STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The 2008-09 season marked the end of an era for the Pistons. Just two games into the year, Detroit shipped long-time point guard Chauncey Billups to Denver in exchange for Allen Iverson. The move was made to clear cap space and open up playing time for Rodney Stuckey at the one, but president of basketball operations Joe Dumars was also able to bring in the superstar caliber player he long sought. Unfortunately, Iverson never meshed with the Pistons, becoming more of a headache for the team than a contributor. The failed Iverson experiment coupled with rookie head coach Michael Curry's inability to manage a group of veteran players led to a disastrous campaign. The Pistons finished 39-43 and were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Consequently, Detroit decided to clear its slate this offseason. Gone are Iverson, Curry, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess, creating an excess of cap space and a coaching vacancy. Dumars decided to use his newfound salary cap flexibility to fill numerous holes. Instead of bringing in another big name superstar, Dumars repeated the formula that made Detroit so successful earlier in the decade: target undervalued players who don't require max contracts. This tactic led to the signings of Ben Gordon, Charlie Villaneuva, Chris Wilcox and Ben Wallace. To lead the restructured squad, Dumars brought in former Cavs assistant coach John Kuester to right the ship. Throw in three draft picks (Austin Daye, DaJuan Summers, Jonas Jerebko) who are supposed to be on the opening night roster, and the Pistons will have a much different feel this season.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
With a new coach at the helm and numerous offseason additions to the roster, Detroit's playing time distribution could be sporadic in the early going. Mainstays such as Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince will once again assume their roles as starters and see 35 minutes per game. Villaneuva is taking over the role of three-point shooting power forward held by Wallace last year and should be in line for around 35 mpg, too. Beyond those three, things get murky. Rodney Stuckey will enter his second season as the starting point guard and see 30-plus mpg. The backup guards will be Ben Gordon and Will Bynum. Gordon will assume the same role of super-sub he did in Chicago and should play an effective 30-34 minutes each night. While Hamilton, Stuckey and Gordon will take most of the backcourt minutes, Bynum will still be good for 17 mpg. At center, Detroit has a three-headed monster with Kwame Brown, Wilcox and Big Ben. Brown will likely be named the starter out of training camp, but Wilcox should end up seeing the majority of action at the position. Jason Maxiell will also factor into the frontcourt mix and provide his typical 18-20 minutes of high-energy play. The only rookie likely to see enough time to make a fantasy splash is Summers, who should see a handful of minutes at small forward as Prince's backup.
Kwame Brown: Like last season, Brown enters training camp with a chance to nab a place in the starting five. He lost the battle last year, but still managed to see 30 starts due to injuries and general ineffectiveness of other options on the Pistons' roster. Being the only returnee at the center position from last year's squad, Brown has the early upper hand landing the gig on opening night, but if he plays like he did last season (4.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg) expect him to lose minutes Chris Wilcox and Ben Wallace early and often.
Chris Wilcox: After a couple successful seasons in Seattle, Wilcox was lost in the shuffle in Oklahoma City and New York last year. He finished the season with his lowest output in points (7.2) since his rookie campaign and only snagged 4.5 boards per game. At 27, Wilcox is hardly washed-up and could be in line for a career resurrection in Detroit. If he can fend off Brown and Wallace for minutes, Wilcox provides solid production with his points and rebounds, but his career mark of 0.4 blocks per game means you'll have to team him with good defensive players.
Ben Wallace: The Pistons opted to bring back Wallace for another tour to shore up their frontcourt. Wallace can still offer solid production in rebounds, steals and blocks, even with his playing time expected to be limited, but don't expect the Big Ben of old.
Charlie Villanueva: One the Pistons' prized offseason acquisitions - Ben Gordon being the other - Villanueva is expected to have a big role in his first year with his new club. He'll step into the vacancy at power forward left by the departures of Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess. Villanueva showed flashes of brilliance with Milwaukee last season, including averages of 23.1 points and 9.0 rebounds in games he played 30-plus minutes. With a lack of other options in Detroit's frontcourt look for Villanueva to easily surpass 30 minutes per tilt.
Tayshaun Prince: The 2008-09 season was another well-rounded campaign from Prince, as he averaged 14.2 points, 5.8 boards and 3.2 assists while leading the Pistons with 37 minutes per game. With Villanueva as the only other low-post option on the team, Detroit could opt to run more of its offense through Prince, but otherwise expect more of the same from him as his stat lines have been remarkably consistent the past five seasons.
