Pistons Mailbag - January 29, 2014

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.

Kim (Sterling Heights, Mich.): The Pistons’ first-round draft pick is lottery protected through the top eight. What happens if they finish ninth and then draw into the top three? Do they keep the pick?

Langlois: Yes. If the Pistons finish the regular season in the playoff field then we’ll know immediately that the pick will be Charlotte’s. But if they don’t make the playoffs, we won’t know the dispensation of that pick until the May 20 lottery is held. The opposite of the scenario you laid out is also true. If the Pistons take the No. 8 position into the lottery, don’t move into the top three and get leap-frogged by a team with even longer odds of getting a top-three pick – pushing them down to No. 9 – then Charlotte would get the pick.

Adam (Seattle): I know it’s not in the organization’s DNA, but we’re in such a unique position that we should be focused on keeping our first-round draft pick this season. We have tradable assets in Jennings and Smith. Why not ship them out for future picks and filler players? Then use Drummond more posting up and just roll with the young guys.

Langlois: The Pistons refused to allow draft implications to dictate performance in any of the recent seasons when they were hopelessly out of playoff contention, Adam. They’re certainly not about to start now, when they enter today one-half game out of the playoff field with a roster greatly upgraded over the off-season to put them in realistic position to make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. I don’t think that precludes Joe Dumars from making a significant move at the trade deadline, if he deems it beneficial for the future. But via any means – personnel moves he might make or instruction he might provide the coaching staff – there is absolutely zero reason to believe the marching orders coming from Pistons executive offices will be any different than they’ve ever been on game night: win the game.

Matt (Kalamazoo, Mich.): Given the news that Washington is interested in Greg Monroe, how do you think a Bradley Beal and a small forward for Monroe and either KCP or Stuckey trade would go? Any tweaks you would make? I think it would be hard to get full value for Monroe and this would solve our shooting problems.

Langlois: Entertained this question less for the specifics than to use the opportunity to explain the difference between reporting and speculation. I haven’t seen it credibly reported that Washington is making a bid for Monroe. There’s been speculation that the Wizards will be one of the teams that would be interested if the Pistons were willing to trade him. Well, of course. It’s speculation that’s easy to understand, given Monroe’s link to the area – the Georgetown locker room is just down the corridor from the Wizards’ locker room at the Verizon Center and Monroe’s agent, David Falk, is commonly seen courtside there. The Wizards will have cap space this summer and with Marcin Gortat a pending free agent, a hole in their frontcourt. The cap space, though, means the Wizards are far more likely inclined to hang on to their own coveted young assets – and Beal, who along with Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis are the three 2012 draft class members a part of USA Basketball’s 28-team player pool revealed last week, is as coveted as any they have – and pursue players with cap space, not talent.

Eli (Toledo, Ohio): With the way the team is playing, do you think it makes sense to cut our losses and trade Greg Monroe for a decent small forward and a first-rounder? We could tank the season and get our protected pick from Charlotte back. We could draft two first-rounders and save cap space. Then when we have to give Charlotte the pick, it will be lower and we will compete for a five or six spot in the East.

Langlois: I’ll say it again: There is virtually no untouchable player in the NBA – somebody could make an offer for LeBron James that would give Miami pause – but you must tread lightly when trading away a 23-year-old with Monroe’s skill set and makeup. The Pistons already have the NBA’s youngest starting five. I’m not sure the quickest path back to the top for them should start with a plan to add two more 19- and 20-year-olds. A word about the 2014 draft: When I talk to scouts who’ve followed the draft for years, they acknowledge that there are some very good prospects at the top of this draft. But the notion that there 10 or 12 game changers in this draft? I’m not hearing that. And it’s not really considered a deep draft. There might, when all is said and done, be three or four really good players, perhaps players who eventually lead their franchises to great heights, to come out of this draft. But even the 2003 draft, the one that is referenced as a good comparison to this year’s? Keep in mind that once you got past the top five (James, Milicic, Anthony, Bosh, Wade) there was nothing special about the rest of that class. Here’s the rest of the top 14, or today’s lottery: Chris Kaman, Kirk Hinrich, T.J. Ford, Michael Sweetney, Jarvis Hayes, Mickael Pietrus, Nick Collison, Marcus Banks, Luke Ridnour. You really want to give up Greg Monroe for a decent (I think names like Trevor Ariza, Carlos Delfino, Jared Dudley or Al Farouq-Aminu when I hear “decent”) small forward and a No. 1 pick that might produce, say, Jarvis Hayes? I’d pass on that return.

Gee (Clinton Twp., Mich.): I was very disappointed Greg Monroe wasn’t included in the USA Basketball player pool for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. What are your thoughts?

