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Around the East, Part IV: Detroit Pistons

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In the latest segment of Brian Fleurantin's "Around the East," he looks at the Detroit Pistons, who the Nets will face, on the road, in their second game of the season, the night of November 1.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

After an excellent start to the new millennium, things have gone south in a hurry for the Detroit Pistons. The team has missed the playoffs for the last four seasons as terrible play, poor roster construction, and a lack of chemistry throughout the organization have conspired to keep Detroit from respectability.

Last year

What was happening in the D last year? Let's check it out:

2013-2014 Season

Detroit

Record

29-53

Pace

97.39

Offensive Efficiency

102.9

Defensive Efficiency

107.3

Turnover Rate

14.8

Assist Rate

15.6

Offensive Rebounding Rate

31.4

Rebounding Rate

51.4

Free Throw Rate

29.6

Effective Field Goal Percentage

48.2

Opponent's Effective Field Goal Percentage

52

After missing the playoffs again and with some money to spend, Joe Dumars decided to go for it all in free agency. He picked up two lefties, signing Josh Smith away from Atlanta and acquiring Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee. Did the moves work? Nope. Nothing went well for the team and despite the terrible play of the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, they managed to miss the postseason for the fourth consecutive season.

What were the big offseason moves?

There was a shakeup throughout the organization. In February, Maurice Cheeks was fired from the head coaching position. When the year ended, the team changed everything up. Joe Dumars was removed from the President of Basketball Operations position after a 14 year run at the position. With two positions open, the Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy to do both jobs. Along the way, the team named Jeff Bower the General Manager.

On the personnel side of things, they kept busy. Without a first round pick (thanks Joe), the team drafted Spencer Dinwiddie from Oklahoma State University and earned rave reviews for that selection. Along with that, the team picked up Jodie Meeks along with Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin. The biggest move was the resigning of Greg Monroe, but we'll get to that in a bit.

What are the team's strengths?

After a solid rookie season, Andre Drummond continued his excellent play even as he saw a minutes increase. The big man averaged a double-double, scoring 13 points and snatching up 13 rebounds in 32 minutes a game. He was able to do this by being a terror on the offensive glass. Drummond led the league in all the offensive rebounding categories (total, per game and rate) while shooting a second best in the Association 62.3 percent from the field. There are legit critiques of Dre's game, specifically his abysmal free throw percentage (41.8 percent) and where he takes the overwhelming majority of his shots (only eleven of his 769 field goal attempts came from deeper than nine feet). The second one can be overstated at times, but it is heartening to see him working to expand his offensive move set. Despite being Top Ten in blocks, Drummond didn't help the team's defense much. They were four points worse per 100 possessions with him on the floor. With another season under his belt and new coaching, Drummond can build on his defense and become a solid post defender. He also has a great chance of making the All Star team so keep an eye out for that as well.

Having Stan Van Gundy on board will do wonders for the team. Since the start of the 2007 season, the team has had six different people (Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, John Keuster, Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks, and John Loyer) at the head coaching position (Stan makes the seventh). This constant instability at such a crucial position leaves everyone at a disadvantage and can stunt a player's development. With Van Gundy, he has a successful track record of developing players and if all goes well, he can get the most out of players like Drummond, Kyle Singler and new acquisition Jodie Meeks.

What are the team's weaknesses?

If you've followed any basketball discussion online over the last couple of years, you know that Josh Smith has gotten hammered for his lousy shot selection. Every year, people tell Smith not to shoot long twos and three pointers, but he keeps doing it anyway. I can reference about ten articles here, but this one from 2012 when Smith was in Atlanta explains it best:

Josh Smith is a wonderful basketball player, but his unique skills are too often hidden from our eyeballs. To be blunt, when his team has the ball he shouldn’t be anywhere near the 3-point line. It’s not just that he’s a below average jump shooter, which he is. The reason  Atlanta fans melt down when Josh shoots a jumper is dualistic: it’s a low-percentage shot AND he is a beast near the rim. Josh Smith is an above average scorer at or near the rim, and he’s one of his team’s best rebounders. Just like LeBron, who recently migrated inward (how’d that work out, you guys?), Josh Smith and the Hawks must realize that good things happen when he is near the rim. When you’re 6’8″, an above average inside force, and a below average jump shooter, it’s probably wise to hang out closer to the basket and leave those jumpers to your teammates.

