The Detroit Pistons spent $54 million to sign Josh Smith and the first question on everybody's mind was how the heck he was going to fit in next to young building blocks Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.
Worries about whether Smith's lack of an outside shot could short circuit a move to small forward, or even worse, contemplating a trade of Greg Monroe, was common. But as fans have slowly gone from grief, to anger, to reasoning, to acceptance, a new issue has come to the forefront -- what the heck is the Pistons guard rotation going to look like?
It's a much harder riddle to solve then the Smith issue as there are many more moving parts in play, and whatever decisions are made must be made with Detroit's big-man trio in mind.
And when incumbent starting point guard Jose Calderon decided to bolt for the Dallas Mavericks it made matters even worse. In response Detroit re-signed Will Bynum and brought Chauncey Billups back into the fold.
Dumars recently said he is always open to change but would be comfortable staying with this roster on opening night. The funny thing is, I think I agree with him and I still have NO IDEA which guard combination I would prefer.
Let's talk this through.
The Pistons currently have four guards I would be perfectly comfortable with as my backup point guard on a team fighting for a playoff spot -- Billups, Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Bynum. The only problems are one of them must start and another will play out of position as a shooting guard.
Probably the most talented of the bunch even considering his age, health and decline. For his career he's nearly a 39 percent 3-point shooter and quality distributor who takes care of the ball. His biggest issues are his health and whether he can be trusted to guard starting point guards in the NBA. Defensive liabilities, however, should be less of a concern considering the big men playing behind him.
Stuckey was miserable last season and remains the most likely player to be traded between now and the start of the season. Currently in the last season of a three-year extension, Stuckey might be the odd man out as the team could decide there is no future in giving him playing time. Still, if you look at his performance in the first two years of his extension he played the best ball of his career. The issue is that if he play him you need to let him have the ball in his hands. He is not a jump shooter. Never has been. Never will be. He could excel as the team's designated backup point guard. But you also have to be careful who you put him on the floor with as he should never be asked to shoot 3-pointers again (see: 2012-13 season).
If we want to balance immediate returns and building for the future it makes the most sense to have Knight become the first guard off the bench and backup point guard. He could continue learning the position, develop his skills against lesser competition and play through his mistakes. While the future doesn't look terribly bright for him as an NBA contributor, I'd say he has a higher ceiling as a backup point then he does as a shooting guard.
I'm not sure if it was a panic move or if the team has a plan in place but shortly after being spurned by Calderon the Pistons brought Bynum back into the fold. Would they have done so if they knew they were also going to sign Billups? We'll never know. After a truly horrific 2011-12 season and a truly horrific start to the 2012-13 campaign, Bynum was able to turn things around and be a productive force off the Pistons bench last season. That largely coincided with Bynum's chemistry with Andre Drummond in the pick-and-roll. Drummond's now in the starting lineup and Bynum might be the odd man out to start the season.
KCP is not a point guard and he's, thankfully, not even a combo guard. He's a bona fide shooting guard. He's on this list because to sort out the best guard rotation, starters and reserves, you have to figure out where KCP fits and who fits with KCP. He was a quality all-around scorer at Georgia as the alpha dog on a team full of beta fish. He did it all because he had to do it all. As a rookie in the NBA he'll be asked to do considerably less but should still be able to contribute in myriad ways. He can hit the 3, defend his position, get out and run and finish at the basket.
Finding the right Combos
As far as skills go, I think the depth chart should be: 1. Billups 2. KCP 3. Stuckey 4. Knight 5. Bynum. But that probably isn't close to reality. So who is likely to start at the 1 and 2? That question runs throughout the latest mailbag from Keith Langlois at Pistons.com. And the two biggest take aways from his perspective are 1. Knight will probably start 2. The Pistons want to mange Billups' minutes.
Let's assume that is true for a moment. Who makes most sense to start next to Knight if Billups comes of the bench? Certainly not Stuckey, as you can't have him with non-perimeter threats Smith, Monroe or Drummond. That means either Bynum (nope) or rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, with KCP the likely frontrunner.
I'm not sure Langlois is correct, however. Not completely, anyway. I predict that Chauncey Billups will start and will be the first one to be rested. But I do think Knight will start and they will have Knight guard point guards on most nights to protect Billups and to help save his legs.
Then, the best move would be to take out Billups and maybe a big man and shift Smith to the power forward slot. You could then bring in a shooter at SF and either KCP or Stuckey off the bench. My heart says KCP but my head says Stuckey is probably the most likely.
I wouldn't be surprised if early in the season KCP gets buried on the bench somewhat until he plays his way into the rotation. In the meantime he'll be inserted as a defender and maybe share minutes with Bynum in some up-and-down bench lineups.
We're now 1,000 words in and where do we stand? Well, I know next to nothing but here is my hunch. Feel free to link back to this in December when it is proven that I am spectacularly wrong.
Chauncey Billups, Brandon Knight
Billups comes out first and is replaced by Stuckey, with hopefully Stuckey handling the rock. Knight sits in favor of KCP or a return of Billups. KCP's minutes are limited to 15-20 for the first two months and the Rena-Chaunce plays a surprisingly hefty load. Bynum is the odd man out to start the season. Either Stuckey or Knight traded in some sort of package before trade deadline.
That's my prediction. Book it. What's yours?