Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pistons sign Jodie Meeks


The assumption since the Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy was that he took the job to implement his 4-out, 1-in offensive system centered on Andre Drummond. To do so, the team would need spot up shooters, of which the roster was bereft of last season. With the exception of Kyle Singler, who according to Synergy Sports shot 41.7% in spot-up situations, the team had very few options on the outside. You all know what happened with Josh Smith, KCP struggled with consistency, and Brandon Jennings dominated the ball too much to function as a spot-up sniper.

Enter Jodie Meeks, the Lakers' erstwhile shooting guard who saw career numbers across the board last season playing in Mike D'Antoni's wide-open offensive system. With the Pistons, there will be less running and gunning, but if SVG's prior offenses are any indication, there will be plenty of opportunities for Meeks to get looks. Meeks took 404 three pointers last season (tied for 20th most taken) and shot 40.1% on those attempts. On his spot up looks (203 in total from beyond the arc), Meeks shot 44.3% from outside. The point is, Meeks knows his role on this team.

However, this brings a few roster issues to light (what's new?). As the roster currently sits, the depth chart would look something approximating:

PG SG SF PF C
Jennings Meeks Smith Monroe Drummond
Bynum Singler Datome Jerebko Harrellson
Dinwiddie KCP Cartier Martin Mitchell
Siva


In other words, it looks almost identical to how it did last year with a few upgrades to the role players. Including Chauncey Billups, the Pistons currently have 16 men on their roster (following the signing of Cartier Martin). I don't believe there's any way Billups sticks around for the final year of his contract. If he does, it likely won't be with the Pistons, as I assume SVG doesn't feel any loyalty to a player he's never coached. Still, if Billups does remain with the team, Siva seems like the player most likely not to make the cut. The Pistons' best case scenario for fixing this roster is via trade.

The rumblings lately have been that the Pistons are making a play for Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas. Signing him outright as a free agent doesn't make much sense, but trades have been wistfully floated. The key trade piece mentioned has been Josh Smith (this is cobbled together from rumors of the Kings' interest in Smith and the Pistons' interest in Thomas). Smith isn't as bad as he performed last season, but either he or Monroe needs to find a new home. While I would be upset paying Monroe $15 million a year, his upside trumps Smith's at this point of their respective careers.

The Kings are in need of a power forward and Smith is in need of a roster that allows him to play power forward, which on paper seems great. In reality, playing Smith, Rudy Gay, and DeMarcus Cousins together is probably unwise. That's for another front office to figure out. Hypothetically, if the Pistons are able to move Smith for Thomas, the depth chart suddenly makes a lot more sense:

PG SG SF PF C
Jennings Meeks Singler Monroe Drummond
Thomas KCP Datome Jerebko Harrellson
Bynum
Martin Mitchell
Dinwiddie



Siva





The key to the Meeks signing, in my opinion, is KCP's ability to play small forward when Singler needs a rest. Gigi Datome proved last year that he's not ready significant minutes in an NBA uniform, least of all guard some of the wing players in the league. Meanwhile, with KCP's athleticism and speed, he's able to go toe-to-toe with many of the small forwards around the league (I'm thinking specifically of when he shut down Paul George for an entire game, prior to the All Star break when the Pacers summarily imploded).

Meeks' experience and consistency will likely earn him the starting nod at shooting guard barring a massive improvement from KCP this summer. Moving Smith allows Singler to slide into his natural position at small forward. Meanwhile, Thomas, KCP, and Dinwiddie could provide a much-needed punch off the bench.

Smith's contract could be hard to move, however. If he remains on the roster, SVG seems smart enough to move him to the bench behind Greg Monroe at PF and deal with the ego explosion that comes. Even without Thomas, Singler moving to SF with Meeks at SG will give the Pistons ample offensive firepower and properly stretch the floor for Monroe and Drummond to work inside. If Meeks proves to be too significant of a defensive downgrade, KCP can slot into the starting role.

