2013-2014 NBA Preview: Central Division

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Oct 16, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Pistons small forward Josh Smith (6) is defended by Chicago Bulls small forward Luol Deng (9) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago won 96-81. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Pistons (40-42)

The Josh Smith traveling road show has found its way to Detroit. Being that this is an Atlanta-based website, we absolutely have to start with Josh, and he’s one of the most divisive players in the entire NBA. In the interest of full disclosure, Smith is the player that has elicited the most vitriol for me in my writing career, and the majority of that angst comes from his shot selection.

Before you get worried, I’m not going to take this down the Josh Smith rabbit hole, but I’ll certainly state that I believe he’s playing out of position in Detroit. Yes, Josh averaged 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last season in Atlanta, and he did so with above-average defense. He’s undoubtedly a useful player, but he’s a) not a small forward, b) not going to stop shooting jump shots, and c) in a new place where the entire offense won’t key around him. Best of luck.

Smith will be joined in Detroit by another newcomer, point guard Brandon Jennings, and there are fit concerns with Jennings as well. The 6-f00t-1 lefty is exceptionally quick and creative with the ball, and with that, he’s coming off a season where he averaged 17.5 points per game despite playing in the same backcourt as Monta Ellis. He’s fairly bad on defense thanks to bad positioning and lack of size, but if he can clean up his shot selection (sound familiar?) now that he has more options on his roster, his value will shoot up as his assist total (6.5 per game last year) mounts.

Up front, Detroit is absolutely loaded. Even if we name Smith as the “small forward”, the Pistons come back with Greg Monroe and young center Andre Drummond at the 4 and 5 spots. Monroe is about as skilled of a big man as you’ll ever see, and even at just 23 years old, he has a track record of success that features back-to-back years with more than 15 points and 9 rebounds per game. The fit with Josh Smith will be interesting for Monroe, as he’s flourished in the high post because of his great passing ability, and I think it’s entirely possible that Detroit’s best lineup will end up being Smith and Monroe at the 4 and 5 spots instead of the 3 and 4. That distinction will be almost entirely up to the Pistons’ starting center, Andre Drummond. Drummond was fantastic on a per-minute basis as as rookie last year, as he he posted a PER of 21.6 thanks to 13.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. It’s important to note, however, that he was virtually unable to stay on the court thanks to a very high foul total, and the fact that his relative skill level is still very low at 20 years old. On the positive side, he’s a physical freak who will be a big-time rebounder/defender around the rim, but I’m not sure he can score (at all), and his free throw shooting (37% last year) is abominable. Drummond may be a year away from full-time duty.

The rest of Detroit is a bit in flux. They drafted former UGA standout Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the lottery, but they’ve been non-committal on what his role will be. He’s a dead-eye shooter with the ability to become a big-time defensive player, and I’ve loved him dating back to well before the draft. The backcourt is crowded, though, as Detroit still employs Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum to create havoc in the rotation. I’m not a Stuckey fan in any way, and if new head coach Maurice Cheeks takes any available minutes away from Caldwell-Pope, I think that’s a mistake. There is talent with the veteran combo guard, but he’s a horrific defender, and his shot selection rivals that of Jennings and Smith without the other talents to make up for it. Where Bynum is concerned, I really like him as a pesky, energy defender off the bench, but there have been rumblings of an increased role for him, and I don’t really see that. I like him more than Stuckey as a pure backup PG, but that’s about it, other than the flashes when he scores 8 points in 90 seconds (which he’s good for a few times a year).

The end of the bench is nothing to write home about, with Kyle Singler, the corpse of Chauncey Billups (who shouldn’t play at all at this stage), Charlie Villanueva, and Jonas Jerebko. There is certainly more talent here than on most teams when you get this deep, but it is mashed together in odd fashions for the most part.

Some people are very, very high on the Pistons this year (like #5 seed high), but I’m hedging and basically going with the consensus. They certainly have top-6 talent in the East, with 4 plus-players in Jennings, Smith, Monroe, and Drummond (and KCP pushing that as a rookie), but the fits are questionable almost universally, and it’s tough to endorse this as more than a fringe playoff team.