Passing Judgment on the Pistons: The First Trimester (Part Two: Player Edition)


Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

When your team adds $80 million dollars in salary over three and four years apiece for two players, there is no time for letting the other players develop.  Individual expectations are even higher when the other three starters in the lineup were all taken in the top ten of their respective draft.  However, the Pistons currently boast the NBA’s youngest starting lineup at just 23 years of age, and the 8th youngest team in the league overall.  How are the young players developing and how are the veterans responding to their big contracts and contract years?

CHAUNCEY BILLUPS – G – 6’3, 210 lbs; 17th Season

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Mr. Big Shot probably wasn’t brought back just to be a locker room presence.  However, that is about all that he has brought to the Pistons this year.  His three-point shot hasn’t been there to stretch the floor off of the big three, he doesn’t score efficiently inside the arc and he turns it over as much as he creates buckets for others.  His 8.3 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) ranks him as a low-level reserve who should only see the floor if injuries hit.  Someone should probably tell Mo Cheeks this, because Billups plays close to 20 minutes per game when he dresses.

Grade: D

WILL BYNUM – PG – 6’0, 185 lbs; 7th Season

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Will Bynum had a good season last year, really good if you consider that he was a backup.  In a contract year!  His 16.6 PER suggests that he was a starter-quality player coming off the Pistons bench last season.  This year, Bynum has slipped back to being a role player.  Injuries and the lack of a spot in the rotation have caused Bynum to only play in 14 of Detroit’s first 30 games.  When he has played, Bynum has done what he always does: Run around with the ball a lot.  His 23.4 Usage Rate suggests that he handles his share of Detroit’s possessions when he’s on the floor.  As far as quality, Bynum has shot well above his means from deep (career 27.3% shooter).  He’s done an okay job of taking care of the ball, but he struggles to score efficiently.  That being said, he should probably get some of Chauncey’s minutes.  Like the other Pistons PGs, he doesn’t pass the eye test defensively.

Grade: C-

KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE – SG – 6’5, 205 lbs; 1st Season

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KCP has struggled with typical rookie issues this season.  He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well, with both of his field goal efficiency measures below the 50-mark.  His non-scoring numbers don’t offer much either, although his low usage rate offers some explanation for that.  The one positive from KCP’s stats profile is his low turnover rate.  The one positive that does not show up in the stats table is his defense.  Recently he turned in a gem of a performance, guarding MVP-candidate Paul George for long stretches on a night where George finished with 17 points on only 4-14 shooting.  However, you can’t justify a role player as a lottery pick and we need to see more consistency and promise from him on the offensive end.

Grade: D+

LUIGI DATOME – SF- 6’8, 215 lbs; 1st Season

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Luigi Datome has struggled immensely to adjust to the differences between the NBA game and what he was accustomed to in Europe.  Billed as a strong three-point shooter, Datome is connecting on a measly 20.8% from deep so far this season.  This doesn’t appear to be caused by a lack of confidence; Datome takes 17.5 field goals per 36 minutes and has a 23.2% usage rate.  Far too high for a rookie coming overseas.  He turns the ball over on more possessions than he assists and is a sub-par rebounder for his position.  Datome has looked good in the past few games, but needs to establish himself to truly earn his minutes.

Grade: D-

ANDRE DRUMMOND – C – 6’10, 270 lbs; 2nd Season

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The Big Penguin is the first player on this list who can be proud of himself this year!  The expectations were high for Dre coming off a stellar rookie season, and he has lived up to the hype thus far.  Drummond ranks 2nd in the NBA in rebounding rate, is the league’s top offensive rebounder and is ranked in the top-50 in True Shooting% as a low-usage big man.  If you’re a fan of conventional stats, Drummond only trails DeAndre Jordan in FG%. Andre doesn’t get to play with Chris Paul either.  Drummond’s Achilles Heel, free throw shooting, has been stagnant from last year, only seeing a .8% increase in his free throw percentage.  Nobody’s perfect.  One strange number does appear when comparing his rookie season to his second season: his block rate has decreased from 6.1% to 4.6%.  He hasn’t become any less scary of an athlete, so perhaps he plays defense in fear of foul trouble.  His defense has failed to pass the eye test as well at times; his technique still needs work.  That being said, he’s increased his offensive rating, his defensive rating and is on pace to shatter his Win Shares from last year when he finished at 4.5.  This is the development of an All-Star, franchise cornerstone player.  Enjoy it.

Grade: A

JOSH “JORTS” HARRELLSON – C – 6’10, 275 lbs; 3rd Season

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The short version of this section reads: #Harrellson4MVP.  Who could’ve expected the value that Josh Harrellson has brought to Detroit this season?  He’s shooting 40% from three, scoring 54% of his two-point attempts, rebounding adequately and staying within himself.  There have been several games this season where he kept Detroit in the game while one of the big three (lookin’ at you Andre) were in foul trouble.  Starter-quality minutes off the bench that probably aren’t sustainable, and Jorts for life everybody!

