Monday, March 31, 2014

Listen to Your Chart: Why the Pistons Defense Sucks (+Video Analysis)

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The Pistons entered Monday night's game against Milwaukee with the NBA's 24th ranked defense, surrendering 106.3 point per 100 possessions.  There are many options when deciding who to blame, but it doesn't change the fact that they've failed collectively.  Brandon Jennings has been a sieve at the top of the key, failing to stop penetration, and often gambling in bad spots for steals.  The Pistons enter just about every game over-matched athletically at SG because they're forced to start a SF there.  Despite his athletic qualifications, Josh Smith might be the least fundamentally sound defensive player in the league.  His habit of losing shooters when playing help-side defense has become a frustrating sight, night in and night out.  Greg Monroe's been abused by just about every post player in the league at this point in the season, surrendering large point totals to his counterpart routinely.  Andre Drummond is still too raw of a defender to hold his own against a true post threat, and the poor guard play often forces him to make a choice between playing the ball and his man.  Those situations usually don't end well when you're trying to stop two professional athletes with one man.  Every individual is to blame, and the shot chart shows it.  The following is a zone chart of the Pistons' opponent FG% with their starting five on the floor (Jennings, Singler, Smith, Monroe, Drummond).
Vorped.com
The Pistons are so bad on defense that there are multiple zones from behind the arc where teams shoot over 50% against their starting unit.  Poor rotation and lazy on-ball defense are usually the culprits when a shot chart looks like this. And then there's the paint, where the Pistons should thrive with their big lineup, which has been diced up by opposing offenses.  Against the Pistons' starting five, opposing teams are shooting over 60% within five feet of the rim.  Easy penetration by opposing guards forces Monroe and Drummond to play up into the paint, allowing for easy looks to their unguarded men. 

This clip, from Detroit's March 28 loss to the Heat (110 points allowed) should provide a snapshot of what's ailing the Pistons this year. 
The first symptom shows at the :14 mark, when Miami runs a simple pick-and-roll with LeBron James (ballhandler) and Udonis Haslem (screener).  The Pistons "attempt" (attempt to attempt?) to defend the play with Josh Smith on James and Andre Drummond on Haslem.  Smith's duty is to fight through the screen while Drummond hedges James to both slow penetration and eliminate James' look at a jump shot.  Smith decides to play under the screen and Drummond sags off to guard Haslem on the roll.  What ensues is what you can imagine would happen when a four-time MVP has a wide open 20 footer.  This is Exhibit A of the Pistons being lazy (Smith) on defense, and not understanding their responsibilities (Drummond).  If you want Exhibit B, click to the :28 mark to watch Andre Drummond guard absolutely nobody on the fast break, leading to a wide open Udonis Haslem jump shot.  Exhibit C comes at the 1:00 mark when Jerebko plays under a screen, opening the lane for Rashard Lewis.

A clear example of the Pistons' inability to play defense off the ball is provided at the :45 second mark.  The video picks the play up late, but it appears that Greg Monroe has been switched on to LeBron James after a Rashard Lewis screen (Stuckey is guarding Lewis in the right corner).  Josh Smith leaves James Jones (career 40.1 3P%) to avoid Monroe getting taken off the dribble by James.  However, he either fails to communicate the switch, or Monroe is unprepared to get to Jones, and then the Heat do what has won them back-to-back titles: move the ball on the perimeter.  While Monroe and Smith have been switching up top, you'll notice how low to the baseline that Brandon Jennings is.  With the ball on the right wing, and his man in the left corner, Jennings should be up the lane a notch or two higher, staying in between his man (Norris Cole) and the ball.  Instead, Jennings is an extra two steps away from James Jones when he catches it, and by the time he reacts, Norris Cole has done what any smart guard would do, and has moved into the corner for a wide open three.  There's nobody within 8 feet of Cole when he knocks down a three. 

