What Can Be Salvaged From The Mess In Detroit?

Amidst the turmoil in Detroit that involves a possible revolt amongst the players against embattled head coach John Kuester, the Pistons defeated the Utah Jazz on Saturday. While the Jazz certainly have their own issues while trying to fit the newly acquired Devin Harris into the shoes of the NBA’s third best point guard Deron Williams, the Pistons grinded out a 120-116 victory behind a huge game from Rodney Stuckey.

This game caused me to think for a bit about what the Pistons would be like this season had the players manned up and played for their head coach despite his shortcomings. The Pistons are just six games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference right now and though there is little to no chance of them getting to the post-season now, there was definitely a point in the season, before the Sixers went on their run and the Pacers made their coaching switch, when the Pistons had a shot at breaking into the playoff picture.

But instead, the players have rebelled against the coach and there are some nights when the team just doesn’t show up to compete on some nights. Tayshaun Prince reportedly had a blow up with Kuester last season which has affected his mindset going into games and Richard Hamilton hasn’t had consistent playing time all year because of his actions in the lockerroom. Though recent reports out of Detroit say that Hamilton and Kuester are getting along better, Hamilton still wasted away half of the season on the bench. Had he been on the floor with the Pistons, there chances at sneaking into the playoffs definitely would have improved.

So, what can the Detroit Pistons take away from this season which seems all but lost with just 21 regular season games left? The Pistons have a mix of youth and experience on their roster and most of the experienced players are at the root of the problem, which is good in the sense that the young talent on the team has been at least somewhat committed for the entire season.

Austin Daye, whom the Pistons selected with the 15h overall pick in 2009, is an intriguing prospect that should give Pistons fans hope going forward. The long tweener forward has played some pretty good basketball for the Pistons this season and has expanded his game in a couple of areas. His range has been extended this season and he’s now a capable three-point shooter. With this aspect being added to his arsenal, I consider Daye to be Kevin Durant-lite. He’s six-foot-11, long, lanky and as skinny as a pole. He’s a small forward despite his advanced height for the position and he’s primarily a shooter. Durant is obviously the better player between the two because he’s a bit better on the drive and he’s able to produce more frequently with his jumpshot but Daye has a much better three-point shooting percentage than Durant and he’s a better shooter from 16-23 feet as well.

Daye is a nice piece for the Pistons to be around. He seems to be a rather humble young kid and he’s got the tools to become a 20 points per game scorer in this league. His defense needs to get a lot better because right now he’s getting bullied around and taken off the dribble on that end of the floor. Daye’s length makes him a decent shot blocker but he’s just not a smart player on that end of the floor and he’ll need to adjust to the game on that side of the ball quickly to get more than the 19 minutes per game that he is receiving right now.

Once he starts to defend a bit better, those scoring attributes that he possesses will be a pretty nice asset for the Pistons on the offensive end of the floor.

If Daye doesn’t pan out – which is unlikely, I just think it will take some time for him to adjust defensively because of his small frame – the Pistons have another forward that they drafted back in 2009, Jonas Jerebko. Jerebko tore his Achilles tendon during the pre-season and hasn’t played in any games this season though the possibility remains that Jerebko can return this season.

Jerebko is a great athlete that gives it his all on every play. For all of the advantages that Daye has over Jerebko in terms of skill, Jerebko makes up for it with hard work and pure grit. Jerebko is an excellent defensive player and had the second best rebound rate among small forwards last season. He played three positions for Detroit, mostly the two forward spots. Because of his limited offensive skills, small forward is probably the position best suited for Jerebko, which means he and Daye could be the primary back-ups for each other for many years to come.

The Pistons have another rookie, Greg Monroe, who has been one of the best youngsters in the league this season. Monroe hasn’t gotten as much burn as he should have this season but he’s become a starter of late and he’s now started in 27 of his 59 games this season. Monroe is very skilled and he’s been the most efficient rookie from the 2010 draft class in the entire league this season. Monroe’s most coveted skill coming into the NBA was his passing and he’s been excellent moving the ball for the Pistons this season.

Monroe hasn’t had much success scoring the ball for himself, which would be the next stage in development for him. He hasn’t discovered a jumper and his range extends no further than 15 feet at this point but he’s got some polish in the post.

