Pistons Mailbag - April 9, 2014
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Chris (Ann Arbor, Mich.): Do you agree with the statement that Andre Drummond is this generation’s Ben Wallace? The way Andre plays with his heart is very reminiscent of the way Ben would play with a fearlessness about him. He makes no excuses, just goes out and plays the game.
Langlois: I think their differences are as stark as their similarities, Chris. They both are incredible physical specimens capable of dominating games without necessarily scoring. Ben Wallace won four Defensive Player of the Year awards. Andre Drummond has the potential to be a dominant defender and rim protector, but that’s projection at this point. It’s important to keep in mind that Drummond is 20. When Wallace was 20, he was a virtually unknown college player. After four years in college, at 22, he went undrafted and was invited to Boston Celtics Summer League as a shooting guard. He played for two other NBA teams before really finding his niche when he came to the Pistons in July 2000, and even then it took a year or two before he really served notice that he was more than just another guy. His is one of the most unlikely NBA stories you’ll find. Drummond, on the other hand, was spotted and labeled a potential future NBA star long before he enrolled at UConn for one season. When he attended UConn’s national championship game on Monday night, he was still younger than half the Huskies roster. Everything Wallace did in his NBA career came as a surprise. Almost nothing Drummond will do would be considered surprising. Wallace was an undersized center, Drummond carries the prototype center’s body. Wallace became one of the savviest and fiercest players of his generation. Drummond has an ideal young player’s temperament in that for all the early success he’s achieved, he still is eager to accept coaching and understands he has so much room for improvement in a number of areas. Whether he is ever regarded as an elite competitor as well as an elite talent – the two qualities common to every truly great player – remains to be seen, but there’s no reason right now to think he doesn’t have the ingredients to become that.
Gladys (Waterford, Mich.): What do you think is the “position of need” for the Pistons heading into the draft, considering we do in fact keep our top-eight draft pick?
Langlois: Quick reminder to all that we won’t know if the Pistons get to keep that pick – even if they finish with a bottom-eight record – until the lottery results cement the draft order on May 20. The Pistons need perimeter punch more than anything, Gladys. That can come in a few different forms. They’ve been 29th or 30th in 3-point shooting percentage from the early weeks of the season, so obviously they could use a dead-eye shooter. Creighton’s Doug McDermott is probably the best shooter projected as a lottery pick. If they keep the pick and don’t pull a top-three pick, I’m not sure – despite all the ballyhoo about the strength of this draft – that they’re going to get anyone at No. 8 who would step into a prominent role immediately, though. If it’s not McDermott, the likely candidates in that part of the draft are going to consist mostly of one-year college players who didn’t often dominate at that level. For as disappointing as this season was for the Pistons, the roster has significantly more individual talent than it’s had in the past handful of seasons. They didn’t find the right mix of players – or strike the right chemistry with the players they had, at least – this season, but the ingredients remain in place to field a very competitive team. Maybe management decides it has to make some significant changes to achieve that objective, but they have the assets in place to bring other talented players to the roster if they decide to make moves this time around.
Namer (Wolverine Lake, Mich.): A guy I would like the Pistons to try to go after this off-season is Rudy Gay. He’s a perfect small forward who I think would really go well with Drummond and Josh Smith. Assuming we don’t re-sign Monroe and with Stuckey and Charlie V’s contracts coming off the books, do you think we can afford Gay?
Langlois: He has a $19 million player option in place for the 2014-15 season, Namer, and while Gay is still young enough to attract contract offers that run the maximum four-year term from other suitors, it’s not very likely he’s going to find a team willing to offer him a first-year salary that starts in that area code. Now, maybe he decides $45 or $55 million over four years now is better than $19 million and then hitting free agency a year from now. Rudy Gay is a marvelously gifted individual – I’m kind of surprised he hasn’t had a string of 40- or 50-point games at this point of his career – but it can’t help his market value that the Toronto Raptors traded him for a handful of role players and suddenly became one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. He’s a volume scorer who is a below-average 3-point shooter. No question, a frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Rudy Gay – assuming your scenario, which allows a talented 23-year-old post scorer to walk away – would be the most athletic in the league. But I’m not sure it solves the pressing issue of improving the Pistons defensively or giving them better spacing offensively.
Jeff (Dearborn, Mich.): Since the Pistons have not been the greatest at shooting this year, would signing Rip Hamilton be a good idea? He could pair up with Chauncey coming off the bench. I’m sure both Chauncey and Rip, as well as fans, would like to see that.
Langlois: He’s 36 and he didn’t play this season, Jeff. He’s missed significant chunks of seasons for the last five years of his career with nagging injuries. He got a lot out of a very slight frame for a long time, but it caught up to him. As Chauncey Billups said a few weeks ago, discussing his own future, Father Time is undefeated. Hamilton always prided himself on being in better shape than the next guy, so if he ever decided a comeback was in order and there was a team interested in seeing what he had left, it probably wouldn’t take him much time to get in condition to go for it. But whether his body would hold up – or whether he can still be effective – is another matter entirely. I’d say the odds weigh pretty heavily against a Hamilton comeback at this point.
Ben (Petoskey, Mich.): I heard Tom Izzo is possibly being targeted as the new head coach, but he declined. Are there any favorites to get the job yet?
