Pistons Mailbag - April 4, 2013

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. Click here to submit your questions - please include your name, email address and city/state on the form. Return to the Mailbag homepage.

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Editor’s note: You can now submit Pistons Mailbag questions via Twitter. Include the hashtag #pistonsmailbag and, as always, your first name, hometown and state or country. Questions submitted via Twitter will also include the questioner’s Twitter handle.

Michael (Sun City, Ariz.): I know Andre has been sidelined for over a month, but his condition at this point of the year seems a little suspect. During the hard training camp and at the beginning of the year, he seemed like he could go only six or seven minutes without being completely exhausted. He is only 19 years old. Is this something that is a concern going forward?

Langlois: That would be way down the list, Michael. Drummond’s conditioning shouldn’t be expected to be anything more than what it is after being idled – and severely limited in his movement – for seven weeks while the stress fracture in his lower back healed. Yes, early in the season he would get winded after five or six hard minutes, but that’s just not unusual for young players, especially big young players. They’re being asked to run the floor at a tempo they’ve never been expected to do and defend (and be defended by) players who are generally stronger and quicker than they’re accustomed to guarding, requiring greater bursts of energy. Greg Monroe struggled mightily with that early in his rookie season, as well. Keep in mind that his minutes are being closely monitored now because of the nature of the injury he incurred and the Pistons’ admitted caution in bringing him back. Drummond’s conditioning was just fine before he got hurt in early February. He was increasingly playing for stretches of up to a quarter or more at a time without any more of a dropoff than veterans in their prime would have been expected to show. Arnie Kander and his strength and conditioning staff and assistant coach Roy Rogers have a busy summer planned for Drummond to increase his strength and endurance. It’s going to be interesting to see what type of development they can achieve in someone who is a truly rare physical specimen.

Alek (Sterling Heights, Mich.): I’m not so sure Greg Monroe is a good fit at power forward to partner with Andre Drummond at center. Monroe, while playing center, relies on facing up opposing centers and using his quickness and craftiness to get buckets. At power forward, he will be facing more athletic players, thus being less likely to experience the same success with Monroe being a below-the-rim player. How do you see it? Can Greg and Andre be a good pairing up front?

Langlois: You’re assuming the opposing power forward will guard Monroe. My suspicion is that opposing coaches are going to guard Monroe with their best defensive big man in many cases. (By the way, Alek, it was a timely question and the subject of my True Blue Pistons blog posting today.) Even teams that play a “stretch four” instead of a more traditional power forward might try to get away with having that player guard Drummond. The danger is exposing him to getting beaten for offensive rebounds or lob dunks over his head. But coaches know the Pistons will throw the ball into Monroe and try to exploit a weaker defender, so my guess is they’d rather take their chances with the weaker of their two frontcourt defenders on Drummond, whichever position he plays. But we’ll see. Nobody knows for sure how this will play out. If there is an issue that limits the ability to play Drummond and Monroe together, it is more likely to come at the defensive end, especially late in games when the growing trend is to play small. We saw Chicago and Toronto do that earlier this week, moving Luol Deng and Rudy Gay to power forward.

Paul (Essexville, Mich.): It’s great to see Dre back and performing well. Last summer, I said there was no Big Ben 2.0. I didn’t think he’d land in our laps. This has been a tough year to watch. I really thought the Pistons could make a playoff run, but perhaps next year with the draft and free agency. Do the Pistons have their No. 1 pick this season?

Langlois: Yes. Had they made the playoffs, Charlotte would have received their first-rounder this year. They’ll get it next season unless it’s a top-eight pick, the following year unless it’s the No. 1 pick. The Pistons, as it stands now, will have more cap space than all but Utah and Atlanta this summer, though an unusually large number of teams will have cap space in excess of a mid-level exception figure. It could be a wildly unpredictable summer.

Dave (Lenox, Mich.): I know Jeff Withey is projected lower than where the Pistons probably will draft, but they need to get this guy if they can. He protects the paint and makes up for a lot of defensive mistakes on the perimeter. Defense wins championships and even coming off the bench this guy would be a force. Any chance of trading down or picking up an extra pick to get him?

Langlois: I think Withey will have a long NBA career, Dave, though it very well could be that it’s spent as a backup center. He’s very long and runs well. Seems like he’ll be an effective shot-blocker. The Pistons might like him just fine, but I don’t think they’ll be going through the machinations of trading up or down to target him when they already have Andre Drummond. If they had no other glaring needs, perhaps they would have the luxury of going into this draft targeting a capable backup big man. But they have other holes to fill and there will be teams that don’t have an Andre Drummond or anything close to him that figure to place a greater value on the elements Withey would add to the equation.

