Week 2: Looking Ahead

First 3 preseason games give Pistons chance to answer more questions

Rodney Stuckey
Rodney Stuckey
Tim Fuller
The Pistons found out a few things about themselves in the opening week of training camp, but there’s only so much to be learned in an intramural setting. This week, they get to beat up on somebody else, and the variety of opponent will stretch their boundaries in a hurry.

From Israeli league member Maccabi Haifi on Tuesday to the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Thursday, both at The Palace, the Pistons will face opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of style and athleticism. Their week will end with a trip to Brooklyn to face a Nets team fortified with ex-Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Both Miami and Brooklyn figure to have very stable starting units and nearly established rotations. For the Pistons, starting jobs and rotation spots are on the line. Here are three issues that should start to come into focus for the Pistons in the week ahead:

  • Who’s the starting shooting guard? – Maurice Cheeks said after Saturday’s open practice that he wasn’t sure who any of his starters were, but it would be an upset if the starting frontcourt wasn’t Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond and nearly as big a surprise if Brandon Jennings wasn’t the starter at point guard.

    The intrigue starts with the identity of the fifth starter. There are two obvious candidates – Rodney Stuckey and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – and two reasonable possibilities, Chauncey Billups and Kyle Singler.

    Each offers something different. While Billups’ skill set, especially his shooting threat, and savvy would nicely complement the four likely starters, putting him in the starting lineup makes it tough to keep his minutes in check. Caldwell-Pope’s shooting, size and defense make him an ideal candidate if he’s ready – and so far, he’s giving evidence that he just might be.

    “I just came in with a mind-set that I wanted to get established in this league,” he said. “I wanted to come in and have that confidence level that I’ve been in this league for a long time, just go out and play my game. … I’m fighting for the spot. If not, I’ll sit back and wait my turn and get whatever minutes I’m given.”

  • How does the frontcourt fit? – The Pistons are going to have great size and athleticism in their projected starting frontcourt with Monroe, Drummond and Smith. How they mesh will be the subject of great scrutiny in the early going.

    The biggest question is if they’ll have enough perimeter shooting to prevent defenses from ganging up in the paint to constrict the room they need to operate. The Pistons are banking on a few things in their favor: the passing ability of their big men, Monroe and Smith especially, and the basketball IQ all three possess.

    “I feel like I’m a player that can play with anybody,” Monroe said. “I’m definitely happy having both of them on our team. I’m looking forward to playing with them. They’re both freakish athletes, great defensive players. I’m just ready to start playing games that count.”

  • Can they play Mo Cheeks’ preferred style effectively? – Cheeks has said consistently – both before the addition of athletic players like Smith and Caldwell-Pope and since – that he wants a team that forces turnovers, gets easy points in transition and creates scoring chances before the defense can get set.

    Most coaches say similar things, though, and not many teams wind up getting a significant percentage of their offense in such a manner. Can the Pistons sustain that style? They have the ingredients – shot-blockers, size, wing athletes and point guards who can apply ball pressure.

    “We definitely will,” Will Bynum said. “It’s totally different when you’ve got Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe. You have me able to pick up full court and force (turnovers), KCP and Stuckey and Brandon. We’ve got a lot of talent, man. We just have to put it all together and make it make sense as one unit and we’ll be fine.”