Camp Questions: Role Roulette

Choices aplenty for Cheeks as he ponders 2nd unit’s possibilities

Kyle Singler
(Editor’s note: We wrap up our countdown to training camp with a look at what role players will emerge from a remade Pistons roster to best complement a talented and athletic starting unit.)

The Pistons felt good on draft night and even better after Summer League about what they mined from the draft’s second round: the ultra-athletic Tony Mitchell and the player who fearlessly led Louisville to the 2013 NCAA title, Peyton Siva.

But they happen to enter training camp last on the depth chart at the team’s two deepest positions, power forward and point guard. It would be an upset if either rookie cracked the rotation to start the season.

After that, all bets are off. It’s almost certain that Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith start up front and Brandon Jennings is the No. 1 point guard, but Maurice Cheeks will have endless possibilities to ponder beyond that.

You could make a compelling argument that No. 1 pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s skill set makes him an ideal candidate to start alongside Jennings in the backcourt … and an equally forceful case for letting Rodney Stuckey, Chauncey Billups and Kyle Singler carve up those minutes and have Will Bynum share the point with Jennings rather than entrusting a 20-year-old rookie with a prominent role on a team that opens the season with legitimate playoff aspirations.

Even though Drummond goes into the starting lineup this season, he still could be the central figure in determining the identity of the players who emerge as second-unit staples. Cheeks will need to stagger the minutes of Drummond, Monroe and Smith. Drummond might be the likeliest to exit games first so he can re-enter to start the second quarter with, perhaps, Bynum running the point – and teaming with Drummond on pick-and-roll plays, which they did to great effect in 2012-13 – and shooters surrounding them.

The Pistons could slot around those two Billups at shooting guard, Charlie Villanueva at power forward and Gigi Datome, MVP of the Italian league and a 40 percent deep shooter, at small forward.

But when Jonas Jerebko plays the way he did as a rookie or last season when given a reprieve from being outside the rotation, his infectious energy and possession-stealing hustle endears him to coaches and teammates as well as fans. It will be hard to keep Jerebko out of the rotation if he plays in training camp as he did down the stretch of 2012-13. And if Datome and Billups are on the floor, that should provide more than ample shooting to spread the floor for Drummond and Bynum.

But what if Datome needs time to adjust to the NBA? Then maybe Cheeks will need to ride Singler for the 30 minutes a night that could be in play at small forward if Smith, as expected, spends about half his time at power forward when Drummond or Monroe sit. Singler was a league-average 3-point shooter as a rookie, but if Singler is the small forward would that tip the scales in favor of Villanueva over Jerebko at power forward?

One more wild card: Josh Harrellson could stake his claim to be a viable frontcourt rotation piece rather than just the emergency No. 3 center. Harrellson combines toughness with deep shooting range, a pretty unusual package, and if pre-camp workouts can be trusted then Harrellson will make it hard for Cheeks to ignore him.

If Caldwell-Pope demands a significant role, maybe Cheeks goes with Billups as the second unit point guard with Rodney Stuckey – either as the starter who exits and re-enters with Drummond to start the second quarter or as the rookie’s backup – as the go-to scorer and shooters at both forward positions, Villanueva or Harrellson at power forward and Datome at small forward, surrounding Drummond.

Or maybe Cheeks goes another way and takes Monroe off the floor first to bring him back with the second unit, which would set off another wave of ripple effects entirely. Stay tuned. It’s going to be a fascinating preseason as the Pistons look for the right complementary parts to facilitate a fast start to a season of great expectations.