Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, October 18, 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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Editor’s note: You can now submit Pistons Mailbag questions via Twitter. Include the hashtag #pistonsmailbag and, as always, your first name, hometown and state or country. Questions submitted via Twitter will also include the questioner’s Twitter handle.

Lee (Wixom, Mich.): Just wondering, since we’re four games into the preseason, if things have changed in your opinion with Terrence Williams. Is there any way he can make the roster? He provides more than Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye.

Langlois: What hasn’t changed is the fact the Pistons still have 15 guaranteed contracts. Williams has shown glimpses of what he could bring, as I wrote Wednesday for True Blue Pistons, with his size and versatility in the backcourt. But it would be tough to make the case to keep him unless he was solidly in the playing rotation. And that hasn’t been the case. Villanueva and Daye just need to start knocking down open shots, which their history suggests they can and will do. Once that happens for them, their confidence in other areas will expand.

Jeff Foster (@jfoster_32): Any news on big-name trades or signings before the season starts?

Langlois: Not that we’d know before something happened, anyway, but it’s an unusual time of year to expect a big trade, Jeff. And a signing is pretty much out of the question when the Pistons already have 15 players with guaranteed deals. There are some good players still out there, waiting it out in hopes somebody offers more than a veteran’s minimum deal. One guy I fully expect to sign with a contender, at some point, is Kenyon Martin. He can still play some of the most effective post defense in the NBA.

J.T King (@kingjt27): How long before we see Drummond and Moose on the floor together?

Langlois: If you mean how long before they see some minutes together at the same time, I think we’re going to get that in doses fairly soon. If you mean how long before they’re the starting center and power forward, I suspect Lawrence Frank is going to go about that decision very deliberately. First of all, it’s a decision that Drummond will have to make for him, meaning it won’t come into play at all if his performances are up and down – which is exactly the type of play you would expect of a kid who just turned 19 and really has very little high-level basketball experience. Frank knows that Jason Maxiell, for whatever he might not be, is as reliable as they come from the standpoint of being assignment sure and showing up every night. A good football coach doesn’t install his backup quarterback as the starter unless he’s convinced the No. 2 gives him a better chance to win, because if he’s wrong, going back is potentially damaging for everyone concerned.

Rickey (San Diego): Quite a few of us Pistons fans are anticipating seeing our most recent No. 1 pick crack the rotation and even the starting lineup eventually. It was put out before training camp that there was no such thing as an “incumbent starter.” But you wrote this week that it would be an upset if the starting lineup is different than the one that ended last year. Do you think coaches just say the starting lineup is open to inspire young players to bring it in practice? It seems a lot of fans will be disappointed come opening night if we march out the same starting lineup.

Langlois: The Pistons gathered momentum and regained their equilibrium as an organization over the final two-thirds of last season. It would be foolhardy to throw that overboard unless the evidence was clear that change was in order. I don’t see it. It’s a pretty fair bet that the Pistons will have a minimum of two newcomers in their rotation, Corey Maggette and Andre Drummond, with the potential for another rookie to break through, as well. And that’s just at the start of the season. As anyone who follows the NBA knows, things change – injuries, trades, slumps, players improving. The Pistons have a solid nucleus of young players and a few players on expiring contracts. They’ll have six newcomers on the team this year. That’s a lot of change with more coming. I believe Frank was utterly sincere when he said jobs were open. But he’s seen 14 practices and four games. You have to trust he hasn’t seen anything yet that would provoke more radical change.

Josko (Split, Croatia): Greetings from Croatia! You’ve been watching players throughout the summer. Can you tell which areas Knight and Monroe have improved in the most?

Langlois: Knight is clearly being more active, vocally and otherwise, in a leadership role, Josko – and greetings to you from Detroit. From a physical standpoint, he’s appreciably stronger and more confident than ever in his ballhandling. Monroe is running more effortlessly and stroking mid-range jump shots out to 20 feet with supreme confidence.

Boaz (Tel Aviv, Israel): I know it’s only been a few games, but if Drummond can continue to play at this level throughout the preseason, shouldn’t he start? Also, isn’t Tayshaun Prince better suited to coming off the bench at this point? His experience and level-headedness would help the second unit and having a guy like Jerebko start could really boost the team’s energy level.

Langlois: My best case for proceeding with caution on rushing Drummond too fast is the one I made to J.T. above. Better to err on the side of caution and make certain he’s ready, and that he’s proven he’s earned it, before ushering him into the starting lineup. As for Prince, I suspect he could transition effectively to coming off the bench, but his all-around game is really best suited to starting – at least until he shows signs of physical decline, which isn’t apparent yet. He’s 32, hardly over the hill in an era where players are playing effectively until their mid-30s and beyond. He’s superbly conditioned and has always been a player who can effectively soak up 30-40 minutes a night without wearing down or making him injury prone.