At the 1:49 mark, the Pistons give up an easy lay-up thanks to a brilliant display of poor defense.  To open things up (1:49), Josh Smith and Will Bynum fail to seal the ball-handler to the sideline on a high pick-and-roll being executed by Norris Cole (ballhandler) and Chris Bosh (screener).  Bynum plays the screen properly by fighting over the top, and Smith hedges Cole.  However, Smith doesn't cut Cole off and he blows right by, leaving three Pistons to defend four Heat players.  Cole gets to the mid-range baseline (1:51) and Monroe slides off of Chris Andersen to cut Cole off.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, left to guard Monroe's man (Andersen) and his man (Shane Battier), has already been sealed off by Andersen and Battier reads it appropriately.  Battier cuts to the hoop unimpeded, with no fear of anybody coming over to block his shot.  The play ends with rare paint points for Battier.  It started with something as simple as Smith not getting his foot to the sideline and letting Cole slip by.  As cliché as it is, defense often comes down to doing the little things right, something the Pistons have been bad at for quite some time now.

 FULL LIST OF POOR DEFENSIVE PLAYS (TIME)
Josh Smith plays under a ball-screen (:14)
Andre Drummond doesn't hustle back on break to guard somebody (:27)
Smith-Monroe miscommunication, Jennings' out of place, poor rotation (:45)
Jerebko plays under a ball-screen, nobody hedges, no cut-off from help-side defense (1:00)
Andre Drummond fails to hedge PNR, gets caught in no-mans land (1:21)
Smith doesn't cut off sideline on PNR, KCP gets sealed from playing help-side (1:49)
Drummond playing too far off of James Jones leads to open three (2:08)
Drummond not far enough up for hedge on PNR (2:20)
Drummond loses his man in PNR leading to open layup (2:30)
Will Bynum, too lazy to move his feet, unsuccessfully reaches for steal (2:50)

That's a list of ten plays that came from a three minute long game highlight video.  The first thing that jumps out from the list is, Andre Drummond needs a lot of work in the offseason with the fundamentals of playing defense.  He's the team's second-most capable defender due to his athleticism, quickness and size, but he just isn't getting it done because he doesn't get himself in the right position.  Second, Josh Smith is a really lazy defender.  Unless it's a foot or two behind the three point line, you just can't play under a ball-screen on NBA players.  He (as well as Jerebko) can be seen doing this on multiple occasions and it's just a matter of doing things right.  The only way that's not the case is if Loyer has the team playing under ball screens, in which case, the organization is clearly tanking.  Lastly, I want to point out that defense could be a huge area of improvement for next season.  The Pistons' poor defense isn't necessarily a factor of poor physical skills.  It's been a matter of understanding positioning and responsibilities.  It's much easier to fix the mental part than it is to fix the physical part, especially with a young player like Andre Drummond.  The necessary improvement isn't coming under John Loyer.  The Pistons need a great defensive mind (I see you, Lionel Hollins) to lead the way.

It all comes down to every man holding up his part of the bargain so the team isn't left scrambling.  The video showed too many times where a help-side defender was put in a bad position because somebody else made a mistake.  Good teams don't do the things that the Pistons have done on defense this season.  This offseason will allow them the chance to fix things, and 2014-15's playoff hopes will depend on how much Detroit can improve fundamentally on defense.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 Draft Scouting - 1st Round - Dante Exum

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**2nd Round: Mitch McGary, Johnny O'Bryant

While most of this season's ire has been directed at Josh Smith (and rightfully so), Brandon Jennings has also failed to live up to his contract.  The importance of the point guard position in basketball needs no explaining, and it stands to reason that the Pistons' failures this season start with the play of Jennings and Will Bynum.  Jennings is having one of his worst seasons this year scoring the ball, and his defense has been practically non-existent.  Jennings' Defensive Rating of 111 is the worst of his career, and while that number is partially a reflection of the units he plays with, anybody who has seen Detroit play this season could tell you that Jennings hasn't played a lick of defense.  He's not big enough to body up the bigger PGs and he gambles too often to take advantage of his quickness.  At both ends of the floor, the Pistons could certainly find an upgrade.