Grade: B+

BRANDON JENNINGS – PG – 6’1, 170 lbs soaking wet; 5th Season

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We’ll just get this out of the way and get to happy things: Brandon Jennings is very, very bad on defense.  If you’ve watched a game, you’ve seen it; no need for explanation there.  However, there have been some incredible developments in Jennings’ game playing for Mo Cheeks this season.  He’s increased his assist rate almost a whole 5% above his previous career high.  With this has come only a slight uptick in turnover rate, and he’s hardly increased his usage.  Jennings is playing at an efficiency level he hasn’t seen in his career other than 2011-12, and that year he was more of a scorer than a true Point Guard.  Brandon has been true to his word so far this year; he said he would set up his teammates, and he’s done it.  He’s also getting to the free throw line more frequently.  If he can keep this up, it would be the best season for a Pistons PG since Chauncey was in his prime.

Grade: B+

JONAS JEREBKO – F – 6’10, 230 lbs; 4th Season

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Jonas is only playing 7.8 minutes per game this year, and that’s probably the appropriate amount.  He’s shot the ball better than he has in the past, but that’s been his only area of improvement.  His rebounding, passing and ability to take care of the ball have all been poor this season.  He’s not the worst player on the team.  Congrats, Jonas.

Grade: C-

GREG MONROE – F/C – 6’11, 250 lbs; 4th Season

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Greg Monroe has felt the effects of the Josh Smith signing so far this season.  His PER, Rebounding Rate, TS% and Usage Rate have all decreased in his fourth season in Detroit.  Once looked upon as the building block of the franchise, he may now be the one shown the door if Detroit breaks up their “Big Three” (I hate that nickname, we need a new one).  Numbers can only get you so far; they don’t tell you why Monroe’s production has slipped this season.  He’s being asked to expand his range past his natural talents to accommodate Andre and Josh, and it’s hurting his shooting and rebounding efficiency.  I don’t think he’s regressed as a player, but his ability to fit on this team has been diminished.  Unless there’s a solution to the floor spacing issues, his best value to the organization may be as a trade asset.  Moose has done his part well and he’s done it quietly; it just feels like there should be more there.

Grade: B

KYLE SINGLER – G/F – 6’8, 230 lbs; 2nd Season

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I’ll get this out there before I say anything else: Kyle Singler is my least favorite Piston.  Bias acknowledged.  That being said, his numbers look okay.  His best value is as a scorer, as he has improved his ability to get to the FT line (his FT rate has doubled from last year) and his shooting touch from the floor.  He doesn’t do much else well, and his rebounding and passing numbers have taken a slight tumble from last year’s marks.  His biggest area for improvement should be taking care of the ball.  He provides good hustle and energy off the bench, which has been big for them with Datome’s struggles at the SF position.

Grade: C+

JOSH SMITH – F – 6’9, 225 lbs; 10th Season

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This one could probably be broken down into two sections: Josh Smith in the first 24 games, and Josh Smith in the last 6 games.  Josh Smith in the first 20 games gets an F.  He was terrible, abysmal, hard to watch and the least intelligent player in the whole league.  He shot way too many threes, wasn’t rebounding like he did in Atlanta, appeared to be an extremely overrated defender and was the inspiration for many of the stupidest suggested trades you’ll see on the internet. Josh Smith for the last player on Sacramento’s bench? Sounds like a great deal! However, during the last 6 games Smith has been a completely different player.  Over the last 6 games he’s  averaging 23.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 2.0 SPG and 1.7 BPG all while shooting 49.3% from the field.  He’s raised his PER up to where it now sits at an even 15.0, decreased his 3-point attempt rate and improved his shooting efficiency numbers.  Simply put, Josh Smith over the last 6 games has been what the Pistons thought they were getting when he signed him this summer.  The Pistons are 3-3 in that stretch, but it hasn’t been Smith’s fault, which is a welcome change from the struggles the Pistons encountered in the first 24 games, which were mostly attributable to Smith.  He’s been nothing short of an All-Star caliber player over the last 6 games, and the Pistons need more of that to secure home-court advantage for their first-round playoff series over the next 52 games.

Grade: C

RODNEY STUCKEY – SG – 6’5, 205 lbs; 7th Season

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Rodney Stuckey is playing like he’s in a contract year so far.  The much-maligned former combo-guard has seen the benefits of strictly playing the Shooting Guard position this season.  He’s bounced back well from his worst year in the league, increasing his scoring efficiency back to his normal levels and giving the Pistons the scoring they need off the bench.  He’s been slowed lately by injuries, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t continue being the sixth man the Pistons need.  Seeing as he’s in the last year of his deal and doesn’t exactly fit into the Pistons’ long-term plans, Stuckey could see some trade discussion near the deadline in the middle of February.  Until then, he’ll continue to be the 2nd-most underrated player on the roster behind Big Ol’ Jorts.

Grade: B

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