David (Lansing, Mich.): Was Andre Drummond a star in high school? I think he is like a young Garnett.

Langlois: He was well known and widely recruited, David, recognized as a rare physical specimen with a chance to be a program changer. The book on him in high school was much as it was during his one year at UConn, spectacular some nights and less than that on others. As with many young big men, it takes time to grow into their bodies, develop fundamentals and learn to cope with competition against like-sized players after having the run of things against overwhelmed high school competition. The Pistons, after doing their homework on Drummond, are comfortable that his mind and heart are in the right place and will allow him to maximize his potential eventually. They’re prepared to be patient in that quest.

Muka (Sydney, Australia): I love the aggression and the intent to get to the basket in the first three preseason games. But it needs to be balanced with outside shooting. That’s why I believe the rookies performed better than the veterans. How can we solve this balance issue with Stuckey playing the two spot? Do we start English and bring Stuckey off the bench?

Langlois: Stuckey’s 3-point numbers ticked up last season, Muka. He’s still not an especially prolific 3-point shooter by the standards of NBA starting shooting guards, but the answer isn’t to stick him on the bench. He’s clearly one of their most important players and his ability to attack the rim is another critical element in constructing an effective NBA offense. Brandon Knight will give the first unit the bulk of its 3-point punch. Tayshaun Prince can be an effective corner 3-point shooter. English and Khris Middleton will need to provide consistent 3-point punch in order to first crack the rotation. Beyond that, we’ll see. The Pistons aren’t likely to rank in the upper half for 3-point shooting this season, which means they’ll have to get their scoring in other areas.

Chris (Brighton, Mich.): Despite being late second-rounders, English and Middleton both look like NBA contributors. It’s not often a second-rounder sticks, especially late second-rounders. Was the draft that deep or did all those other teams just miss something?

Langlois: Yeah, it was a deep draft. It was talked about that way for an entire year leading up to it and it proved to be the case. If anything, the star power at the top of the draft didn’t turn out to be quite as dazzling as hoped, but the depth of the draft remained intact. English and Middleton were not late second-rounders, though, Chris. Middleton went 39th, putting him in the upper-third of the round. English went 44th, just before the mid-point of the round. It’s not at all unusual for players picked in the 30s to stick and to enjoy long, productive NBA careers or even to become solid starters. From the midway point of the second round and beyond, it gets much sketchier. The Pistons, naturally, thought both Middleton and English were better players than their draft status indicated. (This is true of every team, of course. To take a player 40th and say that’s exactly where you expected him to be taken means you were in agreement that the 39 players taken ahead of him were better, and it’s unrealistic to think the team picking 40th likes every one of the 39 players taken ahead of their guy better.) The Pistons believed that the Middleton who played so well as a sophomore, before a Texas A&M coaching change and a knee injury that slowed him considerably, would have gone in the first round. And it was widely believed that there were two or three teams picking late in the first round that had English as their fall-back option in case their guy was gone.

V (Ann Arbor, Mich.): It looks like the best use of the Pistons’ cap space will be to trade with a team desperate to shed salary and avoid the luxury tax. What do you think it’ll take to get Pau Gasol? Watching two skilled big men in Monroe and Gasol play next to each other would be a thing to behold, even if just for one season. What other teams will be looking to shed salary?

Langlois: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lakers continue to shop Gasol, as we know they were doing last December when the lockout ended. But I don’t know if the Lakers are really running scared from the luxury tax given the immense influx of TV money they’re due with their new regional cable deal. I really don’t see the deal from the Pistons’ end, though. They’ve endured three tough seasons and only now have put themselves in position to take a leap forward and move onto the cusp of contention for perhaps the next decade. Does Gasol, at this stage of his career, really serve their long-term interests? And if you’re the Lakers, what could you reasonably expect in return from the Pistons? Multiple No. 1 picks plus a player that can help you now? Andre Drummond? I do agree with your premise: I suspect the most likely use of Pistons cap space to be the trade route. As for which teams will be looking to dump salary, that’s largely a mystery at this point. No one really is showing their hand just yet with the new, more punishing luxury taxes about to kick in after this season.

Eric (Livonia, Mich.): I’m looking forward to this season with the additions to the roster, but barring any trades who would be a better free agent to get next summer, James Harden or Josh Smith?

Langlois: Free agents of their stature are tough to pry away from their original teams, Eric, unless you are willing to knowingly overpay. There is speculation Harden will command a maximum contract, yet some who still say he’ll wind up staying in Oklahoma City for less than that. If we take money out of the equation, I’d take Harden for the Pistons over Smith based on Harden’s scoring ability, a skill that would complement the young core of the Pistons ideally. If you believe that Monroe and Drummond are the future of the Pistons’ frontcourt, Smith becomes a very expensive third piece.