Fourth year point guard Rodney Stuckey is in the final year of his contract and its likely that the Pistons will let him walk at the end of the season. The Pistons had enough faith in Stuckey to trade away veteran Chauncey Billups a few seasons ago but he hasn’t developed into what they had hope he would. Once thought to be the next big thing as far as defensive point guards go, Stuckey has been merely average over the past three seasons and his offensive game is stuck in-between that of a point guard and a shooting guard.

Most players, often referred to as combo guards, can make things work despite being neither a true one or two but Stuckey simply does not create for his teammates – he ranks 53rd out of 62 point guards in the NBA in assist rate – and he’s not a good enough penetrator or jumpshooter to be classified as a scorer. Stuckey was given ample time to grow into starting point guard material with the Pistons but he simply hasn’t matured enough to justify a contract offer. The next step in his career is likely to become a back-up guard and the Pistons have little need for that without already having a starting backcourt in place.

Stuckey doesn’t do a whole lot more than his back-up Will Bynum does at this point and the Pistons have already locked Bynum into a three year deal at a relatively cheap price. Ironically, Bynum is the better defensive player between he and Stuckey and his offense is just as good if not better. Bynum is much smaller than the six-foot-five Stuckey but he uses his frame well to get leverage on his man and he’s allowed just .845 points per possession on the season according to Synergy Sports Technology.

Bynum is a decent pick and roll player because he can hit the mid-range jumpshot (45% on 16-23 footers this season), attack the basket (take a look at some of the little guy’s flashy finishes) and is a good passer. Bynum outranks the likes of Russell Westbrook, Chauncey Billups, Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose when it comes to assist rate. He’s not the ideal fit for any team as a starting point guard, which means the Pistons would be better off finding themselves another point guard to replace Stuckey this off-season, but as far as back-ups go, Bynum is a pretty complete package because he can score, dish and even defend a bit.

The Pistons aren’t loaded with young talent. They had a chance at the deadline to make that the case with Tayshaun Prince‘s expiring contract, Richard Hamilton, and Tracy McGrady all being pretty valuable trade pieces that the organization couldn’t cash in on – though they did try with Hamilton before he halted the talks. Contenders looking for one last piece could have used either of those players as each of them still has enough game left to help a team during a title run but Dumars just couldn’t get a deal done.

That leaves Detroit it a bad situation. Because of two huge mistakes Dumars made in the 2009 off-season, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva will make over $79 million from now until 2014 while Richard Hamilton is still due $25.3 million over the next two seasons. Those bad contracts hamper Detroit’s ability to make a play on the big time free agents during the off-season, which means the front office will likely use whatever cap room they have to sign role players in attempt to make the team better. But that’s exactly what got them into the position they are in right now.

Instead of waiting on the off-season of 2010 and potentially plucking Joe Johnson away from Hawks or Rudy Gay from the Grizzlies, they spent heavily on role players in the summer of 2009 and have gotten nothing in return. And now that Detroit ended up making no deadline deals to secure some young talent or at least draft picks, the Pistons are stuck with a core group of Daye, Jerebko, Monroe and Bynum with the rest of their cap space being eaten up by Hamilton, Gordon and Villanueva.

In Daye, Jerebko, Monroe and Bynum the Pistons have some very talented young players but that’s core group isn’t good enough to make the post-season. Perhaps if Hamilton and Gordon and Villanueva started playing like they did a couple of seasons ago that group would be intriguing, but that’s unlikely based on their recent performance. The Pistons really needed to make a stand at the deadline by dealing their veteran assets for youngsters while also clearing cap space and they didn’t do it. There is a bit of a future in Detroit thanks to their young core group of four but until they completely remove the contracts of Gordon, Hamilton and Villanueva, Detroit will not have a complete ballclub that can compete in the quickly rising Eastern Conference.

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Mark is an 18-year old sports fanatic that founded this website back in October of 2008. He is the lead contributor for this site and a credentialed member of the media for several sports leagues and organizations. Mark's main focus is the NBA, though he also covers MLB, NFL, and International events like the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. Follow Mark on Twitter: @Mark_Travis

3 comments to What Can Be Salvaged From The Mess In Detroit?

  • [...] Mark Travis of But the Game is On looks at the Pistons’ salvageable pieces. [...]

