Posted by Matt Moore
Things could have gone worse for the Pistons last year. It would have taken an outbreak of the bubonic plague or an appearance from classic Ron Artest, but things could have gone worse. They had horrific injury issues, and when healthy, their big free agents struck far below their goals. The team is still seemingly in a transition period, as everyone waits for Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, or both to get moved, ending the 2004 starters once and for all. But in the meantime, John Kuester's got to get this team back on track. They have way too high a payroll in this economy to have performed as they did. If things don't turn around quickly, the situation could get hot all over in Detroit. With that, we turn to our Preseason Primer on the Pistons.
Training camp site: Detroit, MI
Training camp starts: Sept. 27
Key additions: Tracy McGrady (free agency)
Key subtractions: Kwame Brown (free agency), Greg Monroe (draft)
Likely starting lineup: Rodney Stuckey (PG), Rip Hamilton (SG), Tayshaun Prince (SF), Charlie Villanueva (PF), Ben Wallace (C)
Player to watch: Ben Gordon. Gordon was the premier free agent for the Pistons as they tried to reconfigure their team. Instead, he was pretty bad last year, when injuries didn't keep him off the floor. His shot wasn't there. And Ben Gordon without a shot is like a bike without wheels. It's shiny, but it also doesn't actually do anything. He's not a tremendous defender, he's bad when it comes to creating opportunities for his teammates, and you're banking on him being a volume shooter. So if he's shooting poorly (his eFG%-factoring field goal percentage with threes factored- plummeted to 47% from 52% the prior year), he's not giving you much. He's pledged to be more aggressive this season, and if he bounces back, the Pistons will too... a little bit. Gordon needs to hit camp running, get the starting job, and become the premier talent the Pistons are paying him to be.
Chemistry quiz: It's either an egg waiting to be hatched, or a time bomb set to go off. Rip Hamilton hasn't been happy the last few years, and he and Tayshaun Prince, the last remaining members of the '04 championship team, have been on the trade block for years now. That situation could sour quickly if Dumars gets involved in late-stage discussions (to the point where one or both of the two are notified to start packing) and it falls apart. From there? There's no real sense of how these guys will do together, because the main cogs haven't been together that long. Stuckey's been around for years, but Will Bynum is still getting comfortable along with Gordon and Villanueva. Oh, Villanueva. That's a whole other story.
Injury watch: The entire team. Every single one of them. Only four players played more than 70 games last season. That team needs healing potion more than your level 78 mage.
Camp battles: The easy out here is shooting guard as Ben Gordon tries for 400th time in his career to win a starting spot while Rip Hamilton keeps his death grip. But given the odds that both of them will be healthy for the duration of camp, this one's hard to classify as a battle, especially with how willing Gordon is to accept a sixth man award role. The real battle is likely to be at power forward, where Jason Maxiell is no longer the kiddo and could make a legitimate push for the starting power forward slot if Charlie Villanueva doesn't show the requisite toughness for Kuester. And while Greg Monroe probably won't win it, his raw ability may put him into a fight with 84-year-old veteran Ben Wallace. All of this is before the Pistons' biggest dilemma. Dynamic Will Bynum who can be inefficient and force things at times, or Rodney Stuckey, who can simply vanish now and then. Pretty much Prince is the only one locked in.
Biggest strength: They can't be as bad as last year? The team has scorers, if they're healthy. If they can find a system that works to their strengths, they can put points up on the board. Villanueva is versatile and athletic, Gordon can detonate at any time, Monroe is going to be a great pick, and the team can attack the rim relentlessly... again, when healthy.
Glaring weakness: Defense. Clap clap. Defense. The Pistons were the fifth worst team in defensive efficiency last year. Some of that is injury related, but a large part of it is that Dumars gambled on heavy offense free agents subscribing to the system, and that just didn't happen. Ben Wallace was downright inspiring last year, but he's just got too many miles on him. This team is inconsistent, and seems to have problems with differing agendas. Camp needs to gel them on the defensive end.