Grading Every Key Detroit Pistons Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break
The Detroit Pistons are in the midst of a disappointing stretch of basketball, but not every player on the roster has been struggling this season.
With Maurice Cheeks out the door as head coach, per USA Today's Sam Amick, general manager Joe Dumars may be making some personnel moves before the trade deadline. But before any deals are made, the players who began the season with the team can be graded on their play thus far.
The grades for each of the top 10 Pistons are based on how they have played against their expectations heading into the season—not how they stack up against their teammates or the rest of the NBA. A player is judged based on his entire season, but special attention is paid to recent performance.
*All statistics compiled from NBA.com and updated as of Feb. 10 unless otherwise noted.
When Josh Harrellson was signed in the offseason he seemed like an afterthought—a big body brought in to fill out the roster.
He hasn't exactly blown anyone away with his play, but Harrellson has been a useful back-of-the-rotation player this season. After playing in just six NBA games in 2012-13, he's currently averaging more minutes than Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva—two more established players who are team veterans.
A case can be made that he deserves even more playing time. He's currently second on the team in three-point percentage (behind Jerebko) at 38.7 percent—well above their NBA-worst team average of 31.2 percent.
And unlike Jerebko, Harrellson is performing on the defensive end. According to 82games.com, opposing centers are posting a PER of 14.7 against him and power forwards are managing just a 9.8 PER. Jerebko is giving up a PER above 17 when defending both positions.
Harrellson has been no more than a role player who has played sporadically, but he's gotten on the court more than expected and has performed well when he's seen action.
Chauncey Billups has struggled to stay on the court due to injury this season, and his performance has been brutal when he has played.
He's scoring just 3.8 points per game, shooting just 30.4 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from the arc. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he's averaging just 8.4 points per 36 minutes—his previous career low was 13.2.
He's played a lot of shooting guard the past three seasons, in part because of his waning athleticism, but he's statistically been much worse there than at point guard. According to 82games, his PER is just 4.0 at shooting guard and opposing 2-guards put up a 14.5 PER against him. At point guard he is at least posting a 10.2 PER and holding his counterparts to a 6.5 PER, albeit in a smaller sample size (he's played 11 percent of the team's minutes at shooting guard, but just 3 percent at point guard).
Billups is certainly helping to teach the young Pistons players and to provide them leadership, but he's certainly not deserving of the playing time he's received so far. According to ESPN Insider (subscription required), Billups' 5.4 PER is the lowest of all players averaging 15 or more minutes per game in the entire league. The Pistons simply can't continue to play him if and when he gets healthy.
After arguably the best season of his career in 2012-13, Will Bynum's play this year has been a letdown.
He's playing roughly one minute less per game this season, but he's averaging 2.1 points and 0.8 assists per game less this season and his field-goal percentage is down from 46.9 percent to 43.5 percent. All of that has contributed to a drop in PER from 16.62 in 2012-13 to his current 12.83.
The one area where he has shined is from behind the arc, where he's shooting 35.5 percent—a career high.
The offensive struggles wouldn't be such an issue if Bynum was at least an average player defensively. He's not. Opposing point guards are taking advantage of him to the tune of a 18.2 PER, according to 82games.
Between the play of Billups and Bynum, the quality of depth at point guard for the Pistons has been very disappointing.
Last season, Kyle Singler was overmatched on a nightly basis while starting 74 games as a rookie.
He is now playing slightly fewer minutes in a more suitable role off the bench, but statistically his game hasn't improved too much.
Sure, Singler's shooting percentage is up from 42.8 percent to 45.4 percent, his three-point shooting has improved slightly to 36.4 percent and he's averaging more free-throw attempts per contest. But those improvements have been minimal at best, which is reflected in his PER, up slightly to 11.69 from 10.02.
What Singler has been this year is an average shooter (his three-point percentage is 0.2 percent below the league average of 35.8 percent, per Basketball-Reference) who is an average defender (opposing small forwards have a 15.5 PER against him, according to 82games).
There's nothing wrong with having a player like that coming off the bench, although he wouldn't play 25 minutes per night on most playoff teams. Singler can still become a useful three-and-D player, but he hasn't quite reached that level yet.
It's been a very different season on the two sides of the ball for Pistons rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Defensively, KCP has been solid, if unspectacular. He's averaging slightly more than one steal per contest, and opposing shooting guards are posting a 12.8 PER against him, per 82games. He's proved that he has the athleticism and work ethic to play good defense, but he can get beaten by bigger offensive players.
