Pistons Mailbag - August 21, 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.

Wayne (Irvine, Calif.): Is it really realistic to assume Andre Drummond will play 30 minutes a game this season? It seems optimistic to count on him for that every night, given his ongoing free-throw troubles and the 20 minutes a game averaged last year. Also, will he remain as effective with more time?

Langlois: I’d guess 28 to 30 minutes is reasonable, Wayne. Remember, his 21 minutes a game last year were tamped down by a number of factors. He needed to prove his worth early in the season, he came off the bench – a naturally limiting factor – for all but the season’s final 10 games, and when he returned from injury the Pistons were appropriately cautious with parceling out his minutes. If you start him, he’s probably going to play at least 12 minutes in each half, barring foul trouble, and usually more than that. As for how he’ll be able to maintain his effectiveness with more minutes, I don’t think it will be an issue. He played heavy minutes in Summer League – including a whole half at one point – and didn’t suffer any lapses in effort. He’s focused on his conditioning this summer and appears to be in excellent shape. Time will tell, of course, but he’s a rare athlete at 20 years of age. I don’t think the Pistons are going to place any limits on him, minutes or otherwise.

Leon (Mechanicsburg, Pa.): One thing that surprises me in all the talk about who will be the starting shooting guard for the Pistons is that there is no mention of Kyle Singler. Do you think Kyle has a chance to start again at shooting guard?

Langlois: You make a good point, Leon. Nobody started more games at that position last year than Singler, and shooting guard is the one position with a degree of uncertainty heading into the season. Singler is a natural small forward who’d never played shooting guard at any level before moving into the starting lineup in his rookie season’s ninth game. But he held his own defensively and helped facilitate the offense with his knack for keeping the ball moving and knocking down open shots. My money is on Rodney Stuckey starting opposite Brandon Jennings in the backcourt, but as I wrote recently there is no shortage of backcourt possibilities among Stuckey, Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Will Bynum and rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva. Singler might be in the mix, too, if Gigi Datome proves ready to handle NBA minutes and gobbles up the primary backup small forward role. If you pencil Josh Smith in for half of his minutes at power forward – and I think logic dictates that’s the minimum likelihood – then that means there’ll be about 30 minutes at small forward available every game. Datome, Singler and Jonas Jerebko, perhaps, could all be in the mix.

Ken (Lake Orion, Mich.): What do you know about the Pistons signing Josh Harrellson? How did they settle on him instead of the others who were supposedly considered?

Langlois: I think one of the things that appealed to the Pistons about Harrellson was the skill set he brings, which is different than the two players ahead of him on the depth chart at center, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Drummond brings high-end athleticism and a potentially dominant defensive presence, while Monroe is a uniquely skilled offensive big man, comfortable with his back to the basket or facing up from the elbows and mid-range area. Harrellson, on the other hand, is a center who can step out to the 3-point line. He might be a tad undersized at 6-foot-10, but he’s got tremendous strength and will be tough to move around in the low post. The reality is that unless injuries strike Monroe or Drummond, the No. 3 center isn’t likely to crack the rotation. But Harrellson showed promise as a Knicks rookie two years ago and had a great run in China last season, earning league MVP honors after averaging 22 points and 18 boards. Low-risk deal with some upside. Hard to argue with the logic of this move.

Tiba (Detroit): What changes do you see Josh Smith making to his game as he transitions from power forward to a small forward?

Langlois: Start with the fact that he’s still going to be spending a considerable amount of time as a power forward, Tiba. I think you’re going to see the Josh Smith we’ve seen for the first nine years of his career, for the most part. He’ll still be a guy who is going to be most effective around the rim on offense but also a guy who can make mid-range jump shots. How Smith is used really will depend on Maurice Cheeks’ offense, but as with any coach, he’ll be devising ways to put his players in position to do what they do best. With Andre Drummond, that probably will mean lots of pick-and-roll basketball and hanging around the baseline to clean up offensive rebounds when he’s not involved in the play. For Greg Monroe, it likely will mean initiating offense from the elbows and looking to capitalize on cracks in the defense when Drummond and a guard are involved in pick-and-roll plays. I suspect Smith will be used in pick-and-roll situations with one of the other big men on occasion, putting a lot of stress on the defense. Defensively, I think the fact that Smith will start each half on the other team’s small forward is going to work to the Pistons’ advantage.

Sebastian (Durham, N.C.): After recently watching video of Rodney Stuckey, I was reminded of his natural ability to score by driving to the hoop and completing and-one opportunities, putting the ball on the floor and getting to any spot he desires and rising up from three when he gets rolling. If Stuckey earns the starting shooting guard position and is able to play to his abilities, do you see a scenario where he stays with the Pistons past the trade deadline and potentially re-signs with the team as a free agent?

Langlois: That’s not a very hard scenario to imagine, Sebastian. The Pistons aren’t likely to trade Stuckey during the season, in my view, unless it’s part of a bigger trade that lands a player the Pistons would like to keep for the long term. I had a great talk with Stuckey earlier this week – look for a True Blue Pistons blog coming soon on Pistons.com on his thoughts – and he’s excited about a number of things, including the new coaching staff, the acquisitions of players like Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, and especially the return of Chauncey Billups. He’s in great shape – the strongest he’s ever been, he said, and he looked it – and had some interesting things to say about his interactions so far with Maurice Cheeks. Once a player hits unrestricted free agency, the ball is in his court, of course. But if Stuckey is consistently productive this season and the Pistons have a strong year, I think he’ll want to stick around, all else being equal. He’s experienced a lot of upheaval in his six seasons; he’s craving a little stability.

