STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Like a carbon copy of the previous three seasons, Detroit was mired in a state of futility during the 2012-13 campaign. Despite showing some signs of growth down the stretch during the 2011-12 season, Detroit finished fourth in the Central Division with a 29-53 record and once again landed in the lottery. Greg Monroe seemingly hit a plateau as a quality big man but one who may not have All-Star potential. The same can be said for Brandon Knight, who showed little to no signs of progression in his sophomore campaign. Meanwhile, other young players once thought of as possible building blocks, such as Rodney and Jonas Jerebko, took noticeable steps back in their development and no longer appear to be in the team's long-term plans. The lone bright spot to emerge for the Pistons last season was the uncapped upside Andre Drummond flashed in his rookie campaign.
This offseason proved to be a pivotal one for Detroit. First up was a change on the bench, as the team hired Maurice Cheeks to take over for Lawrence Frank. Cheeks has been a chameleon with his coaching style throughout his career, showing the willingness to adapt his game plan to fit the talent around him, but other than a couple of outlier seasons, his past squads in Portland and Philadelphia were usually defensively-orientated with slower paces on offense. In other words, he'll fit right in with the usual plan of attack for a Joe Dumars' constructed roster, but at least he'll have some new toys to play with. Loaded with buckets of cap space, the team decided to bring in a large upgrade in talent. Detroit's injection of talent began with the signing of former Hawk Josh Smith, who was one of the top free agents on the market. The Pistons later acquired Brandon Jennings from the Bucks in a sign-and-trade deal that cost them Knight and a couple throw-in pieces. The combo of Jennings and Smith gives Detroit star-talent at the point guard and small forward positions to pair with the steady presence of Monroe at the four and the budding Drummond at the pivot. Chauncey Billups was brought back to Motown to give the team some veteran leadership, while first-round pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gives the team an athletic shooting guard who's capable of being a solid player at both ends of the court. Italian League MVP Luigi Datome was the final puzzle piece for the Pistons' roster, and he'll provide the team with some much-needed spacing with his three-point shooting.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Cheeks has claimed that all of the jobs are up for grabs during training camp, but that's just standard coach speak to motivate his players. The Pistons have four of their five starting positions all sewn up, with shooting guard being the only spot in the starting five where there's a legitimate battle for playing time
Jennings was acquired to be the team's floor general of the present and future. Through four seasons in Milwaukee, Jennings never played less than 32 minutes per game and he topped out at over 36 mpg last season. Expect the 24-year-old point guard to see heavy run with his new squad as well. Will Bynum and Billups will serve as the team's two backup point guards, but Mr. Big Shot will also slide over to the two at times. In a combo guard role, Billups should be able to top 20 minutes per night, but Bynum will be in danger of dropping a handful of minutes from the 18 minutes he averaged last year.
At shooting guard, the team will use the aforementioned Billups along with Stuckey and Caldwell-Pope. Stuckey is currently considered the early favorite to start, but it could be a fluid situation throughout the season. Given his status as a pending free agent and his disappointing performance last year, we expect Stuckey to drop below 26 mpg for the first time since his rookie season, as he'll eventually give way to KCP. While Caldwell-Pope's playing time may be sparse at the beginning of the season, he has the talent to be playing over 25 mpg by season's end.
Smith and Monroe will anchor the forward positions for Detroit. Both players averaged well over 30 mpg last season and will do so again this year. The backup forward spots do create some confusion in Detroit's rotation, though. Datome's three-point shooting should lead to a sizable role in the 15-20 mpg range. Kyle Singler averaged an unexpected 28 mpg last year, but he'll see a significant drop off in playing time given Detroit's infusion of talent. Charlie Villanueva and Jonas Jerebko are expected to battle for the scraps, but neither will see a large enough role to make a dent in fantasy.
The Pistons have made it clear Drummond will be one of the centerpieces of their revival. He'll be handed the keys at the center position and could approach 30 mpg if he stays out of foul trouble and shows improvements at the charity stripe. Monroe will slide over to center when Drummond receives a blow, meaning third-string center Josh Harrellson will be limited to mop-up duty in blowouts.
Andre Drummond: When healthy, Drummond was one of the more impressive rookies of the 2012 Draft Class. He averaged 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steal while playing primarily as a reserve and seeing just 21 minutes per game. While those numbers aren't altogether eye-popping, Drummond's strong finish as a part of the starting five down the stretch, and his stellar per-36 averages (13.8 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 1.7 steals), hint at his vast potential. Despite the promise Drummond has flashed, his immediate fantasy impact could be quelled some by his struggles at the charity stripe. Drummond shot a horrendous 37 percent from the line in his rookie campaign, and freebies were an issue during his lone season at UCONN, too. But even with the free-throw risk factored in, Drummond remains one of the more likely breakout candidates this season. The 20-year-old has a raw but developing offensive game, superior athleticism for a player his size and game-changing ability on the defensive end of the court. Plus, he's expected to be cemented into the Pistons' starting center job for the entire season. Don't be afraid to reach a round or two early for Drummond – plenty of other owners will likely be planning the same.
