Team Preview: Detroit Pistons
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Another year full of expectations and regular season success ended in disappointment when the Pistons were ousted by Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Detroit’s 53 wins may have led the conference for the third straight season and marked the sixth straight season they’ve topped 50 wins, but it was their lowest total since 2002-03. While many teams in the Eastern Conference bulked up during the offseason, the Pistons were surprisingly quiet – their only significant losses were reserve Carlos Delfino and a long-in-the-tooth Chris Webber. Jarvis Hayes and rookies Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo, Sammy Mejia and Cheick Samb have all joined the team. Detroit may still have the best starting lineup in the league, but Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace have a lot of miles on them. This could be the season that Chicago and Cleveland finally pass Detroit for good.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
As usual, coach Flip Saunders enjoyed leading one of the most stable starting lineups in the league. Tayshaun Prince started all 82 games, while minor injuries and suspensions were all that kept Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton from joining him in the perfect attendance club. Chauncey Billups, who missed 12 games with calf and groin injuries, should be back among the most durable point guards in the league again this year. He might have to be, as the ancient Lindsey Hunter and rookie Rodney Stuckey are his only backups. Ronald Murray could play the point in a pinch, but the experiment to have him regularly play there last year didn’t go so well. The frontcourt will be a little more flexible. Prince will play his customary small forward, but Jarvis Hayes and the emerging Amir Johnson will spell him. Wallace always seems to be on the verge of suspension, so the continued improvement of Jason Maxiell will be important. Antonio McDyess will likely start at power forward, but Maxiell will push him for minutes. Meanwhile, Wallace could spend time at center this year. Nazr Mohammed might see 10-15 minutes and will probably be trade bait all season.
Nazr Mohammed – DET [C]: When Detroit lost Ben Wallace in the summer of 2006, they felt they got a poor man’s Wallace when they signed Mohammed. They were wrong. Mohammed never quite fit with the Pistons, and by the end of the year, he was sitting on the bench a lot. The Pistons did not retain the services of Chris Webber or Dale Davis, so they may have to give Mohammed a shot again this year. The Pistons plan to move Mohammed in a deal for a quality big man, but until then, they’re stuck with him as their starting center.
Cheick Samb – DET [C]: Samb is a 7-1 project from Senegal who has been playing in Europe the last couple of years. He’s skinny – he was under 200 pounds when he was drafted in 2006 – so he may not be cut out for the rigors of the NBA. The Pistons plan to bring him along very slowly.
* Antonio McDyess – DET [PF]: McDyess joined the Pistons three years ago with the reputation as one of the most injury-prone players in the league. He missed only five games that first season and hasn’t missed one since, averaging 8.5 ppg and 5.9 rpg during his tenure with Detroit. He seems to truly enjoy coming off the bench, and he’s clearly the top player in the second unit, but the Pistons may need a little more from him this year with the center position so unsettled. He’ll likely play about 25-30 minutes a night at power forward, but he could feel a minutes squeeze from Jason Maxiell.
* Tayshaun Prince – DET [SF]: Prince may be the least-heralded of the top four Pistons’ starters, but at 26, he may have the brightest future. After averaging 14.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and a career-high 38.6 percent on three-pointers, Prince spent part of his summer vacation playing with the U.S. team. He’s not a fantasy star, but he’s the kind of solid performer that finds his way onto many fantasy champion rosters. He enters this season as Detroit’s starting small forward for the fourth year in a row.
Jarvis Hayes – DET [SF]: When Carlos Delfino was traded to Toronto in June, the Pistons needed someone to fill his important role of backing up Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton. Enter Hayes, a 2003 lottery pick. Hayes averaged career-lows of 7.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg and 1.0 apg last year with the Wizards, but he became something of a three-point specialist off the bench, averaging career-highs in three pointers made and attempted. The Pistons hope he can provide some offense with the second unit, taking the scoring load off McDyess and Maxiell.
Amir Johnson – DET [SF,PF]: Despite having only 163 NBA minutes under his belt, Johnson, 20, attracted some attention on the free agent market before re-signing with Detroit. He spent most of last season dominating the NBDL before he had a cup of coffee with the Pistons in April. In the last four games of the regular season, he had 43 points, 32 rebounds, and a whopping 11 blocks. He may need a strong preseason to break into the rotation, but his days in the NBDL may finally be over.
* Chauncey Billups – DET [PG]: Though his numbers last year weren’t quite as good as his MVP-caliber numbers of 2005-06, Billups still averaged 17.0 ppg and 7.2 apg. He shot 88.3 percent from the line – his sixth straight year at 87.8 percent or better, and he swiped a career-high 84 steals. He also averaged a career-high 36.2 mpg, which may have contributed to him wearing down and getting little injuries late in the season. With the Pistons drafting guards Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo, and Sammy Mejia in June, it’s clear that they want to give their starting backcourt some help, but until the youngsters develop, Billups will continue to handle the yeoman’s work at the point.
* Richard Hamilton – DET [SG]: When Hamilton was named to the All-Star team in February, he was headed for a career year. Through the first three months of the season, Hamilton averaged 22.7 ppg and 4.0 rpg, which would have been career highs if he could have kept up the pace. Instead, he struggled through the second half, including a miserable March during which he suffered through the effects of a nasty flu and mild concussion. His final numbers were respectable – 19.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 46.8 percent from the field and 86.1 percent from the line – but the Pistons have to be concerned with his decline down the stretch.
Lindsey Hunter – DET [PG]: With Dale Davis now gone, Hunter, 36, assumes the role as oldest player on the team. He collected injuries last year like one might expect of someone his age, but no one could have predicted his bizarre suspension for testing positive for amphetamines. The Pistons still trust him to be the primary backup to Billups, but they also see him as more of a player-coach this year as he mentors Rodney Stuckey and the other young Detroit guards. It has been nearly 10 years since Hunter was a significant part of the fantasy landscape, and it would not be surprising to see him retire to take a front office position in the next year.
Rodney Stuckey – DET [PG,SG]: The Pistons were happy to land Stuckey with the 15th pick in the draft. As a sophomore at Eastern Washington last year, he led the Big Sky Conference with 24.6 ppg and was second with 5.5 apg. While he’ll probably start the year behind Hunter on the depth chart, it would not be unreasonable to see him shoot past him early – he may be the most talented offensive player the Pistons have drafted since Allan Houston.
Ronald Murray – DET [PG,SG]: Last year at this time, Detroit envisioned Murray as one of the offensive leaders of the second unit and someone who could spell Billups for 15-20 minutes a game. He had mild success early in the year, and in late December when Billups was hurt, Murray was even better – during an eight-game run, he averaged 12.4 ppg, 6.6 apg in 36.8 mpg. Unfortunately, when Billups and Hunter returned in mid-January, Murray fell completely out of the rotation (during one six-week stretch he played only 50 minutes). He slowly worked his way back in, but it was clear that his effectiveness was tied to his starting role, which he’ll never be able to regularly do on this team. Murray is likely not in Detroit’s plans this season and could be part of a deal with Mohammed.