Pistons Mailbag - January 1, 2014
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Editor’s note: You can now submit Pistons Mailbag questions via Twitter. Include the hashtag #pistonsmailbag and, as always, your first name, hometown and state or country. Questions submitted via Twitter will also include the questioner’s Twitter handle.
Wilbert (New Orleans): In the two weekend losses to Orlando and Washington, it looks like Drummond has hit the proverbial wall. I love the guy’s talent and, as you well know, he was not a starter last year. So this is in essence his first season with a constant role. What do you think?
Langlois: Mo Cheeks commented on it after Sunday’s practice, Wilbert. He said it’s something they’ve discussed and will monitor. Then Drummond came back with 16 points and 16 boards against Washington the next day. So, draw conclusions at your own peril. Drummond is averaging nearly 33 minutes a game this year. I thought he would come in somewhere between 28 and 30, so he’s playing more than I anticipated. I think it’s more remarkable that it took him this long to show signs of fatigue, if that’s what it was, than it is that he’s exhibiting those signs when he did. He’s 20 and 33 is a lot of minutes for a big man, especially a young big man who really – despite his massive physical frame – needs to still add the natural strength that only physical maturation will fully allow.
Joel (Windsor Twp., Mich.): How long until Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is removed from the starting lineup? I would put Singler there because he’s a 3-point threat and a good defender. I think KCP should have to earn his minutes and the way he is (or isn’t) producing now, he is still a long way from earning that starting role in the NBA.
Langlois: See above, Joel. Caldwell-Pope, like Drummond, is also 20 and has never played anything like the stretch of schedule the Pistons have just completed, 33 games in 63 days. That’s a college season and then some and the Pistons still have more than half of their NBA schedule to go. Teams that have shooting guards with capable post-up games are attacking the slightly built rookie in the post, including Charlotte’s Gerald Henderson and Orlando’s Arron Afflalo of late. The Pistons have given Caldwell-Pope a pretty straightforward to-do list – defend hard, run the floor and make the occasional 3-point shot – so they aren’t necessarily judging him by his scoring. But when he isn’t denting the box score in rebounding, assists or steals it’s generally a sign that his level of activity isn’t where the Pistons need it to be. He played 40 minutes in the two weekend games and registered one rebound, no assists and two steals while shooting 1 of 6, a late-game dunk in the loss at Washington. And then, as Drummond did, he rebounded with a big game against the Wizards to close out 2013 with a career-high 17 points, all in the first half. I asked him directly after the game if he’d felt a little rundown. He smiled very broadly, shook his head and made it clear that he’s doing exactly what he wants to be doing and enjoying every minute of it.
Brady (Bowling Green, Ky.): Can you provide an update on Peyton Siva’s wrist injury? He had a great first game, 24 points, but injured his wrist and didn’t play on Monday. I hope he will be able to play in the next game on Friday.
Langlois: Pistons assistant GM George David tells me it is nothing serious, more a “sore wrist” than anything. He expects to be in Fort Wayne on Friday, with the Pistons not playing, to watch Siva and Tony Mitchell play.
Leandre (Kansas City, Mo.): Why isn’t Charlie Villanueva getting an opportunity to play this year? I know I’m probably the only Charlie fan, but I don’t understand why he’s been on the bench.
Langlois: Coaches will very rarely give candid explanations for why a certain player might not be playing, other than to talk about the talented players who are ahead of him in the rotation. But it’s no secret that for Charlie V to maintain a more or less permanent role in the rotation, he has to knock down shots. He’s a gifted shot-maker, and not just from the 3-point line, when he’s at his best. His December 2012 performances were key to the bench’s productivity during the best stretch of basketball the Pistons played a season ago. But he hasn’t been able to consistently recapture that level of play. When he was given playing time in Saturday’s loss at Washington, Villanueva missed all five shot attempts in 15 minutes. I don’t think you have to look any farther than that. If he could provide a consistent scoring threat, and particularly if he could be the 3-point complement on a second unit that still revolves around Andre Drummond, he’d be a rotation staple.
Nader (Hull, England): I’ve read all of the suggestions to trade Monroe, but what about changing the rotation to have Monroe come off the bench with Rodney Stuckey instead of starting KCP for a few minutes to come off for Singler? We could start Singler and KCP. Monroe seems more productive when playing at center. Don’t you think the Pistons should either make use of him as the sixth man to dominate the boards with Harrellson, who can stretch the floor for him, as well as having Stuckey doing his thing?
Langlois: It’s certainly an option worth pondering and perhaps exploring, Nader, if Mo Cheeks decides that some of the inconsistency plaguing the Pistons stems from playing all three of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith together. I’m not convinced that’s the issue. The Pistons have had some of their best moments with those three out on the floor.
