Ready to Roll

No Jennings, Stuckey for opener, but Pistons can fall back on their bedrocks

Will Bynum
Bynum and Billups will be the Pistons' starting guards to open the season.
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)

It wouldn’t quite reflect the Pistons’ preseason to say Maurice Cheeks didn’t extract all the answers he’d hoped to get out of it. It would be more accurate to say Cheeks barely had time to ask the questions before Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey and Gigi Datome went on the injured list.

With Jennings and Stuckey ruled out for tonight’s season opener with Washington – Stuckey, after this morning’s shootaround, said he would be ready for Friday’s game at Memphis – Cheeks will start Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum at guard. That has enormous ripple effects on the rotation Cheeks might have anticipated, of course, though getting Stuckey back before the week is out and Jennings perhaps as soon as a week from now would restore order quickly.

But the Pistons go into the opener feeling confident that even if they don’t know all they’d like to about themselves, they can confidently state the following:

  • Andre Drummond is ready for more – Drummond averaged 30.4 minutes a game in the preseason, which seems a reasonable expectation for him after averaging 21 minutes as a rookie. But in the last two games – the ones Cheeks said would most closely approximate his regular-season blueprint – Drummond averaged more than 36 minutes.

    He also averaged 10 points and 17 rebounds in those two games, an indication that his level of production was able to maintain quality even with an elevated quantity of playing time. If Drummond is going to be able to handle 36 minutes a game, it bodes very well for the Pistons.

  • Josh Smith makes them better at both ends – All the hand-wringing about what Smith at small forward will mean for the Pistons’ ability to stretch the floor has almost obscured the fact that they’ve added a top-30 type of talent who is about as versatile as they come.

    Eight games is a relatively small sample size, although it represents nearly 10 percent of an NBA season, but Smith’s 40 percent 3-point shooting in the preseason was encouraging. Those shots are going to be available to him because of the attention Monroe will command as a scoring threat and Drummond as an offensive rebounding presence. Remember, even if Smith shoots 33 percent from the arc, that’s the equivalent of making half of all two-point attempts, which would make for a pretty efficient offense.

    Defensively, Smith’s athleticism and level of activity is an ideal complement to a frontcourt whose minutes figure to be carved up primarily by Drummond, Monroe and Kyle Singler – smart, versatile and more athletic than his reputation – at least until Datome works his way into the mix at small forward.

  • Chauncey Billups adds everything they’d expected – He only played three preseason games, and he paced himself accordingly, but the effect he had on the half-court offense was glaringly evident. When the Pistons need a sense of order when games inevitably get chaotic, he’ll be invaluable.

    He’ll be equally important in fomenting team chemistry. Even if he needs a week off here or there to rest a bump or a muscle strain, Billups’ impact will be felt in the locker room. He’s already taken rookie guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva under his wing, drawing them together to study tape and direct tutorials.

  • Greg Monroe’s transition won’t produce much trauma – Preseason didn’t give the Pistons much of a chance to see Monroe match up against small-ball power forwards, but will the regular season be all that much different?

Yes and no. No, Monroe won’t start the game guarding many stretch fours. Outside of Miami’s Shane Battier, Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova and New York’s Andrea Bargnani, there simply are no teams in the East that line up that way to start games.

The end of games might present a different challenge, when Miami could put LeBron James at power forward, the Knicks Carmelo Anthony or the Bulls Luol Deng. Cheeks will have decisions to make at that point, but Monroe’s transition from center – where he still figures to spend nearly half of his minutes – to power forward isn’t likely to fundamentally alter the way he plays or the ways the Pistons use him.