Seeing as the Pistons have been a flaming pile of garbage the past few weeks this season, they just might be able to find that replacement in the draft.  This year's point guard crop features a few potentially elite names such as Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Tyler Ennis, before sharply falling off into less desirable options.  There's a reasonable chance that only one other PG goes in the first round outside of the three mentioned above.  The popular choice for the cream of this year's PG crop is Dante Exum, an 18 year old Australian guard with massive upside.  Let's look at the specifics on Exum and how he might fit in with the Pistons if Detroit gets a chance to take him.

Click "Read More" for the rest of the scouting report...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 Draft Scouting - 2nd Round - Johnny O'Bryant

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**Mitch McGary

The Pistons have had the luxury this season of being able to essentially use their starting frontcourt members as their backup big men.  For example, Josh Smith is the main backup PF to Greg Monroe, and Greg Monroe will move to C for most of the minutes that Andre Drummond is on the bench.  While Jonas Jerebko will see minutes at PF, he's not a high usage or a high minute player.  Seeing as the Pistons big three frontcourt hasn't lead to success, there's a pretty good chance that one of Josh Smith or Greg Monroe will be gone this offseason.  That will not only leave a hole at SF, but it will also leave the Pistons looking for a backup post player.  They may think that Jonas Jerebko can absorb the PF minutes, but that will still leave them looking for another C.

A second round draft choice as high as the Pistons' pick allows Detroit the opportunity to grab a talented player who just barely missed the first round.  LSU F/C Johnny O'Bryant is a guy who is bursting with talent but is missing the consistency, accolades and production to be a sure-fire first round pick.  Draft guru Jonathan Givony, of DraftExpress.com has O'Bryant going 49th overall in this year's draft, as the 19th pick in the 2nd round.  Personally, I'm a little bit higher on O'Bryant because I like his combination of length, strength and scoring ability.  Let's take a closer look at how O'Bryant's game works and what his upside might be at the NBA level.

Click "Read More" to get a breakdown of O'Bryant's game...

Pistons to Bring D-League Team to Grand Rapids

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David Mayo of M-Live posted an article this morning saying that the Pistons will be bringing a D-League team to Grand Rapids through a locally-owned partnership.  Mayo's article states that the Springfield (MA) Armor will be purchased by a group from the Grand Rapids area and moved to the city's DeltaPlex Arena.  The team's business operations will be managed by the local group, and player operations will be managed by the Pistons' front office.  This is an exciting announcement for anybody in the Grand Rapids area who has missed minor league basketball since the CBA folded.  It's also encouraging from a standpoint that the Pistons will have a close affiliate to develop young players who aren't guaranteed to see playing time in Detroit.  Stay tuned for more details on this as it develops.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pistons Expected to Pursue Tom Izzo

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More details here (Hoops Rumors), where Sam Amick of USA Today is the original source for today's update on the Pistons potential coaching search.  The obvious connection here is that Tom Gores, an MSU graduate would love to sign Izzo up to run the Pistons.  I'm not sure how Izzo would be as an NBA head man, but I think Gores knows it would initially put butts in seats.  I'm sure there's more to come on this in the months ahead.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Looking Ahead to Next Year: Greg Monroe

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The future of Greg Monroe has been one of this season's main sub-plots, which was only intensified with the signing of Josh Smith last summer.  Monroe has been a part of the Pistons' jammed up middle of the floor, suffering slight decreases in his raw statistics, but still looking good from an efficiency standpoint.  Monroe is posting a 17.9 PER this season, the lowest mark of his career; but that can be misleading for a few reasons.  First off, Monroe's rebounding numbers have taken a hit due to the fact that he plays with one of the NBA's best rebounders (Andre Drummond) as well as sharing the floor with one of the better rebounding SFs in the league (Josh Smith).  Another reason Monroe's PER has taken a hit is because of a decrease in usage.  With a decrease in Usage Rate from 24.8% down to 20.6%, Monroe's PER suffers slightly due to the way the statistic is calculated.  Despite the decrease in PER, PPG, RPG and APG there are still a lot of reasons to look at Monroe as a go-to post scorer.

