With the NBA offseason activity beginning to wane heavily this week, albeit for a few signings still up in the air- Brandon Jennings/Nikola Pekovic notably. And on the eve of the NFL and college football's annual takeover of all things media, I think it's finally time to make some predictions for the upcoming NBA season given that the majority of rosters are somewhere between working rough draft and fixed. Now before reading this column, I need you guys to realize a few things: 1) I'm making NBA predictions in JULY and literally ANYTHING can happen before the season to derail these predictions. 2) These are 100% serious. I am not here to troll or make fun of anybody. That would be churlish and a waste of time. 3) I encourage you to respond with how you feel about my predictions. So without further ado, I present to you a running column that will include a Fanpost for each and every NBA team, "The Flagrantly Early, Incredibly Half-Baked NBA Predictions Series."
Greg Monroe last season was about a league average center, maybe a little above. I can name 10 guys off the top I'd rather have over Monroe talent wise (Howard, Noah, B Lopez, Duncan, M Gasol, Chandler, Hibbert, Cousins, Pekovic, Aldridge), and few we'd probably argue over into the wee hours of the morning. He placed 14th amongst centers in PER and had 17th best rebounding rate. Greg was dangerously close to averaging a double-double, and has few outstandingly bad weaknesses. People say he's a bad defender, he doesn't help or block shots, he's not super athletic, but if he literally holds steady for a few more seasons he will probably get an All Star nod by means similar to Roy Hibbert. Now look at Drummond. Andre Drummond's WARP is projected higher than Monroe. Drummond was 4th in PER amongst centers and the value he added wasn't considerably less than Monroe when you consider he played almost 15 minutes fewer per game. Drummond is an athletic specimen who rebounded at a rate that was 3rd best in the NBA last year. Furthermore, the guy didn't even look close to belonging in summer league play. Sounds like a good problem to have when you've got two great center prospects.
Yet herein lies the problem: the Pistons are fixing to have to pay both these dudes. Monroe is a restricted free agent next offseason and Drummond has 2 years of team options the Pistons are bound to pick up. Who do they pay? Commit big money to Monroe now and you're basically showing Drummond the door in two years because you can't pay a large sum to two guys who do almost the exact same thing. Neither of these guys have a mid-range game. They're not really players who a coach can realistically play together, but neither of the two is really a backup- they're too good. So giving Monroe a huge contract tells Drummond that he's expendable and going to get less minutes because Monroe's contract demands he be a shining star. Short-sell Monroe's value and you could lose Monroe to a contender who desperately needs a center and will overpay for him, but you get nothing in return. So, do they bite the bullet and trade him or try to ride it out and cross that bridge when they get to it? Realistically I think it's going to be hard to keep Drummond off the floor. Andre's projected to be a monster if he gets minutes and that's not growth they should stunt. Furthermore, it would be easy to slide Josh Smith over to PF should you trade Monroe. The thing that makes a Monroe trade so tempting is that say you give up Monroe and Stuckey for expiring contracts and a pick, that gives you plenty of cap space to pursue a true small forward free agent acquistion in the summer of '14- a crop that includes Lebron, Carmelo, Paul George, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Harrison Barnes, Kawhi Leonard, even Kirilenko, Shawn Marion, and Danny Granger wouldn't be bad.
No. 2: Mo Cheeks backcourt roulette
The Pistons are once again stuck with a peculiar problem of having too many ball handlers in the lineup. Between Chauncey Billups, Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum, rookie KCP, and Brandon Knight that's 4 guys who can play point guard and run the offense. Pistons faithful are clamoring for all sorts or bizarre combinations, but the problem is they basically have 5 combo guards and no true point guards. Common sense tells you Brandon Knight's the point, Will Bynum's his backup, Rodney mans the shooting guard, they bring KCP along while Chauncey sort of oversees it all adding his wisdom when he sees fit. Yet, I don't think it's a puzzle Mo Cheeks cans solve. Cheeks has coached a lot of seasons, but his most prolific runs came with Mike Dunleavy's Trail Blazers roster. Plus he never really had much backcourt drama as Portland was set with Damon and Bonzi. Cheeks was then bad as Philly's head coach; he never had a winning season even with Allen Iverson. It'll just be interesting to me to see how Mo Cheeks juggles back court roulette since that's always been one of his strong points in terms of having great/clear cut players there. From the outset there are a lot of minutes to divide and some young, talented players in delicate stages of their career. Hope Mo knows what he's doing.
No. 3: Josh Smith will miss about 100 jumpers and nearly kill this offense
The quandary with signing Josh Smith if you're the Pistons is that because you've got two great big men who both play inside phenomenally well is that it allows Josh to try and space the floor - something he does very poorly. Josh Smith last season was just below 30% shooting from outside 7 feet which is awful, yet that same player shot +60% from inside 7 feet which is very good. Initially it wouldn't be a problem, except he took nearly the same amount of shots from inside and outside which gave him a median average shooting percentage of 46%. So when Monroe or Drummond are on the court which will conceivably be every minute of the game and Josh Smith gets the ball he's going to be less inclined to drive the hoop where he's effective. Smith will instead sit back, work his midrange game, and get Detroit fans quickly familiar with the proper way to clunk a jumper. Nevertheless, I think Josh Smith will be great for the Pistons. He brings that springy-ness that I think they've lacked since Tayshaun Prince became old. It will be interesting to see how they fare this year.