The Pistons have been a major failure to this point in the season. With the trade deadline quickly approaching, 16 days to be precise, an important decision needs to be made. Do the Pistons throw in the towel on this season and once again wait for next year? Or do they fight it out and hope to claw their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs? This is a decision of long term vs. short term, and with the Pistons roster and assets, there is very little gray area or breathing room to help the team both now and going forward.
There is an argument to be made for fixing the team this year. A playoff push might rejuvenate the fan base and once again put more than 5,000 butts in seats at The Palace. The Pistons, at 19-27, sit just 2.5 games back of the 7th seed, and just 4 games back of the 6th seed Bulls who are keeping their heads above water mostly thanks to D.J. Augustin’s resurgence. That’s a dangerous way to survive. The point is, obtaining the 6th seed with the potential for a trip to the second round of the playoffs again isn’t out of the question. So what do the Pistons need to do in order to make a run at salvaging this season?
FIND ONE OR MORE GOOD THREE POINT SHOOTERS
There’s no way to sugar coat this one, the Pistons are atrocious when it comes to attempting to score outside of the paint. As a team they’re shooting a miserable 30.6% from three, ranking dead last in the NBA. The Dwight Howard blueprint, that every team he’s played for has figured out, is very simple. Find a dominant source of points in the paint and then surround him with sharpshooters. This strategy carried a mediocre Orlando team to the NBA Finals back in 2009. Shooters like Courtney Lee, J.J. Redick and Rashard Lewis feasted on the open looks created by Howard’s dominant inside presence. The Pistons should be attempting to find players to do the same. The team’s current leading three point percentage shooter (min. 40 attempts) is Kyle Singler at 34%. The Magic had seven players on their team who shot better than 34% from three in 2009. While the Pistons don’t have one dominant player like Howard; Monroe, Drummond and Smith are prominent enough scorers in the paint to create a similar effect. After all, the Pistons do lead the league in points in the paint. Some shooters who may be available in the right deal at the deadline include:
* Anthony Morrow – SG – New Orleans – 46.5 3pt% in ’13-’14; 42.7% career
* Arron Afflalo – G/F – Orlando – 42.4%; 38.9%
* John Salmons – SF – Toronto – 41.8%; 36.8%
* Jodie Meeks – SG – LA Lakers – 40.6%; 37.4%
* Jared Dudley – G/F – LA Clippers – 36.3%; 39%
* Wayne Ellington – SG – Dallas – 37.1%; 38.1%
Aside from Afflalo, none of the players above would be remotely expensive to acquire. Simply having the threat of an outside shooter might be enough to give the Pistons offense a kick when it goes into one of its usual second half lulls where they give a game away.
ACQUIRE A DEFENSIVE-MINDED BIG
For all the talk about how much size the Pistons have, they haven’t been very good at defending other teams’ post players. Greg Monroe has an ugly 107 Def. Rating, Josh Smith is at an ugly 105 (although he obviously spends more of his time on perimeter players) and Andre Drummond is a marginal 101. Simply put, the Pistons don’t have a good interior defender, let alone an elite one. The Pistons rank 22nd in the NBA at defending the paint. Improving paint defense to the middle of the pack in the league is critical to making a stretch run in the final two months. Here are a few defensive-minded big men who can help Detroit make the playoffs:
* Kendrick Perkins – C- Thunder – 102 DRtg this season; 102 career
* Bismack Biyombo – F/C – 99; 107
* Kyle O’Quinn – C – 102, 104
* Tyrus Thomas – PF – 102 career, currently a free agent
FIND A BACKUP POINT GUARD
Will Bynum is a nightmare. He’s hard to watch when he’s playing, and his stats are hard to look at. Bynum dribbles way too much, plays lackluster defense and steals any flow the offense has (which it probably doesn’t) when he comes into the game. Bynum’s 18.8% turnover rate ranks him in the bottom 20 in the league among PGs. He’s also yet another Pistons with a DRtg well above 100, checking in at 109 this season. Re-signing Bynum in the off-season was yet another mistake made by Dumars. Here are a few backup PGs who could be acquired to fix that mistake:
* Ramon Sessions – PG – Charlotte – 25.7 AST%; 13.9 TOV%; 107 DRtg
* Jimmer Fredette – G – Sacramento – 47.5 3Pt%; DRtg N/A…
* Aaron Brooks – PG – Houston – 41.2 3Pt%; 109 DRtg; 14.9 TOV%
FIRE MO CHEEKS
This one should be simple, even though it usually isn’t beneficial to fire a coach in the middle of a season. Mo Cheeks isn’t to blame for the horrible compilation of players the Pistons have. He is to blame for how he has used them this season. The Pistons’ three most used lineups are an average -5.2 points per 100 possessions:
* Jennings, KCP, Smith, Monroe, Drummond: -4.8 Points per 100 Possessions
* Jennings, Stuckey, Smith, Monroe, Drummond: +0.5
* Jennings, Stuckey, Singler, Smith, Monroe: -11.3
The Pistons can’t keep playing the lineups that they have been playing this season. The worst lineup in this group doesn’t even feature Josh Smith at SF, something that has been a common complaint about the team this year. The problem with the third most used lineup this year is, it features DRtgs of 111 (Stuckey), 111 (Singler), 110 (Jennings) and 107 (Monroe). That has to be one of the worst defensive lineups in the league. I really doubt that anybody in the Pistons organization is an advanced stats guru, but if that lineup is passing the eye test, someone needs to go LensCrafters (pay me, LensCrafters).
Step One: Fire Mo Cheeks, replace him with Lionel Hollins. If Gores really is serious about this team contending, or at the very least making the playoffs, he’ll buy out Cheeks and open the pocketbook for Lionel Hollins. Hollins would bring a defensive identity and could work wonders with Drummond the way he did with Marc Gasol.
Step Two: Three team trade between Detroit, New Orleans and Boston. Detroit gets SG Anthony Morrow and C Greg Stiemsma. New Orleans gets PF Brandon Bass, C Vitor Faverani and PG Phil Pressey, Boston gets PF Charlie Villanueva, PG Peyton Siva and G Austin Rivers, freeing up cap space for next season.
Step Three: Cut Luigi Datome and sign PF Tyrus Thomas.
Step Four: Trade Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey to Sacramento for Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton.
Through these four moves, the Pistons have shored up their defense and three-point shooting, the two biggest weaknesses on the team. They still lack a quality backup PG, but at least their backup fits into what should be the team’s desired style of play. The new rotation looks like this:
PG – Brandon Jennings, Jimmer Fredette, Chauncey Billups
SG – Anthony Morrow, Marcus Thornton, KCP
SF – Josh Smith, Kyle Singler
PF – Greg Monroe, Tyrus Thomas, Jonas Jerebko, Tony Mitchell
C – Andre Drummond, Josh Harrellson, Greg Stiemsma
It’s certainly far short of a title contender, but with a better coach and newly found perimeter shooting, this team should have what it takes to lock up a playoff spot and then promptly get swept by Indiana or Miami.