5 Areas Detroit Pistons Must Upgrade This Offseason
After winning just 29 games in 2013-14, there is no shortage of areas the Detroit Pistons need to upgrade over the next five months.
Offensively, their spacing was often an issue as they often played three big men at a time, leading to an offensive rating that was in the bottom half of the league. They were even worse on the other end—they had a bottom-five defensive rating, giving up 107.3 points per 100 possessions.
With Joe Dumars done as general manager and Maurice Cheeks relieved of his head coaching duties months ago, it will be up to brand-new management to provide the fixes.
They will have a good chunk of cap space—as much as $20 million if the cap rises as expected—and a top-eight draft pick if no team jumps them in the lottery. But they also need to get more out of their existing players if they aim to be competitive in the Eastern Conference.
The Pistons were strong in the paint offensively with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, but they lacked the perimeter shooting to truly open up their offense.
At 32.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc as a team, they ranked ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers. Only three Pistons—Jonas Jerebko, Josh Harrellson and Kyle Singler—shot above the 36 percent league average.
The front office tried to address their poor outside shooting last offseason, but most of their acquisitions didn't pan out in that area. Brandon Jennings shot 33.7 percent, down from 37.5 percent in 2012-13. Dumars thought Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would be a "great three-point shooter," but he shot just 31.9 percent. And Chauncey Billups shot 29.2 percent, the second-lowest mark of his 17-year career.
Those weren't even their biggest busts.
Luigi Datome was signed as a free agent from Italy in the offseason, and he was expected to make an immediate impact as a long-range shooter.
"[The Pistons] knew that Datome possesses one clearly translatable NBA skill: He can knock down shots," Brett Koremenos said on Grantland. "Datome should prove to be capable of handling the rigors of a higher level of competition, and could wind up being an extremely valuable role player."
That never happened.
After missing training camp and preseason with an injury, he struggled to find a role on the team, playing just seven minutes per game for the season. And when he did play he made just 7-of-39 threes, good for 17.9 percent. He proved overseas he can really shoot the ball, but he never got the opportunity as a rookie.
Smith, on the other hand, has never been a three-point shooter—he shot above 30 percent from behind the arc in only one season. But in moving to small forward full time in Detroit, he suddenly believed shooting the long ball was part of his job decision. He shot a career-high 3.4 threes per game, making just 26.4 percent of them.
In total, Smith attempted 264 threes on the season. In NBA history, only once has a player attempted at least 250 threes and made a lower percentage than Smith did in 2013-14: Antoine Walker in 1999-00 (he made 25.6 percent).
The new Pistons GM will need to find at least one more shooter, either in the draft or free agency. The new coach will need to implement an offense that gets its shooters open looks and keep Smith away from the perimeter.
The Pistons' perimeter play was lackluster on the defensive end as well.
According to NBA.com, they ranked in the league's bottom third in opponent field-goal percentage from 25 to 29 feet and 20 to 24 feet, and were dead last from 15 to 19 feet.
The point guard position was of particular issue for the Pistons. Jennings gave up a PER of 17.2 to opposing point guards, per 82games.com, below the league average of 15. Even though he averaged over one steal, he lacked focus and was prone to taking risks trying to force turnovers.
Off the bench, Will Bynum was no better, giving up a PER of 17.6 to point guards and 19 to shooting guards. He has never been a strong defender, giving up height to nearly every opponent.
And on the wing, Singler struggled when playing shooting guard, giving up a PER of 20.3, five points worse than when he played small forward. He plays hard and has good size for the 3, but he's too slow-footed to stay in front of many shooting guards.
With issues shooting the ball and defending on the perimeter, the ideal offseason acquisition would be an upgrade on the outside on both ends of the court.
In 2013-14, no NBA team shot worse from the charity stripe than the Pistons and it wasn't even close.
They made 67 percent of their free throws, four percent worse than the 76ers, the next worse team. That gap was roughly the same as that between the 76ers and the No. 20 team, the Cleveland Cavaliers (75.1 percent).
Detroit shot 8.6 percent below the league average from the line, per Basketball-Reference.com. If they had taken the same exact number of free throws and shot the league average, they'd have scored an additional 180 points this season. That's more than two points per game.
In particular, Drummond, Monroe and Smith deserve much of the blame. Monroe shot 65.7 percent, a three-percent drop from 2012-13. Smith made 53.2 percent of his freebies, which is 11 percent lower than his career average. And although Drummond actually improved at the line, at 41.8 percent his free-throw shooting is still a terrible liability.
There are plenty of areas where they need to improve, but the Pistons cannot thrive if their top three players shoot below 70 percent from the line.
Offense in Clutch Situations
A big way the Pistons can improve in the future is to be more effective offensively in close games.
In clutch situations, defined by NBA.com as being in the last five minutes when the score is within five points, Detroit shot 34.6 percent from the field, tied for No. 29 in the league with the Chicago Bulls. They were also No. 27 in three-point shooting and last in free-throw percentage.
Part of their problem is the lack of a go-to scorer, but it also comes down to not having a successful offensive system. Far too often they relied on isolations by Jennings and Smith instead of running successful plays.
This area should improve if the Pistons add shooting and potentially a second playmaker on the perimeter, but finding a coach who can successfully navigate the final minutes of a game will be essential.
The biggest area in need of improvement for Detroit is one that isn't quantifiable: team chemistry.
When it brought in Jennings and Smith over the summer, there was certainly a risk involved. Jennings had issues on the bench in Milwaukee, as did Smith in Atlanta. The hope was that a change of scenery would help both of them.
That doesn't appear to be the case.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Jennings and Monroe cited team chemistry as a big part of their troubles in the final stretch of the season.
"Greg Monroe got the ball rolling earlier in the day when asked whether the team had good locker room chemistry," Vince Ellis wrote. "He didn’t give a cliché answer. 'Honestly, I would say no.'”
They were excellent against the Oklahoma City Thunder, going toe-to-toe with one of the NBA's best teams, and Ellis believed he knew the reason for that.
"Smith was on the bench," he wrote. "The team, obviously, has a leadership void. Monroe, Drummond and Jennings aren’t experienced enough. "But what about Smith, the team’s highest-paid player and 10-year veteran? After yet another season during which he didn’t see eye-to-eye with a coach, it’s likely that that ship has sailed."
Finding a way to fix the team's chemistry may be the single biggest issue facing the new future Pistons GM and coach. They were certainly talented enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14, but instead won just 29 games.
If they address just one area this offseason, this is it.
Note: All statistics from NBA.com unless otherwise noted. Salary information from ShamSports.com
Jakub Rudnik covers the Detroit Pistons as a Featured Columnist for B/R. Follow him on Twitter.
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