5 Things to Watch for During the Detroit Pistons' Final Games
You may not see much quality basketball if you tune in to the final games of the Detroit Pistons' season, but there are still several things to watch for down the stretch.
The once promising 2013-14 campaign unraveled quickly for the Pistons. They were just two games under .500 (14-16) as late as Christmas and were within seven games of being even on Feb. 10 after a three-game win streak, which was capped by a victory over the San Antonio Spurs. But since then, they've won a grand total of five games and have gone from fighting for playoff seeding to preparing to count pingpong balls.
So instead of watching a team working out the final kinks before the postseason, Pistons fans should watch some extended minutes from the team's young players, take in the potential final games in a Pistons uniform for some other players and take notes on the best practices for tanking.
Andre Drummond's Improved Defense
The most obvious route for the Pistons to become an NBA championship contender depends on the development of center Andre Drummond into one of the game's best overall players. While he has the physical tools to get there, it will take him plenty of work and attention to the details.
That's why it's encouraging to hear that he is putting in the effort to refine his game, even while his team is playing meaningless games. Pistons coach John Loyer told the Detroit Free Press in a practice following their win over the Milwaukee Bucks:
I thought last night Andre made huge strides, defensively. When you look at his stance defending pick-and-roll, it was night and day compared to the last two games. “We spent some time showing it to him. To his credit, he really set down in his stance. We tried to build a wall when a pick-and-roll guy comes off, and we built a pretty good wall last night.
Despite averaging 1.6 blocks and 1.2 steals per game, Drummond has struggled with the nuances of NBA defense, both in defending one-on-one and as part of a team. Notably, Dwight Howard worked him in December to the tune of 35 points, 19 rebounds and five assists—Howard's highest point total of the season.
So watch Drummond and see the strides he's made defensively this season. Even in meaningless games, the future of the Pistons franchise is striving to get better.
Charlie V's Final Game as a Piston
Nearly five years ago, general manager Joe Dumars made a major splash at the beginning of the 2009 free-agency period by signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to five-year deals worth approximately a combined $90 million.
They were among the best players in an unfortunately weak 2009 free-agent class, but at the time the duo was expected to help usher in a quick rebuild for the Pistons after they traded Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets.
"Detroit got two young players, which is important ... since Gordon is only 26 and Villanueva is only 24, the Pistons limited their risk," ESPN.com's John Hollinger (subscription required) said of the deal. "Moreover, those players can still deliver some positive surprises going forward. Neither is an All-Star at present, but both have had enough moments as high-octane scorers for us to consider the possibility somewhere down the road."
But that good feeling lasted only briefly as both players failed to live up to expectations, while the team struggled. Within two seasons, they were known more for their bloated contracts than their performances on the court.
Gordon was traded prior to the 2012-13 season for an expiring contract and a future first-round pick (we'll get to this), but Villanueva has miraculously played out his entire contract with the Pistons—a constant reminder to fans of that infamous offseason.
But the end is in sight for those who have been counting down to the expiration of his contract. And unless the Pistons win four of their final six games, the Charlie V era in Detroit will end without a single-season win total above 30.
So Pistons fans, remember the matador defense, the ridiculous antics and all the losses. Then remember that the Charlie V era is nearly over in Detroit. Finally, do your best to forget that there ever was a Charlie V era.
Greg Monroe will be a restricted free agent this summer, so the Pistons have the right to match any offer he receives from another team. Nonetheless, these may be his final games in a Pistons uniform.
For starters, he already averages 15 points and nine rebounds as a 23-year-old. Big men like that command hefty paydays, and according to NBA.com, that could mean max money.
"The problem, as the Pistons knew last fall, is that Monroe's agent is David Falk," wrote David Aldridge before the 2014 trade deadline. "He has gotten the price he said he'd get for his clients for two decades—and he says the price for Monroe will be a max contract."
That alone wouldn't be an issue, but the Pistons already have $14.5 million committed to forward Josh Smith for each of the next three seasons, and Drummond will command a max deal of his own in two seasons. Unless they can find someone to take Smith off their hands, an extension for Monroe would leave the Pistons with limited cap flexibility for the foreseeable future.
The other issue is that if Smith is untradeable, a season's worth of evidence says a Drummond/Monroe/Smith frontcourt cannot be successful. So why would bringing Monroe back for Year 2 of that experiment be any different? It stands to reason that trading Monroe and moving Smith to power forward would be a better option.
Again, there are plenty of scenarios in which Monroe is back with the Pistons in 2014-15. But in case he's not, take in these final few games.
KCP's Increased Minutes
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was drafted by the Pistons out of Georgia to be a two-way shooting guard who could contribute right away. With early injuries in the Pistons backcourt, he was moved into the starting lineup earlier than expected and given the chance to perform.
Unfortunately, his offense never showed up.
For the season, he's averaged less than six points on 39.5 percent shooting from the field and 30.8 percent from the arc. His player efficiency rating is 9.25, ranking him No. 307 of 339 qualified players, per ESPN.com.
He was demoted to the bench in February in favor of Kyle Singler after averaging just more than two points in 10.5 minutes per game during that month. But now that the Pistons are out of the playoff picture, KCP has the chance to prove himself again.
His minutes were up only slightly in March, but he played at least 13 minutes in each of the last five games of the month. That stretch included one of his best games of the season, a 16-point, zero-turnover performance against the Philadelphia 76ers.
With the Pistons looking to evaluate what talent they have going forward, KCP should get the chance to once again play some valuable minutes.
Where Will They Fall in the Standings?
Perhaps no team has more incentive to lose down the stretch of the 2013-14 season than the Detroit Pistons.
Sure, the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of a battle of ineptitude for the right to a 25 percent chance at winning the draft lottery (although Milwaukee has essentially clinched it with Philly's win over the Boston Celtics on Friday). And the Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz could all finish between No. 4 and No. 6 in lottery odds depending on their final games.
But all those teams are guaranteed a lottery pick in one of the deepest drafts in NBA history. The Pistons, however, are not.
The pick that they traded for Gordon is only top-eight protected this year—if it falls between No. 9 and No. 14, then it heads to the Bobcats. Currently, the Pistons are in a tie for the league's eighth-worst record with the Sacramento Kings.
Although the Pistons may be able to keep their pick by finishing with the eighth-worst record, dropping one more spot would really help to secure it.
If the Pistons finish with the seventh-worst record, there is just a 1.8 percent chance that their pick would fall to No. 9. But by finishing with the eighth-worst record, those odds increase to 17.6 percent. They can't afford to take that risk.
If there is one thing to watch in the Pistons' final games, it is to see how well they can tank.
Note: All statistics compiled from NBA.com and updated as of April 5.
Jakub Rudnik covers the Detroit Pistons for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.