The lynchpin of that 2009 Orlando Magic team--SVG's most famous and successful--was the duo of 6'10" forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, stretching the floor while also defending with length. The Magic were able to surround Howard with size and shooting, something the Pistons can't do. Meeks is a defensive liability and at 6'5" doesn't have a ton of upside. However, SVG has been able to coax the best out of role players, and Meeks could find his niche on the defensive end. However, playing alongside Brandon Jennings will do him no favors.

Jennings, Meeks, Singler, and Monroe could prove hazardous for the Pistons' starting rotation. All are subpar individual defenders and, much as he's a budding star, Drummond is nowhere near the defensive player that Howard was/is. The starting shooting guard and small forward roles will be occupied by some combination of KCP, Meeks, and Singler, only one of whom is a good defender, and none of whom have ideal NBA size for their natural position. With few small forward free agents on the market with interest in Detroit, best case scenario here remains SVG's ability to cobble together a defensive system that can make up for weak individual perimeter defense.

The Meeks signing is not without problems: his defense, prior to last season he never shot over 40% from outside--though he came close a few times--and even with a career season, his PER didn't reach 15. Paying him almost $7 million a year is a reach, especially with the current composition of the Pistons' roster. But SVG needs shooting and Meeks should be able to provide that. With the salary cap ballooning and shooting becoming a premium, if the Pistons can snag a young SG with upside now, it could prove to offer significant savings down the line. Besides, the Pistons won't hit a real salary crunch for quite a while. When Drummond is up for an extension, Billups, Datome, and Jerebko will be off the books, and Brandon Jennings will be on the last year of his contract and a highly valuable trade asset. Potentially dumping Smith for a cheaper contract in Thomas would further alleviate costs. If Meeks can shoot at least 40% from downtown throughout his contract, he'll prove to be a valuable addition to the team.

New Motors: Spencer Dinwiddie


Spencer Dinwiddie | Junior SG | Colorado
6'6”, 205lbs 6'8.25” wingspan 8'7” standing reach
3.6-7.7 FG (46.6%) 1.5-3.7 3FG (41.3%) 6.0-7.0 FT (85.7%)

The Pistons may have lost their first-round pick in this year’s draft, but at least they were able to snag the best mustache in the bunch by taking Colorado junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie with the 38th overall pick.


Though potentially great players were all over the board late into the first round, the Pistons still found significant value by taking a player who suffered an ACL injury this year and fell down draft boards because of it. Dinwiddie is a PG/SG tweener with the size to play the latter but the mindset of the former. I know, I know, Rodney Stuckey, but Dinwiddie is not Stuckey, nor will he be relied up as the future centerpiece of the franchise.

There’s just one issue with his drafting:

I charted many combinations of attributes, and free throw rate was the only statistic that was demonstrably different from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s sophomore year production. Not only that, but their measurables are near identical coming out of college:


Height Weight Wingspan Standing Reach
Dinwiddie 6'6” 205lbs 6'8.25” 8'7”
KCP 6'6” 204lbs 6'8” 6'4.5”

This is not to imply that they’re they same player—they’re not—but it’s clear that this selection was more about value than fit.

Dinwiddie plays more like a point guard than a shooting guard, and while he excels at distributing the ball, he’s much more of a scoring guard than a true point guard. Dinwiddie is not a Michael Carter-Williams clone; he showed serious NBA range during college. Though his sophomore season saw a dip in his outside shooting (his 3FG% dropped exactly 10% from his freshman year), his abbreviated junior season saw a return to form, shooting 41.3% in 17 games beyond the arc.

Caveats do apply here: as a major-conference school, the early parts of the schedule are loaded with body bag games. Against the better teams in that stretch (Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma St., and Oregon) he looked more like he did during his sophomore year. In those four games, Dinwiddie went 9-24 from inside the arc and 7-19 from outside. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of middle-ground teams on his junior-year resume to evaluate. Dinwiddie went 4-5 against Georgia, including 2-3 from outside; and 5-9 against Harvard, including 4-7 from outside. Other than that, it’s cupcake after cupcake.