Josh Harrellson: The Pistons signed Harrellson to a partially-guaranteed contract this offseason to give the team extra depth at the center position. The 24-year-old big man has averaged 4.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13 mpg through 43 career appearances. Barring an injury to one of Detroit's big men, Harrellson will have a tough time seeing much playing time.
Josh Smith: Playing in a new city with new teammates may require an adjustment period for the veteran star forward, who had a rather disappointing 2012-13 season after arguably the best season of his entire career the previous year. Despite dropping in almost every category, Smith finished the year with averages of 17.5 points (47 percent from the field, 52 percent from the line), 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks in 35 minutes per game. Now on the Pistons alongside a frontcourt of the stellar Greg Monroe and rising sophomore sensation Andre Drummond, Smith's usage rate may decrease further. With Brandon Jennings handling the ball at the point guard position, the Pistons may have a very fast-paced offense, which could benefit the athletic Smith. An even bigger question mark for Smith is his new role as a starting small forward. His shooting percentages were a drain on his overall value last season and those struggles could develop into more of a long-term problem now that he'll be playing away from the rim more. Still, Smith remains a defensive beast who can carry a fantasy squad in steals and blocks. If Smith can remain healthy and improve his percentages, he can still perform at an elite fantasy basketball level.
Greg Monroe: Despite not living up to some of the hype of a potential breakout year, Monroe had a solid season in his 2012-13 campaign. He averaged 16.0 points (49 percent from the field, 69 percent from the line), 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks in 33 minutes per game. The fact that Monroe did not break out completely last season left owners on a sour note, but it could mean that his breakout year is coming this season. The addition of Josh Smith and the emergence of Andre Drummond could crowd the frontcourt, but Monroe still has the potential to showcase his best stuff due to his unique passing ability as a big man, in addition to getting his hands dirty on the defensive end with steals. With new point guard Brandon Jennings at the helm of the offense, the Pistons may take a run-and-gun approach which would allow a skilled passing forward like Monroe to thrive with two athletic frontcourt mates in Smith and Drummond. Monroe will be just 23 years of age heading into his fourth season in the NBA, and his breakout season may come sooner than later.
Luigi Datome: Datome is one of the more intriguing imports to come from overseas this season. The 26-year-old swingman dominated the Italian league last year, taking home MVP honors while averaging 18.7 points (51.7 FG), 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 treys and 1.4 steals in 33 mpg. At 6-9, 220, Datome figures to slot in at small forward. While not as athletic as some of the NBA's premier options at the position, Datome is a lights-out shooter who could become one of the league's best deep threats immediately upon his arrival. His role as a backup will limit his fantasy impact some, but he may drain enough threes to warrant consideration in deeper formats.
Kyle Singler: After spending one year overseas, Singler joined the Pistons for his rookie campaign in 2012-13. The Duke University product lived up to his scouting reporting, providing the Pistons with decent perimeter shooting (42.8 percent from the floor, 35.0 percent from the arc) while displaying a high basketball IQ. He earned more playing time than expected in his first season, averaging 28 mpg while starting 74 of his 82 appearances. Singler finished his rookie season with averages of 8.8 points and 4.0 rebounds. Despite the sizable role in his rookie campaign, Singler is expected to slot into a depth position during his sophomore season.
Charlie Villanueva: As part of the Pistons' failed free agent spending spree back in 2009, Villanueva has been one of the more disappointing players on the roster over the past few seasons. His production hit a new low in 2012-13, as Villanueva averaged a career-low 6.8 points in 16 mpg last season. Despite the constant disappointment, Detroit opted not to amnesty Villanueva this past offseason with hopes that he'll provide the team a stretch four option off the bench or be a valuable expiring contract before the deadline. Whether he sticks in Detroit for the entire season or gets traded, Villanueva will have a tough time carving out enough minutes to make a fantasy impact in most leagues.
Jonas Jerebko: After two promising seasons to tip-off his career, Jerebko took a step back last year. Jerebko played a career-low 18 mpg while posting the worst statistical production of his career. He's an energetic player with the ability to bang down low or step out and hit the occasional three, but Jerebko doesn't possess any one elite skill that allows him to flourish at the NBA level. The 26-year-old Swedish forward will battle for limited playing time off the bench with Charlie Villanueva.
Tony Mitchell: Previously considered a first-round talent, Mitchell dropped to the Pistons in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft after a disappointing sophomore campaign. He possesses loads of athletic capability, but Mitchell's basketball IQ and effort are question marks. Mitchell is expected to spend most of his rookie campaign in street clothes at the end of the Pistons' bench or down in the D-League.