Ku (Detroit): After hearing the news that Tony Mitchell was being sent to the D-League, I’m wondering if he is ever going to get a chance to prove he’s worthy of some minutes. I personally love what he brings. In the very few minutes he’s played he’s shown hustle, freakish athletic ability and a knack for getting offensive boards. I think he’s a very good shot-blocker, also.
Langlois: Mitchell played a total of 37 minutes over 10 games, Ku. It’s such a small sample size. The Pistons got a better chance to appraise him in Summer League and in the preseason and they liked what they saw and they’ve liked what they’ve seen of Mitchell behind the scenes, too. They think he’s an eager student willing to put in the work. I don’t think anyone really expected him to crack the rotation this year – mostly because of the veterans ahead of him at his position – but there’s enough raw material on his side that an encouraging second half of the season could put Mitchell on the radar screen for next year. Charlie Villanueva’s contract will be up, so there will be one less veteran blocking his path to playing time. It will be a big off-season for Mitchell. He’s exactly the type of player who could take a big leap between year one and year two.
Mark (Toledo, Ohio): Do the Pistons have a 2014 first-round pick?
Langlois: They hope not. They owe Charlotte a first-rounder as a result of the June 2012 trade that sent Ben Gordon to the Bobcats for Corey Maggette and his expiring contract – a deal that allowed them to sign Josh Smith in free agency – but it’s protected if it’s a top-eight pick this season. If the Pistons retain the pick this year, it would only be protected in 2015 if it’s the overall No. 1 pick.
Nikola (Belgrade, Serbia): Did the Pistons have to let Middleton go to get Jennings? I think if Middleton would still be with the Pistons we would have a strong bench with him, Stuckey and Chauncey Billups. We all saw Middleton have some good games at the end of last season and even then everybody could have seen his poteital. Is there a chance we get Middleton back?
Langlois: Middleton will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season with the strong likelihood that Milwaukee, which is in a rebuilding mode and has seen Middleton win a role, retains him. The Pistons needed to shed some other contracts in the deal that brought Jennings to town to fit his salary under the cap. There were only a few players on the roster who fit the criteria and two of them – Middleton and Slava Kravtsov, whom the Bucks never had any intention of retaining, given their depth of big men – were two of them. Kyle Singler was another. The Pistons obviously valued Singler, a full-time starter as a rookie, and kept him. They liked Middleton a great deal, too, but the chance to get Brandon Jennings required them to part with him as well as Brandon Knight.
Stephen (Berkley, Mich.): I wish the Pistons would go back to being the Bad Boys, but it seems nearly impossible in this generation of the NBA due to all the heavy fines on flagrant fouls. Do you think there will be any team ever again to resemble the Bad Boys?
Langlois: I hear you, but it’s kind of like saying you wish you could buy gas for $1 a gallon again. The NBA has changed so much that if you could have preserved the Bad Boys in amber and deposited them in today’s game they would be fish out of water. One small example: Isiah Thomas led the 1988-89 NBA championship Pistons in 3-point attempts. He took 1½ a game and shot 27 percent from the arc. I think the Bad Boys are one of the most overlooked, underrated NBA champions in history – they came within an eyelash of winning four straight titles, but even the two straight they won, in what I still regard as the golden age of the NBA, is damn impressive – but they wouldn’t fare well against the best teams of today if they were playing today’s game. By the way, I don’t think the Miami Heat of today would have fared very well playing by the rules and conventions of the ’80s. The game changes so much over 25 or 30 years that it’s impossible to meaningfully compare teams over eras.
Ryan (Hudsonville, Mich.): How about this trade scenario: Houston gets Smith and Harrellson; Portland gets Asik, Terrence Jones and Kyle Singler; and Detroit gets Batum and Lopez. Portland solidifies their defense and their frontcourt. Houston gets Smith to play power forward and Harrellson to back up Howard. And Detroit gets a legit small forward and Lopez to add depth.
Langlois: Reasonable exchanges of talent, Ryan. The question I would have is if Portland thinks it needs to make a move when it enters 2014 with a 25-7 record, far better than anyone projected. That tells me that chemistry is a huge component of its success and the Blazers would be taking a big risk with their mix by dealing two starters. No question, Asik would improve their defense. But their offense is functioning so well right now, and Batum is a very big part of that. I think Singler would complement Aldridge and Lillard very well, but would he be able to replace Batum’s contributions? That would be a tough call for a team playing at a high level. As for the Pistons’ end of it, I wouldn’t expect them to be eager to trade the player they targeted in free agency for his talent. They were clear that they coveted Smith because they viewed him as a very talented player and believed questions of fit would resolve themselves. I don’t think they’re ready to tack in other direction after 34 games. As discouraging as the past three games might have been, there were plenty of signs as recently as a week ago – remembering the thrashing of Cleveland on the road, or the wins at Indiana and Boston? – that things were coming together pretty nicely. And offense, by and large, has not been the issue for the Pistons.