Aaron (Detroit): When is the Pistons’ open practice?

Langlois: Stay tuned, Aaron. I don’t know that there are any definite plans to hold one this year, but typically the open practice is held on the weekend following the first week of training camp. Camp opens on Oct. 1, so Oct. 5 or 6 are good possibilities.

Michael (Lake Orion, Mich.): I still can’t believe Andre Drummond was the ninth overall pick in 2012. I truly believe Joe Dumars would have picked him if he had the first overall pick. Could you please explain what the other eight teams were thinking?

Langlois: I think Anthony Davis likely would have been the unanimous No. 1 pick of all 30 teams in the 2012 draft, Michael, simply because he appeared to be such a sure thing. I think there might have been at least a handful of teams, though, that would have taken Drummond No. 2 and the Pistons would definitely be on that list. (Now, it’s another matter whether Drummond or Davis eventually will be viewed as the to player from the 2012 draft. Time will tell.) It was no accident that Pistons assistant general manager George David spent an entire week following UConn in December 2011; the Pistons were very high on Drummond coming into his only college season and knew he possessed precisely the skill set they sought. You wonder, in their private moments, what the front offices in Charlotte, Cleveland and Golden State, to name just a few, might be thinking when they imagine Drummond in the middle of their lineups. Drummond with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland? Drummond with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State? Wow. Even Toronto, which had Jonas Valanciunas in the pipeline, passing on Drummond right before the Pistons picked. What a valuable trade chip the Raptors would have now, dangling one of those two 7-footers to land a cornerstone perimeter player.

James (Petersburg, Va.): Given all of the moves this off-season, what are the chances that the Pistons make the playoffs?

Langlois: The consensus is that there are five Eastern Conference teams that should make the postseason barring catastrophic injury, James: Miami, Chicago, Indiana, New York and Brooklyn. The Pistons should be right there with anyone else in the East contending for those last three spots and – you never know – it wouldn’t be a shocker if someone from that group finished in the top five. It will be important that they strike the right balance early to avoid falling too far behind the pack while they sort out their roles, but the Pistons should be a team that gathers momentum as the season unfolds. If all goes well, they’ll be playing their best basketball in April and be a handful for anyone who might happen to draw them in the playoffs.

John (Pinckney, Mich.): I read Mailbag regularly and you have mentioned that the Pistons will only have enough cap space to cover Greg Monroe’s cap hold. I looked at their listed salaries for next season and subtracted Greg’s $10.2 million cap hold, adding a salary for Jennings and Siva, and came up with about $52 million. What am I missing?

Langlois: I’m projecting the Pistons to have about $10 million in cap space after allowing for Monroe’s cap hold, John. I apologize if there was any confusion about that when I addressed it earlier. That figure, of course, could change based on moves that might be made between now and next July 1. But it does give the Pistons enough to work with to add a nice piece to the puzzle.

Enrique (Nagua, Dominican Republic): There have been reports of Charlie Villanueva preparing for next season, training with Kevin Love and Kevin Durant and declining an invitation to play on the Dominican national team. What kind of role do you see for Charlie next season?

Langlois: He’ll be in a dogfight for the available minutes at power forward, Enrique. Greg Monroe will start there and Josh Smith will slide over to play probably half or more of his minutes there, as I mentioned above, but that still leaves some room for another player in the mix. Let’s say Andre Drummond plays 30 minutes a game. That means 18 minutes at center for Monroe, in all likelihood. Let’s say Josh Smith plays about 35 minutes a game, roughly split between the two forward spots. That’s going to leave at least 10 minutes a game, probably, for somebody else up front. Villanueva’s 3-point shooting is a huge weapon to pair with the pick-and-roll threat Andre Drummond represents, as Pistons fans saw last year, and that could give him the early advantage over Jonas Jerebko. But Jerebko, when he plays as he did late last season, has a way of endearing himself to coaches and helping his team gain extra possessions. He has an infectious enthusiasm about him when he’s in his groove. That will be one of the most interesting determinations to come out of training camp, along with the Kyle Singler-Gigi Datome battle to be the first small forward off the bench and identifying the backcourt rotation.

Gary (Dallas): Do you believe part of the reason Joe Dumars made the move for Brandon Jennings wasn’t just because of Jennings’ ability on the floor but also because he likes the idea of Siva as a future starting point guard or as a quality backup given his defensive skills and how he could improve as a shooter down the road?

Langlois: The Pistons liked Siva, Gary. They spent a draft pick on him and then watched as he handled a difficult task impressively in Orlando Summer League. But I don’t think Siva’s situation really influenced the decision to execute the Brandon Jennings-Brandon Knight trade. Joe D was pretty clear that it was about upping the talent level on the roster and especially about getting a point guard with NBA experience under his belt to lead a team that otherwise appears ready to make a playoff push.