Last week was Thanksgiving here in America. There are many traditions on that day. The Detroit Lions play football nearly every Thanksgiving. Most families pig out. Some people on social media post something every day about what they are thankful for until Thanksgiving comes. One thing I am thankful for is what I have gone through to get to where I am.
My mom did everything she could legally for my sisters and I. She sometimes had two or three jobs. She would do work around our house so the landlord would take money off the rent. And one thing she had to do often was ask friends if they knew of any cheap cars. The thing about cheap cars is that they are not cheap.
Oh, they are cheap to obtain, but they are not cheap to maintain. Many times these cars would get us from point A to B, but there was almost always something wrong with it. Radiator had a hole in it, so we had to carry gallons of water in the trunk. One door would not open. The car was a gas guzzler. You name a mechanical problem, we likely had a vehicle that had that problem. Well that is how I feel about the Pistons right now. They are a cheap car that has many things wrong with it. Question is: What needs fixing first?
When the Pistons went out to get Josh Smith last year in free agency, it was like trying to replace old tires on a Sundance by getting 26-inch spinning rims (tires are complimentary) with the chrome peeling off from a guy on the black market. It is illegal. They are over-priced for what they are. Spinning rims should never be put on a Sundance, no matter how decked out you try to make the car look. And lastly, you can not fit them on your Sundance without making other major alterations to the car.
Josh Smith is athletic, but that is about it when it comes to basketball. Yes, he can jump high for rebounds. Yes, he can pass to an open man. Yes, he can have some SportsCenter Top 10 dunks. But he is in no way worth $13.5 million a year. He is not a good enough basketball player to play 30 or more minutes a night. He stagnates the flow of the offense. And this year, he is playing worse than any year in his entire career.
Josh Smith is shooting fewer shots than he has since 2010-11, but he still leads the Pistons in shot attempts per game. His field goal percentage is the worst it has been in his entire career, which is four percentage points worse than last year. Smith is also shooting less than half of the 3-point attempts per game he took last year. Sadly, he is also shooting them worse. He is shooting 24 percent from deep which is only eclipsed by his rookie year (I am not including the 2009-10 year where he only attempted seven 3-pointers). And O-M-G his free throws. Andre Drummond is shooting 46 percent on the year from the free throw line. Well, Smith is shooting 43.3 percent -- worst on the team.
Those spinning wheels do shine a little bit though. Smith is (barely) averaging more rebounds than he did last year. Most of those are on the offensive side where he is pulling down his own missed layups. He is averaging the most assists per game of his career and is second on the team only to Brandon Jennings. However, not all his fault, Smith's defense has been atrocious. Much of this can be linked to the fact that he has primarily played at small forward, which anyone who watched all 82 games last year could tell you that is not a good idea. But, you know, he held down Carmelo, right?
When the Pistons went out to get Brandon Jennings last year in free agency, it was like trying to get a car with plenty of dents all over the car a brand new paint job. Yeah, sure, the car is nice and shiny now, but it is still unappealing. However, those dents can be pounded out and the car can look better with enough work.
This is absolutely Jennings' best season as a Piston, and it could also be his best season as a professional. He is shooting almost two field goal attempts fewer per game than he has at any point in his career. To make that even better, he is shooting them at a better percentage than he has in his entire career. Almost the exact same thing can be said about his 3-point shooting. He is shooting the third least of his career from deep, but hitting them at a career best rate (39 percent). He's also getting to the line the most of his career and shooting them at the third best rate of his career. Also, to the eyeball test, he is trying much harder on defense. Through 80 games last year he had 0.9 defensive win shares. This year already, he has 0.4.
But there are still the dents in the car. His rebounding and assists have dropped (the latter most likely due to Josh Smith). His turnovers are fewer than they were last year, but they are right around his career average. The question is, are those dents being knocked out by SVG? Could SVG having played Augustin more to start the year and still during some long stretches actually be pushing Brandon to be a better player? I honestly don't know.
Andre Drummond is like a new stereo system. For the most part, it can be moved from car to car with some minor adjustments. However, with the wrong car, no matter how loud you turn up the volume, the car is still unappealing.
Many players hit a wall in their sophomore year. Not Andre Drummond. He bulldozed through that wall and announced to the league that he is coming. I am not sure of the exact cause (likely a spare tire), but it is (more like has been) like Andre got through the wall, looked around, then ran right back out. He has been quite subpar this year. Due to foul trouble (most in his career), Andre has been limited to fewer minutes per game than last year. However, he is taking more shots than he did last year and making them at a career worst clip - by 17.5 percentage points. Also, even though the Pistons as a whole have been shooting the ball worse than they did last year, Andre has caromed fewer boards than he did last year (though this is also likely affected by limited playing time). At times on the court, Drummond looks bored, disinterested, or lost.
But man, that radio sounds great when bumping some old school beats. It seemed that to start the year Drummond was being featured on offense in the post more frequent than we would have liked. And while he looked kind of comfortable doing it, it seemed rushed and raw. It appears SVG has gone away from that some in the last few games. In the last four games, Drummond's averaging 17 points on 57-percent shooting, 53 percent free throw shooting on almost four attempts, 12.5 rebounds, almost two blocks and a steal per game. To my recollection, many of those shot attempts were not featured Drummond post plays but alley oops and offensive glass cleanup. THAT is how Andre Drummond should be used (at least for now).
