Stan Van Gundy exited the weekend talking about how the Pistons were going to look to the future, but not tank. That he was looking forward to the four-day break between games to address some necessary matters, but that it might not be all personnel-related.
So, things similar to what we've heard for quite some time. Hopefully we can be forgiven if we were skeptical about any real changes. Because Stan Van Gundy brought just that.
After waiving Josh Smith and his $28 million in guaranteed salary after this season, where do the Pistons go from here?
Van Gundy's comments in the press release were both enlightening and confusing: "We are shifting priorities to aggressively develop our younger players while also expanding the roles of other players in the current rotation to improve performance and build for our future. As we expand certain roles, others will be reduced."
While it's not clear why it was necessary to waive Smith rather than just benching him, it is telling that Van Gundy has two clear immediate priorities: develop youth and play the guys who are performing well.
Van Gundy touched on this over the weekend that this means Andre Drummond, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Spencer Dinwiddie. "I mean, we're 5-22 so it's like giving KCP more catch-and-shoots, giving Andre more post-ups, playing Spencer, you know, that may make it better," he said following Detroit's loss in Brooklyn, according to the Free Press.
As the third-string, rookie point guard behind a pair of established veterans, Dinwiddie's playing time has been shaky so far. He has not come out on fire shooting the ball to force the issue, making only 29 percent of his shots, but he shown an impressive amount of poise. He has 16 assists to start his career, alongside only 3 turnovers. His 29 percent assist percentage is number two on the team behind starting point guard Brandon Jennings.
Neither of the players ahead of Dinwiddie have been particularly consistent or effective so far in the season, so it certainly makes sense to force Dinwiddie into the rotation and give him some experience. But it'll be interesting to see if this actually happens considering it took waiving Smith to get him out of the starting lineup. Will it take a trade to remove Jennings or Augustin from the rotation?
Jennings was previously mentioned as available on the trade market, but word is that the Pistons are looking for premium returns on, well, non-premium players. He has been downright awful since returning from a thumb injury, shooting 28 percent on nearly 11 attempts per game.
Or will Van Gundy be willing to just expand his rotation to make consistent time for Dinwiddie? In the past he's balked at the idea of more than nine players in a rotation, saying that it's too unwieldy. But perhaps he's ready to make an exception out of the interest of player development.
Caldwell-Pope will also be an interesting development to watch. Van Gundy said, "KCP is a guy we don't give a lot. We haven't given KCP those opportunities. How's he gonna learn? Not tanking at all but a shift in thinking, we're trying to win within that but you've got to develop those guys."
Considering Caldwell-Pope leads the team in minutes and is second in field goal attempts, that's an interesting statement. He has also struggled scoring for much of the season with a true shooting percentage south of 50 percent.
Though perhaps Van Gundy has plans to use Caldwell-Pope in a method that will generate more effective results. According to SportVU tracking data, the majority of his shots have been tightly contested. Plus he's been solid on his open looks, making them at a 40 percent rate compared to only 27 percent on the covered looks.
KCP also has room to grow in getting to the line. In college, this helped him transform from a 49 percent to 58 percent true shooting percentage player as he also jumped from 3.1 free throw attempts per 40 minutes to 6.2. This aspect of his game hasn't come around as a pro yet, as he's only averaging 2.8 attempts per 40 minutes this season.
With Drummond though, it sounds like Van Gundy is looking to go back to a failed experiment from earlier this season.
"We gave Andre more post-ups than we've given him lately. We've gone away from that because I wouldn't say that's right now our best choice coming down the floor. We have to shift back to giving him that stuff so that he develops so we don't have him next year where he is now."
That's a fair point. Personally, I'd still rather make the priority finding ways to get him the ball outside of isolation situations and hopefully that will still be a significant strategy. But perhaps some additional reps can help him transition from back-to-the-basket play as a weakness to at least being serviceable by this time next year.
You might notice one other Pistons young player who wasn't mentioned here: Tony Mitchell. He's doesn't seem to have done much to have cracked Van Gundy's radar and has spent quite a bit of time in Grand Rapids already this season. Yet he seems to have made little progress, putting up numbers similar to last season.
His contract is not guaranteed for next season. If he's unable to take advantage of this push for youth and what is suddenly a very thin frontcourt, it seems unlikely that he'll have any future with the team.
Expanding roles for high performers
Cue the collective giddiness for a number of DBBers. With Smith's departure leaving a significant gap in minutes at power forward, some long-overdue changes may be ready to take place.
Since Drummond emerged in the preseason of his rookie year as a force to be reckoned with, there's been mixed opinions on how he fit with Greg Monroe. Nearly two and a half seasons later, unfortunately that question has not yet been answered.
But with the opening at power forward in the starting lineup, Monroe should slide into the spot and we will finally get resolution. Monroe is only averaging 29 minutes so far this season, his lowest total since his rookie year. His role is likely the biggest set for expansion down the stretch.
It may come too late for Monroe, as he is poised to be a free agent at the season's end. But what's done is done. Getting the move done too late is better than never getting it done at all.
Jonas Jerebko should also stand to benefit from Smith's departure. Despite only 14 minutes per game, he's having been having a fantastic year. He's averaging 14.4 points per 36 minutes with a 58 percent true shooting percentage, has the best differential between his offensive rating and defensive rating on the team, and has been one of the few players on the team to consistently play hard.
While these two have performed well, the player they're replacing has been one of the worst players in the league for two years now. There's a strong chance that this change could be the catalyst that turns the Pistons into a competent basketball team.
But even if not, it's exciting to at least see tangible strides from the Pistons that propel them into a direction that finally may mostly make some sense.