Pistons Mailbag - August 28, 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.

Jason (Chicago): What roles do you see for the international players on the Pistons’ roster, including Datome and Jerebko? It seems there are talents comparable to other international players in the NBA (Gallinari, Belinelli to name a couple) who have made a strong impact on their teams. Are the Pistons now so deep that star players acting as international representatives of their countries will have less prominent roles or is this evidence of the difference in play between the NBA and Europe?

Langlois: Great to very good players are going to play no matter their background or the composition of the roster around them. Gallinari, before he blew out his knee, was verging on that territory. For everybody else, it’s a matter of finding a niche. Jerebko did a phenomenal job of that as a rookie, before tearing his Achilles tendon. Last season, obviously, didn’t go as well for him. Neither Jerebko nor Datome have a lock on a spot in the 2013-14 rotation, but the Pistons clearly believe that either is more than capable of contributing. There will be a lot of competition at their two positions, power forward and small forward, and it will be up to Maurice Cheeks to sort it out and find a rotation that works for the good of the team.

Filip (Podgorica, Montenegro): I’m a long-time Pistons fan and, trust me, in my country it isn’t easy to watch every single game and still stay awake and not be late for school or work. I’m thrilled about recent transactions and I would like your opinion on who should be the starting five. I know it isn’t easy but I want to see how it looks from your standpoint.

Langlois: This ties into the previous question, Filip. I think the Pistons have four players who are certain to be in the rotation – and almost certainly in the starting lineup. They are Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and newcomers Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. I think it’s very likely that Rodney Stuckey and Chauncey Billups are in the rotation with steady roles. That’s six. Most coaches prefer a rotation somewhere between eight on the low end and 10 on the high end. Certainly, there is room for at least one small forward, with Kyle Singler and Gigi Datome the likely contenders for minutes at that spot, and probably for another player in the frontcourt rotation from among Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva and Josh Harrellson with rookie Tony Mitchell a darkhorse. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a shot to start if he proves NBA ready for how his shooting would fit with the rest of the projected starting five, but Maurice Cheeks will weigh that decision carefully before putting a rookie into the starting lineup unless he at least holds his own in training camp and the preseason relative to Rodney Stuckey’s performance. Given the depth at point guard, and the ability of Billups to play off of the ball, there’s no guarantee Caldwell-Pope cracks the rotation. Will Bynum’s strong 2012-13 season, and especially his effectiveness in lineups that feature Drummond, give him a good chance to be in the rotation, too.

Chris (Brighton, Mich.): Here’s how I see the minutes playing out by position and the percentage of minutes available at each spot. Center: Drummond 60 percent, Monroe 30 percent, small ball 10 percent; power forward: Monroe 35 percent, Smith 30 percent, Villanueva/Jerebko 25 percent; small ball 10 percent; small forward: Smith 35 percent, Datome/Singler/Jerebko 55 percent; small ball 10 percent; shooting guard: Stuckey 50 percent, Caldwell-Pope 30 percent, Billups/Jennings 20 percent; point guard: Jennings 55 percent, Billups 35 percent, Bynum 10 percent. In the worst-case scenario, there are spacing issues 35 percent of the minutes played and that can be lessened if good to great shooters – Billups, Jennings, Datome, Singler – overlap their playing time while all three of the bigs are playing, in other words the first eight to 10 minutes of the first and third quarters. So what I conclude is that Drummond should get the bulk of the minutes at center and Stuckey should get the bulk of minutes at shooting guard, but their time together should not overlap much. If that is done, I don’t think the Pistons will have significant spacing issues. What are your thoughts?

Langlois: Your blueprint makes a lot of sense, Chris, and I’m sure Maurice Cheeks and the coaching staff are thinking about lineup possibilities frequently now that we’re just a little over a month away from the start of training camp and the roster is set. (I wrote about this general topic just yesterday.) But the reality is that nobody will know for sure how the pieces fit until the players get thrown together and produce some measurable results. Will the perceived lack of shooting for the projected starting lineup – and, as I suggested above, I think it’s almost certain that Drummond, Monroe, Smith and Jennings are written in heavy pencil, if not ink, as opening night starters – manifest itself into scoring difficulties? Or will the darting quickness of Jennings and the overpowering potential of the frontcourt more than atone? We’ll see. Your supposition that a Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontcourt will be together for about a third of the game is essentially correct. But the Pistons can’t afford to cede one-third of a game and expect to win more often than not, so those will still be important minutes. They’ll have to find a way to play together effectively during their shared court time. Ideally, the fifth player to share the court when the four most likely to start are together would be a knock-down shooter. Can Caldwell-Pope be that as a rookie? That’s a lot to ask of him. I’ll be curious to see if a clear group of five emerges as the one that Cheeks trusts to close tight games, especially given that many coaches are now more prone to put their five best players together and that often means they’re more likely to play small. That would put them in contrast to the Pistons.

Sam (Kalamazoo, Mich.): The Pistons look a whole lot more promising now than a year ago. I’m wondering what they plan to do against defenses that pack the paint against them? They very well may have the most athletic starting lineup in the NBA, but also the worst shooting team. Do you think they can feasibly just physically overpower teams at the rim?

Langlois: I don’t know that they’ll consistently overpower teams, Sam, in as much as that implies dominance. But for them to have a successful season, it stands to reason they’ll need to end up in the plus column in rebounding most nights. It follows that they should do well in points in the paint and second-chance points, as well. How far they go this season, though, might depend on how balanced their offense can become. Will they get enough perimeter scoring punch? The four guys who project as their best shooters are Charlie Villanueva, Chauncey Billups, Gigi Datome and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Their roles will depend on Villanueva winning minutes, Billups’ ability to stay healthy and log significant time and how quickly Datome and Caldwell-Pope can make the adjustment to the NBA. To a large extent, the offensive potential of the Pistons – to take them from a more limited to a multi-dimensional offense – is in the hands of those players.

