Pistons Mailbag - November 20, 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.

Matthew (Chicago): Andre Drummond has got to be the best center in the league defending the high pick and roll, getting his hands low and stealing the ball. But he seems to get bullied in iso situations against legit big men and a little slow anticipating penetration. You don’t see easy layups against Hibbert, for example, and I hate to admit that. Is he relying too much on athleticism rather than good positioning and anticipation? Who’s the quarterback of our defense? Looking for your assessment because I’m baffled.

Langlois: Useful to keep in mind how really young Andre Drummond is, 20, and how little meaningful basketball he’d really played before he came to the Pistons. Drummond was not a prodigy identified as a can’t-miss star when he was in junior high school, for instance, and junior high for him wasn’t all that long ago. He didn’t enroll at UConn until a week before classes started and played through coaching and other tumult beyond his control during his one season there. It’s far more remarkable that he’s managed to have the degree of impact on the NBA he’s had than it is that he’s not yet a dominant defensive center despite his elite physical attributes. It’s also useful to understand that despite his great size, Drummond still is a long way from maxing out his strength. He’d never been in anything approaching a sophisticated weight-lifting regimen until working with Arnie Kander upon being drafted by the Pistons. Maurice Cheeks has said more than once that he’s urged Drummond to be more aggressive in challenging shots. My belief is that until the complexities of NBA defenses become second nature to him, he’s going to look a little tentative, as he did in the second half Sunday night against the Lakers, to cite one example, where he didn’t force Steve Blake to give up the ball or stop his penetration, instead hanging with his man in expecting the pass-happy Blake to drop one off, Blake ultimately scoring an easy layup. But he’ll get it. He’s earnest and naturally inquisitive and he has Rasheed Wallace, one of the NBA’s all-time defensive thinkers and communicators, in his ear now as his big man coach. He’ll be a better defender at 21 than he is at 20 and better still at 22, 23 and 24. There’s no reason not to believe that Andre Drummond will be the anchor of outstanding defensive teams for a very long time, given good health. But it’s a process and he’s very early in it for reasons that even go beyond the fact that he’s only 20 and hasn’t yet played a full NBA season.

Noel (Baltimore): Long-time reader who is a relocated fan from Madison Heights. Now my question: With our big frontcourt of Monroe, Drummond and Smith I thought the Pistons were supposed to be a defensive force in the middle. But in this early season I’ve seen the complete opposite, giving up big numbers to the likes of Cousins and most recently Jordan Hill. Is this merely an issue of defensive chemistry and communication or a problem with coaching, player personnel and spacing?

Langlois: They expected their defense to be ahead of their offense in the early going, too, Noel. It hasn’t worked out that way. There isn’t an easy answer because there’s not one glaring problem. They’ve been hurt by 3-point shooting teams in the early going, but they’ve also been hurt in transition and given up too many easy baskets at the rim, perhaps overreacting to being hurt from the perimeter. I don’t know how much it hurt to play almost the entire preseason without Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Jennings, but it makes sense that it retards the process of familiarization that can only come with repetition. The good news is that the offense is functioning at a fairly high level even though their 3-point shooting has been well below par and that almost certainly will improve when you look at the numbers of their most accomplished 3-point shooters. If they can improve their defense incrementally over the coming weeks, they’ll turn some of these narrow losses into wins.

Fredi (@PizzamanFredi41): Can we trade Villanueva and Stuckey, two expiring contracts, perhaps along with Bynum and get a point guard?

Langlois: The Pistons traded for Brandon Jennings over the summer and made a significant but reasonable commitment to him, Fredi. I wouldn’t expect they’ve made the organizational decision to move on from Jennings after 10 games, especially when he missed the first two after being out nearly a month. But just to indulge your scenario, if there were a point guard available the Pistons coveted in trade – and for the amount of salary you’re sending out, it’s fair to assume this point guard would be a high-profile player – it would be hard to imagine they wouldn’t center their return package around Jennings. He’s obviously not big enough to play shooting guard in other than situational circumstances and paying a backup point guard what Jennings earns would surely leave the Pistons short at other roster spots. Besides, even while missing all of preseason and having no familiarity with any of his teammates, Jennings is off to a pretty good start, averaging 16.3 points with an assists-to-turnover ratio of almost 3:1.

Christopher (@CBtio0627): Do you think last year’s Pistons would have been thrilled to be 3-6 given the schedule?

Langlois: Last year’s Pistons were 1-8 after nine games, and while seven of those were on the road, you’re right in that it didn’t quite match the overall quality of the schedule the Pistons have played this season. I don’t know if “thrilled” would have captured it, but I think 3-6 would have had last year’s team believing it had survived a mine field and sparked optimism for the season ahead. Given the raised (internal more than external) expectations for this year’s team, I think 3-6 – now 4-6 after Tuesday’s win over the Knicks – disappointed them but hadn’t dispirited them.

Corey (@Corsiff): Is there any talk about a Monroe extension?

Langlois: Lots of questions about whether or not it would happen before the Oct. 31 deadline, Corey. But it’s passed. There can’t be one now. Monroe will become a restricted free agent on July 1. As I’ve maintained, with the Pistons in a favorable cap position, there is almost no conceivable scenario in which they would lose him outright.

