NBA Team Previews: Detroit Pistons

NBA Team Previews: Detroit Pistons

This article is part of our NBA Team Previews series.

PistonsSTATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Pistons reloaded (Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings) and made an on-paper push to return to postseason play last year. Unfortunately, the bullets they used were blanks, and the team failed to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

Enter Stan Van Gundy, who has taken over as head coach and president of basketball operations for the team. Van Gundy is a proven commodity with past success at Miami and Orlando. The veteran coach is known for his hard-driving style while demanding a lot out of his players, which should work well in Detroit after a string of listless head coaches who held seemingly no authority within the organization.

Van Gundy's offenses in Orlando centered around Dwight Howard with multiple threats on the perimeter providing spacing. The Pistons already have a young center in the mold of Howard in place (Andre Drummond), but the team has struggled to do much damage from beyond the arc for the past handful of years. To rectify that problem, Van Gundy brought in three-point threats Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, and Caron Butler via free agency this summer. Add that triple threat to Jennings, Kyle Singler, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the Pistons now have the necessary shooting to help space the floor for Drummond, Smith, and Greg Monroe.

After finishing 25th in defensive rating, the Pistons will also look to improve on that end of the court. Van Gundy led top-10 defensive units during his stops in Miami and Orlando, so expect the Pistons to show improvement in this area as well, especially if Drummond and Smith can control the paint.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The Pistons brought in numerous players who will immediately be a part of the rotation, but outside of Rodney Stuckey, who's now playing for the Pacers, the team didn't lose many pieces from last season. Van Gundy will likely make all players believe they have to earn their roles, but the team has a pretty clear-cut 9-10 players who will see the lion's share of minutes.

Despite a bumpy debut season in Detroit, Jennings will once again be the team's starting point guard and main facilitator. He has averaged 32 or more minutes every season throughout his career and will approach similar levels this year. Augstin won't see as many minutes as he did as Derrick Rose's injury replacement in Chicago, but he'll still see 20+ minutes per game as a sparkplug off Detroit's bench. Will Bynum has been a steady presence in Detroit's rotation for the better part of a decade, but he'll assume the role of third-string point guard this year and will struggle to see double-digit minutes on a regular basis. Rookie Spencer Dinwiddie doesn't have a timetable for a return from ACL surgery, but he could steal depth minutes from Bynum once healthy.

Meeks and sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will battle for playing time at shooting guard. While Meeks gives the team some much-needed three-point shooting, Caldwell-Pope is considered the team's best perimeter defender, and he showed strides on offense over the summer. Regardless of who locks down the starting gig, both players will likely carve out 25+ mpg in the rotation, especially if Detroit rolls out smaller lineups on a regular basis. Butler, Cartier Martin, or Kyle Singler could also see time at the two, but all three are better suited for work at small forward.

Van Gundy doesn't want to start the trio of Drummond, Monroe, and Smith together, which will likely open up a starting spot at small forward. Butler, Singler, and even Caldwell-Pope could be named the starting small forward, but no one player is expected to reach 30 minutes per game at the position. Smith, Jonas Jerebko, Luigi Datome, and Martin will also see limited minutes at small forward.

With Smith likely out of the mix for significant run at small forward, the positions of power forward and center will be a three-headed monster that consists of JSmoove, Drummond, and Monroe. Drummond is a lock to start at center and see his playing time grow from the 32 mpg he averaged in 2013-14. Monroe and Smith will battle for the starting job at power forward. Here's another situation where even the loser of the position battle will see ample playing time. Look for both veteran big men to see 30+ mpg. Jerebko, Singler, and Datome could also see limited action at the four when the team runs out small lineups. Hasheem Thabeet and Aaron Gray (if healthy) will see mop-up duty at center.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS

Centers

Andre Drummond: Drummond is entering his third season in the NBA. In his sophomore campaign, Drummond averaged 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.6 blocks in 32 minutes per game while playing 81 out of 82 contests. He shot 62 percent from the field on 9.5 attempts per game and 42 percent from the free-throw line on 4.0 attempts per game. Drummond improved his production in every category except blocks last season, and his player efficiency rating (PER) of 22.65 was the 13th best in the NBA. He also lead the league in total offensive rebounds (440), which was 109 more offensive rebounds than DeAndre Jordan, who was second in the league in total offensive rebounds and played one more game than Drummond. His most common comparison for a career trajectory in the NBA has been Dwight Howard, so the addition of Howard's former head coach Stan Van Gundy as the Pistons' coach and president could lead to Drummond taking more leaps in his development this season. Drummond's poor free-throw shooting makes him a liability in rotisserie leagues, but his relatively low number of attempts from the free-throw line limits the damage he can do in that category. On the flip side, Drummond's dominance in counting stats (points, rebounds, steals, blocks) make him one of best centers in head-to-head leagues, and his field-goal percentage (62 percent) was the second best in the league behind Jordan, which plays well in any format.