The offense that the Pistons will get from Dinwiddie may be in question. One thing remains for certain: the kid can catch and shoot better than anyone not he roster other than Jodie Meeks, a skill that will be crucial if Stan Van Gundy is going to implement his Andre Drummond-led 4-in, 1-out offense.

His defensive potential is high but not elite. Lacking true NBA athleticism will hinder his ability to guard quicker players, especially if he’s tasked with staying in front of smaller point guards. However, his length and ability to anticipate passing lanes make him a fast break waiting to happen.

Where Dinwiddie projects on this roster is tough. He’s unlikely to see much time at shooting guard with Meeks and KCP already on the roster. Brandon Jennings (and possibly Isaiah Thomas, if a deal is made between the Pistons and Kings) has the point guard position pretty well locked up. And Dinwiddie may struggle to defend NBA small forwards. At this point, he’s simply another bullet in SVG’s chamber. Dinwiddie was a smart draft pick with a lot of upside, and with SVG’s track record of making players realize their potential, he could quickly turn into a valuable player and asset for the franchise.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stage 3: Bargaining


Pistons lose draft pick; Cavs win lottery

My first inclination when something terrible happens to a sports team I care about is to write about it. It's a cathartic way to work through my emotions and realize there's better things ahead. But it struck me that no amount of elegant prose will return the Pistons' first-round draft pick. This is a crippling moment for the franchise. Tonight could not have gone worse. Not only did the Pistons lose their pick but the Cavaliers and Bucks won the top two selections in the draft. You can add Wiggins and Parker/Embiid to the list of superstars in the Central division: George, Hibbert, Rose, Irving, Wiggins, Parker. None of them on the Pistons roster

July 8, 2009 now stands as the worst day in franchise history. Joe Dumars the architect of the organization's destruction. This has been emotionally distressing in a way I did not anticipate. I'll be off the grid for a while.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The 2014 NBA Draft Lottery cometh


Tomorrow's NBA Draft Lottery will go a long way toward determining the future of the Pistons. Not that anyone should expect the team to win the lottery or select a franchise player--the Pistons probably already have one of those in Andre Drummond--but adding another quality piece to the Motor City Puzzle may be all that's necessary to build a long-term contender. Or not adding that piece if the fates conspire against the Pistons.

Just as important will be how the Milwaukee Bucks fare, who are currently in the pole position to win the lottery with a 25% chance of receiving the #1 overall pick. The Bucks were terrible this season and could use the help that Andrew Wiggins (or someone else if they're not smart enough to take him) could supply, but their winning the lottery would be yet another bullet in the chamber against the Pistons.

Since 2003, a team in the Central division has won the draft lottery five times. None of those players have worn a Pistons jersey. Lebron James (Cleveland), Andrew Bogut (Milwaukee), Derrick Rose (Chicago), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland), and Anthony Bennett (Cleveland) all went as the top pick in their respective drafts, and with the exception of Bennett, all have become significant factors in the NBA. James single-handedly ended the Pistons' title hopes when they had a potential dynasty. Rose won an MVP and when healthy runs roughshod over the league. Kyrie is still developing into a top-flight point guard and potential franchise player. And Bogut has been a defensive force for his entire career. Adding Andrew Wiggins into that pantheon only exasperates this hellacious decade for the Pistons.

In that same time span, no other division has won the lottery more than twice. Dwight Howard and John Wall found their way into the same division in 2010, but only shared the spotlight for two season before Howard bolted for Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Lebron, Bogut, and Rose had a two-year span in the Central, and the Pistons are still dealing with Rose (kind of), Irving, and Bennett. If Milwaukee wins the lottery this season, the Central will have four #1 overalls in play for at least a year, and likely more if the Cavaliers are able to re-sign Kyrie at the end of the season.

The only other team in the Central not to win the lottery over this time span is the Indiana Pacers. In 2008, the Pacers were gifted Roy Hibbert from bumbling GM Bryan Colangelo as a throw-in piece of a trade centered on Jermaine O'Neal and TJ Ford. They then drafted Paul George in 2010 when the Pistons took Greg Monroe. Though Detroit didn't fare poorly here, in retrospect that George dropped to #10 in the draft while Wesley Johnson and Evan Turner were taken in the top 5 was a stroke of luck for the Pacers.