Langlois: My hunch is that the committee charged with selecting the team looked at the mainstays – players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony – and some of the other young players it expects to move into that company, players like Kevin Love and Paul George, and figured all of them are capable of playing power forward in international competition. The roster isn’t necessarily going to consist of the 12 best players any more, as the Dream Team purported to be. (Isiah Thomas was omitted, so I’ll stick with “purported.”) With the rest of the world much more competitive today than it was 20 years ago, it’s important to consider fit as much as talent. So Andre Drummond’s skill set – an athletic 7-footer who can dominate the glass – probably appealed to the committee more because it knows it already will have plenty of frontcourt scoring options. Monroe faced very stiff competition for a roster spot. And, as Mike Krzyzewski said after the 28-player pool was unveiled, there can and likely will be changes to the pool between now and the 2016 Brazil Olympics.

Darrell (Detroit): With three starters (Smith, Jennings and KCP) combining to shoot 39 percent, opposing teams are employing the strategy that was anticipated before the season, packing the lane and daring the Pistons to shoot. If the Pistons expect to make the playoffs, won’t the coaches be forced to start Stuckey and-or Singler, both of whom shoot 45 percent? I believe a strong bench is less important than having a strong starting lineup.

Langlois: Not sure that looking at raw field-goal percentage numbers should dictate lineup changes, Darrell, but I think your point is well taken: the Pistons need more 3-point shooting throughout the course of a game, not only to start the first and third quarters. But I’m not sure there are any easy answers. The league average on 3-pointers in 36 percent. The Pistons have only three players who are shooting at or above that figure and none of them are consistently in the rotation. Will Bynum is the closest thing to it – he played Tuesday after not getting off the bench in Sunday’s loss at Dallas – and I think it’s a stretch to say Bynum is a consistent 3-point threat. He’s shooting the league average at 36 percent but has taken only 28 all season. The other two Pistons over the league average are Jonas Jerebko (9 of 22, .409) and Josh Harrellson (12 of 31, .387). The Pistons are shooting 31 percent from the 3-point line, last in the NBA. The players the Pistons really went into the season counting on from the 3-point line are Charlie Villanueva, Gigi Datome and Chauncey Billups. They’re shooting 25 percent cumulatively and are playing sparingly, if at all, with Billups’ season undermined by knee tendinitis. Singler, meanwhile, began the season ice cold from distance (22 percent through November), then had a torrid December (47 percent) but has cooled off again in January (28 percent). And Stuckey is shooting 31 percent from the arc. He’s been very good most of the season in the mid-range area in addition to attacking the rim, a career-long staple of his game. I asked Cheeks before Tuesday’s game with Orlando if he was considering giving Datome or Villanueva another shot. But, as he said, “Whoever’s out on the floor, if you get an opportunity to make a three, you’ve got to make a three. They’ve been out on the floor at certain times. Whoever is out there and you get open, you’ve got to make it, whoever that is, if you’re a capable 3-point shooter.”

Joel (Windsor, Mich.): It seems the Pistons use a lot of isolation offense. Is that by design or from a lack of a structured passing offense? What is your take on this?

Langlois: The Pistons might use less pure pick and roll than an average NBA offense. The highest concentration of pick and roll for the Pistons almost certainly comes when Will Bynum is in the game as he’s their best at exploiting the opportunities it creates. One component of the pick and roll that makes it dangerous is the person setting the pick representing a perimeter scoring threat. The Pistons don’t really have that when Charlie Villanueva or Gigi Datome are outside the rotation. Their most attractive options among the starting unit are to exploit matchup advantages usually available to at least one of Greg Monroe or Josh Smith. When Rodney Stuckey enters, they generally try to get him the ball, either coming off of screens or on dribble handoffs where he gets it on the move. They’ll also post up using Stuckey when he’s guarded by defenders who can’t match his strength.

Louie (San Antonio): What’s the status of Chauncey Billups?

Langlois: He’s dealing with left knee tendinitis again, Louie, the same injury that caused him to miss nearly a month early in the season. He said in Dallas over the weekend that it’s improving. If he can get back to full health, it sure couldn’t hurt having him available for at least spot duty and to provide a steadying hand as the Pistons work to reverse their pattern of losing second-half leads.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): It was great to hear Ernie Harwell say of an opposing batter taking a called third strike, “He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.” It’s not so much fun to watch your guards and big men stand flat-footed and watch Pelicans and Wizards float in for easy baskets. Why can’t the Pistons play defense?

Langlois: Mo Cheeks sees the same things, Ken. He talked candidly after recent losses to New Orleans and Dallas about the critical need to play better perimeter defense. That’s step one. But every team’s perimeter defense is going to get cracked frequently over the course of 48 minutes. The Pistons also must be better at rotating behind those breakdowns. There’s a step two and a critical step three that also must occur. Step two is the nearest man leaving his defensive assignment to stop the ball. Step three is the next nearest defender leaving his man to cover the newly vacated offensive player – help the helper, as it’s said. It all goes to a level of chemistry the Pistons simply have not achieved yet. They know it and they work at it at every opportunity, be it videotape review, practices and game-day shootarounds. They were encouraged by the results Tuesday, when they held Orlando – admittedly, a struggling team – to 22 points in the paint and 87 points overall. We’ll see where it takes them over the season’s final 37 games.