  • Jeremy

    As a Pistons fan who has watched most of this year’s games (sigh…):

    I don’t know about Daye as Durant-lite, but that would be nice. He does show potential.

    Greg Monroe hasn’t done much to show off his passing skills yet. He has shown a lot of energy and, after he figured out how not to get his shot blocked all the time, has been a quality post scorer. He has also rebounded well and appears to be a player with his head on straight who is capable of and interested in becoming a better.

    I disagree that Stuckey is looking like a backup and that the Pistons won’t re-sign him, although a sign and trade is always possible. I think he’s definitely been an above average defender and he has a pretty solid offensive game based pretty much entirely off drives to the hoop (he has an almost decent mid-range these days), so I don’t know where you’re coming from regarding that. He hasn’t always been a good finisher but he has improved on that and also probably gets more calls these days (which can matter quite a bit when your game is predicated on drives). Stuckey is particularly effective against small point guards, given his size and strength (which helps when he’s out there with Ben Gordon or Will Bynum).

    Few familiar with the situation would classify Will Bynum as a better defender than Stuckey. He has an obvious size disadvantage and has had a lot of problems defending the pick and roll. He is a passionate player who always plays hard, however, and can be pesky on defense in that way. When comparing the defensive ratings of Stuckey and Bynum, don’t forget that Stuckey tends to defend better players, both because he is a starter and because he is intentionally matched up against the opponents better offensive players at times. Stylistically Bynum’s offensive game is similar to Stuckey’s, though he has a better jump shot. Unfortunately when he is injured Bynum’s play suffers immensely (more than most other players).

    It will be nice to get Jerebko back.

    Charlie V is probably overpaid, but I think this tends to get overblown. There are plenty of comparable and worse contracts out there. He is a quality offensive player who seems to try hard but is still unable to play good defense. He is also generally considered a pretty good character guy, for what it’s worth.

    BG is certainly not producing to the level of his contract, but it is worth noting that he also hasn’t been given a role with much consistency that would allow him to do so and, more importantly, he hasn’t been a locker room / coaching problem, unlike many other Pistons.

    The Pistons are without question a flawed team, but much of this is still due to roster imbalance and chemistry issues, rather than a lack of talent. That said, the ceiling for this roster is definitely below contender.

  • I don’t know about Daye as Durant-lite, but that would be nice. He does show potential.

    I can see people having trouble seeing that but I’ve seen enough similarities to believe it.

    Greg Monroe hasn’t done much to show off his passing skills yet.

    I have to disagree with you big time, here. Monroe has done so much for the Pistons’ offense this season simply by moving the ball. His numbers haven’t been huge but many-a-time, the Pistons have given Monroe the basketball and allowed him to make decisions this season.

    I disagree that Stuckey is looking like a backup. I think he’s definitely been an above average defender and he has a pretty solid offensive game based pretty much entirely off drives to the hoop (he has an almost decent mid-range these days), so I don’t know where you’re coming from regarding that.

    The numbers on Stuckey as a defender simply do not add up to agree with the assessment of Rodney as an above average defender. At best, based on these numbers and the eye test, he’s been average. His opponent’s PER this season has actually be above average this year (17.5).

    As far as his jumper, he’s still shooting just 34% from 16-23 feet this season, which is below average.

    Few familiar with the situation would classify Will Bynum as a better defender than Stuckey. He has an obvious size disadvantage and has had a lot of problems defending the pick and roll.

    I’ll agree that Bynum is a worse pick and roll defender than Stuckey, but in almost all other situations, Bynum is superior. I understand the difference in the quality of players that the two tend to guard but it’s not big enough of a disparity to make me think these numbers are all that misleading.

    He is a quality offensive player who seems to try hard but is still unable to play good defense. He is also generally considered a pretty good character guy, for what it’s worth.

    It’s always better to have someone that tries hard on D but just can manage to play it (or the anti-Melo), but you cannot deny that he has been horrid with Detroit simply because he’s trying out there.

    BG is certainly not producing to the level of his contract, but it is worth noting that he also hasn’t been given a role with much consistency that would allow him to do so and, more importantly, he hasn’t been a locker room / coaching problem, unlike many other Pistons.

    I can buy that an excuse to an extent, but he had a number of roles with the Bulls during Rose’s initial transition into the NBA and, come on, he’s a lot better than he is playing right now.

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