Friday, July 26, 2013

Way too early projection: guard rotation

Because why not.

I meant to write this post shortly after reading Keith Langlois' recent mailbag, and then Detroit Bad Boys' Sean beat me to the punch. But since I'm not quite as bullish about Chauncey Billups' return as the rest of the Pistons blogosphere, it's worth addressing how I think Detroit's backcourt will work this season.

Key Defections: Jose Calderon

Before the free agency period, I was certain someone was going to badly overpay Calderon. To wit:
Calderon is easily the most intriguing Detroit free agent. He was a valuable addition to a young Pistons team that needed veteran leadership. His presence allowed Brandon Knight to move to shooting guard, where he fits more naturally. However, Calderon has publicly stated that he's going to test the free agency market and will likely search for more money than he's worth to the Pistons.
Calderon found a stilted Dwight Howard suitor in the Dallas Mavericks and signed a bonkers $29 million, 4-year deal. Calderon will be 32 before the season starts and will be responsible for dumping the ball to Dirk Nowitzki in the post and watching Monta Ellis put up 17 shots a game. The Pistons were clearly interested in finding a veteran point guard to help lead the team (hence Billups), but Calderon's price tag was far too high for his value. He'll help to make the Mavericks a dangerous offensive team, but a backcourt of Ellis and Calderon will play like the turnstiles of Penn Station.

Key Additions: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

I should say this now before the season starts: I am ridiculously excited about KCP. Though he struggled early in the Orlando Summer League, he found his stroke in the final few games and proved to be a ferocious defender. If he can maintain a 37%-40% three-point stroke and provide an intimidating defensive presence, he could be a long-term starter in the league. Though he likely won't be a star early on, I expect him to be a viable third scoring option. Stretching the floor will be crucial and KCP's skillset will go a long way to making or breaking this season.

Point Guard
Projected starter: Brandon Knight
When the Pistons signed Chauncey Billups, most people reacted like they brought in the same point guard who led Detroit to a championship a decade ago. That is not the player on the Pistons' roster. If Billups starts the season as the #1 point guard, something has gone horribly wrong. Brandon Knight is not a star but he is better than a 36-year-old veteran coming off of an achilles injury and a truly abysmal playoff performance. Knight is capable of a breakout year three, and with Josh Smith and an improved Andre Drummond on board, Knight's offensive role could be changing into more of a spot-up shooter, where he excels.

The addition of Mo Cheeks on the bench should help to foster Knight's development, and Chauncey's real value will come when Knight walks off the floor after turning it over and he hears, "Hey, yeah, don't do that" from a veteran point guard. Knight should play about the same 31 minutes he has during his first two seasons, most of which will come at the point guard spot.

Projected backup: Will Bynum
I see you. Will Bynum, he of the Pistons' third-highest PER last season (16.62), will reprise his role as the backup point guard and designed Andre Drummond lob thrower. With Charlie Villanueva's minutes likely to dwindle this season, Bynum's minutes will follow suit, but he should still be the first point guard off the bench.

The Bynum-Drummond-Villanueva lineup was an offensive juggernaut last season: in 9.3 minutes per game (28 games), the trio shot 47.1% from the field (44% from outside) and scored 19.3 points per game. The Pistons deployed a high pick and roll with Bynum and Drummond, and used Villanueva with Stuckey/Singler/Knight/etc to stretch the floor. This lineup is the primary reason Bynum was re-signed, and though his minutes may dip a bit (18.8 per game last season), he will still be the first point guard off the bench.

Shooting Guard
Projected starter: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
There's a lot of rhetoric regarding the Pistons' shooting guard position--"If Caldwell-Pope is ready..." they say--but KCP will be the starting shooting guard. With NBA athleticism, aggressive defense, and the ability to stretch the floor (either perceived or real), KCP is exactly what the Pistons need out of the shooting guard position. The spacing problems that the Pistons face will be very real, so finding someone who can alleviate congestion in the lane remains crucial. Kyle Singler filled this role last year; despite the fact that he was an only average three point shooter, teams still had to respect his presence on the outside. KCP projects to be a better shooter than Singler, but even if he isn't, teams will similarly have to respect his range.

Just as importantly, KCP is a massive defensive upgrade over Singler. With Drummond and Smith in the front court, Caldwell-Pope will be an intimidating defender on the perimeter creating what could potentially be a devastating defensive lineup. If he can additionally be an offensive threat, he'll find more playing time than anyone expects.

Projected backup: Chauncey Billups
Like in Los Angeles, Billups' primary position in Detroit will be shooting guard. As Langlois wrote extensively in the aforementioned mailbag, Billups' minutes should be monitored carefully, but if he averages 20 minutes (as Langlois posits), I'd be surprised. Placing Billups behind KCP and in front of Rodney Stuckey will allow Cheeks to use him sparingly and strategically. Like Caldwell-Pope, Billups will be used as a floor spacer. Though he'll be a secondary ball handler, his main objective will be to find the short corner and wait for kickouts.

Late in games, Billups will find the floor a little more often, and when the Pistons go small, a Knight/Billups/KCP lineup could create defensive havoc for teams trying to tangle with Josh Smith and Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond inside. This lineup will likely see the floor more than anyone is projecting now and it could be Billups' biggest source of minutes.

Odd man out: Rodney Stuckey
It's likely that Stuckey gets unloaded before the trade deadline in order to acquire a future draft pick from tax offenders (probably a second rounder or two a few years from now). If not, Stuckey will find minutes when the Pistons stretch the floor with three-point shooters and need someone to slash into the lane. Stuckey averaged 28 minutes last year, a number that should drop precipitously this season barring injury (a non-zero likelihood).


Projecting this far from the start of the season is rarely effective, but in the lulls of the offseason, it's worthy of debate. The real question facing the coaching staff surrounds Billups whose decline is unquestioned and who is coming off of an injury that often ends careers. Expecting much from Chauncey is a foolish proposition, though. His presence should help in the locker room and on the bench, but on-court production will be limited. A Knight/KCP backcourt should allow the space eaters inside to operate while posing an outside threat to defenses.

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