Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. Click here to submit your questions - please include your name, email address and city/state on the form. Return to the Mailbag homepage.

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Rickey (San Diego): I’m proud of the way the Pistons handled adversity on the road in last night’s slugfest with the Nets and excited by the win. The officiating was laughable and Greg Monroe actually got a technical out of frustration. Can the Pistons sustain that type of play for the rest of the season?

Langlois: The 4-20 start was the result of a perfect storm, Rickey: lockout, new coach, playing 24 games faster than anyone leaving no practice time, schedule loaded with playoff teams. As Lawrence Frank said the other day, just because you win doesn’t mean things are perfect and just because you lose doesn’t mean things are horrible. I’ve maintained since the start that the Pistons by season’s end would be a markedly better team. I think we’ll see that. That doesn’t mean there won’t still be ups and downs and inconsistent performances, only that the lows shouldn’t be as dramatic or as frequent and the highs will spike a little higher and get strung together a little more often. They’re a well-coached team and the young nucleus is composed of high-character guys with a great work ethic and a team-first mentality. That’s a pretty good recipe.

Oscar (Lisbon, Portugal): Greg Monroe’s scoring doesn’t figure in the league leaders index, but I am positive he is fourth in scoring among centers. You could make a case for putting him in the top five at the position. What do you think? Do you think he can crack the top three next season, even though it’s a hard call with Howard, Bynum and Noah on the list?

Langlois: I wouldn’t put any limits on what heights Monroe could reach by next season, Oscar. The strides he’s taken since the start of his rookie season have been dramatic ones. Give him a full season to absorb Lawrence Frank’s system – remember, he’s learning it on the fly this season because the lockout prevented any contact with his new coach until early December – and a full off-season for Frank to tinker further to tailor his schemes to fit Monroe’s strengths and the sky’s the limit. Frank is certainly enthused by what he’s seen so far, as you can discern from reading my blog from earlier this week. I don’t think anyone’s closing the gap on Howard anytime soon. Other than him, I wouldn’t concede No. 2 by the middle of next season to anyone ahead of Monroe.

Lloyd (Clinton Twp., Mich.): I’ve watched Jonas Jerebko and love his game. He seems better equipped to play small forward, given his foot speed and high motor. Given his length and shooting touch, he would be a handful for small forwards defending him. If the draft yields a big body, we would be pretty solid on the frontline.

Langlois: I think when he’s coming off the bench, as he is now, whether he plays power forward or small forward doesn’t matter as much as it did when he was in the starting lineup. Recall when Lawrence Frank took him out in favor of Ben Wallace. It was before a stretch where the Pistons played Houston, Minnesota, Memphis and Portland, all teams that would have presented some tough matchups for him with players like Luis Scola, Kevin Love, Marresse Speights and LaMarcus Aldridge. As a bench player, the time he has to guard scorers like Scola, Love and Aldridge can be limited. As a rookie, Jerebko probably had his best moments defensively at small forward, but he’s added about 10 pounds since then and is coming off an Achilles tendon tear. He hasn’t guarded many small forwards this year, so it’s tough to say where he fits best. As a backup, however, even though his minutes played isn’t being much affected, the most important thing for Jerebko is to play with his damn-the-torpedos mentality that rubs off on his teammates. We saw that at its finest in Wednesday’s win at New Jersey, when Jerebko came into the game less than five minutes into the first quarter because of foul trouble for Jason Maxiell and played his best all-around game of the season.

Tim (Philadelphia): I’ve noticed you have referred to how “Brandon Knight isn’t going anywhere. I certainly agree that he has potential. But why would he be anywhere close to untouchable. Statistically, he is one of the worst rookies this year in PER and EWA among those on track for 500 minutes or more and the league is loaded with young, promising point guards.

Langlois: Who’s really untouchable? Even superstars get traded. But unless one of those is coming back, then Brandon Knight isn’t going anywhere. That’s the reality. I’ve said it in the context of Mailbag readers asking about trade possibilities. Of any trade that is remotely likely to come across Joe Dumars’ desk, it’s difficult to imagine him seriously looking to trade a rookie point guard with a ceiling as high as Knight’s unless a player of similar youth, contract status and potential is involved. Since those types of players are very rarely traded for one another, pretty safe to say Knight isn’t going anywhere. As for the PER and EWA evaluations of Knight, I wouldn’t make too much of it. The sample size is really small and a point guard 20-some games into his NBA career, after one year of college basketball, is probably going to commit more turnovers than he ever will again and shoot a lower percentage than is likely as he gains experience. A disproportionate share of team dysfunction – and I use that word advisedly, given its implications, in describing the state of the Pistons’ offense in the early going in the face of the difficulties inherent in a lockout season – falls on the point guard when it comes to the stats you cite. My guess is Knight’s numbers in those categories, and more conventional measurements, are going to show gains as you go from one 10-game increment to the next over the course of the season.

Tom (Kalamazoo, Mich.): The Pistons’ roster has seemed depleted by injuries of late. With a healthy team, including Villanueva and Gordon, do you think the Pistons have a shot in the Eastern Conference in this shortened season?

Langlois: The Pistons were 4-20 in their first 24 games, Tom. If it takes a .500 record to get into the postseason – and that’s pretty close to what it will take to qualify in the Eastern Conference this season, by the looks of it – then they would have to go 29-13 over their final 42 games, or 26-13 now that they’ve won three straight. That would be a dramatic turnaround. I don’t know if it’s reasonable, frankly, in a season where practice time is so limited to expect any team can change their level of performance that dramatically. The injuries complicate matters, but it’s not like the Pistons are alone in that predicament. It seems like almost every team is playing down two or three or more key players every time out.

Isaac (Flint, Mich.): With Kyle Singler non-committal on coming to play for the Pistons next season, do you think he probably lost his roster spot with a likely top-five pick going toward a big guy? My preference would be to draft Thomas Robinson and put him at small forward to replace Prince, but the top five picks all appear to be frontcourt players. Assuming we draft one and add to Daye, Villanueva, Jerebko and Maxiell, Singler doesn’t appear to have a spot in the frontcourt. Your thoughts?

Langlois: Robinson is a power forward all the way, Isaac. If Singler comes next season, he’d join the mix at small forward along with Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. As for the first five in the draft being frontcourt players, I think there’s a decent chance that small forwards Harrison Barnes and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist go in the top five. A generation ago, small forwards might have fallen under the “frontcourt players” umbrella. In this iteration of the NBA’s evolution, there are really point guards, wing players and big men; small forwards have much more in common with shooting guards than with power forwards. So the presence of Villanueva, Maxiell and Jerebko (at least if the Pistons consider his future at power forward) really doesn’t have much bearing on Singler.

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