SVG’s free agency swings dramatically alter Pistons offensively

Stan Van Gundy’s free-agent haul added depth, shooting and high-character players to the mix for the Pistons.
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by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Stan Van Gundy vowed the Pistons would be active and decisive in free agency. He said they would target highly competitive players who played hard. Beyond that, he wanted shooters, especially on the wing. He said they also would like to add a veteran point guard and a backup big man.

Check, check, check and check.

Van Gundy was unusually frank about his shopping list heading into free agency and the approach the Pistons would take, right down to his baseball analogy of swinging for singles and doubles instead of home runs.

We’re still more than two months from training camp and the dust from free agency is only now settling. Teams that swung for the fences and missed will now look at their depth charts and attempt to plug holes via trades.

That gives Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower another opportunity to shape the roster more to their vision.

But as it stands now, the Pistons will be a markedly different team from the one that exited last season when they convene for training camp in October. The five free agents who have been signed or reported to have come to agreement with the Pistons includes three players who figure to be solidly in the rotation: shooting guard Jodie Meeks, point guard D.J. Augustin and small forward Caron Butler.

About 22 percent of Pistons shot attempts last season were from the 3-point line, about 3 percentage points under the league average. Worse, the Pistons made only 32 percent of them, 29th in the NBA.

A whopping 46 percent of the shots Meeks, Augustin and Butler combined to take last season were 3-pointers. Better news: They made 40 percent of them.

As Van Gundy, president of basketball operations, prepares to transition to Van Gundy, coach as the season draws nearer, here’s guessing the possibilities for his playbook took a quantum leap forward with the injection of all that shooting.

No matter who’s at point guard – Brandon Jennings, Augustin or Will Bynum – the pick-and-roll options have been dramatically enhanced.

Andre Drummond was going to come back a better player no matter who surrounded him for his third season. He left everyone impressed with the week of practice he logged prior to Orlando Summer League play and, by all accounts, he and assistant coach Brendan Malone have hit it off spectacularly well. Malone has twice been to Los Angeles to work with him in addition to their time spent in Orlando.

Put shooters around Drummond, though, and give him just that much more of a gap to shoot to the basket as defenses expand to guard Van Gundy’s suddenly more potent perimeter and … well, let’s just guess that good things are likely.

It’s yet to be determined if Greg Monroe is back with the Pistons as his restricted free agency plays out, but let’s assume he is – the safest assumption with restricted free agency. Those drives from the elbows and finishes with either hand that have become one of his best weapons the past few seasons become an even greater threat with Meeks on one wing, Augustin up top and Butler parked in the weak-side corner.

Ditto for Josh Smith. A fair number of the 3-pointers he launched last season were born of necessity against defenses set up to deny driving lanes at all costs. Those defenses won’t have that luxury in 2014-15.

The stretch four that would fill out the full arsenal of Van Gundy weaponry wasn’t addressed in free agency, but maybe it wasn’t prioritized because of the stretch run Jonas Jerebko put together followed by an off-season strong enough that it merited special mention by Van Gundy a month ago.

After languishing on Mo Cheeks’ bench for three months, Jerebko shot nearly 50 percent from the 3-point arc over the season’s final month and 42 percent for the season. He’s focused on honing that skill over the summer. A Jerebko that hits close to 40 percent of his triples and still causes the havoc that carved out his NBA niche becomes a very valuable piece of the puzzle.

There is still likely to be tweaking ahead before Van Gundy blows the first whistle of training camp. Who knows? There could even be a blockbuster move in store. But the work already put in assures the NBA that they can chuck out last season’s defensive playbook when guarding next season’s Pistons.