Random thoughts as the NBA slides into the dog days

The Pistons might have to wait a bit on Spencer Dinwiddie, but it’s clear they think he’ll be worth it and buck the odds on second-round success.
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

We’re now sitting firmly in the NBA’s dog days. Not much happens in August and September. The asterisk this year for the Pistons is the looming resolution of Greg Monroe’s restricted free agency. If Monroe comes back to the Pistons, then Stan Van Gundy probably has a pretty firm grasp of what the team will look and play like. If there’s a sign and trade that appeals to Van Gundy out there, then there might be a few ripple effects coming to the roster – and to Van Gundy’s playbook.

With less than two months to go until training camp opens, a few random thoughts on the summer so far:

  • The track record is pretty clear for second-rounders. It’s more miss than hit. Even high in the second round – the first 10 picks or so – it’s less than a 50-50 proposition that you’ll wind up with a significant contributor. The Pistons have bucked the odds more than once in recent seasons, landing Jonas Jerebko, Kyle Singler and Khris Middleton in that range. They whiffed on Terrico White. The jury is still out on second-year forward Tony Mitchell.

    But it’s obvious the Pistons think they landed another one in the “hit” column with their drafting of Spencer Dinwiddie. It’s pretty clear Dinwiddie would have been off the board at 38 if not for the January knee injury that kept him from working out before the draft and likely will keep him off the court for at least a chunk of his rookie season.

    Dinwiddie certainly passes the look test. He’s also strikingly mature, introspective and witty for a 21-year-old new to the NBA. He’s supremely confident in his ability yet doesn’t project the hint of entitlement. He’s got the kind of size and length that makes him unique among Pistons point guards. Size that lends itself to plus defense, 3-point shooting ability and a point guard’s mentality … yeah, it’s pretty easy to see how Van Gundy will find that combination appealing. We’ll see if those apparent skills translate to the NBA level, after an appropriate acclimation process, but there aren’t any questions so far about Dinwiddie’s character and makeup.

  • Ask Van Gundy what Job One is for the Pistons this year and he’ll probably say to change the mind-set and become a team that opponents know will play hard for 48 minutes and take pride in racking up defensive stops.

    But he also knows how important it is to see the ball go through the net once in a while. That’s why he considered those two traits in tandem – character and shooting ability – when he went free-agent shopping in that frantic first week of July.

    When I watched the phenomenal first round of the NBA playoffs a few months ago, I was struck by the number of shot-makers most of those teams had. You just didn’t see many shots with a high degree of difficulty go down for the Pistons over 82 games last year. As talented as NBA athletes are, as much of an emphasis as coaches put on defense in today’s game and as sophisticated as scouting has become as technology has allowed, you can’t win consistently without amassing those gifted shot-makers.

    In bringing in Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin, and in the promise Kentavious Caldwell-Pope flashed in Summer League, and the rising profile of Kyle Singler, the Pistons are now much better positioned to outscore teams on those nights when they need to push past 100.

  • The hope is that Paul George’s horrific leg injury diminishes his career by no more than the loss of one season, that whenever he is fit to play again he returns as one of the most dynamic and complete players in the world. The reality is that the Indiana Pacers have gone from one of the few teams with a shot at winning it all to a borderline playoff team.

    Losing George on top of losing Lance Stephenson in free agency turns the Pacers very ordinary. Rodney Stuckey, almost unfathomably signed to a reported one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, suddenly becomes something of a go-to guy for Indiana along with David West. It looked like the Pistons would be grouped with three title contenders within their own division – Cleveland and Chicago, both coming off of big off-seasons – and now they can legitimately consider themselves on equal footing with the Pacers.

    Who’d be considered postseason locks in the East right now? Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, Washington and Toronto? Brooklyn? And that might be generous. Atlanta and Charlotte both made it last season and Charlotte, on paper, gets better by adding Stephenson from Indiana.

    But, no question, Van Gundy won’t have to sell very hard to make his newly constituted roster believe it will have a shot at good things if the Pistons play hard and come together fast on the chemistry front.