Pistons Mailbag - October 30, 2013
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Shaun (@ShaunMichael80): Do you think Tony Mitchell forces Joe Dumars to dump Charlie Villanueva or Jonas Jerebko?
Langlois: Force? No. Why would he? Now, if you’re asking if Tony Mitchell’s impressive preseason could give Dumars the flexibility to dangle another power forward as trade bait to fill a need he perceives elsewhere, or merely to acquire a future asset, perhaps, then, sure. But it’s a little early, probably, to assume the front office is confident that Mitchell is ready to assume that role immediately. No question, they’ve been impressed by what he’s shown them so far. But they’ve given him a very defined role – rebound, defend, employ your athleticism to block and alter shots, run the floor – and they likely would be hesitant to give up the options Villanueva and Jerebko offer at this point, which are, for the most part, very different traits.
Darrel (Warren, Mich.): Is there a timetable or any updates for Luigi Datome’s return?
Langlois: He went through practices on Monday and Tuesday, Darrel, the first ones since the first week of training camp. Now it’s a matter of seeing how his body holds up to the daily routine after he came to camp banged up and worn down from his summer stint with the Italian national team coming off of his MVP season in the Italian league. Then it will be a matter of finding an opportunity for playing time. That won’t be easy, barring injury. It would be one thing if he had a track record in the NBA and the coaching staff was certain of what he could offer as a baseline. But they only know what they’ve heard and what they’ve seen of him in a few practices and in shooting drills, which have been very impressive but are, ultimately, only drills and not necessarily an indication of how he’ll shoot in games. And that – his shot – is what earned Datome NBA contract offers and ultimately will determine his NBA fate.
Mohammad (@MohammadYounis3): When will Brandon Jennings be cleared to play?
Langlois: Not sure, Mohammad. We know that two weeks ago, the Pistons announced that Jennings would have his fractured jaw immobilized for three weeks. It wasn’t explicitly stated that he wouldn’t be able to return until then, but that seems the likeliest outcome. He has not practiced, though he’s been in the gym with the team and doing his best to keep his conditioning level up so he’ll be ready to practice, hopefully, when the three-week mark is reached. If that stays on schedule, he’d miss the season’s first four games and have a chance to return for their Nov. 8 game with Oklahoma City.
Chicken Bawls (@PPno9): How would one even get started in trying to become an NBA general manager?
Langlois: That’s one we tackle in Pistons Mailbag FAQ.
Tiba (Detroit): After watching preseason games, I feel much better about Josh Smith’s 3-ball but what about Greg Monroe’s elbow jumper? Does he not feel comfortable with it yet?
Langlois: Still a pretty small sample size, Tiba. I think he’d say he’s more comfortable than he was last season. Again, with the caveat of only a handful of games to judge, I didn’t see the same occasional hesitation this preseason before shooting that was evident last season. Monroe clearly knows how important the development of that shot will be to his future. It was the focus of his summer. But it will still take many repetitions in game settings to gain the type of confidence in that shot to make it something he’ll feel as sure about as the other parts of his game.
Dustin (@D_Schandy24): Can we win the first couple of games without Stuckey and an unhealthy Jennings?
Langlois: It’s not the way they would like to go into the season, Dustin, but NBA coaches and players are conditioned to focus on what they have, not what they lack. Over 82 games, of course the absence of their expected starting backcourt would be damaging. Over a week or so, the Pistons aren’t giving any obvious indications that they’re wallowing in their misfortune. A few players have told me they’re glad the injuries happened in the preseason and think it will help in the long run for the opportunities it’s given players who might not have otherwise seen much playing time. It helps that they get four of the first five games at home, though three (Memphis, Indiana, Oklahoma City) of their first five opponents are legitimate NBA title contenders.
Stephen (Berkley, Mich.): Is it just me or has Josh Smith lost weight? He looks a lot thinner than he did in previous years.
Langlois: He didn’t strike me as looking different than he has in the past, Stephen. For what it’s worth, he’s listed at 225 pounds on this year’s roster, the same weight he was listed for the Hawks last season. I don’t put much stock in official heights and weights, but I have nothing else to go on. When I talked to Smith before camp started and asked if he’d done anything different since signing with the Pistons to train, based on the expectation that he would play about half of his minutes at small forward, he didn’t say anything about losing weight for the transition. Not surprising, because he played both positions for the Hawks, as well.
Leo (Gaithersburg, Md.): How is Monroe doing guarding fours so far? He seems to be showing more lateral quickness.
Langlois: There really weren’t many times over the course of the preseason where Monroe matched up with anyone who you would have expected to cause him matchup difficulties, Leo, and as I wrote midway through the preseason schedule, it might not be much of a factor during the regular season, either. There just aren’t that many teams, for all the talk about playing small, that do go small extensively. As both Monroe and Maurice Cheeks said in that story, it will be at the end of games where the teams with the ability to play that way will present a challenge for Monroe and a quandary for Cheeks with regard to how he responds. For instance, when the Pistons play Oklahoma City next week, Kevin Durant won’t start the game at power forward, but he might be there for the final five minutes. Josh Smith is the player the Pistons would most want to guard him. Maybe the Pistons keep Monroe on the floor and have him guard a relative non-scorer, perhaps Thabo Sefolosha if he’s playing small forward. Or maybe Maurice Cheeks has to decide whether one of Monroe or Andre Drummond should exit the game.
Turiya (Southfield, Mich.): After having a nice showing in the preseason, what do you think about Will Bynum’s role coming off the bench? How much playing time or minutes do you think he will get? And what possible backcourt combinations do you see Bynum being a part of?