Monroe posted a higher TS%, eFG% and Free Throw Rate this season as compared to last.  While his increased shooting efficiency can probably be attributed (at least a little) to fewer shots (which would equate, in theory, to more calculated looks) he deserves credit for managing to thrive in the efficiency vacuum that is this year's Pistons offense.  This season Monroe has posted an Offensive Rating similar to those of LaMarcus Aldridge and David Lee.  It hasn't been his best work, but there's obvious reasons Monroe's production has fallen, and it has nothing to do with his game.  With Joe Dumars on his way out, it looks very likely that Monroe won't be playing alongside Josh Smith next season.  It's just a matter of who is on their way out and who's staying.  Let's take a look at what might happen with Greg Monroe this offseason.

CONTRACT

*I haven't read the CBA front to back, so any cap numbers are a rough estimation

Greg Monroe is a Restricted Free Agent this summer, meaning that if the Pistons extend him a Qualifying Offer (QO) between the end of the NBA Finals and the end of June, they'll have the right to match any offer sheet he agrees to with another team.  Monroe's QO, which is computed based off his rookie deal, will equal $5,479,933 according to hoopshype.com.  If there's one thing that's almost certain about Greg Monroe going into this offseason, it's that he will be making more than what his QO is worth.  There are already rumored to be at least a handful of teams that have interest in Monroe, including Eastern Conference foes Washington and Charlotte.  If Monroe were to sign a  maximum salary contract with any team, he would be set to make 25% of the league's salary cap.  This year's cap is $58,679,000 and last year's was $58,044,000, a 1.1% increase.  An increase of 1.1% again would set the cap at $59,266,000 roughly speaking.  This would make a Greg Monroe max contract worth $14.8M per season.  Along with the right to match any offer, the Pistons' other asset with Monroe is that they can offer him a five year deal, whereas other teams can only offer four.

POTENTIAL SUITORS

Washington Wizards - It's been pretty widely reported that the Wizards would love to match Greg Monroe with John Wall and Bradley Beal.  Washington would provide Monroe with a better chance to make the playoffs for the first time in his career than the Pistons, although I'm not sure they can afford a max deal without jeopardizing their chances to extend Beal.  That being said, if a max contract isn't an option for Monroe, why not go somewhere where he could be the main post option AND have a chance to win a playoff series?

Sign-and-Trade Targets: Otto Porter Jr., Martell Webster, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin

In the best-case scenario for the Pistons, Bradley Beal factors into this sign-and-trade list.  However, it would seem to defeat the purpose for the Wizards to deal away their second leading scorer to sign Monroe.  Porter's an unknown commodity, Webster is overpaid and the last two are decent bench bigs.  Not many attractive options here.

Charlotte Bobcats - I'm not sure Monroe is the best fit alongside Al Jefferson, but the rest of the Bobcats' defense is so good it might not matter if the frontcourt is swiss cheese.  Charlotte can probably afford to offer Monroe a max contract if they so choose.  They will owe Kemba Wallker a contract extension next offseason, but their cap situation is clean enough that they can fit Big Al, Kemba and Moose.  Jefferson and Monroe are both skilled passers for their position, so that tandem might be pretty fun to watch, and successful to boot.

Sign-and-Trade Targets: Cody Zeller, Bismack Biymobo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Josh McRoberts

The S-T options here are an assortment of quality backup big men, and a SF who plays no offense, but has given up multiple 60 point games this season.  I'll pass on MKG, but if it comes to losing Monroe for nothing or making a deal, give me Zeller and Biyombo.

Atlanta Hawks - Atlanta would definitely have to make a sign-and-trade happen if they wanted to sign Monroe, max or not.  After their first round pick cap hold is taken into account, they'll have roughly $10 millino in cap space.  Monroe and Horford would make for a fun pairing.  It has approximately the offensive upside of Jefferson-Moose in Charlotte, but with the added bonus that Horford is a pretty good defender.  Horford also has an effective mid-range game, so he could help pull the interior defense off of Monroe.  This would probably be a lethal pairing assuming Horford is healthy.  The Hawks' backcourt, as composed right now, would likely keep them from having a top four team in the East.

