Ready or Not

Frank closing in on final decisions as Pistons opener nears

Over four weeks and eight preseason games, Lawrence Frank has evaluated and assessed individual players and different playing combinations and the effectiveness of various schemes and concepts. He might not have all the answers he’d like, or quite enough evidence to make decisions with utter confidence, but that doesn’t much matter. The regular season starts in two days and decisions are due.

Here’s a rear-view look at the last month – what we know, what we think we know, and what we’re left to guess at.

What We Know:

  • Core Four on the Floor – The four players who comprise the core of the 2012-13 Pistons are Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey. If it’s a close game and none are afflicted with injury or foul trouble, they’re going to be in the game. The identity of the fifth player could vary from game to game, based on performance and matchups. They could go small with Prince at power forward. They could go big with Andre Drummond at center and Greg Monroe at power forward. They might opt for a shooter and use Charlie Villanueva or Austin Daye – or perhaps one of the rookies, Kim English or Khris Middleton.

  • Shooting will be a Challenge – The Pistons lack great perimeter shooting. Brandon Knight shot 38 percent from the arc last season, an outstanding figure for a rookie adapting to the NBA’s greater distance. But in their core playing group – which coming out of the preseason does not appear to include either Charlie Villanueva or Austin Daye, their two most dangerous deep shooters based on skill level and resume – no one else is either a volume 3-point shooter or makes a high percentage of their tries.

What We Think We Know:

  • Andre Drummond is an Impact Player in Training – There are a lot of unknowns with Drummond, the 19-year-old rookie who fell to the Pistons in the June draft. We don’t know how close he’ll come to reaching his vast potential this season. We have no idea how fast he’ll get there. But it’s impossible to watch Drummond play basketball for more than a few minutes and not see that, at a minimum, he possesses the traits the Pistons – and every NBA team – spend every waking hour seeking. His combination of size, strength and athleticism makes him a rare find. He’ll start the season in the rotation. Where it goes from there will be one of the big factors in shaping which way the season turns.

  • Road Wins will be Precious – The Pistons were 7-26 on the road last season, 0-4 in preseason. They’ll need to win at least one-third of their road games to have a shot at challenging for the postseason. Young teams – and only Tayshaun Prince among players certain to be in the rotation are older than 30 – have to find their recipe for winning on the road. The Pistons can’t afford to take too long to find theirs – six of their first seven come away from The Palace.

What We’re Left to Guess:

  • Reaction to Adversity – The Pistons plummeted to 4-20 before finding their footing in Frank’s first season. It seems pretty obvious, given their response, that the sluggish start had much to do with the lockout’s impact on a first-year coach trying to implement foreign concepts to a team he’d never met. The turnaround was dramatic and admirable – the Pistons went .500 over the final 42 games last season. The way the schedule sets up this year – that six-game trip to get things going, then coming home and facing Western Conference champ Oklahoma City awaiting them – will challenge them similarly. When the schedule lightens up, they’ll have to make their push immediately.

  • Who Else Makes a Move – The Pistons have four other rookies besides Drummond and each has shown flashes of a special skill that could be their ticket to playing time. Kyle Singler looks like he’ll open the season as Tayshaun Prince’s backup. His basketball IQ sets him apart. Kim English could win a spot with his 3-point shooting, defensive tenacity and persistent running of the floor. Khris Middleton is a pure shotmaker. And Slava Kravtsov, once he acclimates to the NBA and life in a foreign country, can provide the size, athleticism and rim protection Drummond offers in a more experienced package. There isn’t room for all the rookies in the rotation, but there could be for three of them. How they bear up will determine whether the Pistons can count depth as an advantage.