Pistons Mailbag - November 6, 2013
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Dave (Muskegon, Mich.): What is the likeliest scenario for Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey? KCP needs to play. Both of those guys are expendable and could get us some solid draft picks. Will they ship them before the trade deadline?
Langlois: I think it’s been pretty clear from even before training camp opened that Cheeks had high expectations for Stuckey, based on what Stuckey told me they discussed after Cheeks accepted the head coaching position in June. In the first week of camp, Cheeks declared Stuckey his best perimeter defender. Since he returned last week, Cheeks has thrust him immediately back in the mix, and prominently. Stuckey’s a mainstay. Villanueva is currently outside the rotation looking in. I didn’t see a way both Villanueva and Jonas Jerebko would crack the rotation coming into camp and that’s the way it played out. Jerebko won the position in part because Cheeks loved how hard he played in preseason and in part because Villanueva shot poorly from the perimeter. But Cheeks is consistent in insisting that nothing is permanent. (Neither played, in fact, in Tuesday’s loss to Indiana.) He’s even said his rotation isn’t absolute – that someone might play one night but not the next depending on what the team needs and, of course, on individual performance.
Terry (@tbonemetiva): Why didn’t KCP see the floor Sunday against the Celtics?
Langlois: Simple. Cheeks doesn’t see how he can give five guards playing time – not many coaches would – and he has four veterans he trusts ahead of him. I don’t think it’s a hard line between the four vets and KCP. Cheeks liked him in Summer League and certainly saw what he brings in preseason and in the first two regular-season games. He’s said emphatically he’s not hesitant to use him if the need arises. But barring injury or a slip in performance by one of the veterans ahead of him, he’s likely to be used situationally as a rookie. I know the front office and coaching staff is high on his future, though.
Jeff (Kalamazoo, Mich.): It seems to me Will Bynum has really struggled defensively. He is always chasing his man and continuously taking chances. Do you see Cheeks benching him for KCP, who I think is much better defensively?
Langlois: No reason to believe a change is imminent, Jeff. Cheeks came into training camp with a clear vision of a role for Bynum and, if anything, Bynum only reinforced Cheeks’ faith in him during the preseason when he carried a heavy load while both Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey nursed injuries and Chauncey Billups sat out several games to keep himself fresh for the regular season. Down the road, the flexibility that Cheeks has in his backcourt – where Stuckey, Jennings and Billups can all run the team – will allow him to slide Caldwell-Pope into the rotation if he decides there’s a need for greater size and another shooting threat in the backcourt. But if I had to guess, I’d lay heavy odds that Caldwell-Pope’s chances of seeing the floor are much more likely to happen due to injury than to Cheeks making a move based on performance.
Bill (Pioneer, Ohio): The Pistons have a nice set of guards with different skills and tendencies. How does the coach know who should be inserted in various situations?
Langlois: Too soon to say. I’m sure he has some ideas, but let’s face it. The fact Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Jennings missed seven of eight preseason games limits his ability to come to any sweeping conclusions about the synergies of the various combinations he can concoct with four fairly interchangeable parts, given that all four of the backcourt rotation players at present (Rodney Stuckey, Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings and Will Bynum) have spent the bulk of their careers at point guard. Much of the experimentation Cheeks assumed he would conduct in preseason games must now be conducted during the regular season, and it figures that Cheeks is going to be far less daring in conducting those experiments in games that matter when the team has the playoffs in mind.
Andrew (Denver): I watched the Pistons’ first three games and noticed outside shooting is not the biggest problem. The big guys seem to be moving well around the rim. What stands out is poor recognition by point guards in capitalizing on delivering scoring passes for layups and dunks, which results in half-court post-up and kickouts, which slows the offense. Do you think point guard play will improve as the season progresses and how long will it take to establish a go-to guy for crunch-time moments.
Langlois: Don’t know about recognition issues, necessarily, but Brandon Jennings had a week of training camp before being shut down and he hadn’t played with anyone on the roster – save for the season in Italy with Gigi Datome five years ago – before getting here. Cheeks admitted after Tuesday’s game that Jennings looked a little out of sync with the starting lineup, which shouldn’t be a surprise given how little time they’ve spent together. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are adjusting to playing side by side and Josh Smith is figuring out how he best fits as the small forward in a lineup with two jumbo players next to him. I think it’s normal to expect a little dislocation out of the gate. All of that said, the Pistons are averaging 99.8 points through four games and rank No. 11 in the league in offensive efficiency despite playing their most recent game against Indiana, No. 1 in defensive efficiency.
Richard (@Dem3triu5): The Pistons should have a game here in Hawaii. With Moose in a contract year, is there a chance he stays?
Langlois: A game? I’m in favor of the Pistons holding training camp in Hawaii, a la the Lakers. As for Monroe, there’s very little chance he doesn’t stay, Richard. He’ll be a restricted free agent in July. The Pistons are not in a tough spot with regard to the salary cap. They’re not going to let a coveted asset like Monroe get away with nothing to show for it.
