RIP Detroit Pistons: Let us never speak of this again
Josh Smith was horrible, Brandon Jennings wasn't great and the Pistons were just a disaster. Let's explore!
With the Detroit Pistons eliminated from playoff contention, it's time to look back on their lost season and the train-wrecking-into-a-radioactive-landfill that was the 2013-2014 campaign. It's also time to look forward and ask where this team goes from here and how on Earth they can get out of this mess.
What went right: OK, I've thought about this, and I came up with 10 things.
1. No one major suffered a season-ending injury.
2. No one was arrested on felony charges.
3. Andre Drummond improved and posted a double-double average with a 22-plus PER.
4. Greg Monroe had a nice season.
5. Rodney Stuckey was legitimately good-to-very-good and was at least consistent.
6. Brandon Jennings improved both his assists-per-game (7.6) and assist-percentage numbers (34.5 percent)
7. Detroit figured out very early that this current collection of players wasn't going to work.
8. They will, in all likelihood, keep their pick which is owed to Charlotte if it is above No. 8 after the lottery.
9. There wasn't a major fire at the arena.
10. No one in the crowd was seriously injured by the massive amount of bricks careening wildly off the rim.
Oh, and they had Coach Sheed. Live forever, Coach Sheed.
What Went Wrong: EVERYTHING ELSE. ALL OF THE PISTONS WENT ALL OF THE WRONG. THERE WAS A SEA OF WRONG. IT WAS AN EPIDEMIC OF FAILURE THAT CAN ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS BIBLICAL. FUTURE GENERATIONS WILL DISCUSS THIS SEASON THE SAME WAY WE TALK ABOUT CUSTER'S LAST STAND. GERMANY'S CAMPAIGN TO INVADE RUSSIA WENT BETTER THAN THE PISTONS' 2013-2014 SEASON.
Alright, let's try and find some order. Let's start at the team level.
Here are their rankings in various categories
Field goals: 23rd
FG percentage: 20th
3-point FG made: 27th
3-point percentage: 29th
Opponent feld goals made: 25th
FG percentage defense: 27th.
Opponent points per game: 24th
Points per possession: 20th
Points per possession allowed: 25th
Net points per possession: 24th.
Assist-to-turnover ratio: 19th.
Effective field goal percentage: 29th.
They rebounded well. That's it. Hey, I found No.11 from above!
But those are just numbers. Let's get to the heart of it.
The team played so disconnected, so lifelessly, so out of touch with strategy or common sense that Mo Cheeks was the first coach fired this season, in his first year. They lacked understanding of quality shots, enthusiasm, energy, and any sense of commitment to a central identity.
I actually liked their ball movement quite a bit throughout the season. Which is what makes their field goal percentages and assist numbers so horrifying. This team moved the ball, and still wound up with horrible shots, all of which they missed.
Greg Monroe had a fine season offensively, but got lost behind the perimeter nonsense and the need to develop Drummond. The team has a huge dilemma of what to do with Monroe as a restricted free agent this summer. They don't seem to value him as a priority, but he's going to cost a boatload to retain. Their best bet may be to move him.
Drummond clashed with the coaching staff all year over a number of things. He was singled out for his defensive issues despite problems all over the floor, and didn't improve on that end nearly as much as he needed to. It's fine, he'll get there. The kid's 20. But for all the numbers he put up this year, he didn't make himself a better player overall.
Will Bynum provided some energy, but was largely underwhelming and made crucial mistakes late in games when he was on the floor. Kyle Singler was Kyle Singler. Jonas Jerebko continues to struggle finding a spot in the rotation. Chauncey Billups barely played.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope showed a lot for you to like, but he also shot 39 percent from the field and 30 percent from three. Not great for a guy who's supposed to be the shooter.
Now, let's get to the meat.
I actually don't blame Brandon Jennings that much. His field goal attempts were down slightly compared to last year, as was his usage percentage (percentage of possessions used). His assist numbers were up substantially. The concern with this team would be that Josh Smith and Jennings would chuck and the offense would be a mess. Jennings chucked, but not more so. He just didn't hit. He shot 37 percent from the field. Factor in how many missed shots the Pistons had as a team, and you have a not-great 103.8 points per 100 possessions mark with Jennings on the floor.
But Jennings made an actual impact on the offense. They were bad with him off (100.6 per 100 possessions). They just were not-good with him on. Watching Jennings, sure, he had times where he took too many bad shots and he wasn't patient or deliberate with running the offense. But the effort and mindset to be a point guard was in play. He just couldn't hit anything and neither could his teammates.
I have long defended the former Hawk. At one point he was a leader of a rare-breed of NBA athlete, the true stat-stuffer. He did everything. He was ruthless in transition, he was brilliant defensively, he was smooth in the post and he could block your shot, steal the ball, get up court and throw it down. He was a prototype. Those days are gone.
We'll get to the shooting in a minute.
Points, rebounds, assists, blocks, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, effective field goal percentage, and PER, all down. Via Basketball-Reference, he will post the highest defensive rating (points allowed per possession while on court) sinc his sophomore season in Atlanta.
But you know what? Players have bad years. Maybe it was an undisclosed injury. Maybe it was system. Or his personal life. Things happen which influence production. But his decision making, that's the real killer here.
This is his shot chart. Look upon it with woe.
Two players in the entire NBA shot more than 3.4 3-pointers per-game and made less than 30 percent. Two. Josh Smith and Jimmy Butler, and Smith had a worse three-point percentage by over two percentage points.
Why, in God's name, did Josh Smith take so many threes? This went from a playful quirk of Smith in Atlanta to an annoying habit holding back a good player to proof that Smith should be traded immediately except no one will take him because Oh, My God, have you seen his three-point shooting.
I don't know what it's going to take. I lobbied last summer for his contract to be conditional on a $2,000 fine for every missed shot beyond 10 feet. But it's too late for that.
On top of all that, Smith wasn't a leader. As the highest paid player, he needed to take the team under his wing, guide them, lead by example. He clashed with the coach, was defensive in the media and generally acted like he didn't care. He's cashing those checks.
There's hope for Smith. Surely this isn't how it ends for him. But if you want to talk about what went wrong with the Pistons, you have to start above.
MVP: Uh... Drummond? I guess? He tried hard, rebounded, and wanted to win. He's young enough to escape most of the blame here. He's their best player going forward.
LVP: Smith. So much Josh Smith. Very Josh Smith. All of the Josh Smith. I could go on. That's the amazing part. I could actually write more about how much he sucked this season.
Gameplan headed into the offseason: Burn it all to the ground.
They fired Joe Dumars this month. Sorry, "reassigned." There were rumblings about this for months, including indications that the decision to push for Josh Smith was not made by Dumars but by Tom Gores, but you're going to hear a lot of finger pointing in a situation like this.
They need a new GM and that guy had better have an awfully inventive plan. You can try "Well, let's get a good coach an see if that fixes things," but the Drummond-Monroe-Smith logjam is very real and very expensive and about to get more expensive. They'll have some room if they move Smith, or they can move Monroe. I'd actually advocate for moving both. Keep Jennings and Drummond, trade players for picks or younger assets, and start over. You'll take a bath on the Smith deal, but you can make it up with the Monroe trade.
At some point you have to look at how toxic this situation has been, and how long it's been like this in the city, and make drastic changes.
Ridiculously premature prediction for 2015:
If they threw all of the money at SVG to come in and shape this team, and they bought in, a big if, it could work. Get Smith working in the pick and roll instead of on the perimeter. Work the ball inside.
But unless they find a great coach and a great GM and make radical changes, that's the scary part. It's hard to see them improving much. Though in the East, they may not need to.
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