Pistons Mailbag - October 16, 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.

Vincent (Go_Blue33): What’s the ceiling for this year’s Pistons team?

Langlois: They’d tell you there is no ceiling. They’d say that the most important thing is to take care of business today and then everything is possible. I think this year’s Pistons are one of the most difficult teams in the NBA to gauge. They’ve made a number of changes – eight new players on the 15-man roster – and they’ll likely have three new starters, and at least two. Even skeptics of how the new roster fits will heartily agree the Pistons have significantly upgraded their talent. If they mesh quickly and stay relatively healthy, who knows? At this point 10 years ago, no one was predicting an NBA title for the Pistons in June 2004. I point that out not necessarily to indicate a title is within their grasp this season, but to underscore how dramatically things can change over the course of 82 games.

Mo (@Gimme_SomeMO_): Has Bynum improved his shot since last season? And do you think KCP’s 3-point shot will eventually start to fall?

Langlois: I wouldn’t expect much variance from Bynum’s shooting percentages. His calling card has never been his outside jump shot, but he’s just dangerous enough from the perimeter that defenders can’t back into the paint and give him open jump shots, either. As for KCP, I’ve maintained all along that it’s unusual for a rookie to come into the league as a consistent 3-point shooter. But, yeah, he’s obviously going to do better than he’s been so far, a frigid 1 of 16 through three preseason games. The remarkable thing is he’s been able to contribute positively even with such an atrocious shooting percentage so far. His quickness and instincts to the ball are very, very good.

CrumsRevenge (@CrumsRevenge): There’s been talk that Siva will start out in the D-League. Is that a done deal or is he changing opinions?

Langlois: Siva said on Monday that no one’s said a word to him yet about playing in the D-League. That doesn’t surprise me. The Pistons have always thought it best to keep their rookies with them for at least the first few months to understand the rhythms of the NBA season and get used to the organization’s way of doing things. If Pistons guards stay healthy – or, better put, if they get healthy and stay that way after training camp injuries to Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Jennings – then it’s tough to see Siva cracking the playing rotation as a rookie. The Pistons were obviously impressed with Siva after his Summer League showing, which explains why they were eager to sign him to a contract – a bit unusual for a player drafted late in the second round. I would guess that sometime in January or February, perhaps, the Pistons will send Siva and perhaps Tony Mitchell to Fort Wayne for a week or so. As I wrote last week, though, the Mad Ants are serving as the D-League affiliate of five other NBA teams this season, so they’ll have to pick their spots wisely and coordinate, as best they can, with the Mad Ants so their players don’t get sent down at a time when two or three other NBA teams are expecting playing time for their prospects.

Zachh (zwishywashy1039): Do you think Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe will have years like they did last year? Better or worse?

Langlois: This kind of goes to my answer to Vincent’s question from above, Zachh. The great unknown is how the pieces will come together. Those are three talented players. In order for them to be better than they were a year ago, though, they’ll have to provide some synergies with each other. I think one area perhaps overlooked in the analysis of whether the Pistons will be able to space the floor sufficiently without a surplus of shooting in the projected starting lineup is the fact that they have a bunch of really good passers. Smith and Monroe are well above-average passers for frontcourt players and Andre Drummond, too, has displayed a knack for sharp interior passes. Jennings has superb vision. As he’s said adamantly since coming to the Pistons, the reputation he got for taking ill-advised shots in Milwaukee was due largely to team need. The Bucks simply didn’t have much in the way of frontcourt scoring. One of the real disappointments so far for the Pistons in preseason has been Jennings’ unavailability due to an impacted wisdom tooth and hairline fracture of the jaw at the base of that tooth that will keep him out at least for the first week of the regular season.

Jonathan (@jonathanmlallen): Do you think Tom Gores would ever go into luxury tax territory if this team became a contender?

Langlois: Not to speak for the owner, Jonathan, but I think his general philosophy on this was addressed on the day he officially took over the team when he was asked a similar question about how much he’d be willing to spend to field a winner. And what he said, essentially, was that it wasn’t about purely spending but about value. In other words, he wouldn’t mind a big payroll if he was getting out of it what he put into it. So, by your parameters – a title-contending team – I’d have to believe he’d be willing to incur cost in return for a better shot at winning a title if the team shows evidence of that objective being within its grasp.

Quincy (@Quincy_Leeee): Once Datome gets 100 percent healthy, how much of an impact do you think he will have stretching the floor?

Langlois: Tough to say, Quincy. We don’t really know anything more about Datome than we knew when the Pistons signed him in July. We know he performed at a very high level in his Italian league, where he won MVP honors last season, and was one of the stars of EuroBasket. The Pistons are confident that at 25 with the wealth of European experience he has that his transition will go well, but you never know until you start to see it. And the hamstring injury he suffered on the first Saturday of training camp at the team’s open scrimmage has prevented him from playing so far in preseason.

Zach (@Fozz2): Will KCP start?