The Pistons being unable to sign Greg Monroe to a new contract this year is almost like forgetting to renew the warranty on your vehicle. You have had the car for a while now and you have not had to do anything to it except get an oil change here and there. So you are willing to see how much longer it holds up in order to save a few bucks.
Mind you, that analogy does not completely fit. There is not enough information out there to determine what exactly happened this offseason. The Pistons made an offer, but it was not enough for Monroe to sign on the dotted line. And by not enough, I'm not just speaking financially. Maybe it was the max (though it very likely was not) and he just did not like the direction the team is heading. And with the way this season has started, I can not say I disagree with him.
Monroe had a folly last season that led to him being suspended for the first two games of this season. Both of those games were within reach late in the game. It is possible that we could have won those games with Monroe in. It is possible that our confidence could have been boosted if we had won those games and continued to do so. But there is no reason to deal in hypotheticals. Since returning, Monroe has been Moosey. Sans limited minutes from Joel Anthony and limited shooting from Jonas Jerebko, Monroe has the highest field goal percentage on the team (which is the same as his career worst year of 2012-13). Sadly, he is fifth on the team in attempts behind Smith, KCP, Jennings and Drummond. He is, however, a career best from the free throw line. He is averaging 9.5 rebounds a game.
But even if you have a warranty on your car, not all warranties cover all parts of the car. After increasing his assists per game by at least one in his second and third seasons, he has regressed. This is due to a much lower usage rate as well as players who stagnate the offense with ill-advised shots. His turnovers are up from last year, his steals are down as well as his blocks are down.
KCP is like adding a push-bar. It is great for defensive purposes and sometimes on the offense. However, it is heavy and depending on the car and really drains the gas.
Caldwell-Pope has teased us. He has always been at the very least adequate when it came to defense, but his offense was not what we hoped. To end the season last year, he went off offensively on the Thunder. Then in Summer League, he went crazy again and lead the Orlando Summer League in points per game while also being stout on defense. For the first two games of the preseason, it looked like he had continued his groovy ways. And this would be understanding as he made a major leap from his freshman to sophomore year in college. However, so far this season, Caldwell-Pope has been a disappointment at least on offense.
His defense has still been quite good. But that is about it. He has only had three games this year where he has shot over 50 percent. While his 3-point average is up some, it is not as significant as his increase in attempts. He has gone from 2.3 attempts last year to 5.8 attempts this year while only increasing his average from 31.9 percent to 36 percent. Also, for a shooter (and by shooter I do not mean someone who shoots, but someone who has a reputation of converting their shots at a high rate) it is not okay for him to shoot 62 percent from the free throw line. That is 15 percentage points lower than last year and this is while he has doubled his amount of attempts.
Stan Van Gundy
Getting Stan Van Gundy (so far) has been like getting a "new" engine for your 1996 Mercury Cougar by pulling the 426 out of a '66 Charger that had 100,000 miles on it and has not been used since 1975. Man, if that thing runs, you will have an amazing car. But right now, it looks like we know why it has not been used since 1975.
Many of us were elated at the news of hiring Stan Van Gundy to be the coach of the Pistons. We were not exactly sure how to feel about him running the front office, but as coach what was there not to like. He has never had a losing season and he has never missed the playoffs. He has coached and guided one of the (debatable) best centers the league has seen in years. Also, with him being the head of the front office, he will get the players to fit his system. Yeah, about that.
No, it is not Stan's fault that the Pistons signed Josh Smith last year. What IS his fault is that after saying that he watched every game of last year and that the team was the worst when they played all three bigs together...that he has continued to start them since Monroe came back from suspension. To make that worse, the big three have played together for 17.8 percent of the available minutes (only accounting for the games Monroe has played in) whereas last year it was only 13.4 percent. He is playing his worst player the second most minutes (only 0.2 behind KCP) and allowing him to take the most shots without any repercussion. Meanwhile, his best power forward is having his best season and getting nowhere needed the amount of usage he deserves (or really the team deserves). The second best power forward, at least statistically, is getting a measly 15 minutes a game.
Granted, we are only 15 games into this season. Also, Stan has said before that he is not going to make changes on a whim, that he is going to give things a chance to work. It might take some time, some parts, and some learning, but if you can get that 426 to work, it is going to be awesome.
Not any one Piston, player or coach, is to blame for the Pistons currently being 3-14. This is a new team (six new players) with a new coach and new system. It has been stated before that the 2003-04 Miami Heat coached by Stan started off bad, heated up some during the middle of the season, then was scorching hot the final two months. That is still possible here. It is not likely, but it could happen.
I am very fortunate today to have a car that while I have to make payments on, I feel comfortable turning on every time I get in the car. I have a 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty on my car that I may need to utilize as my check engine light came on last week and I am going to take it in tomorrow (also for an oil change as I am a couple hundred miles past due). I would not be thankful for this luxury had it not been for what I went through growing up. I am very thankful for my mom.
Maybe the Pistons and their fans can feel this way later this year or next year. These times are hard, but if we are clicking like we could at some point, it may have been these hard times that make those celebrations all worth it.