Pistons preview: Additions of Smith, Jennings could lead Detroit out of recent funk


A look at the Detroit Pistons heading into the 2013-14 season:

Where they’re heading

It was a major overhaul for the Pistons this summer, at the behest of owner Tom Gores, who has yet to witness a playoff game in his tenure in Detroit. The Pistons changed coaches, replacing Lawrence Frank with Maurice Cheeks, and were aggressive on the free-agent market, giving forward Josh Smith a four-year deal that will make him the team’s anchor. They also swapped point guards, getting Brandon Jennings in a sign-and-trade from Milwaukee to replace Brandon Knight—though Jennings has his negatives, there’s no doubt he is an upgrade over Knight

, who has struggled to play the point on the NBA level. They drafted guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (plus Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell) and added Italian star Luigi Datome, who missed the preseason with foot and hamstring injuries. The team also brought back Chauncey Billups, whose best days are well behind him, but who will be a big influence in the locker room.

If all those new pieces can adequately support the budding young tandem of power forward Greg Monroe and center Andre Drummond, the Pistons should have a breakthrough year that sees them comfortably in the playoff picture.

Gallery: Most beloved NBA players Other previews: Bobcats | Celtics | Lakers | Nuggets  | Pelicans | Sixers | Wizards

Where they’ve been

The Pistons are finally emerging from the shadow of team president Joe Dumars’ worst stretch. That came back in 2009, when, months after trading Billups away for Allen Iverson, Dumars gave major deals to guard Ben Gordon and forward Charlie Villanueva. Neither lived up to their paydays, and the Pistons fell into a funk. 

They’re now on their fourth coach in the last six years, and, worse, what had been one of the best home crowds in the NBA during the team’s early 2000s heyday has turned sour—the Pistons had the third-worst attendance in the league last year. The signings of Jennings and Smith come with some risk, because neither is a very efficient offensive player, but Dumars needs to get his team back to the playoffs, and the talent level is much better prepared to do that.

Introducing … Andre Drummond

There were plenty of concerns about Drummond coming out of college last year. Based on size and ability, he was potentially a No. 1 pick, but he fell to the Pistons at No. 9 because of lackluster play and a tendency to disappear at Connecticut. Throw all of that away. It was obvious last year that the Pistons got a steal. Despite dealing with injuries, Drummond showed himself to be a force inside, capable of playing with power and purpose.

Drummond is only 20 years old, and still extremely raw offensively. Drummond took 283 shots that were dunks, layups or tip attempts, and just 48 jump shots (which did not go well, seeing as he made 22.9 percent of them). Drummond very rarely unveiled his hook shot, attempting 11 of them and making just two. That’s about as limited offensively as a player can be. It will take a while for him to develop, but Drummond has star potential.

Numbers game

The big concern in Detroit has to be Josh Smith and how he fits in with Drummond and Monroe. Smith’s reputation as a frequent spot-up shooter who should not be shooting all that much is well-earned—he has shot 28.3 percent on 3-pointers in his career, but that has not stopped him from attempting 1.4 per game (last year, he shot 30.3 percent and still attempted 2.6 3s per game). The fact that the Pistons will play him at small forward instead of power forward is only going to encourage him to chuck more bad shots. But for the Pistons, the hope is that Smith is still a net positive.

Even though he is a more efficient offensive player when he is at power forward, his combination of size and athleticism makes him one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. According to 82games.com, Smith’s PER at small forward was 16.1, less than his 18.5 at power forward. But Smith’s opponents at small forward registered a PER of only 8.9, a much bigger differential than what his opponents did at power forward (PER: 17.3).