When we take a look at where he was most successful shooting the ball, this holds up. On shots inside of 15 feet, Smith shot 51 percent. 15 feet and further? Only 31 percent. Making matters worse for the Pistons was his record breaking run from deep. For much of the season, Smith was on pace to have the worst season in league history from three point range. He didn't end up breaking any records, but managed to shoot under 30 percent from deep for the seventh time in his ten year career. Smith is out of place at the small forward position, a spacing nightmare, and didn't make much of an impact on the team's defense. The best case scenario for Detroit is to trade him, but that probably won't happen as Smith has three years and over $40 million left on his contract.

Making maters worse was Brandon Jennings. Like Smith, he had a disastrous debut season for the Pistons. He ended up committing a career high in turnovers, shot under 40 percent from the field, lost confidence in his game and was questioned publicly by Cheeks. For an offense that has some spacing issues, Jennings may not be the ideal person yo want on the court. He's a career 35 percent shooter from three point range and while D.J. Augustin isn't a world beater, he should provide a solid alternative when he's on the court.

What are the goals for this team?

If you asked me before August 1, I would've said the Pistons probably wouldn't make the playoffs. However, once Paul George went down, everything in the East changed. They have a better chance of making the postseason then they did at the start of the offseason, but if they get in, it'll probably be as the eighth seed. They'll be facing competition from Indiana, Miami, Brooklyn and some other teams.

12 AM we gon' do it again

It's been a long summer for Greg Monroe. He spent most of it grappling with Pistons management over a new contract and ended up signing a one year qualifying offer which will lead to him becoming an unrestricted free agent next offseason. He also received a two game suspension to begin the regular season after getting arrested for drunk driving in February. And to top it off, we found out he urinated on himself while he was getting booked.

As ugly as getting arrested for DWI is, that shouldn't take away from Monroe's status as one of the better big men in the league. Durability is a great attribute to have, and in four seasons, Monroe has only missed two games. Having a big man that gives you 30+ quality minutes on a night in, night out basis is incredibly valuable and helps to stabilize the rotation. He's also a pretty good passer at the power forward position. Monroe has also worked to expand the range on his shot. When he first entered the league, the overwhelming majority of his field goal attempts came within three feet of the basket. Slowly but surely, Monroe has ventured further away from the basket. Although he only shot 24 percent from 16 feet and beyond last season, it would be best for him and the team if he began to take more shots from there. 24 percent is awful, but if SVG & the coaches can turn him into a threat from that distance, it can add a new dimension to Detroit's offense.

What can Monroe do to get better? Let's pass the mic over to Detroit Bad Boys' Sean Corp:

Still, you would have liked to have seen more development in his outside shot, in his ability to not turn the ball over as he starts his high-post moves and in his incessant whining for fouls. Also, a new coach will hopefully install a more effective scheme for Monroe that doesn't ask him to run out past the 3-point line to show against the pick and roll. Because Monroe can't do it and it destroys the team defense when he is asked to.

One thing that can help Monroe is not having Josh Smith on the court with him. Smith is a spacing nightmare and with Van Gundy experimenting, there's a good chance he'll come to the conclusion that Smith would be best utilized coming off of the bench. He also needs to improve on the defensive end. He's not the most athletic power forward in a rapidly evolving game, and that leaves him at a disadvantage compared to some of his peers.

He'll be a free agent again this summer, and a big time season will go a long way towards him receiving a big contract. If he can continue to excel in the low post and make some improvements in other aspects of his game, he can help the Pistons break their playoff drought. Either way, it's going to be an incredibly interesting season in Detroit.

More reading: Detroit Bad Boys