To recap: I rank each team from 1-10 on their projected starters, bench, coach and watchability, using a 1-10 scale, and rate them overall based on a (starters x 5) + (bench x 2) + (coaching x 2) + watchability to give them an overall score. Why does watchability matter? Because we're not robots here, that's why.
I'm breaking down these previews into small, bite-size chunks to make them more palatable to read, around 1,000-1,500 words each, obviously spending more time on the contenders than the minnows. Enjoy and leave me all kinds of comments about why I'm terribly wrong.
Detroit Pistons: 57.5
Projected Starters (6.5): C Andre Drummond, PF Greg Monroe, SF Josh Smith, SG Rodney Stuckey, PG Brandon Jennings
I'm not quite sure why everyone is so high on this team. They look like they're going to make last year's Grizzlies look like the Warriors when it comes to outside shooting. New coach Maurice Cheeks is pledging to play prized off-season acquisition Smith at small forward, but Smith won't have nearly the quickness mismatch against opposing threes as he does against fours. Also, he's going to have problems facing up and driving when he's already got two big fellas clogging up the lane. It would make more sense if the Pistons could get Monroe out of there for a shooting guard, because Stuckey is clearly not the answer there (though rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could be).
Jennings is another guy who looks to be a bad fit here because he's a shoot-first type who's not all that great of a shooter, and he's going to be playing with three interior scorers who'll all be expecting him to pass them the ball. Maybe the game plan is to just let the guards launch and to play volleyball above the rim with the front court. Neither Monroe nor Drummond have shown a knack for being able to play in his own end yet and until that changes the Pistons are going nowhere fast.
Projected Bench (6): PF Jonas Jerebko, PF Charlie Villanueva, SF Kyle Singler, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, PG Chauncey Billups, SF Luigi Datome, PG Peyton Siva, PF Tony Mitchell
There isn't really a backup center on the roster, but it's Drummond for all intents and purposes, and the lineup would make more sense with he or Monroe at the five, Smith at the four and Singler/Jerebko at the three. Villanueva is their stretch four and he figures to get more wide open looks with all the bangers they've got. Jerebko is another dude they might want to deal for backcourt help. Billups is beyond done but they're hoping he'll mentor Jennings. Datome might be the shooter they desperately need, while two other rookies, Siva and Mitchell, will likely head to the D-League to get burn.
Coaching (5): Cheeks is a retread who's failed at multiple stops and his most recent stint was as Russell Westbrook's personal sounding board/caretaker at Oklahoma City. How much he'll be able to get out of a young team that's top heavy and light on shooting remains to be seen, but he's certainly got enough bodies to threaten guys with DNP's if they're not buying in. I don't think unrealistic expectations going in are doing him any favors and GM Joe Dumars is under heavy pressure to win now.
Watchability (3): There will be plenty of dunks, yes, but the Pistons will still be one of the lower-scoring teams in the league, their arena will still be half-empty most nights and they'll still have Mason annoying the holy hell out of everyone. i also find Villanueva unpleasant. No, thank you.
Best-Case Scenario: I'm dead wrong, Drummond and Monroe figure out how to play defense (and with each other), Smith meshes with everyone seamlessly and produces a bunch of highlight plays to energize the fanbase, Jennings matures with a new coach and a new cast of teammates and the Pistons ride the wave to a sixth seed... and a quick playoff exit.
Worst-Case Scenario: Jennings and Smith openly feud on the court, Monroe and Drummond continue to play like they've never met each other, Billups gives them nothing on or off the floor and pouts about not getting enough playing time, all the rookies disappoint and the only thing the team can agree on is that they all hate Villanueva.
Realistic Scenario: Close to the worst case scenario, but without the attention-grabbing mutiny and dissension. They hit on some rookies, miss on others, they miss the playoffs, fire Dumars and the new GM makes his trading Monroe his first task.
Degrees From All-Time Best Player to Manu Ginobili: 3 (Isiah Thomas, who played on the 1987-88 Pistons with Dennis Rodman, who played on the 1999-00 Mavericks with Michael Finley, who played with Ginobili on the 2005-06 Spurs.)
