No team in the NBA suffered more for a lack of floor spacers last year than the Pistons, who couldn't clear enough room to unleash their best offensive options: post-ups and pick-and-rolls involving young bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Opponents could easily slink a few steps away from almost every Piston on the perimeter and jam the lane, content in the knowledge that Detroit didn't have shooters (rental point guard José Calderón excluded) who could connect consistently from beyond the arc.
As a result the Pistons ranked 23rd in field goal percentage in the restricted area despite piling up the second-most attempts from that range. A decongestant was needed, and the Pistons have attempted to fill that prescription piecemeal. Point guard Brandon Jennings may not always exercise good judgment, but he's a decent deep threat off the dribble. Small forward Luigi Datome, the MVP of Italy's Serie A, is a highly accurate marksman who finds ways to get open. Chauncey Billups—aka Mr. Big Shot, the 2004 Finals MVP for Detroit—has made 38.8% of his career threes. And 6'5" rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the No. 8 pick from Georgia, will also stretch the D; he's bold enough to fire at will and skilled enough to hit. For the Pistons' offense to work, their shooters will have to succeed often enough to warrant serious attention—and this new group will make opponents take notice.
COACH MAURICE CHEEKS (1ST SEASON WITH PISTONS)
2012--13 RECORD 29--53 (4TH IN CENTRAL)
WHAT'S NEW Cheeks inherits two up-and-coming big men and three new starters (one of them pretty familiar).
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG BRANDON JENNINGS
17.5 PPG; 6.5 APG; 39.9 FG%; 37.5 3FG%
SG CHAUNCEY BILLUPS
8.4 PPG; 2.2 APG; 40.2 FG%; 36.7 3FG%
SF JOSH SMITH
17.5 PPG; 8.4 RPG; 1.8 BPG; 46.5 FG%
PF GREG MONROE
16.0 PPG; 9.6 RPG; 3.5 APG; 48.6 FG%
C ANDRE DRUMMOND
7.9 PPG; 7.6 RPG; 1.6 BPG; 60.8FG%
SG RODNEY STUCKEY
11.5 PPG; 3.6 APG; 40.6 FG%; 30.2 3FG%
PACE FACTOR (possessions per 48 minutes) for Detroit last year. That ranked only 22nd in the league—but it was the Pistons' highest finish since 2001--02, when they were 21st.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE PISTONS
It's going to be a much better team this year: They've upgraded the talent level, athleticism, shooting and length.... The first issue is point guard, where they bring in Brandon Jennings, who will have better assist numbers because he has guys who can finish. He should be able to get three to four assists a game passing to Andre Drummond if the lane is spread, and a couple to Josh Smith off lob plays. But I don't think of him as a true point guard, and I also think he takes poor shots.... When you go back and look, the Pistons haven't had a leader since Chauncey Billups left. He's going to be the most influential guy in the locker room, so how he handles the different players is going to be a big thing. Keeping him healthy is key.... Chauncey in reality is going to be the coach for this team because Mo Cheeks and his staff aren't strong—Cheeks has never been an X's-and-O's guy or a disciplinarian.... Everyone in the world except Smith knows he's a four and not a three, but they're bringing him in to be the three. He gives them length and the athleticism they haven't had. But he's inconsistent with his shot beyond 16 feet.... Drummond is an intriguing player with great size and feet and athleticism. He is a dunker. He's not a jump shooter or a free throw shooter. [Assistant coach] Rasheed Wallace will be good for him, because Rasheed was always a smart player. He'll be able to help as long as Drummond works.... While Drummond can get better, Greg Monroe looks like he'll be a 16-and-nine guy for 10 years—athletically that's probably his ceiling.
GARY DINEEN/NBAE GETTY IMAGES (CALDWELL-POPE)
YOUNG GUNNER CALDWELL-POPE
JORDAN JOHNSON/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (MONROE)