As the NBA regular season approaches, we preview the upcoming campaign with the “Highs and Lows” system — predicting the respective ceiling and basement for each team.
Added: Tracy McGrady, Greg Monroe
Lost: Kwame Brown, Chucky Atkins
Ceiling: 8th seed, quiet first-round exit
Rodney Stuckey went a little overboard when he said Detroit is an elite team on paper, but he isn’t crazy: The Pistons do have a lot of talent … Rip Hamilton averaged 18.1 points per game last season and is still one of the best mid-range offensive threats in basketball. Stuckey (16.6 ppg, 4.8 apg) is arguably in the top half of starting point guards in the NBA, and Will Bynum is one of the better backup PG’s around. Ben Gordon (13.8 ppg) is a professional sniper with proven crunch-time credentials. Austin Daye is an intriguing prospect as a 6-11 swingman. Jason Maxiell is the type of undersized-big-man energy guy that every good team has in the holster. Ben Wallace is still good enough to lead the Pistons in rebounds and blocks and has a borderline Hall of Fame resume. Tayshaun Prince (13.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg) can still anchor a defense from the perimeter and have the occasional scoring binge. Lottery pick Greg Monroe has Lamar Odom-type potential. Charlie Villanueva is always seemingly on the verge of a true breakout season. Jonas Jerebko was a surprise impact player as a rookie and a future defensive stopper. And brand-new pickup Tracy McGrady is simply one of the most gifted basketball players of this era … The talent is definitely there, and the Pistons have a lot of guys with playoff and championship experience. Rip, Tayshaun and Wallace have their title rings from ’04, and Gordon, Maxiell and T-Mac have been through their share of postseason battles … Head coach John Kuester should have a lot of different lineups to work with, as the Pistons can go small, go big, go fast, go half-court, go offense-first or go defense-first. Again, on paper, this team is good.
Basement: Nondescript Lottery season
Problem is, the Pistons roster looks a lot better if this were 2005, and none of their talent has been able to stay healthy at the same time. Rip, Tayshaun and Gordon missed a combined 89 games last season — according to Dime’s Fantasy Doctor, that’s the same number of DNP’s that Yao Ming, Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum have averaged per season in their combined careers. Jerebko is going to miss a few months with an Achilles injury, and I love T-Mac, but he’s not exactly the most durable dude in the League … But let’s say everybody does stay relatively healthy. While Detroit’s roster has depth, it also holds a potential recipe for inconsistent minutes and ensuing chemistry issues. Bynum said over the summer he sees himself as a starting point guard, but Stuckey has that job on lock. T-Mac, Rip, Gordon and Daye will all be looking for minutes (and shots) at two-guard, while Villanueva, Maxiell, Monroe and Chris Wilcox will fight for time at power forward. Can Kuester manage this mix of stubborn vets and eager youngsters? … Last season the Pistons had the 29th-ranked scoring offense in the League (94 ppg), and finished 27th in field-goal percentage, 30th in three-point percentage, and 26th in assists. Part of the reason was lack of chemistry: With so many injuries, there was never a set rotation. Another culprit was that the team never had a reliable interior scorer, meaning they were too dependent on Stuckey, Rip and Gordon hitting jumpers. T-Mac can help as a perimeter scorer and playmaker, but more important will be if Monroe can develop into a strong offensive force in the paint. But so far in the preseason, the 7th overall draft pick is hitting just 41 percent of his shots and scoring 9.0 points a night.
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