Sign-and-Trade Targets: Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, Lou Williams

Millsap has suddenly become a 37% three point shooter on 180 attempts after never shooting more than 39 in any season prior.  He'd be a better fit if the Pistons wanted to play a big three, but it's clear that a PF playing SF just doesn't work.  If Smith can be moved, I'd have no complaints about a Millsap-Drummond frontcourt.  Korver would be nice to have too, for obvious reasons.  Teague and Williams just don't fit if Jennings is around, although Lou Williams is a little more doable.  If Monroe is going in a S-T deal, this is the one to hope for.

New Orleans Pelicans - Anthony Davis and Greg Monroe playing together on the same team with Jrue Holiday for the next three or four years would be fun to watch, no doubt.  The Pelicans don't have much cap space to play around with this summer without making a move or two, so this would likely also have to be a sign-and-trade transaction.  Davis is the perfect type of player to pair with Monroe, as his obvious defensive skills would mask Monroe's putrid defense.  Their offensive games would mesh well together too as Davis is more of a face-up scorer when he has the ball in his hands, assuming he isn't snatching an alley-oop from another zip code.

Sign-and-Trade Targets: Ryan Anderson, Austin Rivers

 Not a long list here, but acquiring Ryan Anderson might make playing Josh Smith as the de-facto SF work.  Anderson's shooting (career 39 3P%) would allow Smith to play more on the block where he is more efficient and less likely to make me want to hurt someone.  Rivers has sucked a little bit less this year; it doesn't look like he'll ever be more than a bench player.

Phoenix Suns - Phoenix is setting up for a potentially huge offseason this summer.  Armed with as many as four first round picks and as much as $14M in cap space even after Bledsoe is re-signed, they can really improve an already solid roster.  Monroe could possibly be their marquee acquisition, and make a good core with Bledsoe and Dragic.  The Suns' up-tempo pace and use of a stretch-four (Morris twins, Frye) would put Monroe as the C on most nights.  Monroe's offense would give Phoenix a go-to option in the halfcourt on nights when teams slow their fast break down.  In my opinion, Phoenix is a dark-horse to sign Monroe, because they have a good base of young talent and can afford signing him to a max deal.

Sign-and-Trade Targets: Alex Len, Miles Plumlee, Archie Goodwin, Assortment of 2014 picks

One or both of the Morris twins might make sense too, but I'm not sure if Phoenix would really want to part with them.  Len hasn't seen the floor much this year, but hasn't been good when he has.  Plumlee would be a good option to have off the bench; he's a good defender and good enough at the other end.  Goodwin had a really good Summer League showing before this season, but has only played sporadic minutes.  He's 4-33 from behind the arc, so he'd fit right in on the Pistons roster!

SIGNING WITH THE PISTONS

If the Pistons do bring Monroe back, it would be in the Pistons' best interest if it were for a few million per year less than the max.  Serge Ibaka got a four year, $49 million deal, so I don't think Monroe's agent would allow anything less than that.  I could see Monroe back in Detroit for four years and $52 million, ironically less than the $56 million that Detroit gave Josh Smith.  If Monroe is back, Smith has to go; there's no way around it.  The paint just isn't big enough for the both of them (and Andre) and the last thing the organization needs is another year of Josh Smith launching threes.  Finding a taker for the three years left on Smith's deal won't be easy, but it won't be impossible either.  Any of the teams listed as suitors for Monroe, with the exception of Atlanta and New Orleans, could possibly be talked into giving Smith a shot.  I doubt Detroit would be forced into a one-way deal as they were with Charlotte in the Ben Gordon trade, seeing as Smith was effective for so many years in Atlanta as a PF.