Langlois: If everybody’s healthy, I doubt it, Zach, at least not to start the season. As Chauncey Billups told me last week, the Pistons’ playoff push starts on opening night. They expect to make the playoffs this season but they know in order for that to happen they’re going to have to come out of the gate strong. Maurice Cheeks has four veteran guards – Billups, Rodney Stuckey, Brandon Jennings and Will Bynum – that have a measure of his confidence already. Cheeks likes KCP – he told Joe Dumars very early in Summer League, when Caldwell-Pope was struggling with his 3-point shot as he is in the preseason, that he was impressed with his motor and ability to contribute even when his shot wasn’t falling. But the reality is that until Caldwell-Pope shows signs of being a more efficient scorer, can he possibly do enough in other areas to offer more certain value than one of those four vets ahead of him? It’s important to keep in mind, though, that it’s an 82-game season and injuries happen, not to mention the growth rookies undergo from month to month. If he’s not starting (or in the rotation) on Oct. 30, take a deep breath. Greg Monroe didn’t get off the bench his first two games, either. He turned out OK.

Johnny (@JG_Hollywood): What seed do you project for this team? Do you see us better than, say, the Knicks?

Langlois: There’s a near-unanimity of opinion that the top four seeds in the East, in some order, are Miami, Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn. If those teams aren’t unduly affected by injury, it’s hard to argue with the consensus. Many believe that if there’s a team that will crack the top four, the Knicks should be it. There’s a lot of star power in New York, starting with Carmelo Anthony. The Pistons match up pretty well with all of those teams now, though, with the size and athleticism they’ve added in the past two seasons. There might be some growing pains for the Pistons, but they’re talented enough that no matter where they’re seeded come April, if they’re in the playoff field they’re going to be a pretty dangerous opponent.

Kevin (@kfsanders): When is Datome expected back?

Langlois: No timetable given. Hamstrings mend on their own schedule. It’s easier to predict returns from broken bones than muscle pulls, usually. I don’t think his is a particularly serious pull – he’s been participating in shooting drills and is moving without any noticeable impairment – but there’s no sense rushing it at this point. He played a lot of basketball over the past few months for his national team. It’s too bad he’s falling behind in his first NBA training camp, but the silver lining is maybe the forced time off will allow his body to refresh itself. Watching him in shooting drills, it’s clear that he has a rare gift. It’ll be fun to see how it translates to NBA game action.

Zak (Hamtramck, Mich.): Do you think a trade involving Greg Monroe and Kyle Singler or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson makes sense for both teams? Would either team consider such a trade and if they do, would it make both teams better?

Langlois: A lot of talented young players changing hands there, Zak. My guess is that both teams really want to see what they have before changing course so radically. I know there are plenty who are skeptical that Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond can happily co-exist – I’ve answered various questions about their compatibility since Smith was signed – but I think it would be extraordinarily risky to trade a big man as talented and promising as the 23-year-old Monroe. And as much as the Warriors no doubt would love to add such a player, would they blithely part with two young wings talented enough to draw invitations to the USA Basketball minicamp last July to get him?

Rueben (Tulsa, Okla.): Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 16 points and hit the game winner for the Knicks in their preseason game with Boston. Do you think he would’ve been a better pick than KCP?

Langlois: And then he went 3 of 16 in game two. How ’bout we wait a few more weeks, or months, or years, before saying Player A will be a better 2013 draft pick than Player B? I understand that it’s a big qualifier, but if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finds his 3-point stroke, there’s going to be a lot to like about his potential. And there’s really no reason to think he won’t develop into at least an average 3-point shooter sooner rather than later. Whether he can become a better than average 3-point shooter will go a long way toward determining how high he can fly, Rueben. But the Pistons love his defense (and that’s a big question mark with Hardaway) and level of activity. You’ll see him get his hands on a lot of loose balls. He’s averaging 6.3 rebounds through three games, which would be an extraordinary number for a guard. I like Hardaway and think he’s got a chance to make a mark early with the Knicks – Mike Woodson has spoken highly of him and has declared that he’ll be in the rotation – but I think most would bank on KCP having a higher ceiling.

Norman (Warren, Mich.): How would you compare or contrast Josh Smith’s game to Tayshaun Prince’s game when Prince was in his prime?

Langlois: It’s a gross oversimplification to boil it down to one word, but the quick answer is Smith’s standout characteristic is athleticism and Prince’s was smarts. Prince’s frame made it tough for him to play power forward despite his unusual length, while Smith’s wiry strength allows him to swing seamlessly between positions. Smith is the superior rebounder. Smith’s athleticism allows him to affect games in more ways than Prince, perhaps, though at his best I always thought much of what Prince brought wasn’t reflected by conventional statistics. Pistons coaches from Flip Saunders on trusted Prince’s decision-making and often used him as a quasi-point forward. Yet Prince’s career high for assists was 3.3, which he reached in 2008 and ’10. Smith has matched or bettered that number in six of his nine NBA seasons. Smith has blocked nearly 1,000 more shots in his career than Prince in two fewer seasons. Smith has been the most consistent scorer, averaging at least 15.6 points per game in each of the past seven seasons. Prince’s career-best scoring average for a season was 14.7, which came in his third year when he was the team’s No. 4 option behind Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace. Prince was an elite wing defender for at least the first half of his career. Smith remains a high-level defender.