Milwaukee Bucks: 39
Yuck. The Bucks barely scrape past the Sixers for "Least-depressing starting-five in the league" honors, but it's sadder in their case because they're sort of trying. Sanders is an exciting shot-blocker but hasn't shown he can be a game-changing talent just yet and he's foul prone and temperamental. Ilyasova shifts between "underrated" and "trainwreck" every couple of months for no rhyme or reason. Butler is clearly just collecting checks now, and it's become clear he'll never play for a winner, ditto Mayo, who was an unmitigated disaster last season in Dallas. If he couldn't be effective playing with Dirk Nowitzki, what chance does he have to thrive on a starless Milwaukee squad? They flipped Jennings for one of the handful of starting point guards in the league worse than him in Knight.
Projected Bench (6): C Zaza Pachulia, PF John Henson, SF Carlos Delfino, SG Gary Neal, PG Luke Ridnour, PF Ekpe Udoh, SG Giannis Antetokounmpo, PG Nate Wolters
The good news is that you could plug in just about anybody here for an injured or slumping starter and it wouldn't change much. The bad news is that you could plug in just about anybody here for an injured or slumping starter and it won't change much. The two guys who figure to play the least are Antetokounmpo, the 18-year-old project from Greece, and Wolters, a big-time scorer from South Dakota State. Personally I'd go with a starting five of Sanders-Ilyasova-Delfino-Antetokounmpo-Wolters because what do you have to lose besides basketball games? I'm just glad we finally have Delfino and Neal joining forces so they can appreciate how annoying it is to be teammates with somebody like them.
Coaching (3.5): New coach Larry Drew, formerly of the Hawks, had to settle for Knight after the Hawks matched the offer for restricted free agent Jeff Teague, and the fact that he wanted any part of this organization, and was treating Jennings v. Knight like it was Chris Paul v. Tony Parker makes me seriously question his acumen. I can't think of a less inspiring hire. Speaking of questionable acumens, as questionable as I thought his Detroit postseason prediction was, I'm even more dumbfounded that Bill Simmons thinks the Bucks are making the playoffs. I don't think they have a snowball's chance in hell. What am I missing? Did Sanders turn into the second-coming of Bill Russell and the email got lost in my spam folder?
Watchability (2.5): If your best player is Ilyasova, I'm going to need a bit more incentive to click on the game than a shiny new floor. This being the Bucks, now there's news the floor is too slippery and they might have to go back to their old floor. Their two games versus the Spurs will more than suffice for my fill of the 2013-14 Bucks.
Best-Case Scenario: Sanders does indeed turn into Russell, Mayo gets rejuvenated as their go-to scorer, Knight blossoms, Ilyasova stays consistent, Neal and Delfino provide clutch buckets and even Antetokounmpo and Wolters show flashes here and there. The Pistons implode while the Cavs and Wizards suffer injury epidemics, enabling the Bucks to sneak into the playoffs with a 32-50 record and they promptly get swept, again.
Worst-Case Scenario: They struggle to crack 85 points on most nights, they're dead last in attendance, the team plummets in the standings and the words "ownership group in Seattle" keep getting attached to all stories about them. Antetokounmpo looks bad even for the D-League.
Realistic Scenario: The citizens of Seattle are too preoccupied with the Seahawks playoff run to even notice the Bucks and once they decide, en masse, to pay attention in February, they take in a handful of Milwaukee games on League Pass and vote "Thanks, but no thanks."
Degrees Between Best All-Time Player and Manu Ginobili: 3 (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played with Mike McGee on the 1981-82 Lakers, who played with Kevin Willis on the 1986-87 Hawks, who played with Ginobili on the 2003-04 Spurs.)
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 5: The Pacers and Cavaliers
- 30 preseason predictions: Los Angeles Lakers
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 4: The Bulls
- 30 preseason predictions: Detroit Pistons
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 3: The Celtics and 76ers