Aaron Gray – Gray split time in his eighth NBA season between the Raptors and Kings. In total, he appeared in 37 games, averaging a modest 1.8 points and 1.9 rebounds in 10 minutes per game. Gray joined his fifth NBA team this summer, inking a two-year deal with the Pistons. While he will likely be listed as the direct backup to center Andre Drummond, Gray will have a limited role with his new squad, as the Pistons will roll with Greg Monroe, Josh, Smith and a plethora of stretch-four options on the team when Drummond needs a spell. Gray suffered a "cardiac episode" in August, which will force him out of training camp. His season could be in jeopardy.

Hasheem Thabeet: Expectations for the 7-3, 263 pound center were sky-high as the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, but it's safe to say Thabeet hasn't lived up the billing so far in his five-year NBA career. He played in only 23 games for the Thunder last season and logged eight minutes per contest, with paltry averages of 1.2 points and 1.7 rebounds. He was traded to the Sixers in the offseason and waived before he eventually signed a non-guaranteed deal with Detroit. If Gray is unavailable this season, Thabeet could stick around as a depth option at center.

Forwards

Josh Smith: After nine mostly successful seasons in Atlanta, Smith struggled in his debut campaign with the Pistons. Detroit deployed Smith out of position, running him primarily at small forward while also giving him the green light to launch at will from downtown. The results were disastrous. Smith shot a career-low 42 percent from the floor. He only hit 26 percent of his three-point attempts while launching a career-high mark of 3.4 three-point attempts per game. His free-throw shooting was also problematic, as Smith shot 53 percent from the charity stripe while attempting 3.9 freebies per game. He once again had trouble protecting the ball (2.6 turnovers per game), which has been a problem area throughout his career. Despite all the bad, Smith was able to help fantasy teams in numerous categories. The 28-year-old averaged 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds, and he remained a force on the defensive end of the court by racking up 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per night. There is hope Smith can bounce back from his inefficient ways this season. He'll be under the watchful eye of new Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who will surely cut down on Smith's three-point attempts, even if Smith is deployed at small forward again. Cutting down on his three-point attempts and long two-point attempts will do wonders for Smith's shooting percentage, and his always stellar counting stats on defensive will remain a fantasy boon in all formats.

Greg Monroe: Monroe's fourth campaign with the Pistons was nearly identical to his previous two years. The 24-year-old power forward was once again a double-double machine, ranking 16th in the NBA with 35 double-doubles. He finished 2013-14 with averages of 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds in 32 minutes per game. Monroe also proved to be one of the most durable big men in the league, appearing in all 82 games, and he has now missed just three contests in four seasons. A skilled passing big man, Monroe saw his assists drop from a career-high mark of 3.5 helpers per game to 2.1 last season, as new teammates Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith were the primary facilitators on the squad. Monroe also struggled with inefficiency again, shooting 50 percent from the field and 66 percent from the line. While his field-goal percentage doesn't appear too low, he should be more efficient considering the majority of his shots come at the rim. On defense, Monroe is a solid source of steals (1.1), but his lack of athleticism and verticality doesn't lead to many blocked shots (0.6). Monroe was a restricted free agent this summer. Instead of working out a long-term deal, he has verbally committed to a one-year qualifying offer with the Pistons. That means Monroe will be playing for a big payday next summer. The Pistons have done a good job upgrading their three-point shooting, and improved spacing should lead to more efficient numbers in the post for Monroe. Entering his fifth season, Monroe remains a nightly double-double threat, who holds value in most formats despite his struggles with inefficiency and defensive production.

Caron Butler: Butler spent time with the Bucks and Thunder during the 2013-14 campaign. The 34-year-old veteran finished the season with averages of 10.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.8 three-pointers while logging 25 minutes per game in 56 appearances. Long gone are the days of Butler being a quality second or third scoring option. Now he's a role player and three-point threat off the bench. Butler signed with the Pistons over the summer, and they're looking for a new starter at small forward after last year's debacle of Josh Smith playing out of position there. Even if Butler is considered for the starting role, don't expect the 13-year vet to exceed last year's workload, as the Pistons have multiple players expected to see run at small forward (Smith, Singler, Caldwell-Pope, Datome). Butler will provide the Pistons with some much-needed help beyond the arc, which is the only category he's likely to contribute in for fantasy purposes as well.

Kyle Singler: While there were mild strides made during his sophomore campaign, Singler's second NBA season was nearly identical to his first. The 26-year-old wing played in all 82 games for the Pistons, appearing as a member of the starting unit in 36 of those contests. He finished the season with averages of 9.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.1 three-pointers in 29 minutes per game. Already a steady shooter, Singler saw his efficiency go up across the board in 2013-14, as he hit 45 percent of his field-goal attempts, 38 percent of his three-pointers, and 83 percent of his freebies. Singler saw most his minutes at shooting guard last season, but given his height (6-8) and skillset, he's a more natural fit at small forward. Plus, the Pistons figure to hand the majority of minutes at the two to Jodie Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, further indicating Singler's future is at forward. Singler's ability to stretch the court is a good fit for new Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy's offense, but the third-year forward's role is still up in the air until Van Gundy reveals his plan for how Josh Smith will be deployed this season.

Luigi Datome: Following his MVP stint in the Italian League, Datome brought his talents to this side of the pond when he signed with the Pistons prior to last season. His debut season was rather uneventful, as he was buried on the Pistons' bench for most of the year. The 26-year-old small forward finished the year with averages of 2.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in under seven minutes per game while making 34 appearances. Known as a three-point shooter, Datome struggled from deep, hitting just 18 percent of his three-point attempts. Despite the first-year difficulties, there's still some hope Datome will adjust to the NBA. He was injured for much of training camp last year, and once healthy, he wasn't given much of a chance by ex-coaches Maurice Cheeks or John Loyer at cracking the rotation. Enter new head coach Stan Van Gundy, who loves floor spacing and had success with Hedo Turkoglu, a player with a similar skill set to Datome. The coaching change and extra year of familiarity will certainly aid Datome in his chances at carving out a regular role in the Pistons' rotation, but his short-term ceiling is still that of a three-point category specialist in deep leagues.

Jonas Jerebko: When healthy, Jerebko has been a regular part of the Pistons rotation over his first three seasons, but the Swedish forward took a step back last year and was often times cemented near the end of the bench. Jerebko posted career-low averages across the board during the 2013-14 season, finishing marks of 4.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in 11 minutes per game while appearing in 64 contests. The signing of Smith and emergence of Singler ate into Jerebko's playing time, as the team had a more expensive (Smith) and more effective (Singler) option to plug into the role Jerebko used to play. New Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy values stretch-four types, and while Jerebko has never been a volume shooter from downtown, his 42-percent clip from three-point land last season does hint that he could fit the role. Even if Jerebko does surprise and regain a foothold in the Pistons' rotation during his fifth season, the team's frontcourt depth (Smith, Singler, Monroe, Drummond, Butler, Datome) should mean a limited role for Jerebko.

Cartier Martin: Martin signed a one-year deal with the Pistons this summer. The 29-year-old wing will be joining his sixth team in seven NBA seasons. He spent the 2013-14 campaign with the Bulls and Hawks, finishing the year with averages of 5.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.4 three-pointers in 15 minutes per game while making 59 appearances. The key skill Cartier has provided to all five of his past NBA employers is the ability to knock down three-pointers. He'll once again be asked to provide a three-point threat off the bench, but with players like D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks, Kyle Singler, Caron Butler, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope expected to play larger parts in similar roles for Detroit, it's unlikely Martin will be able to carve out a large enough role to make much of a fantasy impact.

