Offseason Grades: Detroit Pistons
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Luigi Datome, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (No. 8 in the 2013 draft), Tony Mitchell (No. 37), Peyton Siva (No. 56), Josh Harrellson
Losses: Jose Calderon, Brandon Knight, Jason Maxiell, Kim English, Khris Middleton, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Corey Maggette
Other Moves: Re-signed Will Bynum, hired Maurice Cheeks as coach
What Went Right: Pure talent acquisition. Detroit made some big gains to build out its lineup in a hurry, and at worst has shed the problems inherent with a roster that was both limited and timid. Smith (who signed a four-year, $54 million contract) and Jennings (who received a three-year, $24 million deal in a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee) are the most prominent difference-makers among the newcomers, and between those two and incumbent Pistons Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond alone, Detroit has flung itself into the thick of playoff contention. The Pistons have plenty to suss out on the court, but the baseline performance should be much higher with Smith exerting his defensive influence and Jennings giving the offense a far more assertive creator.
That should go a long way, as should the acquisition of three shooters to better support the Pistons’ core big men. Detroit ranked 24th in three-pointers attempted and 18th in makes last season, and while that can be partially attributed to lacking mechanisms for shot creation, the dearth of shooters in the rotation also hamstrung the Pistons’ options. Datome (who shot 39.4 percent from three-point range the Italian League last season), Billups (36.7 percent last season for the Clippers, 38.8 percent for his career), and Caldwell-Pope (37.7 percent as a sophomore at Georgia) should help, while Jennings (37.5 percent last season for Milwaukee) slides in to replace Knight’s perimeter marksmanship (36.7 percent). It’s hard to pin down how much those new additions might matter, given that a new coach, Cheeks, will be sifting through a refreshed roster, but it’s likely that at least two of those three will play regular minutes and register a notable impact on Detroit’s spacing.
The moves won’t be enough to make the Pistons a team of particular import in the grand scheme of things, but Smith’s eccentricity, Drummond’s development, Jennings’ quick trigger and Monroe’s fluid role definition — among many other micro-level factors — should provide plenty of intrigue all the same.
What Went Wrong: The roster’s awkward construction, which at present hinges on a symbiosis between Smith and Jennings that may be impossible. Both are prone to fits of terrible decision making with the ball, and yet the current Pistons will rely on the two players as integral elements of the offense. Without the kind of moderator who could channel possessions away from Smith and Jennings in problematic spots, Detroit will likely struggle to create a high-functioning offense necessary to be anything more than a low-seeded playoff team.
That’s hardly a disaster, given that Smith and Jennings were acquired on reasonable deals that could eventually be traded if need be. But it seems doubtful that these Pistons could develop into a stout two-way team with this group, leaving the franchise’s trajectory a bit muddled. Even at best, the trio of Smith, Monroe, and Drummond creates spacing problems that would encourage Smith to shoot beyond his range and rely on Monroe to be a significantly better intermediate shooter than he has been to date. There’s enough skill between them to still comprise some pretty solid lineups, but their shared chemistry could come with the kinds of built-in roadblocks that prohibit greater offensive development.
Ultimately, this core stands to suffer from being good without ever being quite good enough, as the things Detroit’s top players do best will seemingly limit the capacity for other Pistons to do the same. Barring a drastic evolution from players such as Jennings, Monroe or Drummond, the Pistons look to be a much-improved team that will still take a lot of untangling to put on a contending path.
Grade: C+. Weird fits and all, Detroit had a decent offseason, deepening its trove of useful pieces and tradable assets. But picking up the likes of Smith and Jennings needs to be only the first steps of a much longer process of both roster and player development.