the outside.
This is another area the Pistons should look to address in the next couple of weeks—in an ideal world both of these areas could be improved with one player. Someone like former Piston Arron Afflalo would be ideal if the Pistons could make the right deal.
Josh Smith Is Not a Small Forward
When the Pistons signed Smith in the offseason, they decided to take a chance that they could make it work with their three frontcourt players on the floor at the same time.
It hasn't exactly panned out.
There are several reasons why it hasn't worked out, but the biggest is that Smith is simply playing out of position. With the Hawks from 2008-09 to 2012-13, Smith played no more than 11 percent of Atlanta's total small forward minutes, per 82games.com (who started tracking the data in 2008-09).
This season, he's playing 41 percent of the Pistons' small forward minutes and just 31 percent of the minutes at power forward.
That's an issue since he's making less than one-quarter of his threes, is on pace to be the worst long-range shooter of all time and he can't defend the position.
Smith has actually been quite effective at power forward, as he shoots 62 percent from within five feet of the basket, and he's at least a competent defender in the paint.
Whether it takes making a trade or moving one of the big men to the bench, the Pistons just won't have success as long as Smith is spending the majority of his minutes playing on the perimeter.