Anes (Grand Rapids, Mich.): The two biggest issues I’ve noticed are that we are surprisingly bad at defending the pick and roll and we are also not making the outside shot consistently. Is the shooting more about KCP and Datome just starting to get minutes or is this something we should be worried about going forward?

Langlois: I have a standing rule that it’s unrealistic to expect proficient 3-point shooting from a rookie. The differences in the speed of the game, the size of defenders and the significantly longer NBA distance represent a major adjustment. That’s especially true for Caldwell-Pope, but even for Datome; despite his vast international experience, the NBA is a different animal. I’m relatively confident that Datome eventually will prove an above-average NBA 3-point shooter, but right now it’s a delicate balance for Maurice Cheeks. How much time can he afford to give him to adjust? Caldwell-Pope might have an easier time winning a role, given his potential to be a high-level defensive player, but the presence of four veteran guards ahead of him (when all are healthy) is his roadblock to a sure-fire rotation spot.

Tim (Detroit): Most thought offense would be the problem with this frontcourt, while the defense would be dominant. It’s been the opposite. They are first in points in the paint and last in opponent field-goal percentage. If this trend continues, are they willing to try one of the three bigs off the bench instead or is the plan to start all three all year, sink or swim?

Langlois: I think “they” would reject the premise of your question, Tim, on the basis that the coaching staff isn’t focused on what might happen in December, February or April so much as addressing their weaknesses in time to deal with Atlanta tonight. If they had any reason to believe their defensive issues would be solved by something as simple as making sure they didn’t play Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe simultaneously, you’d see a different starting lineup in Atlanta tonight. Would there be potential ramifications to consider if they made that determination with regard to bruised egos? Sure, there always are in pro sports. Do I think Mo Cheeks would allow that to deter him for a meaningful minute? No. Not his style.

Kristopher (@ktwice6): Do you think the Pistons will trade any of their three big men this year to get a good wing player who plays both ends of the court?

Langlois: Teams have played 50-some games by the time the trade deadline rolls around, Kristopher. That’s a much fairer barometer to gauge the compatibility or incompatibility of lineups and various player combinations. If by mid-February the Pistons haven’t figured it out yet, then that’s a decision Joe Dumars must make. If I had to guess, I’d say that they’d be more likely to try other tweaking than making a trade where they sacrifice pure talent for the sake of a perceived better roster fit, but it really depends on the proposals.

Jake (Wyandotte, Mich.): I’ll keep this short and simple: Greg Monroe and Kyle Singler for Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw. Isn’t that a plausible deal that makes sense for both teams and nets the Pistons equal talent for Monroe?

Langlois: Here’s one thing I don’t think Pistons fans have spent much time considering in all the proposals to trade Greg Monroe for perimeter help: It would leave them with two players on the roster capable of playing center, one of them 20-year-old Andre Drummond and the other Josh Harrellson. I don’t think you can trade Monroe without having another big man around, not just a spare body, but someone that can handle playing 20-plus minutes a game, if necessary. If you could ignore that consideration, your proposal isn’t unreasonable. (Maybe if you swapped out Diaw for Tiago Splitter, it would get a little more eyebrow raising for the Pistons.) I love Leonard and a frontcourt of Leonard, Drummond and Josh Smith would have intriguing defensive potential, intriguing potential all-around, really. The Spurs, I’m sure, would be intrigued by the thought of adding Monroe, who would give them a high-quality big man once Tim Duncan hangs ’em up. But the reality is that the Spurs know this might finally be Duncan’s last legitimate shot at a championship. Trading Leonard for Monroe, while it would give them a surplus and incredible talent at the two power positions, might leave them thin on the perimeter, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spurs would value Singler – and believe he could thrive next to their three proven All-Stars as many other undervalued players have – as highly as the Pistons do.

Marvin (Richmond, Va.): The Pistons’ 3-point defense problem is really a pick-and-roll problem. There’s hesitation and confusion on how to defend it. Why don’t the Pistons blitz the ballhandler on pick and roll and drive him back instead of switching or going under? This would protect the paint and allow our defense to stay close to the shooter.

Langlois: It’s not that simple, Marvin. You can’t use a single strategy to defend the pick and roll, because there are a million ways to run it when you consider the different areas of the floor and, more importantly, the different skill sets of all of the principles involved. The way to defend a Deron Williams-Kevin Garnett pick and roll, for example, would be very different than defending a Jeremy Lin-Dwight Howard pick and roll, and different still from a Steve Nash-Pau Gasol pick and roll – or a Brandon Jennings-Andre Drummond pick and roll. And even with all of those players, as accomplished as they are, it’s useful to throw different looks at them. Defend them the same way in the third quarter as you do in the first and chances are they’ll have figured out another way to attack it. One other major consideration: The pick and roll directly involves only two players, but always involves a third prominently – usually the player who comes to the spot vacated by the player setting the pick, and also the shooter lurking in the corner waiting for help to rotate off of him and open up a 3-point shot. I don’t think there’s been a bigger change in NBA basketball in the past generation than the sophistication of the pick and roll as the central element of many teams’ offenses. Try to counter that sophistication with something as simple as constantly blitzing the ballhandler – unless that ballhandler is notoriously unsteady – and your defense will find itself playing a lot of three against four.