Bringing Monroe back to play the next four or five years with Andre Drummond would give the Pistons fanbase something to look forward to again too.  Fans seem to like Monroe's personality and game, and hitting the reset button on the young pairing might be Detroit's best long-term option.  Surrounded with enough shooting, I think Monroe and Drummond could bring Detroit back to the playoffs in 2014-15.  However, I don't think Monroe is worth a max salary.  If it came down to it, I would prefer keeping Smith to signing Monroe for a max deal.  Not because I necessarily think Smith is better than Monroe, but because I think Monroe would fetch a good enough return to allow the Pistons to add solid wings around Smith and Drummond.  It's going to be an interesting summer for the Pistons, and the Greg Monroe situation will be taking center stage in late June and early July.  Buckle up, and just be thankful that Joe Dumars won't be calling the shots this go round.

2014 Mock Draft 3.0 (Second Round)

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**1st Round

31st - Milwaukee Bucks - Jordan Clarkson - G - Missouri, Jr. - 6'5, 195
NBA Comparison: Rodney Stuckey

Clarkson is a combo guard, there's no doubt about that.  He's got the court vision and passing ability to play PG, but isn't a good enough shooter to play off the ball full time.  This will probably make him a career back-up.

32nd - Philadelphia 76ers - James Michael McAdoo - PF - North Carolina, Jr. - 6'9, 230
NBA Comparison: Terrence Jones

Now is a good time to remind everybody that the comparisons are based on style of play.  McAdoo doesn't score much outside the paint, and despite taking most of his shots from close range, isn't very efficient.  However, he has an NBA-ready body and would work well in Philly's up-tempo system.

33rd - Cleveland Cavaliers - Mitch McGary - C - Michigan, So. - 6'10, 250
NBA Comparison: Boris Diaw

Who knows if McGary will get healthy in time to showcase himself in time for the draft, but if he does, I think it's likely he'll leave Michigan.  He's already 22 years old and it's hard to see a 23 year old going as a lottery pick.  Skilled big men are hard to find, so somebody will take the risk to see if he can stick in the NBA.

34th - Utah Jazz - Deonte Burton - PG - Nevada, Sr. - 6'1, 190
NBA Comparison: Eric Bledsoe

Burton isn't much of an outside shooter, but he's an electric athlete.  The Jazz need depth at just about every position, so playing him behind Burke wouldn't be too much of an issue.

35th - Los Angeles Lakers - A.J. Hammons - C - Purdue, So. - 7'0, 255
NBA Comparison: Kosta Koufos

Hammons might play himself into the first round if he played another year at Purdue...but to do that, he'd have to play another year at Purdue.  He's a big body who would surely get picked this year, it's just a matter of where.  Not sure he'll ever score enough to be a starter, but his defense and rebounding would be valuable off the bench.

Click "Read More" to see the rest of the 2nd Round

Saturday, March 22, 2014

2014 Mock Draft 3.0 (1st Round)

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**2nd Round

1st - Milwaukee Bucks - Andrew Wiggins - SF - Kansas, Fr. - 6'8, 200
NBA Comparison: Rudy Gay

A change at the top for the Bucks is mostly due to the questions surrounding the status of Joel Embiid's back.  Back injuries can hang around a long time for anybody, but it's even more of an issue for somebody Embiid's size.  The other reason for bumping Wiggins up is his increased level of play.  In his last four showings (starting with his 41 point game against WVU), Wiggins is averaging 28 PPG on 57.3 FG% and has racked up 44 trips to the FT line in that stretch.  His non-scoring numbers have remained similar, averaging a shade over 6 RPG with less than impressive assist/turnover measures.  The dunk clinic Wiggins put on against Eastern Kentucky in KU's second round win on Friday is a perfect example of why he was/is so highly hyped.

