Cheeks is 'close' to making lineup changes if struggles continue

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Pistons coach didn't hint at what changes would be made.

The Detroit Pistons are taking on water fast and there the only remaining life preserver might be to change the starting lineup. Fans have discussed the idea essentially since the team announced the signing of Josh Smith and its plan to play him at small forward alongside Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

Finally, the team's captain, is entertaining the possibility. Head coach Maurice Cheeks admitted as much before tonight's game against the Philadelphia 76ers, though he stressed the idea was a simple possibility and nothing was set in stone.

"Yeah, uh-huh. It only makes sense, you can't keep doing things the same way and expect different results," Cheeks said, according to the Detroit News. "At some point, yeah. I'm close. ... But it's still just a thought. It's not right there."

The Pistons have lost six in a row to team's with losing records, and they have more of the same in store. First comes tonight's contest against Philly, then an underrated Phoenix Suns team missing Eric Bledsoe (though Goran Dragic is a more than suitable replacement at PG), then the team gets five days off before playing the Utah Jazz.

Cheeks was equally non-commital about what any future lineup change would entail.

"It may not be the guy you put in there is head and shoulders better than anybody else, it's just that change would generate something different. It's not necessarily backcourt, you could put Kyle or Stuckey taking a big guy's place," he told media members.

The most likely move, as Cheeks sort of indicated, would be to move Smith to either the bench or to the starting power forward role. The small forward role could then be filled by Singler, Stuckey or even Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and having Stuckey play shooting guard.

Lineup metrics can be a little tricky because there are only a couple heavily-used five-man units and four-man units leave an unnamed player that could be affecting the results. That being said, the Pistons have five five-man units that have logged more than 25 minutes on the floor together and six have a Net Rating in positive territory:

Lineup Minutes ORating DRating NetRating
Dre, Jennings, Singler, Smith, Stuckey 44 119.3 92.3 27.0
KCP, Dre, Jennings, Monroe, Singler 29 108.0 92.3 15.7
KCP, Jennings, Monroe, Singler, Smith 54 106.8 93.8 13.0
Billups, Bynum, Dre, Monroe, Smith 53 101.4 96.4 5.0
Harrellson, Jennings, Singler, Smith, Stuckey 26 112.0 110.9 1.0

Using four-man units you can get a much greater sample size and since the shooting guard position has been somewhat of an outlier due to injuries and earlier starting lineup changes can be informative. The Pistons have 10 lineups that have played at least 150 minutes together. Unfortunately, they are almost all bad, with just one with a positive Net Rating. Still, being a basket or two is a hell of a lot better than getting torched by 20 so I guess it's a start.

Lineups Minutes ORating DRating NetRating
Dre, Jennings, Smith, Stuckey 187 115.4 106.7 8.7
KCP, Jennings, Monroe, Smith 464 100.6 102.6 -1.9
Jennings, Singler, Smith, Stuckey 158 102.1 104.1 -2.1
KCP, Dre, Jennings, Monroe 407 99.5 102.9 -3.4
Jennings, Monroe, Singler, Smith 211 96.8 102.7 -5.9
KCP, Dre, Monroe, Smith 390 98.3 104.6 -6.2
KCP, Dre, Jennings, Smith 402 97.3 104.9 -7.6
Dre, Jennings, Monroe, Stuckey 154 107.4 115.7 -8.3
Jennings, Monroe, Smith, Stuckey 235 102.7 111.5 -8.7
Dre, Jennings, Monroe, Smith 607 99.6 110.1 -10.5

Raise your hand if you take comfort in the fact that the least-effective lineup is also the most-used lineup. Yeah, me neither. One thing is clear based on the data: two bigs > three bigs, though which two bigs that play best together is certainly up for debate.

The Pistons have played more than 400 minutes with Smith and Monroe and no Dre and only get outscored by 1.9. They've done the same with Dre and Moose and no Smith and have been outscored by 3.4.

I guess, I would base this decision on who I believed could be the focal point of the offense and get most of the touches, especially if Stuckey and/or Singler enter the starting lineup. That means I probably keep Drummond in the starting lineup and sit either Smith or Monroe.

PS: Just for fun and to drive you crazy check out the Pistons' second-half four-man lineups. The team manages to get outscored by 17 points with its big 3 on the floor. I laugh so I don't cry.

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