Pistons Mailbag - September 11, 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.

Chris (Brighton, Mich.): Many in the media are concerned about the shot selection and shooting percentage of some of the key players on the team, yet they don’t mention the unbelievable rebounding ability of many of our players. Aren’t we poised for a couple of players to have huge offensive rebounding seasons? If you can’t be near the top in efficiency but you’re near the top in rebounding, isn’t that offsetting?

Langlois: If a team averages a point per possession or a little more, then it probably stands to reason that every extra possession gained by an offensive rebound contributes a point to the bottom line, Chris. Offensive rebounding certainly would appear to be a strength of the Pistons going into the season, given the track records of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, should he win minutes at shooting guard, projects to be another above-average rebounder for his position, based on college production. I’m sure Maurice Cheeks won’t take the attitude that he’ll tolerate poor shot selection because his team will have a better shot at cleaning up offensive rebounds than most. The ideal would be to get great ball movement – really, the element that leads to offensive rebounding as much as great instincts for the ball – that creates gaps in defenses and allows lanes for offensive rebounders to exploit.

John (Port Huron, Mich.): Will there be an open practice this year? I have not seen it announced anywhere. I can only get to three or four games each year with my grandson and the open practice is what gets us going each year. I never miss.

Langlois: I know I answered this one fairly recently, but the questions keep coming, so I’ll hit it up again. There’s been no announcement yet, John, but it’s pretty much become a tradition as long as circumstances allow it. Stay tuned to Pistons.com. Whenever the announcement is made, we’ll have it. The common practice has been to hold the open practice on a weekend day following the opening week of training camp, which this year opens on Oct. 1, so keep your calendar open for the weekend of Oct. 5-6.

Dave (Miami): I feel the Pistons will have a good year and make the playoffs, but realize that starting Smith, Drummond and Monroe together isn’t our best lineup. How do you feel about moving Monroe to a sixth-man role and using our cap space to sign unrestricted free agent Thabo Sefolosha to be the starting small forward? He’s not too pricey, still young, a great defender and a very good shooter who can potentially be a good all-around scorer. This allows the Jennings-Drummond pick and roll to be the focus of the offense, Josh Smith to play his best position (power forward) and to be our third option and we get to surround those three with shooters, defenders or guys who can do both on the wings in KCP, Thabo, Singler and Datome.

Langlois: Sefolosha will be 30 before the 2014-15 season starts, Dave, so while he should still have some prime years left, I wouldn’t call him “young” in NBA terms any more. He’s the kind of guy that contenders like – and especially if they can get him to take a discount for the chance to chase a championship. But it’s way too early to figure out what complementary pieces the Pistons might pursue after the 2013-14 season, when Sefolosha becomes a free agent. Joe Dumars, Maurice Cheeks and their staffs are going to let the coming season play out (or at least the season before the trade deadline) and make their assessments for what tweaking remains before the Pistons are ready to pursue a championship based on that. Is it possible that one of Smith, Drummond or Monroe might have to come off the bench at some point if Cheeks determines that would be best? Yeah, sure, everything is on the table when you’re bringing in eight new players. But it’s indisputable that they’re three of the team’s four best players, Brandon Jennings also in that mix, and it’s hard to conceive of a scenario where they don’t all log starter’s minutes, no matter how they’re distributed or who winds up starting.

Frank (Subic Bay, Philippines): My biggest concern with the Pistons is Andre’s back. Summer League is a small sample size compared to the NBA season. Are there any plans on putting a limit on his minutes?

Langlois: The Pistons were cautious almost to a fault with Drummond last winter, Frank. They were satisfied the injury was healed but followed the protocol – and the outer parameters of the protocol, at that – for broken bones before allowing him to return for the season’s final 10 games. He’s seen specialists. They’re completely confident that the original injury is healed. No one can say with certainty that he won’t suffer a similar injury, but there’s no more reason to believe that Drummond will suffer that fairly rare injury again than there is to believe that anyone else on the roster will experience a stress fracture of the fifth lumbar vertabra. It wasn’t just the four Summer League games he played that’s tested him, Frank. He also participated full bore in the USA Basketball minicamp and has been going hard in individual workouts under the supervision of new assistant coach Rasheed Wallace for more than a month. I think he’ll play as many minutes as he can handle while remaining effective this season and that should be pretty close to 30 a night, which is a lot for a big man who just turned 20 and is still not only learning the game but growing into his body.

Darrell (Detroit): Assuming Stuckey starts, the second unit would consist of Billups, Caldwell-Pope, Datome, Villanueva and Monroe. That would be four 3-point shooters to surround Monroe and seems like a very formidable second unit. What are your thoughts?

Langlois: I’m sure Maurice Cheeks has considered different playing combinations, but I don’t know that he’s going to assume much of anything until he blows the whistle and sees what he has in training camp. My best guess is that the first big man to come out of the lineup most nights – matchups, foul trouble and other factors could change it from night to night – will be Andre Drummond. I say that in part because Greg Monroe and Josh Smith are accustomed to starting and playing for long stretches, but mostly because I think it will be Drummond that they will want on the floor when they have shooters to spread it, and the guys who figure to be their best shooters are probably going to be coming off the bench. Let’s say Drummond comes out of the game with five minutes to go in the first quarter, perhaps with Kyle Singler coming in at small forward and Smith and Monroe kick over one spot. Then, to start the second quarter, Drummond comes back for Monroe and the Pistons go with Villanueva or Jonas Jerebko at power forward, Gigi Datome at small forward and Chauncey Billups and Caldwell-Pope, or Will Bynum and Billups, in the backcourt. But that’s fun speculation that occupies the off-season. Soon enough, training camp will be here and we can talk about how different combinations fit or don’t fit based on what we see, not what we imagine is likely.

