Predicting the Roles and Impact of Each Detroit Pistons Newcomer This Season
This offseason the Detroit Pistons brought in six new players to fill a variety of roles, from starters to end-of-the-bench types.
New coach and team president Stan Van Gundy was aggressive in the free-agent market, finding players to address their biggest weakness in 2013-14: perimeter shooting. At a 32.1 percent mark from beyond the arc, only the Philadelphia 76ers were worse than the Pistons. As a coach who routinely played four perimeter threats at a time while with the Orlando Magic, Van Gundy made sure to address their shortcoming.
''From a skill standpoint on the perimeter, shooting was our primary focus, to the point that there really wasn't anybody we were interested in that wasn't a very good range shooter,'' said Van Gundy to Yahoo. ''We really wanted to change that.''
The strength of the team is on the interior with Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. The improved outside shooting should open more space for the three bigs to operate down low and minimize the frequency of opponents double-teaming them on the block.
Training camp will determine whether or not a couple of the signings find themselves in the starting lineup, but there's no doubt that several of the new players—listed alphabetically—will play significant roles for the Pistons this season.
D.J. Augustin, Point Guard
D.J. Augustin won't challenge Brandon Jennings for the starting point guard spot, but he will be a significant upgrade off the bench over the players Detroit used in 2013-14.
Augustin was excellent last season for the Chicago Bulls after being waived by the Toronto Raptors, averaging 13.1 points and 4.4 assists in 61 games. He came off the bench behind Kirk Hinrich in nearly all of those, but he frequently closed contests as their best offensive creator off the dribble.
He would be a serviceable starter, but he's older and less skilled than Jennings. Though Jennings can frustrate at time with his shot selection, he's a far more dynamic offensive player than Augustin.
Augustin shouldn't be stuck playing strictly behind Jennings, however. The two will almost certainly play a fair amount side by side, as either can work as an off-ball scorer. Augustin played 466 minutes next to Hinrich in 2013-14, per NBA.com, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him play a similar amount next to Jennings.
The Pistons have a deeper backcourt than the Bulls did a year ago, so expect him to average fewer than the 30.4 minutes he averaged last season. But as the presumed third guard in the Pistons rotation, he'll likely see somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 minutes per night.
Caron Butler, Small Forward
Van Gundy brought in 12-year veteran Caron Butler to compete for the starting job at what will be their weakest position in 2014-15.
Butler is far from the 20-point-per-game scorer he was with the Washington Wizards from 2007 to 2009, but he's got playoff experience and has developed very good three-point range. While he wouldn't be a starter on most NBA teams, he has a serious chance to edge out former second-round pick Kyle Singler.
While Singler can provide more athleticism and is perhaps a slightly better defender—according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Singler gave up .04 points fewer per play than Butler did in 2013-14—at this point in their respective careers, Butler still is the more productive player.
Butler averaged more points, rebounds, assists and steals than Singler did per game, according to Basketball-Reference.com's stats, and he also bettered Singler on a per 36 minutes basis. Additionally, Butler shot nearly six percent better from the arc than Singler—again, a major focus area for Van Gundy.
Beyond statistics, Butler's biggest asset may just be his experience. The Pistons have just one other player on the roster over the age of 30, and with so much youth, Butler may be able to help lead a team which lacked direction last season.
Regardless of whether he starts, Butler will be splitting time at small forward with Singler. At 34, he won't be asked to play more than 25 minutes per game, though expect him to get the nod in crunch time frequently.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Point Guard
The Pistons used their lone pick in June's draft on Colorado point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, but a deep backcourt and a recovering knee will keep him from getting many meaningful minutes this season.
Dinwiddie is a 6'6" combo guard who shot 41.3 percent from three as a junior. His size and offensive talent gave him first-round grades from many scouts, but a torn ACL pushed him into the second round. Though he's said to be recovering very well, his availability for the beginning of the season is questionable.
Even if he was fully healthy, Dinwiddie would be competing behind veterans Jennings and Augustin for time—guys who have started a combined 523 games in their careers. There just isn't much room for him in the rotation, even with his ability to play two positions.
Dinwiddie is by most accounts a guy with NBA talent and physical tools. But at 21 years old and coming off knee surgery, he'll likely spend more time in the D-League than in the Pistons' rotation.
Aaron Gray, Center
With three starting-caiber big men already on the roster, the role for career backup Aaron Gray will be minimal at best.
The 7'0", 270-pound big man is an enormous body on the interior but little else. He grabs rebounds and takes up space near the rim, but he has very little mobility and no real post moves.
Gray takes Josh Harrellson's roster spot, which was a bit of a surprise, as Harrellson's three-point shooting ability seemed like it would make him a better fit for Van Gundy.
However, Gray's addition may have been made with an eye on some very specific matchups in the Eastern Conference.
While Drummond and Monroe will play very nearly 48 minutes at center every single game, there are some teams that have big men capable of getting those two in foul trouble. Chicago has Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson; the Washington Wizards have Nene and Marcin Gortat; and the Indiana Pacers have Roy Hibbert and David West.
While the Pistons won't stand a chance against any of those teams if they're playing Gray for extended stretches, he has the ability to bang with guys like Hibbert or Nene for short periods—perhaps at the end of a half if both Drummond and Monroe have two fouls. While the Pistons are far from a lock to make the playoffs, there would be a good chance they get matched up against one of those squads if they do end their postseason drought.
Gray is very much an end-of-the-bench big man, but his massive body makes him useful in a handful of matchups for the Pistons.
Cartier Martin, Small Forward
Among the veterans brought in to boost the Pistons' outside shooting, it will be Cartier Martin who plays the smallest role this season.
Martin is a journeyman small forward who has played for five teams in his six-year career. Blessed with decent length and athleticism, he's stuck around the league mostly because of his three-point shooting, with a solid career mark of 38.3 percent.
He played most of his minutes at the 3 in 2013-14, but he also saw brief stints at shooting guard and power forward, per 82games.com. While none of those positions has much room for Martin to earn time, it's possible to see him as a small-ball power forward option if Van Gundy wants to play very perimeter-oriented lineups for short stretches.
On a deep Pistons team, Martin will more than likely fit in as their 10th or 11th man. Expect him to average somewhere near 10 minutes per game, much of which will come in garbage time.
Jodie Meeks, Shooting Guard
It didn't take long into free agency for Van Gundy to get his biggest offseason target.
On July 1, it was announced that the Pistons had come to terms on a deal with Lakers shooting guard Jodie Meeks. Coming off a career year in which he averaged 15.7 points on 40.1 percent from the arc, Meeks fits exactly what Van Gundy was looking for in free agency.
Meeks was a very efficient scorer in 2013-14, shooting 46.3 percent from the field and averaging 1.09 points per play, which ranked No. 10 in the NBA, per Synergy Sports. He was No. 42 in the league on spot-ups at 1.14 points per play, making 44.3 percent of his threes in such situations. If he can produce similar numbers in Detroit, he'll certainly take pressure off the big men inside.
Meeks was a below-average defender in Los Angeles, giving up a PER of at least 17.5 to point guards, shooting guards and small forwards last season, per 82games. And the guy he's competing for a job with, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, held shooting guards to a below-average 13.5 PER.
But the position should be Meeks' to lose. He's the more experienced player, he's a better shooter and KCP simply wasn't ready last season. Though KCP should take a step forward in 2014-15, and Meeks likely won't average near 17 points per game outside of Mike D'Antoni's offensive system, Meeks is the better fit for a team looking to make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
Jakub Rudnik covers the Detroit Pistons as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter. Follow @jakubrudnik
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