On the other end of the court, however, KCP has not been so good. As a sophomore at Georgia he averaged 18.5 points on 43.3 percent shooting. As an NBA rookie: 6.8 points with a 39.6 field-goal percentage.
KCP did play his best basketball of the season in January, when he averaged 8.5 points on 47.3 percent from the floor. The Pistons can only hope that he's finally starting to adjust to the speed of the NBA game and that improvement continues the rest of the season.
Coincidence or not, Rodney Stuckey is having a bounce-back season in the final year of his contract.
Moving to the bench full-time as the sixth man, Stuckey's scoring is up 2.6 points per game this season while playing fewer minutes. He's also doing it more efficiently, with improved field-goal, three-point and free-throw percentages and increased free-throw attempts year to year.
He's also doing a solid job of defending opposing 2-guards, even if he forces less than one steal per game. Opposing shooting guards have a PER of 12.0 against him, according to 82games. He hasn't been a lockdown defender, but he's certainly not hurting his team when he's on the floor.
Stuckey hasn't been good enough to get real consideration for Sixth Man of the Year, but he has been one of the best 10 bench players in the league this season. That's far better than what was expected after his uninspiring 2012-13 performance.
Greg Monroe is playing out of position more often than not, sliding to power forward when Andre Drummond is on the court, but he's still having a very solid season.
Averaging 14.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, he's currently one of just 18 NBA players averaging at least 14 and eight per game, according to NBA.com. And of those 18, Monroe is one of just eight shooting above 50 percent from the field (he has a 51.5 field-goal percentage).
Defensively, Monroe is blocking less than half a shot per game, but he is forcing a steal to help make up for it. Against centers he's giving up a decent PER of 15.5, but he's struggled against power forwards, who post a 19.1 PER against him, per 82games.
Monroe has been excellent in the post offensively and on the glass at both ends this season. But with his defensive concerns and another true center on the roster, his name will continue to come up in trade scenarios through the Feb. 20 deadline.
Brandon Jennings' performance so far may have been the most predictable of any Pistons player.
His 17.7 points per game is nearly identical to both his 2012-13 and career averages—17.5 and 17.1, respectively. He's shot 38.2 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from the arc—each within one percent of his career average. He's also grabbing 1.6 steals per game, exactly what he's done each of the previous two seasons.
Even his improved distribution could be foreseen. He's averaging 8.2 assists after a previous career high of 6.5 last season. But he's improved in that area three consecutive seasons while showing very clear growth in his ability to run a team.
Jennings is leading the Pistons in scoring and is currently tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio for fifth in the NBA in assists. But beyond the mild surprise of just how many dimes he's dishing out, this has been exactly the Jennings that the Pistons expected to get from the Milwaukee Bucks.
Josh Smith was undeniably bad for the Pistons in 2013, but his play since New Year's Day has given reason for optimism about the next three-and-a-half seasons of his contract.
He is shooting a career-low 42 percent from the field—in part because he's making just 23 percent of the 3.6 threes he's jacking up every game. His 15.3 PER and 1.4 blocks per game would also be career lows, and he's averaging fewer rebounds than he has in any season since 2005-06.
But he's also improved his scoring and field-goal percentage every single month. His January numbers were very solid: 17.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 44.9 percent from the field. And in February he's been even better, averaging 19.8 points and nine rebounds through five games.
So while Smith does deserve much of the criticism he's received this season, there's definitely evidence suggesting that he's finally clicking with his teammates and looking like the player who was signed for four years and $54 million in free agency.
Any concerns about whether Andre Drummond was for real after his rookie season have been long forgotten.
The 20-year-old center has proved that his ceiling is higher than nearly any other player in the league. He's not only met all the expectations that followed him into his second season, he's exceeded them.
His current season averages: 13 points, 13 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.3 steals and 61.1 percent shooting from the field. He's currently third in the NBA in rebounding and field-goal percentage and ranks eighth in blocks.
It's worth mentioning again that he's 20.
He's obviously far from a finished product. His free-throw percentage is a brutal 41.3 percent. He's made just 12 total field goals from five feet and beyond. And opposing centers have posted a PER of 20.0 against him, per 82games.
But even with those issues, his play at this point in his career is giving the Pistons plenty of reason for optimism, as well as some consolation for how the team has performed so far this season.
Jakub Rudnik covers the Detroit Pistons for B/R. Follow him on Twitter.
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