Earlier this offseason when I was lobbying (begging?) the Detroit Pistons to sign Tracy McGrady, something I believed would be an advantage was the potential for increased competition among perimeter players with something to prove.
Although it’s basically a foregone conclusion that Rip Hamilton will once again be the starter at shooting guard (barring injury), I think an open training camp competition for this spot would serve the team well. I’ve already advocated for a couple other incumbent starters to be flipped to the bench, and I believe that there is absolutely no argument that could be made that Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince are not the best options to start at their respective positions, so that only leaves the two guard spot to talk about.
The difference with the shooting guard group, however, is that I don’t have a clear horse in the race. With Will Bynum and Charlie Villanueva, I think they both have needed skills that the person they would replace haven’t shown as much (Bynum’s passing and Villanueva’s scoring). At the two spot, I just simply want the best player in camp/preseason to get the job.
To be clear, this isn’t a post saying "the Pistons need to trade someone." True or not, I’m pretty focused on the roster as-is. Trades are rare this time of year, and while someone leaving would certainly help, it’s likely that this is the roster the Pistons will start the season with, so it’s time to work with what they have.
Since I have no strong opinion on who should necessarily start, I’ll instead just rank ‘em based on who I think would likely win such a competition:
1. Hamilton: Yeah, it’s a boring outcome. But Rip has some things going for him that others don’t. First, he’s a team captain. You usually don’t see team captains get benched.
He’s older, but still one of the best conditioned athletes in the league. He has spent virtually the last year or so listening to people say he’s washed up or he should be traded, so since he’s a prideful player, I’d assume he’d have some motivation to show differently.
Health is obviously the biggest question with Rip, but if he’s fully healthy this season, there’s no reason to believe he won’t approach the 18ish points per game with a decent shooting percentage numbers that he’s put up most of his career. Plus, he’s the Pistons best defensive option at the shooting guard spot.
And if Hamilton doesn’t start, that kind of shoots my whole "Will Bynum should start because he’s a better compliment to Rip Hamilton" theory. Starting Rip is the easy thing to do to avoid any sort of controversy. I’m not sure that’s the greatest reason to start somebody, but with a returning team that didn’t show great chemistry in the first place, it’s probably best to avoid a chemistry-upsetting issue.
2. Tracy McGrady: Asking alpha-dog scorers who are still so beloved that they get voted into All-Star Games despite being shells of their former selves to come off the bench is always a good option, one that has worked out fantastically for the Pistons in the past.
Yeah, I get it … McGrady is not Allen Iverson. I’m not sure anyone can compete with Iverson from a pride and delusion standpoint, and McGrady has at least said beforehand that he’d accept a bench role, whereas Iverson came in expecting to start and play 40 minutes a game.
But who am I kidding? I’m the web’s foremost Allen Iverson apologist, and McGrady is not far behind on the superstars I inexplicably love scale. The Pistons signed him, partially, because he has ridiculous star power, even with his declined game, and if he can be serviceable on the court, why not start him if he beats somebody out in camp? McGrady earning a starting spot on the Pistons would certainly generate more interest in the team league-wide, and interest is about the best that non-contending teams can hope for.
One of my arguments for starting Hamilton is his height offsets playing next to a smaller guard like Bynum (should my dream of Bynum as a starter come true), and McGrady addresses that same concern, although he’s certainly not as good a defender as Hamilton is.
3. Ben Gordon: Gordon’s biggest positive suggesting he should start: his contract. He’s paid like a starter. But that’s not really the best case to make for someone starting.
I like Gordon, and I empathize with him — he produced very well offensively in Chicago and always wanted to start. He left as a free agent largely looking for an opportunity to start. And while injuries cost him a good portion of his season a year ago, if there was one thing we learned about Ben Gordon, it’s that he might just be a guy who is much better suited to coming off the bench.
But again, contract. Because of what he’s being paid, the Pistons are going to have a hard time moving him, so he’s going to have to be given every opportunity to earn a starting role. He has the skills offensively to do it, but his height puts him at a decided disadvantage. The Pistons can’t afford to play Gordon and Bynum next to each other for long stretches, and even Gordon and Stuckey is a pretty small backcourt.
I fully expect Gordon to play better this year, but I’d be shocked if he does so as a full-time starter.
4. Austin Daye: Daye is the darkhorse of all darkhorses. After the McGrady signing, it appears that there might not even be a spot in the rotation for Daye.
But of all the Pistons young players, Daye offers tantalizing potential as a 6-foot-11 guy with perimeter skills — a great shooting stroke, the ability to put it on the floor and a nice little floater on the move from inside 15 feet that he’s unveiled at times. His skillset and size are, dare I say, a little McGrady-esque. He’s nowhere near the athlete young T-Mac was, but McGrady’s height at the guard spot made him a nightmare matchup for teams, and if Daye plays at shooting guard, he’ll have a similar advantage.
Daye is clearly fighting for any scraps of minutes he can get with this crowded group of veterans in front of him, but Jonas Jerebko took advantage of an opportunity for spot minutes last year and made it impossible for John Kuester to remove him from the rotation. Daye won’t start, but if he plays with the same mentality that Jerebko did last preseason, he can work his way past some veterans and earn some minutes.