Meanwhile, the Pistons could very easily lose their pick tomorrow. Though not innocent in this potential loss, missing out on a top-10 pick in this draft will be significant. A rundown the potential draft picks available at #8 makes the mouth water: Noah Vonleh, Nik Stauskas, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, James Young, Aaron Gordon. Though not all of these player are suitable for the Pistons' roster, missing the opportunity to add any of these players to your team could be devastating to a franchise consistently digging its way out of a hole. The Pistons' roster with any of these players could catapult them back to the playoffs and more importantly into contention in the Eastern Conference while missing out entirely might stifle the franchise's momentum. Tomorrow will tell. Cross all fingers. Knock on all wood.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Scouting: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Rather than posting arbitrary grades for every player, I wanted to do a scouting report for each of the Pistons' rotation players. My Twitter feed turns into a list of the players' strengths and weaknesses during games, so it's worth putting it all into perspective (this will not be unlike the DraftExpress scouting videos). Previously: Brandon Jennings


If you've followed me on Twitter, you'll already know my feelings toward KCP. Though he struggled through his rookie season, he remains the Pistons' best defender hands down. He's a player with elite NBA athleticism who is a little rough around the edges. But his season-ending performance against Oklahoma City could not have been more promising:


With improved offensive consistency, KCP could develop into one of the league's top two-way guards. As it stands, he probably ranks in the league's top-10 on-ball defenders. I like KCP a lot. You should too.

Strengths


On ball defense. For a team that lacked a defensive identity or scheme, KCP stood out as the lone bright spot, quickly establishing himself as one of the elite on-ball perimeter defenders in the league. The video above is just one example of the brand of defense KCP played throughout the year (apologies that the video doesn't have sound; I'm still working out the kinks). KCP fights over a Durant screen, manages to square himself in front of Westbrook again, stays with Russell after a few hesitation and stepback moves, and then has the quick hands to get a steal on a pass that would've netted an easy two points:


Brandon Jennings completely ignored Thabo Sefolosha who was standing unguarded in the lane when KCP intercepted the pass.

KCP was thought to be the floor spacer that the Pistons needed, a role which he was disappointing in (about which, more later). However, plays like this one and his nonstop defensive presence are what will keep him in the league regardless of his shooting prowess. The ability to stay in front of the league's foremost athletes, force bad shots, and single-handedly generate turnovers is a skill few possess. KCP is a special defensive talent with room to improve offensively.

Elite athleticism. Though not a great rebounder for his position (caveats apply when you play with Drummond, Monroe, and Smith), KCP has elite+ athleticism. His foot speed allows him to stay in front of ball handlers, and his top-end speed makes him a constant threat in transition. He often beat defenders down the court on fast breaks and was generally the only player hustling back in transition on defense, which generated plenty of spectacular plays:


Weaknesses


Finishing. Though the above video is mostly KCP eating the summer league for lunch, there are a few dunks in there that became indicative of his abilities at the rim. Though he improved throughout the season, KCP became notorious for missing shots at the rim. Much of this had to do with his slender frame and its subsequent influence on his ability to play to contact. When driving to the rim, he actively tried to avoid contact, which is something a player of his skillset should not do.


Though he finished somewhere around league average at the rim, if you extract the fast break dunks, that number likely drops below league average. It's yet to be seen whether or not he can finish through contact or draw the kind of contact that earns foul calls. But if he's not going to play to contact, he will need to improve his ball skills around the basket.

Shooting stroke. Make no mistake: there is nothing inherently wrong with KCP's shooting stroke. It is, however, very slow. KCP struggled all season on late contests from defenders because his shot takes so long to get off. When he's wide open, he sets himself and is able to shoot with some consistency. He does so with his lower body, emphasizing the bend in his knee. (This is one of the reasons that he's better off the dribble than on catch-and-shoot, because he's able to rock himself into rhythm.) But when he's forced to shoot quickly, as was often the case in the Pistons' half-court set--issues also arise in this evaluation because the team was so bad at getting outside shooters open looks--his shot was erratic. Because of the length of his shooting motion, there are lots of opportunities for his mechanics to fail him. This summer will be very important in his development and a necessary time to work on his shooting form.