Steve (Traverse City, Mich.): Why does Stuckey always play great in the last few games of the year? Is it because Bynum is out and Stuckey has more control over the ball? Or is it confidence and, if so, how does the staff motivate Stuckey because when he plays like he has recently, the Pistons are better.

Langlois: Inconsistency is hardly a trait unique to Rodney Stuckey, Steve. That’s why the group that competes for All-Star berths tends not to change all that much from season to season. Consistency is the hallmark of great players. Stuckey had a tumultuous path through his first handful of seasons in the league, playing for four coaches in his first five years and as a second-year player being asked to play point guard in a lineup that included Rip Hamilton and Allen Iverson. He played the best extended basketball of his career for about a six-week period last season before nagging injuries slowed him down for the final month or so and came to camp in the best shape of his career this season. But he got off to an inexplicably awful start – 1 for 23 in the season’s first three games – and hasn’t been able to play at a high level for a prolonged stretch. You’re right, and his coaches and teammates have all commented on it: When Stuckey plays with a controlled aggression, he gives the Pistons a different and very valuable dynamic.

Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): Since adding Calderon, the Pistons have not played good perimeter defense. If they re-sign him, do you think Dumars will draft a player like Victor Oladipo, assuming he declares for the draft? I know they need perimeter scoring, as well, but this defense has been tough to watch and Oladipo is a great defender.

Langlois: The Pistons’ defense started slipping in February, Buk, but was that a result of losing Andre Drummond to injury and Tayshaun Prince to trade, or as Lawrence Frank has repeatedly said was it system-wide breakdowns? The Pistons want Calderon back, but they can’t be certain of their ability to re-sign him going into the draft, so that choice will be made independently of their hopes for free agency. As for Oladipo, yes, he certainly exhibits the qualities that lend themselves to becoming a quality wing defender in the NBA, but the first line of defense is always the point guard – he has to keep the opposing point guard out of the paint in one-on-one situations.

Don (Rossmoor, Calif.): I thought Khris Middleton looked promising in the win at Toronto. I was really impressed with his performance at both ends of the court when the game was up for grabs. What are his chances to stick with the team?

Langlois: Middleton’s contract is guaranteed for next season, Don, so his chances to stick are excellent for at least that term. As for his long-range potential, the Pistons are optimistic that Middleton is a player with plenty of room for growth. Even though he was a three-year college player, he still came to them relatively young; Middleton won’t be 22 until August. They also feel he was undervalued on draft night for a few reasons. One, he’d suffered a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery in December of his junior season at Texas A&M; two, a coaching change after his sophomore year was partly responsible, they felt, for a dip in his production over his first two seasons. What the Pistons really like about Middleton is his offensive efficiency and versatility. He can score in a variety of ways and he does it without dominating the basketball or throwing the offense out of sync. And Lawrence Frank and his staff said what impressed them most about his performance in Toronto was his defensive work on DeMar DeRozan. Middleton has worked a ton with assistant coach Steve Hetzel to improve defensively with a real emphasis on tape study to learn personnel around the league and get a feel for how to play the angles. Frank said the next important step for Middleton is to get stronger to better help him in pick-and-roll defense.

Thiago (Sao Paulo, Brazil): Regarding the future, Brandon Knight might not be good enough at passing to be an elite point guard or big enough to be an elite shooting guard. And Monroe might not be quick enough or shoot well enough from mid-range to be an elite power forward. I’m starting to think they might become like Rodney Stuckey in a couple of years, instead of being franchise cornerstones like Andre Drummond is starting to look like he could become. Don’t you think the front office should bet less on them and make them less untouchables?

Langlois: If you’re a GM and you’re only going to field a team of elite players, then you’d better be incredibly lucky in the draft, have an incredibly persuasive case to make to free agents and have an owner willing to shovel out tens of millions a year in luxury taxes, Thiago. A generation ago, as Doug Collins would often discuss, the goal of NBA teams was to get three players who ranked in the top five in the league at their positions. It remains to be seen if that model is still possible in today’s NBA with new and far more punitive luxury taxes. Miami clearly has such a scenario. Oklahoma City arguably has it depending on your view of Serge Ibaka. Joe Dumars put a team together that perhaps had five players at least in the top 10 at their positions and parlayed it into six straight trips to the conference finals. It’s too early in the careers of Knight and Monroe – not just their years in the league, but the fact that they’re 21 and 22 – to state with certainty whether they will or won’t ascend to that status. The Pistons surely believe that both players, as well as Drummond, have plenty of room for improvement ahead of them.