Detroit Pistons: 5 Things to Watch As Preseason Tips Off

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Detroit Pistons: 5 Things to Watch As Preseason Tips Off

Detroit Pistons: 5 Things to Watch As Preseason Tips Off
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons will be a much different team than the one they were last season. Adding eight new faces, a new head coach and a completely different coaching staff is about as close as you can get to a complete overhaul in the NBA. Aside from Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, most of the players returning from last season will probably see a decrease in playing time. Seeing as the Pistons only won 29 games and finished tied for 11th place in their conference, this should be a good thing.

The Pistons upgraded their roster at every position. They added Josh Smith and Josh Harrellson to an already formidable frontcourt. They added Brandon Jennings and veteran Chauncey Billups to their guard rotation as well as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the eighth pick in the draft, who should be a valuable role player. Luigi Datome, along with Billups and Caldwell-Pope, should help the Pistons improve upon last season’s mediocre shooting numbers. Even their second-round draft picks, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell, come along with plenty of intrigue.

Whether or not this new mix of talent will produce more wins for the Pistons remains to be seen. This amount of fresh faces brings about much uncertainty, but for the first time in half a decade, the uncertainty surrounding the Pistons is being met mostly with optimism and positivity from its fan base. There will be plenty of interesting developments to keep an eye on throughout Detroit’s season this year, so here are five things to keep an eye on in 2013-14.

Mike Klompstra is a Detroit Pistons blogger for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @CityofKlompton, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network on Google.

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Style of Play

Style of Play
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

When looking at the teams Maurice Cheeks has coached in the past, there is no clear pattern in their styles of play. As a coach, Cheeks hasn’t shown a distinct identity. He has coached some very successful teams and some very unsuccessful teams. They have been just as good as they have been bad on both sides of the ball. They have been very uptempo some years while being an almost exclusively half-court team in other years.

If there is anything to be taken away from this, perhaps it’s that Cheeks appears to fit his schemes to the players on his roster. At least, he attempts to fit his schemes to the abilities of his players. This makes it very hard to predict how he will use his current players. With Brandon Jennings, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith in the mix, Detroit could become the new “Lob City” under Cheeks’ guidance. He could also slow the team down and cater to the playing styles of guys like Chauncey Billups and Greg Monroe. Maybe he’ll have completely different plans for each rotation; slower with Billups and Monroe on the floor and faster with Jennings, Drummond and Smith.

One consistency is that most of Cheeks’ teams have been good at forcing turnovers without committing a lot of fouls. This makes sense considering Cheeks, the NBA player, knew a thing or two about both of these things. Cheeks was a very smart player in his day, racking up one of the highest career steal totals of all-time without being a foul-machine by constantly reaching in.

He could be a perfect fit to coach this team as this kind of defense usually leads to easy offensive rebounds and higher shooting percentages for opponents because players will frequently gamble to get a steal and leave their man unguarded while doing so. The Pistons should be a top rebounding team with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond playing down low. Smith and Drummond have shown to be monsters on the offensive glass and swat machines on the defensive side of the ball. This should allow the Pistons to be more aggressive on the perimeter knowing they have a couple of guys down low that can clean up the mess of a poorly timed steal attempt. If this is the case, we could also see plenty of outlet passes leading to fast breaks.

It should be interesting to see how Cheeks leads this team. The potential for an entertaining style of play is off the charts with the Pistons’ current combination of players and Cheeks’ coaching.

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Who Will Play at What Position?

How the Rotations Develop
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like it has been decades since the last time the Pistons had depth at any position, but the wait is finally over. The Pistons should no longer be a team relying on role players to play significant minutes. They have three potential All Stars in their big-man rotation. They have two players capable of being the starting point guard. Each of their bench players presents a good case for a rotation spot. So the question remains about who will make the rotation and who will be watching from the sidelines on most nights.

With the addition of Josh Smith, the Pistons now have three quality players to fill the power forward and center spots. One of Smith, Drummond or Monroe could come off the bench, wreak havoc on the opposing team’s second unit, and be a legitimate contender for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. With Smith’s athleticism, ability to guard quicker players and potential to be a scorer from long range, he could also play significant minutes at the small forward spot while Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe play down low.

If Smith isn’t playing the small forward position, there are a number of players who could fill the role. Kyle Singler surprised everyone by being a regular fixture in the Pistons’ starting lineup last season. He played quite a few minutes at shooting guard, but his all-around game is probably a better fit for the small forward position. Rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Luigi Datome could see minutes here as well. Both of these players have good size and should provide some outside shooting to help the Pistons spread the floor. With so many bigs on the roster, even Jonas Jerebko, who is a bit undersized at power forward, could find himself playing on the wings.

