Camp Qs: How deep will SVG's rotation go – and who makes the cut?
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(Editor’s note: Pistons.com today begins a five-part series on the key questions to be addressed in Pistons training camp with a look at how Stan Van Gundy might configure his rotation. Coming Tuesday: Can Kentavious Caldwell-Pope take a big step forward in his second season?)
The five veterans Stan Van Gundy added in a whirlwind first week of free agency make depth and balance perhaps his first Pistons team’s greatest strengths. But that begs the questions: How deep will his rotation go? And might it vary from game to game?
There are three locks to be in that rotation and play significant minutes, though one of them might not start. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith are Van Gundy’s most prominent players, each a potential All-Star. Everything Van Gundy has said since being named Pistons coach and president of basketball operations in mid-May suggests he’s not keen on playing them simultaneously, though, which means one of them sits to start games – probably either Smith or Monroe.
If all three played the same number of minutes and no one else played a second at center or power forward, they would each play 32 minutes a game. It might not play out exactly that way, but it surely wouldn’t surprise anyone if it came reasonably close to that blueprint.
As long as all three stay healthy, then how much of a role remains for a fourth big man likely will depend on how Van Gundy values the dimension of playing with a power forward that can stretch the floor. His history in Orlando – when, in Dwight Howard, he had a player with a similar skill set to Drummond – suggests he places a premium on such ability.
But he’ll have to weigh the contributions of a stretch four against the greater defense and versatility of Smith or the rebounding and scoring prowess of Monroe. The flip side is how Van Gundy responds when the opposition goes small, which an increasing number of coaches are willing to do. Jonas Jerebko would appear first in line for minutes at power forward against such lineups, but Kyle Singler has been told to be prepared to play the position, as well.
The real intrigue, though, will come at the three perimeter spots where perhaps only Brandon Jennings could be considered a prohibitive favorite to cement a prominent role. But because of the depth and options available at point guard, even Jennings will have things to prove in training camp and the preseason.
Van Gundy was thrilled to be able to land D.J. Augustin in free agency. He never expected he’d be able to afford him after prioritizing shooting guard and small forward with the bulk of the approximately $13 million in cap space the Pistons carried into free agency. But point guard proved free agency’s deepest position and when the market cooled after the initial feeding frenzy, the Pistons were able to land Augustin with a reported $6 million, two-year deal.
Will Bynum comes to camp leaner after changing his diet and lifestyle, he said, and is taking his status as the longest-tenured Piston – this is his seventh season – seriously, eager to shoulder a leadership role. Jennings also retooled his body, adding muscle to a sinewy frame, and he’s looking to bounce back from a season he called the worst of his five-year career.
But is there really room for three point guards in the rotation? And what happens when rookie Spencer Dinwiddie – who almost certainly will be cleared to play, barring unexpected setbacks, before the season gets too far along – joins the fray? Van Gundy loves his demeanor and the size he brings to the position.
There would appear to be room for both Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks at shooting guard and Singler and Caron Butler at small forward. Cartier Martin brings injury protection to both spots. Aaron Gray, another free agent, does the same behind Drummond and Monroe at center.
It’s probable Van Gundy goes at least nine deep – the three primary big men and two players apiece at each of the three perimeter spots. That leaves players like Jerebko, the odd man (or two) out at point guard, Martin and Gigi Datome battling for whatever roles remain.
One of Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower’s objectives after they dug in and chose their course for the off-season was to make certain they would have competitive practices to help forge an identity as a team that competes for 48 minutes every night. They’re confident they accomplished that goal. Van Gundy, in fact, believes the Pistons will wind up having one of the best bench units in the NBA this season.
Finding the right mix of players from among that deep bench is going to be one of the most critical components of his first Pistons training camp.