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Previewing the 2014-15 Pistons: Jonas Jerebko

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Can the first Swedish-born player to start an NBA game make an impact once more for Detroit in his contract year?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When you are picked in the second round of the NBA Draft, but nevertheless start 73 games as a rookie, it seems reasonable to expect that you are well on the way to a productive career. But it’s basically been all downhill for Jonas Jerebko ever since that surprising 2009-10 season. Entering the final year of a four-year, $18 million contract that he signed in 2011, his current path to playing time looks as difficult as a winter’s trek through Lappland.

Jerebko became the first native-born Swede to start an NBA game on November 3, 2009, when a back injury sidelined incumbent small forward Tayshaun Prince. He started 26 games in his place, and when Prince returned he slid over to the power forward slot. As the starting power forward for the last 37 games of his rookie year, he averaged 10.4 points and 6.8 rebounds in 28.6 minutes per game.

If not for an Achilles tendon injury in a preseason match against Miami, Jerebko might have remained a first-stringer in 2010-11. Back from rehab the following year, he started at power forward for the first 13 games, with his productivity approximating that of his rookie season. Then coach Lawrence Frank inserted Ben Wallace into the starting lineup alongside Greg Monroe to strengthen Detroit’s defense. When you’re 3-10, you’ll try anything! But Jerebko remained a key reserve throughout 2012, posting double figures in points 21 times.

Wallace was not retained for 2012-13, but Frank again decided to emphasize defense in his starting lineup, giving the nod to veteran Jason Maxiell at power forward. And after another 3-10 start, Frank chose to switch to Charlie Villanueva as Maxiell’s backup. While Jerebko had made only .200 percent from three, "Chuckin’ Charlie" went on a hot streak, making .416 percent of his three-pointers from late-November through December. Only after Villanueva’s shooting started cooling off in late January did J.J. begin to find minutes again.

2013-14 Year in Review

With a new coach last season, Jerebko might have hoped for another opportunity to showcase his abilities. Yet while Maxiell left in free agency, Monroe replaced him at power forward, as Andre Drummond moved into the starting lineup at center. Even worse for J.J., while new addition Josh Smith was slotted to start at small forward, he frequently moved over to power forward when Drummond or Monroe rested. So Sweden’s favorite son averaged career lows in minutes (11.6), points (4.2) and boards (2.7) per game.

Was there any ray of hope for Jonas and his fans? Well, he finished 2013-14 on an upswing, averaging 7.9 ppg and 5.3 rpg in 21.1 mpg for his last 14 games. But the true highlight was his three-point shooting, which previously had hovered at .300 percent For the first time in his NBA life, Jerebko made over 40 percent of his threes. In fact, his .419 percent led the team.

Since he only attempted 74 three-pointers, this record screams small sample size. However, it may also reveal that he’s added a new dimension to his game. While he did not get many opportunities, the fact remains that except for January (when he barely played) Jerebko never made less than one-third of his three-point attempts in any month last season. For the 23 games he played in March-April, he made .429 percent of his 49 threes.

Also, for the first time since his rookie year, Jerebko made four or more three-pointers in a game. He has now done this three times. The first time was November 27, 2009, when he drained 4-4 versus the Clippers. The second time was March 22, 2014, when he shot 5-7 against the Clippers. And then he made 4-7 on April 9 in Cleveland.

2014-15 Projected Production

According to reports, no one has worked harder at the Pistons’ practice facility this summer than J.J. He gave up the opportunity to play for the Swedish national team this summer. In an August interview with Swedish National Television (translated by AJ17 for DBB), Jerebko said, "This is one of the most important summers of my life and I felt I had to put all my energy on practices and my game in Detroit."

With Monroe and Smith currently expected to contend for the starting job at power forward, it appears that Jerebko is destined for the far end of the bench in 2014-15. But since Monroe must serve a suspension for the Pistons’ first two games, some reserve minutes should be available when play resumes on October 29 in Denver. If Jerebko can show steady three-point range in preseason, it’s hard to imagine that his fifth NBA head coach, Stan Van Gundy, will not give him another chance.

Prediction

While Detroit added several marksmen at the point and the wings, none of the big men have three-point range. If he can fill the "stretch-4" role, Jerebko could carve out a valuable spot in the rotation this season. Perhaps if Van Gundy decides to match up Smith against larger small forwards, he may insert J.J. at power forward to maintain offensive spacing. And when other teams decide to go small, he (along with Kyle Singler) will also be an option. With Monroe likely to bolt next summer, there may still be a future in Motown for the handsome Swede.

50 games, 14 minutes per game, 5 points, 3 rebounds