Jason Maxiell: At 6-7, 260, Maxiell doesn't have the ideal height to be a post player, but he uses his extraordinary strength to be an effective rebounder, especially on the offensive end of the court. Unfortunately, the fact that his game relies so much on energy means Maxiell becomes less effective the longer he's on the court. If he can improve his stamina, Maxiell could be in line for a spike in playing time, but for the time being he'll continue to be an energy play off of Detroit's bench.
Austin Daye: The Pistons surprised many analysts when they selected Daye with the 15th overall selection in this year's draft. At 6-11, the power forward has the height to be competitive at the NBA level, but his thin frame (200 pounds) is cause for concern. Daye is considered a project that will take a few years to develop, but a solid showing in the Las Vegas Summer League could have speeded up his timetable to contribute. Look for the Pistons to be cautious with Daye early in the season, but he could earn some playing time later in the year.
DaJuan Summers: Another rookie, Summers was snatched in the second round by the Pistons. Like Daye, he too excelled in the summer league. He has an NBA-ready body with the shooting range to play at the three and the strength to body up smaller power forwards. Of Detroit's rookies, Summers is the most NBA-ready and could see immediate action off the bench.
Jonas Jerebko: Jerebko was selected 39th overall by the Pistons in the 2009 NBA draft. He's expected to make the Pistons' opening night roster, but his playing time will be limited at both forward positions.
Ben Gordon: Gordon inked a lucrative five-year deal with the Pistons this offseason. In his final year with the Bulls, Gordon was inserted into the starting lineup and put together one of his best campaigns, averaging 20.7 points and 2.1 treys per contest. His first year in Detroit will resemble Gordon's earlier years with the Bulls when he was used as a go-to scorer off the bench. Despite the return to a reserve role, Gordon will still hold plenty of fantasy value with his scoring and ability to knock down threes, and he could see a boost in his assist production as he's expected to see some minutes at point guard.
Richard Hamilton: Despite all the hubbub over Iverson ruining team chemistry last season, Hamilton was his usual consistent self and was able to post a line of 18.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg and 4.4 apg, right on par with his career averages. Not much should change for Rip this year, as he'll assume the role of Pistons' starting shooting guard for the eighth straight season. Without a legitimate backup for Prince at small forward, Hamilton could also see significant time at the three, helping clear up the crowded Pistons' backcourt.
Rodney Stuckey: After the trade of Billups last season, Stuckey was handed the reins at point guard. He finished the season with respectable numbers (13.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.9 apg), but didn't show much progress down the stretch. Stuckey is best served as a combo guard and will likely receive more help with point guard duties this season from Ben Gordon and Will Bynum, but he'll still provide ample fantasy value, especially with his ability to attack the basket and shoot a high percentage from the line.
Will Bynum: Bynum first became known to the fantasy world late last season when he made an impact filling in for an injury-depleted Pistons team. In the final 18 games of the regular season, Bynum averaged 14.2 points and 4.6 assists. He'll serve as the primary backup at point guard from the first tip and provides the type of energetic game that could make him a fantasy asset, even with limited run.
Deron Washington: Washington was a second round pick of the Pistons in 2008 that played overseas last season. His contract isn't guaranteed, but he's expected to make the final roster and provide depth at the end of the Pistons' bench.
Chris Wilcox: Wilcox is coming off a disappointing season split between the Thunder and Knicks, where most of his time was spent on the bench. If he couldn't find playing time with two of the worst teams in the league, how could he hope for playing time with Detroit? Easy, the Pistons have a dearth of frontcourt talent. It looks like Kwame Brown will be the opening night center, but anyone who saw Brown play last year knows he's not a starter in the NBA. Wilcox has tempted fantasy owners with his freakish athleticism before, but he has never been able to live up to the vast potential that made him a lottery pick in 2002. Dumars has made a living picking up under appreciated players from other teams, and Wilcox fits that mold. If given the minutes, Wilcox will be a solid fantasy player next season, just look at his averages of 13 points and 7.2 boards in 211 career starts.
Kwame Brown: See above. Brown is the odds-on-favorite to win the starting center job out of training camp, but he was last year, too. Coach Kuester will discover shortly into his tenure that Brown is best used in short spurts as a defensive presence against teams that have a big, lumbering body in the middle.
Article first appeared on 9/10/09