Langlois: Maurice Cheeks has spoken highly of Bynum and Bynum said that Cheeks made it clear to him shortly after his hiring that he valued Bynum not only for his aggressive offensive game but for his ability to pressure the ball defensively. Cheeks said this week that he’s reluctant to make Bynum a starter because he’s so valuable to the Pistons’ second unit. So that’s where I envision him when all hands are on deck. I think he’s probably good for 16 to 22 minutes a game. Because so many Pistons guards are comfortable playing with the ball in their hands – really, all of them but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have more experience at point guard than shooting guard – Cheeks will have great flexibility with his backcourt pairings. Bynum is emphatic that all of them are virtually interchangeable.
Andrew (Denver): Everyone seems to be calling for the head of Monroe with the arrival of Josh Smith. They are writing off big ball before it gets started. If the trade deadline comes and for some reason it’s not working as planned, then I propose a three-team trade between the Rockets, Pistons and Warriors that involve Smith going to Houston, Omer Asik to Golden State and Harrison Barnes to the Pistons, with other players included to balance the salaries. Could this be beneficial for all involved?
Langlois: It works best for Houston. Getting Josh Smith for Omer Asik is a pretty sweet deal, though you’re right – there would have to be other players involved to make it work for cap purposes. Golden State’s extension with Andrew Bogut should slow the volume of suggestions that the Warriors will be looking to deal for Monroe, a storyline that seems to have been perpetuated largely by Pistons fans looking to balance a lineup that hasn’t been proven to be out of balance just yet. The Pistons didn’t sign Smith to deal him in his first season, Andrew, but if, as you suggest, we get to February and Joe Dumars concludes otherwise, then anything is possible.
Kenneth (U.S. Navy, Hawaii): When the Pistons won their first championship, they did it with a three-guard set. Do you think that is a formula that would work now, given the type of talent and hybrid players in the league today? If so, do you see that with the players we currently have on the roster now?
Langlois: The Bad Boys had three guards good enough to have their numbers retired by the Pistons in Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson. But Chuck Daly rarely played all three together. (Famously, they were on the court down the stretch in the clinching Game 5 of the 1990 Finals at Portland, when Johnson hit the game winner with 0.7 seconds remaining.) In today’s game, a coach would be much more likely to play that way. It would have required Dumars to guard small forwards and that was a golden era for scoring small forwards (Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins, James Worthy, Bernard King, Chuck Person, Mark Aguirre, Adrian Dantley, et al). In the early days of John Kuester’s first season with the Pistons, before injuries ravaged the roster, he was experimenting with some success with Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon together. As long as a coach would be comfortable with the defensive matchups, playing three guards simultaneously is a viable option.
Zachary (Goshen, Ind.): Would Stuckey be in the mix as a potential backup small forward? If he enjoys playing that position, I think it would work and free up some more playing time for the other talented guards. I feel defensively it could be pretty good, too.
Langlois: Purely coincidence that your question came in on the heels of Kenneth’s, Zachary. Sure, when the Pistons are at full strength, Stuckey gives Maurice Cheeks that option. I don’t think it’s going to be part of his normal rotation pattern, though, as long as Josh Smith and Kyle Singler are both available, not to mention Gigi Datome. Stuckey’s major advantage over most defenders is his strength off the dribble. Some of that would be negated by going against bigger players at small forward; on the other hand, he’d present a challenge for many defenders at that spot because they wouldn’t be accustomed to guarding many players as adept off the dribble as Stuckey. Unconventional lineups always come down to a tradeoff. If you’re the coach throwing the changeup, you have to be comfortable that you’re getting more than you’re giving up in the exchange.
Dawn (@TDreamer7): Who gets more minutes, Jonas or Charlie, and you’re not allowed to say, “It depends on matchups.”
Langlois: OK, then how about it depends on those around them? My guess is Jonas Jerebko is going to get a crack at minutes before Charlie Villanueva. In part, that’s due to the injuries that knocked Rodney Stuckey out for most of preseason and Gigi Datome for all of it. Those injuries created a huge role for Kyle Singler, who was going to be the primary backup at small forward but now might be called upon for minutes at shooting guard, as well. Since the backup small forward role probably means 30 minutes a night (given that Josh Smith is going to play power forward as well as small forward), Jerebko has a greater opportunity to play than Villanueva because he’s comfortable at either spot. Now, when everyone’s healthy? It could be a different story. If the Pistons aren’t getting enough shooting from players like Datome (hard to do if he’s not in the rotation), Chauncey Billups (whose minutes might be limited, or who might sit out certain games to avoid wearing him down) or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who isn’t assured of playing time), then Cheeks might give Villanueva wide latitude to win a more permanent role. We’ll see.
Robert (@RJKlee88): Do you think the passing ability both Monroe and Smith possess could be an underrated trait on this team?
Langlois: To a degree, yeah, I think it’s been a little overlooked and should be a mitigating factor against the perceived problems the Pistons will encounter in spacing the floor when all three of Monroe, Smith and Andre Drummond are on the floor together. It’s still tougher to squeeze a pass through a compacted defense than one spread to cover the 3-point line, of course, but if the Pistons get good ball and player movement, the passing ability of Monroe and Smith will come into play. Here’s what I mean: They can’t just come across half court, make the first pass to Smith on the wing or Monroe at the elbow and expect them to find a wide-open shooter. They’ll need to execute a well-designed play – that means solid screens and consistently hard cutting – that winds up with the ball finding Smith or Monroe in a position that presents them with options to pass, shoot or put the ball on the floor.