It's the late summer dull-drums and I feel like I'm going stir crazy! I want to see some basketball, or at least start thinking about it. I read an article in the Detroit Free Press today about Brandon Knight looking up to and getting advice from Kenyon Dooling and it made me think a bit about just how young and inexperienced these Pistons are.
That's where the hope for improvement lays! They are so young! They are so inexperienced! Yet, their potential is so high!
So many fans have taken pot shots at Brandon Knight. He was just 19 years old last year in his rookie season. In the not so distant past most 19 year olds would still be fighting for playing time in college. Instead with the expansion of the NBA to 30 teams, he is a pro. Not only did he play as a pro, but was a first-team all-rookie team player. Yet, at 19 no one should expect him to be the best he will be - his career will progress and his game will grow.
This year's #1 pick is Andre Drummond, who just turned 19 a few weeks ago. Again he is a raw player, but with equally immense talent and potential to become a future star. Just last year he changed his mind to play major college ball versus staying in high school to mature. Although it was a year filled with new challenges many basketball scouts drooled over his athleticism and potential. Some projected him as the top pick!
Of course we also have the wily old veterans. Guys like Greg Monroe, who will be all of 22 this year, should be starting to realize more of his full potential. I believe he is motivated by being slighted as an Olympic's pick, and will show a lot of determination to assert his presence this year in the league as one of its top young stars. Did I call him a wily old veteran? Well, in comparison to Knight and Drummond he is at least of drinking age!
Perhaps falling more into the wily veteran status is a player like Rodney Stuckey who will be 26 this season. Is it just me, or does it seem like he's been a Piston forever? It's easy to forget that this really could be the season when he comes into his own, in terms of maturing as a player that is able to combine strong physical skill with accumulated knowledge and discipline about how best to play the game.
Is Jonas Jarabko about to become a star? At 24 he has played just two full seasons now, but has also gained experience from playing Internationally. If you've been following reports of his play on the Swedish National Team, you have to be impressed that he isn't just playing well, he is dominating in the games and leading his team in scoring and other aspects of the game - assists, threes, and rebounding.
Although I and many others may tend to write off Austin Daye, at just 24, it may be that he could still prove to be a valuable commodity. He's a uniquely built 6-11 player that can play small forward or power forward. He has had a great shooting touch in the past, although last season it seemed he had somehow lost it. Perhaps it was a lingering ankle injury that stymied his progress and through his game off kilter? At just 24, with strong showing in the Summer League, there is still some reason to wonder about whether there is some potential yet to be realized.
This might be the first year in a long, long time when the Pistons have five rookies on their roster. Kyle Singler, Slava Kravtsov, Andre Drummond, Kim English, and Khris Middleton offer a variety of talents. Singler and Kravtsov have International experience. Singler and English also spent four full years playing an important part on their college teams. Middleton is 21, but has just three years of college ball under his belt. Of course, Drummond is the baby, just turned 19, he has just one year of college ball on his resume.
So far I've mentioned 10 players that make up the 15 man roster. The other 5 players are veterans. Yet, only two of these players are over 30 - Tayshaun Prince and Corey Maggette are both 32. Jason Maxiell and Will Bynum are both 29. Charlie Villanueva is just 28. These players will likely see their roles decreasing over the course of the season. It is also possible that one or more may be traded during the preseason, or at the middle of the season prior to the trade deadline. Maggette and Maxiell are on one year contracts and, given the depth of the team at their positions, and likely not to be re-signed, but both could be appealing players to a contending squad. Prince, Villanueva, and Bynum may be the most controversial players on the roster.
Prince, it has been argued by some fans, robs the younger players of playing time. Villanueva has unique skills as a big man, yet doesn't seem to really make the best use of them to be a dominate player. Bynum brings energy and court vision, but most believe he is simply too short to adequately defend most opponents. These three players are also candidates to be traded before or during this season.
The first ten players I've reviewed all have excellent upside potential for improvement. This translates into the potential for the Pistons to win more games. If you believe that a coach can utilize players to make a difference, I'm inclined to believe that the Pistons can be a .500 club or perhaps even better this year. Here are a few ways this team would seem to likely achieve significant improvement:
Brandon Knight - Improve FG% from 41.5% to @47% by reducing 3-pt shooting from 40% of shots to approximately 30%, increase scoring average from 12.8 to @ 14 ppg, increase assists to 4.5 from 3.8, reduce turnovers from 2.6 to 2.0, increase steals from 0.7 to 1.0.
Rodney Stuckey - Improve scoring average from 14.8 to @17.
Greg Monroe - Improve scoring average from 15.4 to @20, reduce turnovers from 2.4 to 1.9.
Andre Drummond - Improve upon Ben Wallace's scoring average of 1.4 to @5, sustain his rebounding average of 4.3, increase his blocked shots average from 0.8 to @1.6.
Jonas Jerebko - Improve field shot percentages to .500 and .350, increase scoring average to @11 from 8.7, increase assists from 0.7 to about 1.5.
Corey Maggette - Sustain scoring average from Ben Gordon of 12.5, improve rebounding of Gordon from 2.3 to @4, increase blocked shots from 0.2 to 0.5, increase FG% of Gordon from .442 to @.480, increase free throw chances from 2.6 to approximately 4.3.
Slava Kravtsov - match or improve upon the statistics provided by Jason Maxiell: FG% 47.8, FT% 54.7, 6.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG - including 1.9 ORPG, 0.8 BSPG.
Kim English - improve upon Damien Wilkins 3.2 PPG, .394 FG%, .630 FT%, 0.7 APG, 0.5 SPG, while sustaining his .304 3-point shooting average.
Kyle Singler and Tayshaun Prince - have to match or improve upon Prince's season stats that are based on an average of 33.7 minutes per game. In that much time it seems like it should be very possible to match 12.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, .421 FG%, .774 FT%, 2.4 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.5 BSPG, although averaging just 1.2 personal fouls might seem unlikely. Prince did post a solid .356 3 point shooting mark too, but Singler seems to possess comparable skills. Perhaps Austin Daye, Charlie Villanueva, or even Khris Middleton will help to boost overall production from this niche role as well.
The remainder of the Pistons stat sheet is composed of playing time that is split between four players: Will Bynum, Walker Russell, Vernon Macklin, and Charlie Villanueva. Here are their combined stats:
total minutes: 1178 actual playing time, spread over the total 66 game schedule averages nearly 18 MPG
total points: 437, averaged over 66 games, 6.6 PPG
total rebounds: 172, averaged over 66 games, 2.6 RPG
total assists: 114, averaged over 66 games, 1.7 APG
estimated overall FG%: 39%
estimated overall FT%: 68%
In my opinion, I expect this year's roster to replace these stats with marked improvement in nearly every area, and this in and of itself could prove to be an aspect of considerable improvement from last year.
Incremental improvements really do translate into additional wins. The prospect of seeing significant improvement from several players that are simply growing and realizing an incremental piece of their potential should buoy every fans hopes and expectations!