Rhythm. This could just as easily be put under his strengths, but because KCP so rarely got into rhythm, it'll go here. Never have I seen an NBA player so affected by his involvement (or lack thereof) in a game. Earning the starting nod to begin the season was the right move, least of all because it got the Pistons' best five players on the court. KCP struggled with the speed of the game at times early in the season, and after benching him midway through year, asking him to enter games for 5-minute stints to take contested 3s late in the shot clock never ended well.

In college, KCP was a major ball handler and was deeply integrated into the offense. During his rookie season, he was often put in a corner and asked to stand there as a decoy with no intention of getting him the ball. This lack of constant involvement in the play had a negative affect on his output. It is no surprise that his best game of the season came in the finale against Oklahoma City when he was given the starting nod and handed the keys to the offense.

That performance can either be seen as a major outlier or evidence of his potential when properly used. I favor the latter. The problem is, he will need to get better as a low-usage spot up shooter if he's going to succeed with this team. Even if SVG doesn't implement the Orlando Dwight Howard offense (4-out, 1-in) with the Pistons, Jennings, Drummond, Monroe, and Smith are all more ball-dominant players than KCP.

The Future
KCP is a prototypical 3-and-D player in the NBA. As an elite defensive stopper, he'll always have a place in the league (see: Tony Allen). If he can shore up his outside shooting, he could be an invaluable asset for the Pistons. He doesn't project to being the focal point of an offense, but he could easily give the team 15 points/game with the occasional outburst. This summer will be telling. Without Andre Drummond in the Summer League, KCP will take center stage as the team's top prospect (with apologies to whoever they take in the draft). If he shows improved mechanics and more consistent scoring capabilities, the sky is the limit.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Scouting: Brandon Jennings

Rather than posting arbitrary grades for every player, I wanted to do a scouting report for each of the Pistons' rotation players. My Twitter feed turns into a list of the players' strengths and weaknesses during games, so it's worth putting it all into perspective (this will not be unlike the DraftExpress scouting videos). Up first, Brandon Jennings.


The Pistons' new mercurial point guard may have been the most polarizing player on the team. Jennings, as he has been wont to do throughout his career, spent the season fluctuating between point wizard and train wreck, equally capable of taking over games and shooting the Pistons out of them, sometimes in the same contest. For proof, look no further than his respective performances in wins and losses:


Though I haven't run the regressions--because who would after a season like the Pistons just had--Jennings' performance was strongly correlated with the game's result, even moreso than Josh Smith's numbers, who was simply bad across all games. Like most members of the Pistons, Jennings had his worst statistical season in several years. Unlike most of his teammates, Jennings still put up a league-average statistical season (15.67 PER) and showed dramatic improvement in a few aspects of his game.

Strengths

Distribution. Jennings has always been a talented passer and exceptional at holding onto the ball. In his career, he's never had a TO% higher than 10.2 (earned this year) and has had three of five seasons with a sub-10 TO%. When he was first traded to Detroit, Jennings made some disparaging comments toward his Milwaukee teammates about the talent surrounding him and how he'd blossom with the Pistons. Though it didn't show in the win column, that boast came true. Jennings finished the season 7th in assists per game (7.6), and of those players who finished above him, only one player (Chis Paul, 2.3) had less turnovers than his 2.7 per game. He finished 15th overall in A/TO with several low-usage guards (Shelvin Mack, Pablo Prigioni) finishing above him.

What's more impressive about his ball security is the amount that Jennings handles the ball. Back when I was still impressed with John Loyer (literally, one game made me write this, which shows you how much I despised Mo Cheeks), I noted that Jennings ranked fourth in time of possession per game and fifth in frontcourt touches. He finished the season 7th and 10th in those categories, respectively. His ability to generate points without turning the ball over is a major asset that Stan Van Gundy should be able to take advantage of, especially if he can tone down Jennings' penchant for havoc.

