After a dominating defensive performance against the 76ers on Thursday, the Pistons finished up their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-esque season, setting up a very interesting offseason.
They started a horrific 4-20, challenging the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats for the worst record in the league, and looked destined for the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. Compounding the fact that they were an extremely mismatched roster (too many guards and not enough forwards/centers), a total revamp in both the coaching staff during the offseason made it hard to see the Pistons getting any better. The lockout had ruined any chance of the team getting acclimated to Lawrence Frank and his assistants.
Something changed in mid-February, however. Guards Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, and rookie Brandon Knight began coexisting and formed a pretty effective scoring and distribution trio. Gordon, highly maligned after the first year of his Detroit contract, showed glimpses of his former starting fame – a sharpshooting three-point threat – off the bench. Rodney Stuckey, finally freed from having to be a point guard on the team, also gave the Pistons a much-needed offensive boost with his ability to penetrate the defense off the dribble. Brandon Knight may have been a rookie, but he never seemed to hit the “rookie wall” that stunts so many players in their first season, playing in all 66 games of the shortened season. He also outplayed his more highly-publicized fellow rookie guards Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette, granted both of those players went to teams in more disarray than the Pistons.
The biggest reason for their turnaround this season, however, had to be second-year big man Greg Monroe. The former Hoya raised his scoring average by six points (15.4 in 2012, 9.4 in 2011) and his rebounds by two (9.6 to 7.5), showing that he’s worth much more than what most draft prognosticators gave him on Draft Day 2011. He seemed to carry the Pistons on most nights and his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) was 22.09, good for 15th best in the league. The thing I love most about Monroe’s game, though? His relentless drive on both ends of the court. Even late in the season, he was diving for loose balls and working hard to clean the glass on defense.
While his defensive numbers leave something to be desired (you’d like to see more than 0.7 blocks per game from a 6’11” player), that is something that can be worked on during offseason training. Forward Ben Wallace is still contemplating retirement, but if he stays on-board with the team as a special assistant of some kind, Monroe would be learning from one of the best defensive players of this decade.
Looking at the standings, the 2012 season for the Pistons was a lost one. They weren’t close to making the playoffs, but they weren’t bad enough to get a top five draft pick. They looked totally lost in January, losing three straight games by 23+ points at one point, and Lawrence Frank’s job looked in jeopardy very early on in the season.
They also beat several good playoff teams (Boston, Orlando, Atlanta, LA Lakers) in just a few months span, and played plenty of other tightly-contested games. A core of players – Stuckey, Monroe, Knight, Jonas Jerebko – emerged as legitimate building blocks for the team. Frank’s coaching message eventually settled in, and hopefully the team will be able to hold onto a coach for more than a few seasons.
Fans of the team surely wanted more this season, but compared to a good portion of the teams ahead of Detroit in the upcoming draft, at least they have something to look forward to in the immediate future.