What happens with the rest of the roster? How much will Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum, Charlie Villanueva, Peyton Siva and Josh Harrellson play? It’s hard to find a player that isn’t interesting on this season’s Pistons team.

With talent at every position, it will be fun to watch Cheeks’ rotations develop and see who makes the court. It’s going to be so easy to root for so many of the Pistons’ players this season that every fan is bound to be disappointed they didn’t to see more of at least one of them on the floor. The only question is who will it be?

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The Fates of Charlie Villanueva & Rodney Stuckey

Will Charlie Villanueva & Rodney Stuckey Play?
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What will the Pistons do with Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva? For some Detroit fans, both of these players have overstayed their welcome. Despite a different playing style, Stuckey has been unfairly compared to Chauncey Billups throughout his career. After Billups was traded, Stuckey was supposed to grab the torch and continue the Pistons’ string of successful seasons. Obviously, things didn’t work out as planned, and a lot of fans cast some of the blame on Stuckey.

While Stuckey hasn’t played up to the potential fans were sold on, it’s not his fault that the front office bet so much of the team’s future on him. Regardless, he has good size, can successfully penetrate the lane to draw fouls, and plays solid defense (most of the time.) Stuckey can still be a valuable player off the bench for just about any team in the league.

Charlie Villanueva is probably public enemy No. 1 for Pistons’ fans. Not only has he severely underperformed his massive contract, but a lot of fans feel like he is stealing valuable minutes from other players they would rather see on the floor. Despite this sentiment, Villanueva still has some value as well. He is a very good shooter for a man his size. While he can be very streaky, he can rack up a lot of points in a short period of time when he gets hot. For a team that will be looking for somebody to help ease the congestion in the middle of the floor by knocking down long jumpers, Villanueva could be very valuable some nights.

The most interesting aspect to both of these players, however, is that they are on expiring contracts. This makes them prime candidates to be traded. Plenty of teams will be trying to shed as much cap space as possible in an attempt to land one of several big name free agents next offseason. Additionally, next season’s draft class is already being compared to the 2003 draft class, which included LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and etc. and has shown to be one of the deepest draft classes in league history. With so many teams looking to shed long-term salary or “tank for Wiggins,” the Pistons could become a big player at this season’s trade deadline. Watch for Stuckey and Villanueva’s names to be included in plenty of trade rumors.

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Chauncey Billups and Brandon Jennings

Chauncey Billups and Brandon Jennings
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

With Chauncey Billups and Brandon Jennings in the backcourt, it is probable that they will split time controlling the offense. Billups will play off the ball sometimes this season, something he has shown an ability to do well in the past, but the team has made it clear that he will also run the offense on a regular basis. Billups has stated that he doesn’t mind playing shooting guard, but he does want to have control of the offense for parts of the game as well.

It should be interesting to watch how Billups and Jennings play together and if the two of them can co-exist. Jennings had to share time with Monta Ellis in Milwaukee, but he also couldn’t wait to leave both of them behind. Billups has shown himself to be the consummate professional in a league full of egos, but he has also shown quite a bit of pride over the years. If his role begins to be diminished even though he thinks he can still give a significant contribution, it will be interesting to see how he responds to the decision.

There are a plethora of other questions about these two to watch out for as well. Will Billups run the offense only when Jennings is off the floor or will the two of them split time running the point? Will Maurice Cheeks favor one over the other or will he split their time equally? How much time will the aging Billups see on the floor anyway? Will Billups be a good mentor for Jennings, and how will Jennings respond if he begins to feel Billups is trying to take too much control from him?

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The Development of Andre Drummond

The Development of Andre Drummond
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

While I don’t think it is anywhere near a certainty, with the numbers he posted last season and the average improvement players make in their sophomore season, Andre Drummond could very well be an elite player this year. Not only should he see more minutes than he did last season, but Drummond should be better adjusted to the NBA style of play, both physically and mentally. Obviously, this can only mean good things for the young star’s development.

Drummond is arguably the most exciting player the Pistons have had on the roster since Grant Hill was wearing a teal jersey for them. At the very least, he is probably the most exciting player since Ben Wallace in his glory days.

I have already written about the potential of Andre Drummond, both on and off the court, but I don’t think it can be overstated. The future is bright for this kid. The Pistons’ future should be just as bright as long as he stays in a Detroit uniform. There are very few players who can significantly alter games without needing the ball in their hands. Drummond is one of them. If he continues to improve, he could be the same type of presence that Ben Wallace was but with an even bigger body. If he can develop any semblance of an effective offensive game over the next couple of seasons too, he could become an MVP-level talent.

Even though he may not play at that kind of level this season or throughout the rest of his career, his combination of speed, athleticism, and defensive prowess make him a must-watch player regardless of how well the rest of his team is playing. Don’t take it for granted, Pistons fans.

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