Harold (@haroldwatkins2): Do you see the Pistons’ free-throw struggles hindering their chances of making the playoffs or winning a series?
Langlois: I don’t think the Pistons are going to rank in the upper half of the league in free-throw percentage given the makeup of their roster. Josh Smith is a career 65 percent foul shooter and Greg Monroe is a career 69 percent shooter. Monroe probably will lead them in attempts. It would help if he could boost his average to 75 or so. Andre Drummond, of course, is a poor foul shooter (37 percent as a rookie) who is showing some signs of improvement. The guards will be good foul shooters and that will help. Every team has strengths and weaknesses. Foul shooting won’t be a strength for the Pistons, but I don’t think it’s going to drag them down. Their bigger potential issue is 3-point shooting.
Gustavo (@garodrig6): Can Gigi Datome play the stretch power forward role or is he better suited for small forward? We definitely need his shooting.
Langlois: Before Tuesday’s game, Gustavo, I would have said no. But that’s where Cheeks played him against Indiana. And if he can use him there against Indiana – which doesn’t use a stretch four in its rotation – then I don’t see why he wouldn’t use them there against most backup power forwards. Datome is slightly built, but he did a commendable job battling the much thicker Scola, who has bedeviled more physical Pistons power forwards in the past. It will be interesting over the next few games to see if Cheeks keeps Datome in the rotation at backup power forward.
Pablo (@LightskinnPapi): Are will still in it for Rondo?
Langlois: I don’t think anybody’s in it – and nobody’s out of it. Safe to say Boston isn’t shopping Rondo at present and won’t be until he comes back and proves that he’s the same guy as he was pre-injury. That might take some extrapolation for opposing teams’ scouts, too, because he’s going to be distributing to a starkly different cast of characters than he’s had throughout his Boston career. The Pistons made their move for a point guard when they traded for Brandon Jennings and signed him to a three-year contract. I would imagine there will be teams in more dire need of a point guard who will make Danny Ainge attractive pitches as the deadline nears. Remember, one of the things Boston is going to want is draft picks, preferably a lottery pick in this year’s potentially landmark draft. The Pistons don’t have a lottery pick to offer, not this year’s, at least.
Nina (@NinaWKinney): How has attendance been this season at The Palace? Have the new additions helped to fill the seats?
Langlois: Pretty good, Nina. Big house for the opener, nearly 19,000, about 15,000 for the second game with Boston and 13,400 for a mid-week game against Indiana. I’ve learned this about Detroit sports fans over the years: They will support a winner with incredible enthusiasm, but they need evidence that the team has no limits on its future. By that, I don’t mean they need to believe that the Pistons can win a championship this season, but that they’re on a track that will allow them to compete for championships in the future. They didn’t see that potential in the past few years. They’re gauging this team right now. The anecdotal evidence I’m seeing – Pistons Mailbag traffic one indicator – is that interest is up dramatically. If the Pistons start winning games against teams they can or should beat and holding their own against the upper-end NBA teams, once the holidays pass and the NFL season ends, I think we could start seeing routine 18,000-plus crowds at The Palace again this season.
Richard (Las Vegas): Do you think Joe Dumars will keep this team together? I love this creation – a gym rat’s work of art! Freakish talent at the high and low end, blue collar in between. A mix of YMCA and the old gym wars.
Langlois: Well, he just put it together, bringing on eight new faces. There’s not a GM in the league unwilling to make a move today if he thinks it helps the roster, but I doubt seriously the Pistons are involved in anything approaching serious trade talks at this point. Thirty or 40 games down the road, as we near the trade deadline, there’s always the possibility of action, major or minor. But it’s way too soon to speculate what that might be or who might be a willing trade partner. In the meantime, it’s going to be fun to watch this team form an identity.
Sam (Kalamazoo, Mich.): The Pistons are looking like a really exciting team this year. It’s the most enthusiastic George Blaha has sounded announcing games in a long time. In watching the Memphis game, I was wondering who is going to be the clutch fourth-quarter guy for the Pistons?
Langlois: See above, Sam. It’s a team that underwent a massive off-season turnover and then saw two of its core rotation cogs, Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey, miss virtually the entire preseason. We don’t know yet is the short answer to your question, though I think it would be logical to assume that plays will be run that put Greg Monroe and Josh Smith in position to score when the Pistons really need a basket. Jennings can be a special player at creating scoring chances when designed plays break down. And as long as Chauncey Billups stays healthy, I have a hard time believing he won’t be part of end-game situations.
Rob (Orange City, Fla.): It seems to me that the Pistons are losing intensity in the fourth quarter. Is this a lack of conditioning or part of a bigger problem?
Langlois: It’s four games, Rob. But I’m not sure what you’re seeing. They outscored Washington by three and Boston by five and got outscored at Memphis by two before eventually outscoring Indiana by three after falling behind by 19 earlier in the quarter. Let’s keep in mind that for the opener, they were playing shorthanded in the backcourt and against Memphis they were still without Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey was playing his first basketball in more than three weeks. Extrapolating anything from those games probably provides an unreliable barometer.