E.ujkaj (@Michiman76: Just curious what you think the starting lineup will be?

Langlois: Pretty sure you can write in Monroe, Smith, Drummond and Jennings today. The fifth spot could go a number of ways. I think Rodney Stuckey is the safest bet, but it’s possible Maurice Cheeks will want to hold back Stuckey to be the go-to scorer for the second unit. That could mean Kyle Singler, who started at shooting guard as a rookie until he moved to small forward after the trade of Tayshaun Prince, gets the start. Or it could create an opening for rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, if he’s ready to assume a significant role. It could mean Chauncey Billups starts there, though I think the Pistons would prefer to bring him off the bench – easier to manage his minutes that way – and make it more likely that they’ll be able to have him on the floor to finish games, when he can be especially valuable.

If somebody other than Stuckey starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if Stuckey still logs the most minutes at his position.

Hytower (@CHytower): I’m really curious about Stuckey’s role on the team. Do you think he will just be auditioning for other ballclubs?

Langlois: Nobody’s approaching the season as if Stuckey is anything other than a full-fledged member of a team intent on making the playoffs and going from there. He’s had fruitful conversations with Maurice Cheeks, as I wrote last month, and I’ve spoken with a few members of the front office staff who have observed a confidence and positive vibe from Stuckey they haven’t quite seen in the past. They think he’s poised for a big year under Cheeks. Stuckey knows that he’s going into the last year of his contract and what happens next summer will depend, in large measure, on how he plays this season. But if he has the type of year he hopes to have, given the upheaval he’s experienced throughout his career, I think his first option would be to stay and build off of that success. But first things first. He knows he has to take care of business.

Julio (Upland, Calif.): Do you know when the new Pistons alternate jerseys will be available for purchase?

Langlois: Good question, Julio. I checked with our guys in merchandising, Terry Adam and Ryan Sullivan, and they told me that they’ve ordered the Motor City alternate Pistons adult and youth Swingman jerseys for Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups and those are expected to be available for sale shortly after the season starts, around mid-November. Home and road adult Swingman jerseys for those same players should be available in early November. Hope that helps.

Tiba (Detroit): I thought long and hard about a move the Pistons can make to balance the roster and this is what I come up with: Greg Monroe, Kyle Singler and Charlie Villanueva to the Blazers for Nicolas Batum and Meyers Leonard. The Pistons get an excellent glue guy in Batum and a great backup to Drummond in Leonard. They can move Smith to power forward. The Blazers can play Monroe at center and Singler can fill Batum’s shoes at small forward. They can use Villanueva’s expiring contract to re-sign Monroe. Your thoughts?

Langlois: I wouldn’t try fixing a perceived problem before you know it really exists, Tiba. Don’t you want to see what the Pistons have in Drummond and Monroe together – with Smith available to team with either one, to boot – first before you break them up? I sure would. And as much as I like Batum, when you’re dangling Monroe as trade bait, I want something more than someone you describe as a “glue guy,” even if he might be an “excellent” glue guy. Singler’s a glue guy, too.

Rickey (San Diego, Calif.): I never played pro ball, but I’ve spent 12 years in the U.S. Navy and played on the Command team during each tour of duty, plus I’m a Pistons fan since birth. I made my disclaimer to ask, in your experience of being around the game and the Pistons, do you believe defense can be learned or that playing defense effectively is mainly about effort and instinct? I believe the latter myself. You can learn defensive schemes and team concepts, but you have to want to stop your man from scoring. Your thoughts?

Langlois: Team defense is very much a learned skill, Rickey, but becoming a good defender goes well beyond knowing every proper rotation and assignment. It goes to mind-set more than anything and that goes to peer pressure, team culture and the degree of emphasis on defense demanded by the head coach. Players who have reputations as poor defenders can change teams and suddenly become very good defenders if they have solid basketball instincts and believe on a gut level that preventing your man from scoring is every bit as important as being able to score against him. That’s where peer pressure comes into play, too. The Pistons under Chuck Daly went from a very poor defensive team to one of the greatest of any era to that point and, sure, a lot of it had to do with gradually adding players like Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn and John Salley, but a lot of it also had to do with Daly making defense an emphasis and seeing his longest-tenured stars – Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer, namely, players known more for their scoring ability – become fully engaged in transforming the Pistons into a defense-first outfit.

Walter (Boca Raton, Fla.): In 1970, Bob Lanier was a rookie. Butch van Breda Kolff started Otto Moore at center with four other players and substituted a complete second unit with Lanier at center. Dave Bing and Jimmy Walker were the stars of that team. I don’t remember who started and who came off the bench other than the centers. That team won its first nine games and 12 of the first 13. Then van Breda Kolff went more conventional and the team had a losing record for the balance of the season. With the depth the Pistons have, could that concept work this season with Monroe coming in with the second unit? As you have mentioned, at the end of the game you play the players giving you the best chance of winning. (I have subscribed to the NBA TV package since we moved here to watch the Pistons.)

Langlois: Could that concept work? Sure. Do I think there’s much of a chance that Maurice Cheeks will do so? Probably not. He’s had two head coaching stints before and didn’t employ that strategy, not that many have done so over the last several decades. Don Nelson was one coach who was willing to challenge convention and he substituted liberally, often changing his rotation from night to night. I think if the Pistons were to bring anyone off the bench, it would probably be Drummond, simply because he had well-documented success in that role last year and Monroe has had very little experience coming off the bench in the NBA. We’ll get the first idea how Cheeks plans to use his two young big men in less than a month when the preseason opens. Nice walk down memory lane, by the way. That Pistons team lost six straight after the 12-1 start. I suppose that might have convinced VBK – one of the real characters of the NBA – to alter course.