A lot of Detroit Pistons fans have probably heard his name and may know his face by now, but how much do we really know about the Pistons’ new Italian import other than the fact that he kind of looks like a bearded version of Walter Herrmann? Are there legitimate reasons for Pistons fans to be excited about their new, long-haired shooting specialist? Luigi Datome, or “Gigi” as he prefers to be called, should provide a little excitement for Pistons fans this season, but don’t get too carried away with your expectations.
It’s hard to say how much of an impact Datome will have in the NBA, but there is one attribute of his game that should translate regardless of the league he plays in. Datome was brought to Detroit for one reason: shoot at an incredibly high rate. In his MVP-winning season playing for Virtus Roma of Italy’s Lega Basket Serie A last year, “Gigi” shot 51.7% from the field, 39.4% from behind the three-point line, and 92.2% from the free throw line. With the exception of Chauncey Billups’ free-throw percentage, nobody on the current Pistons roster can boast better shooting numbers in the league they played in last year.
While it may be easy to dismiss these numbers because Datome wasn’t playing in the NBA and the competition isn’t of the same standard, the Italian league has produced some respectable NBA talents in recent years, including Danilo Gallinari, Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli. Pistons newcomer Brandon Jennings even spent a year in the league (and didn’t fare so well) while circumventing the NBA’s infamous “one-and-done” rule. One must also realize that Datome was a reputable shooter in his league, and defenders were not going to simply let him have a wide-open look at the basket. Teams often keyed on him defensively to prevent him from scoring. Even if they hadn’t, any perimeter player shooting above 50% from the field can boast a sweet stroke. Regardless of the league he has been playing in, Datome possesses an elite shot.
The rest of his game, however, leaves a bit to be desired by NBA standards. He will have a very hard time guarding the quicker, more physical players here because of his slow footwork and general lack of quickness. While he will be coming off the bench, most players in the NBA will probably be quicker than he is regardless of their talent level. If Datome has to guard a quick, talented player off the dribble, they should blow past him with ease for some free shots in the lane. Unless he is guarding smaller players, his 6-foot-8, 215-pound frame probably won’t be enough to bother his defensive assignment too much either. If he is lucky enough, Josh Smith or Andre Drummond will be on the floor with him to clean up his messes. Expect Datome to be a defensive liability, quick to rack up fouls in the NBA.
Additionally, he will probably have a very hard time creating his own shot. Datome often has to alter his shot in order to position himself to even get a shot off against stronger European defenders. In fact, over 40% of his shots came from beyond the arc last season. If he was having that much difficulty creating for himself overseas, there is almost no hope for him to do so against NBA defenders. While he is on the floor, expect to see him camping at the three-point line for the majority of Detroit’s offensive possessions.
Datome’s ceiling appears to be a decent to good role player for the Pistons, and even though he may lack the physical athleticism of most NBA players, he will provide a top-level shooting threat to the Pistons roster. If Datome can regularly knock down the long ball off the bench, he should make it a lot easier for the offense to open up and provide easy lobs for the more athletic players on the floor. For as much as Datome will be paid over the next two seasons, he isn’t too much of a risk and could end up vastly outperforming his contract. He is exactly what this Pistons team sorely needs. If he fails to keep his shooting stroke, however, he will find himself at the end of the bench with little hope of seeing minutes on the floor.