Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 29-53, No. 4 in Central Division, No. 11 in Eastern Conference
Roster additions: Chauncey Billups, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Rookie, No. 8 overall), Luigi Datome, Josh Harrellson, Brandon Jennings, Tony Mitchell (Rookie, No. 37 overall), Peyton Siva (Rookie, No. 56 overall), Josh Smith
Roster subtractions: Jose Calderon, Kim English, Brandon Knight, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell, Khris Middleton
Longtime Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars opted to make a big splash this summer, signing-and-trading for point guard Brandon Jennings and giving a four-year, $54 million free agent contract to forward Josh Smith. Jennings and Smith join a talented lineup that includes one of the most feared front court duos in the NBA in center Andre Drummond and power forward Greg Monroe.
Dumars also took Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the No. 8 pick in the draft, a shooting guard from Georgia who scored over 18 points a game in college last year to go along with an impressive 7.1 rebounds. He shot the ball reasonably well from outside at 37.3 percent and brings solid defensive effort. Caldwell-Pope is in a battle with Rodney Stuckey for the role of starting two-guard. Kyle Singler, who played the position at times last year, will most likely move to the bench as the backup small forward.
The reserve unit includes either Caldwell-Pope or Stuckey, Singler, guards Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum and forwards Charlie Villanueva and Jonas Jerebko. New coach Maurice Cheeks - who brought in former Blazer and Piston Rasheed Wallace as an assistant - has said his playing rotation could be limited to ten or fewer players, and this Detroit team looks pretty talented from top to bottom. They could benefit from more depth at center, but the versatility of the starting front line of Smith, Monroe and Drummond along with the depth at forward should allow Cheeks to have the low post covered at all times.
The Pistons were unstoppable in the key on offense last season, good for second best in the league. Adding Smith, an incredibly talented post player, bolstered the interior scoring for an already strong front court. The only issue, though, is that Smith will play the majority of his minutes at small forward, and as SB Nation's Detroit Bad Boys writer Mike Payne pointed out in a July article, playing Smith on the wing does not maximize his talents very well on the offensive side of the ball:
In Detroit, Smith will be forced back to his weakest position at small forward. Next to Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, Smith will be relied upon for perimeter scoring, for ranged shooting from the 3-point line to outside of the post. This has been the primary weakness of Smith's entire career, and Joe Dumars has made this aspect of Smith's game a central focus for this new lineup.
To put this into perspective, Smith's best season was four years ago, and the only season in his career where he did not attempt 3-point shots. He focused his offense on his only area of strength-- the painted area.
In Payne's opinion, Smith would've been a good pickup - for a team that needed him as an inside presence. He isn't playing to his strengths on the perimeter, and he won't be able to operate much in the lane with Monroe and Drummond taking up space.
Also consider that starting point guard Jennings has been a less-than-totally efficient high-volume shooter his entire four-year career, attempting over 15 shots a game at 39.4 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from behind the arc. If he and the starting shooting guard - either rookie Caldwell-Pope, or career 28.8 percent three-point shooter Rodney Stuckey - can't spread the court and allow that talented front line to operate down low, the Pistons will be in trouble. Opposing defenses could pack the lane on Monroe and Drummond and dare Detroit's perimeter players to launch shots from outside, something they likely won't excel at if history is any indication.
Now, Jennings could become a distributing point guard and improve on his career-high of 6.5 assists a game last year and Smith could defy his nine-year career numbers and become efficient from the wing, but that doesn't seem entirely likely; both players have been selfish at times, and Jennings' former Milwaukee Bucks teammate Larry Sanders even criticized Jennings last week for his shoot-first mentality as a point guard.
It's difficult what to predict for this talented-but-flawed roster. If things click, the Pistons could easily compete for a low playoff seed. But that would likely require Detroit's two key offseason acquisitions to reverse the trends of their careers and learn how to play unselfishly all the time and contribute effectively within the framework of the team. If neither player improves as a teammate, the wheels could come off. Jennings and Smith would likely both get their individual stats, but that could ultimately come at the expense of potential wins.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter