Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.
1. Last season, the Pistons labored to an 0-6 record during the early-season road trip out west. How do they avoid that this season?
Dan Feldman: Trying. It’s difficult for Eastern Conference teams to win against the powerful Western Conference, especially on the road. Just two of 13 Eastern Conference teams had winning road records against the West last season, the Heat and Pacers. But the Pistons’ 0-15 at Western Conference teams last season was an unacceptable product of Lawrence Frank’s lackluster leadership and his players’ inability to lead themselves. The Pistons will probably lose most of their games at Western Conference teams this season, but they’ll win at least one if they try.
Brady Fredericksen: Continue to figure it out. It sounds elementary, but with every game, the team shows more and more glimpses of what they could potentially be down the road. This trip’s going to be tough, though. They’ll face some winnable competition, sure, but a road back-to-back against the Warriors has the makings of an, “Oh god, the horror!” losses. That’s just how the league works. Road trips are long, difficult and usually tough for teams still trying to figure out what they are. Hopefully there’s a more clear picture of what this team can do well when they return home.
Tim Thielke: Stagger the “big three”. Hopefully someone is bringing this to Maurice Cheeks‘ attention: with zero, one or all three of Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond on the floor, the Pistons have been outscored by 7.3 points per 100 possessions; with two of them on the floor, the Pistons have outscored opponents by 13.7 points per 100 possessions. And each pairing of two bigs has been about equally effective (although the sample size for Monroe/Drummond is incredibly small). I don’t care if it hurts someone’s ego, one of the three should be benched. Any one of them. So far Cheeks has had exactly two of them on the court for less than 18 mpg. That’s absurd. There’s no reason that number shouldn’t be about 30 mpg.
2. With big men like LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Pau Gasol featured on this trip, what do you hope to learn about the Pistons’ big man trio?
Dan Feldman: How they defend when not covering those impressive opposing bigs. The Pistons’ perimeter defensive rotations have been weak this season, and getting their bigs caught in space has been an issue. Players like Smith, Monroe and Drummond often measure themselves against opponents like Aldridge, Cousins and Gasol. I want to see how Detroit’s trio reacts when not covering those bigs, though. They must remain focused and active.
Brady Fredericksen: I actually want to see how they do offensively. When the team played against Memphis, one of the better “big” teams in the NBA, the big trio was actually more good than bad. Monroe and Drummond combined for 28 points and 24 rebounds, and Smith hovered outside and took 11 shots from 3-point range. If they can find more of the offensive cohesion they’ve flashed — ie: Smith being a creator — against these teams and players, I’ll feel better about their fit.
Tim Thielke: We should get a chance to see what type of player they are most and least suited to matching up with. Aldridge is a multi-talented, savvy player with range, but can be susceptible to bullying. Gasol is a physical beast with a lot of passing ability, but is slowing down and can’t match up with Detroit’s big men athletically. Cousins is the kind of player made for video games with every tool you could ask for, but lacks discipline on both ends of the court.
3. Between the Trail Blazers, Warriors, Kings and Lakers, which game are you most interested in?
Dan Feldman: Lakers. The Pistons are better than the Lakers, but the Lakers have played well in stretches and are capable of beating Detroit. Plus, it’s the freaking Lakers. I always want to see the Pistons beat the Lakers.
Brady Fredericksen: Kings. Maybe I’m just a masochist, but I’m fascinated by the Monroe-Cousins rivalry. Last year, Monroe (20 point, 12 boards and 7 assist averages) notched his first triple-double against Cousins (21 points, 13 rebounds) in an early-season matchup. These guys have a history, and they’re both playing the best ball of their careers. Plus, it’ll be a chance for the Pistons to make a statement with a nationally-televised game on ESPN.
Tim Thielke: Probably the Blazers. This will be our first look at how the Pistons fare against a team with a more traditional lineup of fitting players but without a ton of extra talent. I don’t think there is any way the Pistons stop all three of Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum. But the Blazers aren’t stopping all of Monroe, Smith, and Drummond.