Scoring. It was clear early in Jennings' career that he was capable of monstrous scoring outputs. Jennings scored over 25 points in 11 games this season, an incredible output for a player with the passing skills that he possesses. It was perhaps even more impressive given that the Pistons' frontcourt averaged 37.9 shots per game between them (43.6% of the team's total shots came between the trio Monroe, Drummond, and Smith). Consistency was always a problem for Jennings, about which more later, but he's a player who has the ability to light up the scoreboard from all areas of the court. His three point shooting, though spotty, had multiple flashes of brilliance with multiple games going 5-9 and several 5-8 and 4-8 outings. He also posted a 6-11 game in which he put up 35 points in a win against Denver.

Unpredictability. 


While this can sometimes work against Jennings, it nevertheless makes him a joy to watch. Like Rajon Rondo, Jennings seems to have an endless bag of tricks. Unlike Rondo, he's not concerned with his assist stats and won't pass up easier buckets for the sake of flashy passes. On the fast break and in traffic, Jennings keeps the ball on a string and makes behind the back, no look, and off-the-backboard passes (accurately, no less) that few players will try. It makes him difficult to guard and forces defenders into positions that they're unable to recover from.

Weaknesses

Pick and roll. Despite having a terrifying pick and roll partner in Andre Drummond, Jennings proved this season that he has no idea how to execute the league's most devastating offensive play. According to Synergy, Jennings ranked 100th in points per pick and roll as the ball handler, averaging less than a point per play (.77 ppp). Some of this has to do with the fact that he's a terrible finisher at the rim, but he also turned the ball over on 15% of these plays. Jennings' real issue here is a lack of patience. He doesn't have the rhythm of the pick and roll and fails to allow the roll man to get into a good position in the lane. By doing this, he also doesn't put the defense in the kind of bind that will force them to help off of corner shooters.

Case in point: here's a pick and roll situation against the Bulls at the end of the season in which Jennings rushes a contested shot. The screen comes...


Jennings takes the screen and Noah jumps out to stop a drive to the basket...


And instead of waiting for Drummond to crash to the basket with Hinrich guarding him, Jennings pulls up for a terrible, contested two:


Wait a moment longer and Drummond is running into the lane with Hinrich on his hip. Instead, Jennings takes the worst possible shot rather than surveying the situation and seeing how to attack the defense.

Finishing. Need I say more?


Consistency. Tied to his previous two weaknesses, Jennings had more ups and downs than anyone on the roster this season. Those 11 games where he scored over 25 points? He also had 21 games where he scored less than 10, including a few games where he scored zero or two points. He scored these on not insignificant amounts of shots either. The pick and roll issues hinder his consistency. With a better understanding for the league's most unguardable play, Jennings should be able to both increase his assist count from the previous year and score more points as defenders overreact to the crashing bigs. But consistency has plagued Jennings thoughout his career. If SVG, a notorious drill sergeant, can't cure his ills, it's likely no one will be able to.

Defense. James Harden-ian (?) levels of incompetence here. Jennings' disinterest in playing defense is only trumped by his inability to actually play defense. He gambles for steals, never helps, doesn't rotate, and is frequently taken off the dribble. Given his lateral quickness, you'd expect him to be a better defender, but he has a poor defensive stance in which he's often hunched over. This is likely due to his tendency to go for steals, but often results in an ability to turn his hips and keep with the ball handler.

The Future
Jennings is still only 24 years old and entering his sixth season in the league. Lesser talents have put it all together later in their careers, and Jennings still has the potential to become a top-flight point guard. SVG stands as a best-case scenario for the Pistons' young, inconsistent roster: someone who will drill consistency and composure into their heads, Jennings not least of all. With a reasonable, short contract, the Pistons could deal Jennings, but given his ability to distribute and occasionally stretch the floor (he's a career 39% 3-point shooter), he could become a valuable role player in SVG's offense. Regardless simply having a better coach and more coherent offensive/defensive schemes should see Jennings make marked improvements next season.