Steven (West Bloomfield, Mich.): Regarding your latest blog on who closes games, if someone from the group of Monroe, Drummond and Smith is routinely on the bench at the end of games, it means that the giant-sized lineup isn’t working. Plain and simple, if we can’t force other teams to match up with us, then we simply aren’t maximizing our assets and should make a trade, like Monroe for a stud small forward, to balance out the roster. Assuming we’re not the very best team in the league, we can’t afford the luxury of a jumbo lineup that can’t play together.

Langlois: It’s going to be one of the storylines worth watching, Steven, which is I why I chose to write about it more than a month before training camp. There will be conflicting influences at work: coaches naturally are prone to put their best players on the floor at the end of games, but the Pistons’ five best players will make for awkward matchups one way or the other – either for the Pistons or the other guy. Who makes the other one pay for it? That’s the crux of the situation. I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves to suggest if Cheeks doesn’t routinely keep all three of Drummond, Monroe and Smith on the floor at the end of games, a trade must ensue. I don’t think there will be any rushes to judgment, for certain, and if Joe Dumars eventually concludes – either near the trade deadline or after next season – that the mix must be altered, I don’t think he’ll be willing to accept 50 cents on the dollar for one of those three just to find a more compatible fit. It’s going to require a little patience. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Cheeks tinkers with lineup combinations fairly frequently throughout the season. It’s tough to think of a coach in the NBA who’ll have more to consider, given the eight new faces on board.

Stephen (Berkley, Mich.): Will KCP start right away? If not, will it take him as long as it took Andre Drummond to crack the rotation?

Langlois: Drummond “cracked the rotation” on opening night, but didn’t become a starter until returning from his back injury for the season’s final 10 games – though, we learned after the fact, he was pegged to move into the starting lineup in early February, a move delayed by his injury. As for Caldwell-Pope, he won’t start on opening night unless he’s earned it. The trait the Pistons love most about him is his motor and his ability to affect games even when his shot isn’t falling. The only way he starts, though, as I see it is if he shows he can knock down shots consistently – and that’s a tall order for rookies. On paper, KCP as a starter makes sense. It would allow the Pistons to bring Rodney Stuckey off the bench, where he could be the focus of the offense. The Pistons might still go that way, of course. There are a few teams every season that start a player who doesn’t average nearly as many minutes per game as one or two of his teammates off the bench. Manu Ginobili for years in San Antonio would play 30 minutes a game off the bench, dwarfing the minutes of the nominal starter at his position. That’s a possibility for the Pistons with KCP and Stuckey. We’ll see how it plays out. KCP has reinforced Pistons management’s belief since drafting him that he’ll be an NBA starting-quality shooting guard at some point for the totality of his game; whether that happens early in his rookie season is something only time will determine.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): How do you think the Pistons now match up personnel-wise with the elite teams in the East, particularly Indiana and Miami. I think Indiana might be a harder hurdle, actually.

Langlois: Much better than a year ago, Ken, in both cases. The addition of Josh Smith is a huge one defensively for the Pistons for his size and athleticism on the wing. Smith gives the Pistons a fighting chance to rein in the damage LeBron James inflicts. Rodney Stuckey and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope give them the size, strength (surely in Stuckey’s case, at least) and athleticism to give Dwyane Wade a battle. Indiana has two power forwards who’ve killed the Pistons over the years, David West and Luis Scola. But the Pistons now have more options to throw at them than they’ve ever had. Smith will be their Paul George antidote. Drummond has the strength and athleticism to grapple with Roy Hibbert in the post and both he and Greg Monroe will put stress on Indiana’s excellent defense in the paint. The Pistons have the makings of a top-10 defensive team, though defense is always about chemistry beyond talent, and chemistry can take time to come together.

Tony (Wyoming, Mich.): Am I the only one who sees Peyton Siva as a next Lindsey Hunter, circa 2004? I see a potential top-notch defender – a quick, capable ballhandler who will make good decisions and has a respectable outside shot.

Langlois: He’s a good 2 inches shorter, probably more, than Hunter, who also had really long arms for his size and had the ability to effectively guard even elite shooting guards. Siva is going to earn his way in the NBA by taking care of the basketball, being an efficient playmaker and playing pesky defense on the opposition ballhandler. His scoring ability is the reason Siva went late in the second round, but if he can develop a reliable 20-foot jump shot he’ll guarantee himself a long NBA career because he checks off pretty much every other box. When teams are looking for a backup – and especially a No. 3 – point guard, they want to make sure they’re getting a great teammate as well as someone who offers a skill set that complements the top of the depth chart at that position. Siva is going to leave no doubt that he’s the kind of guy coaches love to have around – a no-maintenance, self-starter only interested in helping the team produce wins.

Malik (Muenster, Germany): Do you think the Pistons will hold on to Stuckey if he proves to be a good combo guard? Despite all the talk, I think he still has so much potential.

Langlois: He’s on the roster now, despite rampant speculation he would be traded (and, to be fair, the speculation made sense because Stuckey’s contract status makes him an attractive trade candidate), and Maurice Cheeks has dropped some pretty broad hints that he anticipates Stuckey playing a big role. Pistons management is expecting a big season out of Stuckey based on what they’re seeing and hearing from him this summer. By all indications, including what Stuckey told me last week, the new coaching staff has struck a chord with him.