1. How do you grade the trade for the Pistons?
Patrick Hayes: B. Brandon Jennings is better than Brandon Knight right now, and if there’s one thing we should take away from this offseason, it’s that Joe Dumars has fully committed to getting better immediately, future be damned. Any modest improvement will cost them a first-round pick in the loaded 2014 draft and, although I personally think it’s unlikely, Knight is still just 21. There’s at least a chance he develops into a better player than Jennings is right now.
Dan Feldman: A-. Once the Pistons signed Josh Smith and put themselves squarely in win-now mode, it became imperative they upgrade their starting point guard, and Jennings accomplishes that. If the Pistons are pushing themselves out of the top-eight of the draft – and signing Smith almost certainly did that – they had to get beyond the 9-14 range (The Disaster Zone, where they miss the playoffs and send their first-round pick to the Bobcats). Though Jennings’ flaws – erratic shot selection, attitude – could derail his positives, he projects to be much better than Knight, and that’s important for this team. Not getting a point guard better who would definitely be better next season than Knight has been the previous two would be like eating a hotdog without mustard. Sure the dog and bun are the most important ingredients, but without mustard to make it go down, the whole meal would have been ruined.
Jameson Draper: C. Just two months ago, the Pistons’ Andre Drummond-Greg Monroe foundation allowed for multiple possible directions to take the organization. Instead, they just spend loads of money on players who don’t necessarily fit so well in their system. It’s like Joe Dumars looked at points per game for each player in free agency and took the two two players with the highest totals who didn’t garner a lot of interest from other teams. Along the way, it seems the Pistons have lost direction. They specifically signed Chauncey Billups to mentor Knight and help him become a true point guard, but they gave up before the season actually started. Now Billups is an average, old bench player with a point guard, Jennings, who’s not quite as raw and therefore not quite as in need of mentorship. At least Jennings is a talent upgrade and could blossom outside Milwaukee.
2. Is Brandon Jennings the Pistons’ long-term answer at point guard?
Patrick Hayes: He is now. His contract isn’t bad (at least by Ben Gordon standards). Jennings is only 23 and an occasionally brilliant scorer, and I’m interested to see whether his quickness can be deployed in passing lanes the way Allen Iverson’s was in Philadelphia under Larry Brown, when the team featured shot blockers Theo Ratliff and later Dikembe Mutombo to account for Iverson’s gambling. Jennings has yet to prove he can be a reliable NBA point guard, but he still could get better. And if he doesn’t, I doubt he’ll get worse enough that his contract becomes impossible to move.
Dan Feldman: Yes. Jennings has no internal competition, and though the Pistons are still on track to have cap room next summer, Kyle Lowry is the only appealing unrestricted free-agent point guard, and he’s not that appealing. A trade is still possible – I hear Rajon Rondo could be available later – but the impetus is lessened with Rondo, and I believe Joe Dumars will give the talented Jennings time to learn from Maurice Cheeks and Chauncey Billups. A caveat: It sure sure seemed like Rodney Stuckey would at least remain a starter when he signed a similar make-good-but-still-get-paid contract with Detroit, but he sure fell off. Jennings is younger than Stuckey was at that point, but Stuckey was actually playing better preceding that contract. I’ll wouldn’t write in Jennings as the Pistons’ point guard of the future with ink, but a pencil with a shoddy eraser? Sure.
Jameson Draper: It’s too early to tell, but I say no, because a long-term answer right now at point guard should be a pass-first guard. Though Jennings isn’t a pass-first guard, his style could fit the Pistons well enough for now. He’s no longer the No. 1 scoring option like he was with the Bucks, and he has the ability to get the ball down low for easy buckets. Perhaps, he might not shoot so much anymore. There’s always a chance that being in a new environment could change the way he plays. Jennings wasn’t going anywhere in Milwaukee, but he could play well enough in Detroit to please the Pistons and cause them to ignore the positives of a pass-first guard.
3. What is Brandon Knight’s long-term outlook?
Patrick Hayes: Somewhere between Jerryd Bayless and Jason Terry, only better defensively. Knight’s defense was often overlooked last season because of the holes in his game offensively, and the Pistons will miss that. Knight’s defense, work ethic and 3-point shooting are enough to keep him in the league in some capacity for a long time. I’m skeptical he will ever develop into a good starting point guard, but I’m convinced he’ll be a useful player in some capacity for quite a while.
Dan Feldman: He must stop insisting he’s a point guard, one of his paths for getting on the court and actually improving will be at least part hindered by his own stubbornness. A 32-year-old Luke Ridnour is a marginally bigger roadblock to starting at point guard for Knight than a 37-year-old Chauncey Billups would have been, and I’m not certain Knight can clear it, so he should get used to the idea of spending time at off guard. His best position might very well end up being point guard, where he’s indicated he can be a quality defender, but his means of sticking in the NBA might be as a spot-up shooter. It’s too early for him to close one of those options.Still, it’s not quite clear what the Bucks, who also have O.J. Mayo at shooting guard, have in mind. If Milwaukee dedicates to playing Knight big minutes at point guard and developing him – or if he’s forced into that role by a Ridnour injury or ineffectiveness – Knight might finally help the Pistons make the playoffs.
Jameson Draper: I really hope some team nurtures him better than the Pistons did. The Pistons pushed too much responsibility his way early in his career while he was still developing at point guard. Then, they stunted his growth by pushing him to the wing when they traded for Jose Calderon. If a team allows Knight to grow organically in one position— whichever they choose— Knight could develop into a solid starting guard. He’ll never be a star, but he has the opportunity to be a solid starter with a little consistency.