Brandon Jennings, not Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond or Josh Smith, will be the Detroit Pistons most important player this season. The Pistons success hinges more on Jennings’ play than on any other player’s.
If the Pistons want to make the playoffs, everyone will have to play well and form a cohesive unit, but if Jennings doesn’t step up and prove he can lead this team’s offense, they are left with little depth behind him to carry that role successfully. Chauncey Billups should be able to add some relief, but the Pistons probably won’t be able to rely on him to be the primary floor general for an extended period of time. Will Bynum, who can be incredibly effective in short bursts, has never seemed to be able to play at a high level consistently. Peyton Siva is only a rookie and still has plenty of questions surrounding him about whether he has the skills to be competitive.
We are still very much in the point guard era of the NBA. Long gone are the days of expecting a winning season if you have a couple of big bruisers in the paint. If you want to be successful in today’s league, you will need to have some mobile, athletic big men who can step out to make jumpers and a quality point guard, or point forward in the mold of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, that can routinely set them up for easy buckets. This is doubly so for a team like the Pistons who have several questions about how they plan on playing the offensive side of the ball. Regardless of the position, Josh Smith will be playing, the Pistons will need good point guard play to find, er … more likely create, holes in the defense due to a possible lack of outside shooting.
None of Drummond, Monroe or Smith possesses a seriously developed jump shot that will consistently put fear into opposing defenses. If the Pistons want offensive production with their three bigs on the floor, Jennings will need to know how to navigate the defense and force opponents out of position so his bigs have room to work down low. If Jennings cannot figure out where to direct his teammates or properly place the ball, the Pistons could become stagnant on offense quickly.
One of the biggest issues with Brandon Knight running the offense was his continually late passes. Knight has yet to develop the ability to see ahead of the play. His late passes didn’t always result in turnovers, but they were often tipped by defenders or put his teammates in a poor position to be able to make a play once they received the ball. On pick-and-roll plays, Knight often responded to defenders late or tried to crossover through two defenders immediately after receiving a pick, which essentially eliminated his roll man from the play rendering its greatest advantage useless.
Jennings appears to understand how the NBA style of play works much better than Knight does, but he often settles for off-balance jump shots or a circus-style layup contested by multiple defenders. He has shown the ability to find open teammates and use the defense to his advantage, though. Furthermore, plenty have made the argument that he’s never had players around him that fit his style of play either. If this viewpoint proves correct, Jennings could be wildly successful in Detroit with guys like Josh Smith and Andre Drummond to lob the ball to, which would have the positive side effect of more open shots for him.
Pair all of this with the reputation of coach Maurice Cheeks being a guard guru credited with the development of Russell Westbrook, and you can begin to see why Jennings will be the most important player on Detroit’s roster for the next few seasons. If he doesn’t turn into the solid floor general Joe Dumars is betting his job on, Cheeks’ reputation will take a hit and possibly so will his employment status. It will be interesting to keep an eye on how this team develops, and regardless of who is eventually dubbed the Pistons team MVP, the fact that everything will start with Jennings makes him the most essential player to their success.