2nd - Philadelphia 76ers - Jabari Parker - SF - Duke, Fr. - 6'8, 235
NBA Comparison: Carmelo Anthony

Parker was less than impressive in Duke's loss to Mercer on Friday afternoon, but that doesn't outweigh the overall body of work he amassed this year as a freshman.  Parker finished the year averaging 19.1 PPG on .473/.358/.748 shooting, to go with 8.7 RPG.  Parker hit 14 of his first 23 three point attempts this season, but didn't really impress from beyond the arc consistently beyond that.  He has a good enough jumper at this point to play SF, but if he really develops it, that's when he could turn into a superstar.  Parker isn't the athlete that Wiggins is, but he's no slouch.  After Friday's loss, Parker called his stay at Duke "incomplete", which would seem to imply he's returning for his sophomore season.  However, Parker has plenty of time to think about it, and I personally think he'll enter, as do many others.

3rd - Orlando Magic - Joel Embiid - C - Kansas, Fr. - 7'0, 250
NBA Comparison: Dwight Howard

As mentioned above, Embiid's back problems are more likely to determine his stock than any further questions about his abilities.  When healthy, there just isn't another impact player in this year's pool like Embiid.  You almost have to watch him play for a whole game to fully grasp how he factors in on the floor.  His stats are very good, but he alters so many shots and is just simply a presence on both ends.  His offensive game is raw, but he's further along than most players as new to the game as he is.  If he gets right, I fully expect him to be the #1 pick, but until we know for sure he is, he'll be behind Parker and Wiggins.  Like Parker, there is talk that Embiid will return for another college season.

4th - Utah Jazz - Julius Randle - PF - Kentucky, Fr. - 6'9, 250
NBA Comparison: Zach Randolph

This is the worst position for the Jazz to be in, and I could see them trading down if the two elite wings are gone when they pick.  With that being said, they go with Randle because neither of their current post players are truly prolific scorers; Randle is.  Kansas State had no answers for Randle's game in their second round match-up on Friday night.  Randle dropped in 19 points on 7-12 shooting to go with 15 rebounds.  He's the kind of guy you can just throw it in to and let him go to work.  You can't say that about any of the other post prospects in this year's draft.  He'll probably never be a great defender, but with his offense, he won't have to be.

5th - Los Angeles Lakers - Dante Exum - PG - Australia, 1995 - 6'6, 180
NBA Comparison: Brandon Roy

Rumor has it that Exum might try and force his way to the Lakers in the weeks leading up to the draft.  His camp has denied it, but it doesn't matter because he slots here anyways.  Exum is a big, versatile guard who uses his size to prop up already outstanding court vision.  He uses his length well to open up scoring opportunities and he has good quickness.  Has a good jump shot and crossover as well.  Needs to put a few pounds on before his rookie season so he doesn't get pushed around by bigger guards.  Has the size to also play SG.  Keep an eye on his stock; some scouts say he'll be in the discussion to be the first player taken.

Click "Read More" for the rest of the 1st Round

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Looking Ahead to Next Year: Possible Departures

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**Looking Ahead to Next Year: Preview, GM
***Looking Ahead to Next Year: Head Coach

The Pistons have a lot of changes to make this upcoming offseason.  They'll have anywhere between two and four players coming off the books due to expiring contracts, in the amount of nearly $22.5 million dollars.  Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva's deals both expire, Jonas Jerebko has a player option that he'll almost certainly exercise, and the team has a $900k option on big man Josh "Jorts" Harrellson.  Harrellson played well early this season, but has been injured for almost the whole second half; it's probably 50-50 right now as to whether or not he'll be back.  Assuming Jerebko is back, and Stuckey and CV are gone, the Pistons figure to have roughly $41 million dollars in committed contracts before Greg Monroe's new deal is figured in.  If, for some reason, Monroe chooses to accept a Qualifying Offer, and doesn't work out an extension, the Pistons salary cap will be at just over $46 million dollars.  Either way, the Pistons figure to have money to play with this offseason.  You're a Pistons fan and this scares you.  You may be expecting to see Greg Monroe in this section, as a possible departure, but due to the magnitude of what happens with him, he'll get his own post.

CHARLIE VILLANUEVA - PF - EXPIRED; $8,580,000
Moving along....

