J.R. Wilco knows I'm a part-time Pistons fan, so he asked me to put something together on them for Monday night's game. I had just begun the writing process when news broke that Mo Cheeks, head coach of the Pistons, had been relieved of his duties as head coach. So while I can't tell you what to expect in the game now -- because I have no idea what the Pistons rotation will be like -- I'll give you some brief notes on their players, some good Pistons links from our sister site, Detroit Bad Boys, and my general take on the state of their franchise. (Spoiler alert: it's not pretty).
Let's start with the backcourt: Detroit traded for Brandon Jennings this past offseason, hoping that a fresh start would help to break some of the bad habits he'd developed in his time with the Milwaukee Bucks. The results thus far have been mixed, at best. Jennings is a clear upgrade over previous point guard Brandon Knight, yet still manages to shoot the team out of games consistently while being a total sieve on defense.
At shooting guard, the Pistons made an excellent selection with their lottery pick in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Pope is already Detroit's best perimeter defender and should develop into a nice shooter over the next year or two. While Cheeks was probably let go for a number of reasons, I can't help but think that one of them was having far too quick a hook with KCP. Cheeks was incredibly hard on his young players, while letting veterans like Jennings and Josh Smith (more on him in a minute) cost the team games.
Last summer, the other big move the Pistons made was giving Smith the largest contract in franchise history in hopes that he would sufficiently alter his game and be able to play extensively at small forward while also sliding over to power forward when one of the other bigs needed to rest. It was a nice thought, but it has not worked out.
Smith is a horrible shooter. Smith is an awful perimeter defender. Smith likes to shoot a lot of long twos (the least efficient shot in the game) and a lot of threes, neither of which he can make consistently. He is one of the worst small forwards in the league, and while he's been better at power forward, he's not a better power forward than Greg Monroe. Many Spurs fans have wanted Smith on the team for years. All I can say is a few years ago, that was a fantasy worth having. But now, Smith is horrendously overpaid. He refuses to acknowledge that he can't shoot, and he makes the same mistakes over and over again. His athleticism is in decline. He is not worth pursuing for this team for any reason whatsoever.
Monroe, for those who don't know, is one of the most efficient big men in the game. He spent the first couple years of his career at center, largely because Detroit's only other options were Charlie Villaneuva and Jason Maxiell. Monroe has a fantastic back-to-the-basket game, is an excellent passer, and if he's not the type of player you build a franchise around (I think he could be, given the right coach/system/organizational structure), then he's the type of player who could easily be the second best guy on a championship team.
There are only two knocks on Monroe's game: the first is that he's a below average defender. While that was true for his first couple of seasons, this year he's been able to become a net-neutral defender. You can't exploit him in the post or in the pick and roll. He may never be a "plus" defender, and he'll most certainly never be considered a defensive player of the year candidate, but he's capable on that end and he won't cost the Pistons games, either. The second knock on his game is that he can't shoot from midrange. Which is true, continues to be true, and will likely continue to be true. Monroe doesn't take many midrange shots; instead he either tries to take it to the basket for a more efficient shot or passes to teammates in better position to attack.
Finally, Andre Drummond could easily be the next Dwight Howard. Or, at worst, the next Deandre Jordan. He's not very skilled yet on offense (though I think his footwork in the post is better than either Howard or Jordan). He gets most of his points off of putbacks and by establishing position very close to the basket, where he can use his superior size and athleticism to dominate smaller, weaker and less agile players. Defensively, he's solid, though prone to getting in foul trouble. If management ever gets their head together and provides stability, Drummond and Monroe should dominate the league for the next decade-plus. If they don't, then it's fair to say that a decent amount of the potential of the two of them will be wasted, which would be an absolute shame for the league and fans of basketball overall. I made Detroit one of my top-5 League Pass teams almost exclusively because I wanted to see how the two of these guys grew together. Cheeks, Smith, and Jennings thus far have conspired to ruin that fantasy for me.
To end, I'd like to give you some links that provide some insight into the state of the Pistons. This article argues (probably correctly) that Joe Dumars is a lame-duck GM and will be gone by season's end. He's been responsible for a host of bad decisions, and has gone through four coaches in four years (if I remember correctly). Essentially, since building the championship team of the early 2000's, he's made almost twice as many bad moves as good moves. It's definitely time for him to go.
Matt Harper suggests that the Pistons best, most realistic way to right the ship will be to trade Greg Monroe. I respectfully disagree. This article (and many of the comments underneath it) do an excellent job explaining why Monroe is a significantly better fit next to Drummond than Smith is, and why it's better from a cap management perspective to move Smith for absolutely anything you can get for him and keep Monroe and Dre long term. Building on that theme, for those thinking that Smith would just be better if he played power forward, this article breaks down that argument. Spoiler alert: on defense, yes, on offense, he still sucks.
Finally, Detroit Bad Boys is the place to go for all things Pistons. They are a drunk, surly, friendly community that has embraced my participation there for just over three years now. If you need yet another blog to waste countless work hours on, I recommend checking them out. They have some of the best basketball minds on the internet. I only ask, as a personal favor to me, that you don't offer idiotic trade ideas for Greg Monroe.
[[ Editor: This article originally stated that Zach Lowe had suggested that the Pistons trade Greg Monroe. He in fact has explicitly stated the opposite. Our apologies. -CI]]