Tony Mitchell: The 2013 second-round pick split his rookie campaign between time with the Pistons and the D-League. In 21 appearances with the Pistons, Mitchell saw mostly garbage time, finishing with averages of 1.0 point and 1.2 rebounds in four minutes per game. Mitchell also made 11 appearances with Fort Wayne of the D-League, where he averaged 7.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 73 percent from the line in 24 minutes per game. While his rookie campaign didn't move the needle, Mitchell has good size (6-9, 236) and athleticism. The 22-year-old could one day develop into a stretch-four option, but he needs to continue improving his shooting stroke and basketball IQ. The Pistons have numerous veteran options listed ahead of Mitchell on the depth chart again this season, which means another stint in the D-League may be in the cards.

Guards

Brandon Jennings: Jennings' first campaign with the Pistons was a slight dip from his most productive years with the Bucks. Detroit's new point guard saw his scoring average drop for the second consecutive year, matching his career-low output of 15.5 points per game set during his rookie campaign. While never known as an efficient shooter, Jennings' struggles in that area worsened last year, as he shot just 37 percent from the floor, 34 percent from downtown, and a career-worst 75 percent from the free-throw line. Despite his struggles shooting, Jennings remained a solid source of three-pointers (1.9) and steals (1.3). He also improved his distribution skills, averaging a career-high 7.6 assists, which ranked seventh best in the league, and he posted a personal-best 2.83 assist-to-turnover ratio. Detroit brought in D.J. Augustin this offseason, but Jennings will enter the 2014-15 season as the Pistons' top floor general once again. He'll work under a new head coach Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy did a great job installing a 1-in/4-out offense in Orlando, and he helped develop Jameer Nelson through the prime of Nelson's career. At 25 years old, Jennings still has room to develop and may not have hit his ceiling, as he has played primarily for defensive-minded coaches throughout his first five seasons. He'll always come with the risk of a poor field goal percentage, but Jennings offers plenty of productivity in other categories and overall upside to still be considered a solid No. 2 point guard in fantasy.

Jodie Meeks: Meeks cashed in on his career year with the Lakers by signing a long-term deal in Detroit. The sixth-year guard was handed a three-year, $19-million deal by the Pistons to provide the team with some much-needed three-point shooting. Backed by his sweet three-point stroke, Meeks averaged a career-high 15.7 points while playing 33 minutes per game in 77 contests for the Lakers last season. He was highly efficient from all areas of the court, knocking down 46 percent of his attempts from the floor, 40 percent of his three-pointers, and 86 percent of his free throws. His 162 three-pointers (2.1 per game) ranked 17th in the league and was a big driver for Meeks' breakout in fantasy leagues last season. While Meeks isn't considered much of a defender, he did manage to rack up a career-high 1.4 steals to further boost his value. The one caveat here is that Meeks' breakout came while playing for a horrible Mike D'Antoni coached Lakers team that saw inflated stats for numerous players. With that said, Meeks is an elite three-point shooter who fits new Pistons' coach Stan Van Gundy's style of play perfectly. It's still not clear if Meeks will earn a spot in the starting lineup, but his shooting stroke will surely find him plenty of minutes whether he's starting or not.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Caldwell-Pope's rookie campaign was largely disappointing, but there were some highlights sprinkled in. The 2013 lottery pick finished his first season in the NBA with averages of 5.9 points, 2.0 rebounds 0.9 steals, and 0.7 three-pointers in 20 minutes per game. He appeared in 80 games total, which included 41 starts at shooting guard. Caldwell-Pope struggled with his shot for much of the season, shooting 40 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three-point land. In the rare instances where he went to the charity stripe (0.8 free-throw attempts per game), KCP knocked down a steady 77 percent of his freebies. While he struggled to adapt to the NBA on the offensive end of the court, Caldwell-Pope received rave reviews for his parameter defense and energy, both of which will help him carve out minutes in the Pistons rotation. The biggest key to Caldwell-Pope's role will be his offensive development. He has already shown flashes of ability on the offensive end of the court, including a 30-point outburst in the season finale last year and a strong showing (24.0 points per game) in the summer league this year. The Pistons have a new coaching staff and lured Jodie Meeks to town via free agency, so it remains to be seen what kind of role Caldwell-Pope will hold in his sophomore campaign. The 21-year-old still has plenty of time to live up to his draft pedigree, but the ceiling for his fantasy potential will be determined by his offensive development.

