The Pistons played their most impressive game of the preseason in Tuesday’s 112-86 win over the Orlando Magic, but let’s get this out of the way in the first sentence so I don’t have to keep using the qualifier throughout — the Magic are both pretty bad in the first place and they played without starting guards Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo, possible starters or rotation players Al Harrington, J.J. Redick, Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu and rookie first round pick Moe Harkless. To their credit, the Pistons pounded a lineup featuring several players who probably won’t figure significantly into Orlando’s plans for this season, but much like I didn’t get too upset about their blowout loss against Milwaukee, I’m going to try to stay even keeled about this blowout win.
The obvious takeaway from this game was Detroit’s long range shooting. After shooting just 22 percent from three in their first three preseason games, the Pistons made 10-for-21 tonight. Average or slightly below 3-point shooters Will Bynum, Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler probably aren’t going to go 3-for-3 every game, but the most encouraging sign for me was Brandon Knight hitting 3-for-4. Fans, media and, I’m sure, coaches have harped on Knight throughout his rookie season and offseason about doing more point guard-like things — taking care of the ball and distributing the ball — at a higher level this year. Knight has obviously taken that to hear. Throughout the Summer League and preseason, he’s been a willing passer and a better passer. The turnovers are still a bit high, but I think even Knight’s biggest critics would say that he has certainly looked to make plays more for others so far in this small sample size than what we saw from him last season.
The downside for the Pistons, though, has been that Knight has been a bit hesitant with his outside shot this preseason. With Ben Gordon gone, Knight came into this season with the reality that he could be the only legit 3-point threat who cracks the regular rotation. So although the Pistons need him to distribute and need him to take care of the ball, they also need his shot. I suspect him working to find that shooting/distributing balance will be a work in progress throughout the season. Tonight, though, he was taking and making the shots that we saw from him last season.
His increased aggressiveness on drives to the basket is nice. His determination to become a better passer and point guard is certainly something that will endear him to fans. His shooting stroke returning tonight is a relief, though. It’s hard to imagine Detroit’s offense thriving if he’s not as good or better from three as he was last year.
Drummond and the second unit shine
There has been and there will continue to be plenty of debate as to when Andre Drummond should enter Detroit’s starting lineup. He didn’t do anything to dissuade the most vocal supporters of him immediately starting with his effort tonight. He had nine points, three rebounds a steal and four blocks tonight in 17 minutes. In every recap so far, I’ve tried to temper my enthusiasm for Drummond a little simply because I don’t want expectations for the guy to get out of control as he still learns the finer points of big man play at the NBA level. Still, even if it was another opponent that won’t be in the playoffs, it’s becoming harder to make a case that Drummond shouldn’t start.
The Pistons just simply look like a different team when he’s on the court. They have a dimension they haven’t had since Ben Wallace‘s prime with Drummond’s shot-blocking, and that more than makes up for any rookie mistakes he might make. The Pistons got off to many bad starts last season, so it makes perfect sense to put your best lineup on the floor immediately to set that defensive tone Lawrence Frank wants.
These are the only a couple reasons I can think of to not start him. Maybe Lawrence Frank wants to wait and see how he handles better competition. That’s a legitimate reason to wait to make any lineup changes or pronouncements. Also, Drummond is party of a second unit that is really fun to watch and plays with a lot of energy. He runs fast enough to keep pace with Bynum, and Bynum — despite his usual shoot-first inclination — has been really good about involving Drummond and rewarding him with good passes for easy shots. Throw Jerebko, another energetic, athletic, fast player who loves to run the floor and a veteran slasher/foul-drawer in Corey Maggette. Throw in one of the two rookie wings who have shot the three well — Kim English or Khris Middleton — and the Pistons could potentially put a lineup into games that brings defense, speed, energy and shooting. If that unit continues to have good chemistry, I could see why a coach would be hesitant to break it up.
But whether Drummond starts immediately or not, his time will come very soon. It’s going to be impossible not to play him as many minutes as he can handle if the shot-blocking keeps up.
Monroe’s best game
I haven’t written much about Greg Monroe this preseason mainly because he’s at a point where we all know the high level he’s going to play at every game. Tonight was his best effort this preseason, though. He’d been a little sloppy in previous games. Tonight, he shot well, he showed off his passing and he came up with two steals (he might never block shots, but I still think he has potential to become a Karl Malone-like master of stripping the ball on its way up with his insanely quick hands).
His 15-footer is bordering on automatic at this point and I love how often he takes off with a rebound and leads the break (although he did get a little out of control on one of those plays when he should’ve gave it up). It’s almost cruel that Frank is making fans wait so long to see Monroe and Drummond get big minutes together.
Singler, English and Middleton all could play if there’s room for them
The Pistons have a nice problem developing. Well, it’s not nice for a couple of underperforming veterans on the roster. But English, Middleton and Kyle Singler are playing so well it will be hard to keep any on the bench this season even though there aren’t enough spots in the rotation to go around. I’m convinced English and Middleton will play if they continue to make threes (they were 2-for-5 combined against the Magic) simply because the Pistons don’t really have any other reliable shooters on their bench. And tonight, Kyle Singler inserted himself into that alleged stretch four conversation.
I should start by saying I don’t think having a stretch four is vital. In general, I’d rather not have one-dimensional specialists. But the Pistons happen to have Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye on the roster, and the only way either will play is if they are making threes. Villanueva was 1-for-5 tonight, Daye didn’t play and both have been terrible in the preseason. If Frank does plan to use a stretch four in his offense, neither guy has shot well enough to show they are capable of playing that role.
Singler may have made a case that he could handle that role tonight, though. His shot looked good and he has the added benefit of doing other things of value when he’s on the court — he takes charges, he passes, he makes a passable effort on defense and he plays hard. If his shot is falling and he’s doing those other things, he could easily win that competition with Daye and Villanueva, if that competition actually exists at this point.
Kravstov the odd man out for now?
Slava Kravstov hasn’t done anything really poorly this preseason, but he also hasn’t had much of a shot at extended minutes either. He’s done some decent things but hasn’t really stood out either way. Against Orlando, he grabbed five rebounds (four offensive) in eight minutes. So far though, Drummond looks more comfortable offensively, the team has more invested in him and, although Kravstov is no slouch athletically, he’s not the dynamic, once-in-a-lifetime athlete that Drummond is. I’d love to see more of Kravstov as the preseason continues, but so far it’s also looking like he could be the big man who is initially out of that regular season rotation.
Frank certainly has a lot of options. I’d say only two players (other than the camp invites), Daye and Villanueva, have harmed themselves this preseason. Everyone else seems to be making it extremely hard on Frank to allocate minutes.