Brandon Jennings: For the first month of free agency this summer, Brandon Jennings generated very little interest. The general consensus was that he'd be forced to play this season for the Bucks' qualifying offer and try again next summer. But Joe Dumars came to the rescue with a sign-and-trade deal that brought Jennings to Detroit as the Pistons' new floor general. The league-wide hesitation wasn't that surprising; Jennings is generally regarded as a flawed player, particularly where shot selection is concerned. The Pistons are betting that they can break him of some bad habits, and the presence of Chauncey Billups as a backup/mentor could certainly help. On the other hand, Jennings is at his best when he's able to use his quickness to break down a defense off the dribble and either get to the basket or create a shot for a teammate. This year's Pistons may not have enough shooters to create space for his drives, which could just lead to more bad long-range shots from Jennings and new teammate Josh Smith. But if rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Italian import Luigi Datome can provide the spacing Jennings needs to thrive, this could be his breakout year.
Rodney Stuckey: After a turbulent yet productive 2011-12 campaign, Stuckey took a big step back last year. He spent most of the season being deployed as a combo guard off the bench, finishing the year with averages of 11.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting just 40.6 percent from the floor in under 29 mpg. He'll get a chance to compete for the starting shooting guard gig in camp and may be considered the current favorite for the job, but Stuckey's strengths are as a slasher, which doesn't fit the Pistons' needs from the position. Stuckey is also entering the final season of his contract, so there's a chance he could be dealt during the season. With his long-term future on the squad in question, Stuckey makes for a risky fantasy option.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Following a sophomore season at Georgia in which he averaged 18.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game to earn SEC Player of the Year honors, Caldwell-Pope declared for the NBA Draft and was selected eighth overall by the Pistons. With Rodney Stuckey seemingly stalling in his development at shooting guard the last few years, it appears the organization will give Caldwell-Pope every chance to win the starting shooting guard job out of training camp. Caldwell-Pope struggled finding his stroke in his initial exposure to professional basketball in the summer league, but the proficiency he showed from mid- and long-range in college should ultimately allow him to score at the next level. One of the bigger questions with Caldwell-Pope is his ability to adapt to a secondary role working off the ball. Caldwell-Pope posted high usage numbers and low assist totals as a one-man show for a middling Georgia squad last season, but he'll likely be asked to acquiesce to Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith on the wing for the Pistons in his rookie season. Should Caldwell-Pope fail to thrive in a complementary capacity, veterans Stuckey, Chauncey Billups and Kyle Singler could steal minutes from him.
Chauncey Billups: After spending two seasons in Los Angeles, Billups is headed back to the city where he earned the nickname "Mr. Big Shot." The Pistons added Billups this offseason to give the team some much-needed veteran leadership and extra depth at the guard positions. Billups averaged 8.4 points in 19 mpg with the Clippers last year, but he's expected to hold a bigger role for the Pistons. At 37, Billups is well past his prime, but he still has the ability to knock down clutch threes and provide a calming influence on the court. He's in contention for a spot in the starting lineup, but even if he nabs the shooting guard gig, Billups' production will likely only warrant consideration in deeper formats.
Will Bynum: The 30-year-old point guard has established himself as a sparkplug off the Pistons' bench over the past handful of seasons. The 2012-13 campaign was one of Bynum's better overall seasons, as he finished with averages of 9.8 points and 3.6 assists in 18 mpg. While he has shown the ability to post decent numbers when given extra playing time, the vast majority of Bynum's production has been made for a lottery-bound team that was desperate for an offensive boost. This year's Pistons squad is more talented, deeper and should be fairly competitive, which will push Bynum further down the depth chart. He'll find his way into the rotation, but it may be too a lesser extent than what we saw last year.
Peyton Siva: The Pistons selected Siva in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft. While he may have been a star player for the national champs, Siva doesn't project to have much success at the NBA level. He's buried on the depth chart and will likely spend the majority of his rookie campaign in street clothes or playing in the D-League.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Given the handling of Monroe, Knight and Drummond over the past three years, the Pistons have shown a trend of tempering early expectations from their rookies. With that history, it shouldn't be a surprise the team is handling KCP in similar fashion and need to be convinced by the rookie to unleash him early. Even if he doesn't nab the starting shooting guard spot out of training camp, there's a very good chance Caldwell-Pope will eventually be slotted in to the role. Caldwell-Pope is an athletic player who can make an impact on both ends of the floor. He's the Pistons only true shooting guard and should join the starting five at some point this season.
Rodney Stuckey: The Pistons handed the keys to the franchise to Stuckey when they traded away Billups back in 2008. Ever since that moment, Stuckey was pegged as a potential breakout fantasy option. While he had a couple solid years, Stuckey has never been able to live up to his full potential, and he's been trending in the wrong direction for the past couple seasons. The 27-year-old guard is now entering the final season of his contract and doesn't appear to be in the Pistons' long-term plans. Even if Stuckey nabs the starting shooting guard spot on Opening Night, he should only be viewed as a placeholder for Caldwell-Pope.