D.J. Augustin: After a miserable 2012-13 season in Indiana, Augustin hoped to rebound in Toronto as Kyle Lowry's backup. Augustin's time with the Raptors turned out to be even rougher than his stint with the Pacers, and Augustin was cut after just 10 games. He signed with the Bulls shortly after clearing waivers and immediately began the bounce-back campaign that surprised many fantasy experts. The 26-year-old vet served primarily as a spark plug off the Bulls bench, but he saw enough run (30 minutes per game) to put together arguably his best season as a pro. Augustin averaged career-highs in points (14.9), steals (0.9), three-pointers (2.2), and three-point field-goal percentage (42) in his 61 appearances with Chicago. He also helped pick up the slack from an absent Derrick Rose (knee) by dishing out 5.0 assists per night. His strong play with the Bulls led to an offseason contract with Detroit, where the seven-year vet will serve in a similar role as a scoring punch off the bench. First-year Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy deployed a strategy with Orlando that surrounded Dwight Howard with solid three-point shooters, and based on the Pistons' moves this offseason, it appears he wants to do the same with Andre Drummond, a role Augustin fits into perfectly. Augusting will be the clear-cut backup to Brandon Jennings at point guard, so some regression from Augustin's production in Chicago is expected, but his three-pointers and assists could still hold value in deeper formats.

Will Bynum: For the sixth consecutive season, Bynum served as a backup guard for the Pistons in 2013-14. The 31-year-old point guard finished the year with averages of 8.7 points, 3.9 assists, 1.8 rebounds, 0.7 steals, and 0.4 three-pointers while hitting 43 percent of his shots from the floor and 80 percent of his free throws in 19 minutes per game. Bynum appeared in just 56 games, as he dealt with numerous minor injuries, including bone spurs that held him out of the final seven games of the regular season. While Bynum is expected to be healthy for the start of training camp, his role with the Pistons is in doubt. Under the watchful eye of new head coach and president Stan Van Gundy, Detroit has retooled their roster, specifically the bench. D.J. Augustin fits the team's need of three-point shooting and is expected to serve as the backup point guard, pushing Bynum to a third-string role. Bynum always seems to put together a stretch each season where he makes a fantasy impact, but like past years, he'll need a rash of injuries to teammates for the opportunity to arise.

Spencer Dinwiddie: The Pistons selected Dinwiddie with the 38th-overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. Originally considered a first-round talent and possible lottery pick, Dinwiddie dropped to the second round due to an ACL tear he suffered in January while playing for the University of Colorado. Prior to his injury, Dinwiddie was putting together a solid junior campaign, averaging 14.7 points, 3.8 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 three-pointers in 17 games. At 6-6, 205, Dinwiddie has great size for his position, and his skill set fits the mold of an all-around point guard. His role with the Pistons in 2014-15 is currently unknown, as a timetable for a return from his ACL tear is still unclear. Dinwiddie has personally stated a desire to be ready by training camp, but the Pistons have hinted at holding him out for the entire season. Regardless of your fantasy format, don't expect Dinwiddie to make an impact this season, but he's worth having on your radar in keeper leagues that value young prospects.

SLEEPER

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Most of the Pistons veterans (Smith, Monroe, Jennings) are known fantasy commodities who should perform at similar levels compared to past seasons, and breakout players like Drummond and Meeks raised their fantasy value last season, which leaves Caldwell-Pope as one of the only true "sleeper" options in Motown. KCP struggled as a rookie, but his solid perimeter defense will keep him in the rotation and he flashed some serious offensive potential in the 2013-14 season finale and during summer league play. If he can improve his overall offensive game, Caldwell-Pope has the ability to rack up enough steals and threes to make a fantasy impact.

BUST

D.J. Augustin: After signing with Chicago in December, Augustin was able to turnaround a lost season. With Derrick Rose (knee) sidelined for the year, Chicago was desperate for a backcourt sparkplug on offense, and that's exactly what Augustin provided. Unless a similar fate befalls Jennings, it's unlikely Augustin will be able to carve out a large enough role in the Pistons' rotation to match last year's production. While Augustin could still see enough minutes off the bench to warrant consideration in deeper leagues, anyone hoping for similar production to his 2013-14 campaign will be sorely disappointed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shannon McKeown
Shannon McKeown is the VP of Advertising Sales and Basketball Editor for Rotowire.com. He's a two-time FSWA finalist for Fantasy Basketball writer of the year and co-host of the RotoWire Fantasy Basketball podcast.
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