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. With holidays upon us, what should Maurice Cheeks set as his New Year’s Resolution?
Dan Feldman: Tightening the Pistons’ defense. The Pistons have made big strides from early in the season, but there are still too many bouts of confusion, especially on perimeter rotations. Cheeks is on the right track. He just needs to keep it up.
Tim Thielke: Reducing the three point disparity. It’s unlikely the Pistons will make a lot of threes any time soon. But that means they really can’t afford to give so many up. Pistons’ opponents attempt the 5th fewest field goals. But a combination of prolific and accurate shooting from beyond the arc puts Detroit’s opponents in the top ten for made threes.
Brady Fredericksen: Why can’t Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond just play nice… and, well, together? It’s been noted countless times this season, but the Pistons’ jumbo lineup has been quite underwhelming so far. It’s a learning experience — Drummond learning the NBA, Monroe learning to guard power forwards and Smith learning to be a full-time wing — but that’s going to be a key to this team’s success going forward. We’ve seen glimpses of these three starting to play better individually this season, now Cheeks just has to figure out how to make it work all the time.
2. Who on this team can help him achieve that as quickly as possible?
Dan Feldman: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Caldwell-Pope, because of his consistency, has been the Pistons’ best perimeter defender. But his offense is limiting Cheeks’ options. Of the 71 players whose scoring volume (points per minute) and efficiency (true shooting percentage) are as low as Caldwell-Pope’s, only John Salmons and Tayshaun Prince play more minutes per game. Essentially, until Caldwell-Pope shoots better, Cheeks can’t play him much more than he already is.
Tim Thielke: KCP is still very much a rookie, but his two biggest skills that continue to develop should be defense and shooting. Luigi Datome looks like a great shooter, but hasn’t been so far. Smith has all the requisite skills to guard the arc, but has been useless against shooters so far. There’s a lot of room for fixing the disparity if any or all of those guys play up to the talent they have.
Brady Fredericksen: Smith. Let’s be honest, right now Monroe and Drummond are what they are — specialty players who are limited. Smith is limited as well, but he’s also the most gifted when it comes to doing playmaking-like things. The more Smith turns long jumpers into opportunities to create for others, the better those three, and the rest of the team, will be. Period. Cheeks should gift Smith with a piece of coal for every missed, contested jumper he’s had this year; though I guess that might require a dump truck.
3. How can Cheeks make his fictional resolution happen?
Dan Feldman: Use his personal connection with Rodney Stuckey to help him focus. If Caldwell-Pope doesn’t start shooting better, the more offensively capable Stuckey defending better is an alternative solution. At their best, Caldwell-Pope and Stuckey defend at about the same level. Caldwell-Pope just does it more consistently. If Cheeks helps Stuckey maintain his defensive intensity, Stuckey can play a bigger role.
Tim Thielke: Let Caldwell-Pope play more minutes. Have Smith focus on sticking to shooters. Give Datome defensive assignments that only require him to stand near the shooter instead of guys who are credible slashing threats.
Brady Fredericksen: Honestly, I don’t know. The thing that’s most noticeable about Smith’s floating about the perimeter when he’s at small forward is that he’s almost always near the top of the key. Maybe that’s where he’s most comfortable, but it’s most definitely not where he’s making most of his shots. By no means is Smith a great shooter from the corners, but why not try to shift his touches to the far corners? Smith has historically played decently from the baseline, and that opens up the free throw line for Greg Monroe — a spot where he can facilitate from. It can’t hurt, right?
Shot charts courtesy of NBA.com.