Langlois: Well, first things first: There isn’t a job opening as of now. John Loyer was appointed interim head coach, and while it is generally assumed the Pistons will be in the market for a new head coach at some point, that’s not a certainty. But your question implies some facts not in evidence. Nothing rose to the level of reporting in the Izzo “story.” Izzo, in fact, said he had not talked to anyone associated with the Pistons. He’s walked a fine line, as all coaches who’ve had success at the college level and have had previous reciprocated NBA interest must. At various times, he’s said he doesn’t envision leaving Michigan State but is always willing to listen out of obligation to do what’s best for his family. I think the important thing to note here is that nothing that’s been written or spoken has been attributed – anonymously or otherwise – to anyone connected to the people who’ll be making the decisions. Speculating that Pistons owner Tom Gores will pursue Tom Izzo is nothing more than acknowledging that both have Michigan State backgrounds and connecting the dots. That’s a Grand Canyonesque leap.
Aleksandar (@popov205): Would you take Marcus Smart in the draft? I like Siva, but I don’t know if he’s a starter.
Langlois: Depends who’s available, Aleksandar, but I’m a fan of Smart. Take that with a grain of salt, because for the most part I don’t think it’s wise to make sweeping statements about players based on having seen them on TV a half-dozen times or so. I feel a little more confident judging Smart, though, because I saw him in person for three days last summer at the USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas. In that setting, he held his own against some of the elite young point guards in the NBA – John Wall, Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday and Kyrie Irving foremost. I think he’s got a chance to be a great defensive point guard and it seems like he’s got toughness and smarts, too. The Pistons, ideally, would find better shooting in any perimeter players they bring to the roster and I don’t think Smart will do much to move the needle in that department. But if he was an above average 3-point shooter, he’d be a candidate for the No. 1 pick. If the Pistons keep their No. 1 pick and Smart is still available – I’d say it’s less than 50-50 – you’d have to believe he would be on a very short list.
Kaleb (Windsor, Ont.): What’s up with KCP’s shot? Sometimes it looks really nice, especially in the mid-range, and then he’ll shoot a three and miss everything. Is it mechanics? I know I shouldn’t expect 3-point consistency from a rookie, but I just don’t understand how he can miss as badly as he does.
Langlois: He’s a young player who came to the Pistons less polished than even many of the one- or two-year college players. He’s got all the tools to be a very good shooter, Kaleb, but, yeah, it’s almost always mechanics – more specifically, the ability to repeat the same steps that go into shot release time after time – that result in wildly errant shots. Even great shooters launch the occasional air ball, and I’m not sure KCP’s taken all that many, but I’d be really surprised if he doesn’t show steady, if not dramatic, improvement as a shooter – improving both his range and his consistency – over the course of the next three to five seasons. That’s what happens with most young players who put in the work, and by all accounts, Caldwell-Pope is willing to put in the work.
Mack (Shelby Twp., Mich.): I would like to know what’s going on with Josh Harrellson. He’s one of my favorite players on the team and I haven’t seen him play since coach Cheeks left. Did he injure himself?
Langlois: Yup. Harrellson hurt his knee in early February and had surgery to clean up the joint. He hasn’t fully recovered and I doubt we’ll see him in the four remaining games. The Pistons have a team option on Harrellson’s contract for next season. They don’t have much depth up front and his contract doesn’t take up much cap space, but we might not know for sure if the Pistons are bringing him back until July.
Vance (Detroit): I think we should take a really good look at Cleanthony Early, a senior with good range on his shot, a decent defender and an all-around scorer. We could use someone like him.
Langlois: But does he make it to the second round? He had a really strong senior season and an eye-opening game in Wichita State’s loss to Kentucky, when he scored 31 points and showed off 3-point range. I think he’d be high on the list of one or more teams picking in the 20s – generally, playoff teams with solid rosters who might be able to use an NBA-ready frontcourt player without having to spend a ton of time developing a raw talent. The Pistons will be picking somewhere in the top 10 of the second round with their own pick. If Early is still around, you’d have to think he’d be under consideration. His shooting range would be an asset.
Chris (Clinton Twp., Mich.): I think the big three of Smith, Monroe and Drummond can work if we have the right system. One idea I have is to put Smith at the foul line or high post with Drummond and Monroe on the blocks and Jennings and whoever our future shooting guard would be on the wings. That way Smith has room to operate. He is a good mid-range shooter and excellent at attacking the basket and finishing or passing. This would fix our spacing problem and, as far as defense goes, Smith would be an ideal defender for LeBron, Carmelo, et al. As Drummond develops, this defense could dramatically improve. What do you think?
Langlois: The defense was a trouble spot all year and, in fact, regressed after briefly rising to a middle-of-the-pack defense by some metrics in the early going. As I’ve written in Mailbag before, while the offense isn’t often pretty or conventional it has generally been fairly effective. The defense, on the other hand, has too often been porous. If the Pistons were an average defensive team, they probably would have been above average or perhaps a top-10 offensive team because they’re pretty good in transition; tough to get out on the break when you’re taking the ball out of the net as often as the Pistons have had to do. As for putting Drummond and Monroe on opposite blocks and Smith at the foul line or high post, you still have three players in a relatively confined area. The only thing that’s going to space the floor is putting perimeter shooters out at the 3-point line that command a defense’s respect. Failing that, the only thing that’s going to create cracks in the defense is great ball movement and players with the instincts to take advantage of the openings.