The preseason is rarely about your opponent. It is more about your team and making sure your team is ready for opening night. With that in mind, tonight's final preseason game is a good time to reflect what we have learned about the Pistons this season, and what we still don't know about them.
Unfortunately, due to injuries there is still far too much we don't know. The team has been without it's starting point guard, Brandon Jennings, because of a tooth issue. Rotation guard Rodney Stuckey broke his finger and has been limited to one game. Fellow rotation guard (and likely starter at shooting guard) Chauncey Billups has been held out the majority of preseason to make sure the toll on his body is limited. And on a team desperate for 3-point shooting, the player many peg as possibly its best shooter, Luigi Datome, hasn't played all preseason after dealing with a sore right hamstring.
The dearth of point guards has put a heavy strain on Will Bynum and Peyton Siva, with both play 40+ minutes at various points this preseason. Hell, even Kyle Singler has logged time at point guard. And with limited point guard play and long-range shooting all those questions about how the Pistons would space the floor with nonshooters Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in the starting lineup have gone unanswered. And to say the offense has looked like a work in progress is a major understatement.
So what do we know?
The team appears serious about focusing on the most important shots -- points in the paint and 3-pointers. Stretching back to the Rick Carlisle days, the Pistons have been a team that hung its hat on stifling defense and an offense featuring a lot of mid-range jumpers. Under Lawrence Frank, the team put extra emphasis on attacking the paint. And that shows no signs of slowing with Monroe and Drummond featured on offense. But Detroit also is serious about spacing the floor with the help of a 3-point shot.
Last season the Pistons took just 17.6 3-point attempts per game, one of the lowest rates in the league. So far in the preseason, despite the fact that some of its best 3-point shooters have been largely unavailable (Datome, Jennings, Billups), the team has upped the 3-point attempts to 20.8. That would have rated as the 10th-most 3-point attempts per game last season. And that is despite the fact that due to the aforementioned lack of guards, the team is playing slower than it would like and attempting six shots fewer per game overall compared to last season.
We also know that Andre Drummond is a beast. He's No. 2 in rebounds behind Derrick Favors. He's also shooting 57.8 percent from the floor, ranking fifth in the NBA for players who are averaging at least 9 attempts per game. And he's upped his free throws to at least Shaq-like levels of incompetence, which, sadly, represents major progress (small sample size alert). But it also means he's more likely to stay out on the floor in crunch time.
What else do we know?
Greg Monroe is adjusting to the realities of sharing a lineup with Josh Smith and Drummond. Monroe is shooting just 39.7 percent in the preseason and grabbing just 6.1 boards. For comparison's sake, the three people above Monroe are Paul Millsap, JaVale McGee and David Lee, while the three directly below him are LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Victor Oladipo. So you can probably take the rebounding with a grain of salt. The shooting, however, worries me. He still has no outside jumper, so he is going to have to figure out how to navigate a crowded paint area. I still have faith but this was definitely a consideration when Smith was signed.
Chauncey Billups looks like the player we all remember, even if his game, like our memories, has gotten a little fuzzier in the ensuing years. He still commands the offense and hits timely perimeter shots. While injuries have largely made the decision easy, Billups looks like he'll be the starting shooting guard, and I think he'll succeed in the role and help the Pistons team a great deal.
Jonas Jerebko looks much more like the player to end last year than he did like the player who began last year. In other words, he looks extremely productive with the same positives and negatives in his game. He seems to have supplanted Charlie Villanueva for big-man minutes in the rotation. And it looks like, yet again, Kyle Singler is forcing himself onto the floor with his dependable play.
How about the rookies?
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has shown everything that could be hoped for off the ball. He plays hard-nosed defense, runs the floor well, rebounds excellently for a guard. But his shot is just not going in. He attempted 70 shots so far this preseason and of players with at least 70 shots he ranks dead last in field goal percentage at 28.6.
Peyton Siva, meanwhile, proved his mettle with a 47-minute game against Orlando. But he also proved he is a rookie, committing nine turnovers. All in all, though, Siva has shown he could already play spot minutes in Detroit, which is something a lot of late second-round point guards have failed to prove in Detroit (see Blalock, Will; Mejia, Sammy; or Washington, Deron).
And Tony Mitchell has shown he has a nice shot, great athleticism and a whole lot to learn. It looks like this will be a development year for Mitchell, and hopefully they give him plenty of run in this final preseason game to give the fans something to be intrigued about.
Keys to the Game
Give it to the rookies -- I expect to see a lot of Mitchell, Siva, and KCP tonight, with a healthy dose of Josh Harrellson and Charlie Villanueva for good measure. As always, I'm mostly rooting for KCP to provide an efficient night on offense. But a close second is a few highlight-reel plays from Mitchell. We might not see him on the floor much in the early parts of the season and I'd love to see him make a statement.
Return of Moose -- Monroe just doesn't look comfortable in this offense yet. While sharing time with Smith and Dre has a lot to do with it, I actually think this has more to do with the lack of dependable guard play in Detroit this preseason. With so many new pieces added to the puzzle, the Pistons desperately needed Jennings, Stuckey and Billups on the floor to help steady the ship. And they just didn't get it.
Oh yeah, Minnesota -- I haven't talked about Minnesota for this entire preview. Well, I'll say this: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are great defensive assignments for Detroit's Peyton Siva, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, respectively. Also looking forward to the Will Bynum vs. J.J. Barea matchup (advantage, Barea). It should be a great tune up before the games count for real.