RODNEY STUCKEY - SG - EXPIRED; $8,500,000

Yes, Charlie Villanueva was making more money than Rodney Stuckey.  Stuckey has been a solid player, nothing more, nothing less, since the Pistons drafted him in 2007.  He and his expiring contract probably should've been traded at the deadline, but oh well.  Stuckey will likely be hard to replace, from the perspective that he's a really good 6th man to have.  His ability to get his own shot and carry the second unit will definitely be missed.  Stuckey will probably make for a good bench player on a good team, or go to a lower level team where he can get minutes and more money.  Either way, he'll be missed.  It's not impossible that Stuckey will be back, but the fit just isn't there for a team that really needs shooting on the wings.

CHANCE HE'LL BE BACK: 10%

JONAS JEREBKO - PF - PLAYER OPTION; $4,500,000

Jonas Jerebko isn't anything special, but he's a nice insurance option to have.  His combination of length and skill make him a versatile defender, and his offense is better than what he gets credit for.  He's not a guy that I would want playing more than 15 minutes a night, but he works well in a low usage role.  It's hard to imagine Jerebko getting more than $4.5 million per season on the open market this year, so unless he's sick of playing in Detroit, it looks like he'll be back.

CHANCES HE'LL BE BACK: 90%

JORTS - C - TEAM OPTION; TRUCK FULL OF DENIM $948,163

Josh Harrellson looked like a really good pickup in the first part of the year.  He proved to be an excellent insurance option on nights where one of Smith, Monroe or Drummond was in foul trouble.  His size, shooting ability and tenacity on the glass made him, if nothing else, fun to watch.  However, he's been sidelined with a meniscus injury and hasn't had a chance to earn his spot for next year.  I'm willing to say he'll be back next year, but there are too many factors at work to say for sure one way or another.

CHANCES HE'LL BE BACK: 50%

Listen to Your Chart: Brandon Jennings

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** Listen to Your Chart: Josh Smith

Brandon Jennings had high expectations put on him entering this season, both from the organization and himself.  He vowed to change his game and be more of a facilitator and less of an isolation scorer.  He has showed a very slight improvement in shot selection, taking fewer shots per 36 minutes than he ever has in his career.  However, that hasn't translated into an improvement in efficiency, as Jennings has struggled to convert on both his two and three-point attempts.  Jennings' struggles to convert, coupled with his highest three-point attempt rate of his career, have combined to produce the worst shooting efficiency season of his career.  Let's take a look at Jennings' shot charts to see where things are going wrong.

Friday, March 14, 2014

2014 Draft Scouting - 2nd Roud - Mitch McGary

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When you're a Pistons fan, it's never too early to start looking ahead to the draft.  This offseason figures to be busy, with a new GM and coach likely being appointed, so, scouting draft options won't be the sole topic as it is in most off-seasons.  The Pistons have been doing great work lately to make sure they don't lose their 1st round pick, but until it's certain, options in the 2nd round will be the main focus.  Most posts on 2nd round guys won't be quite this long, but as a Michigan fan, I have more to go off of.

MITCH McGARY - MICHIGAN - F/C - 6'10, 250


Mitch McGary showed up at Michigan as a consensus five start recruit and one of the top players in the high school class of 2012.  He was eased into the rotation as a freshman, not playing more than 20 minutes in a game until the season had reached Big Ten play in January.  McGary's results were a mixed bag through conference play as he only managed to score in double figures four times in regular season conference play.  Then came postseason play and McGary exploded into what everybody thought he would be: a versatile big man who unleashed havoc with his combination of size, quickness, speed and effort.  McGary posted a double-double in the Big Ten Tournament opener against Penn State, and would go on to record three more on Michigan's trek to the National Championship game.  McGary ended the national tournament with averages of 14.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG and even posted 6 assists in the Final Four matchup against Syracuse.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

2014 Mock Draft 2.0

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**Draft order as of 3/8
***Mock Draft 1.0


1st - Bucks - Joel Embiid - C - Kansas - 7'0, 250
NBA Comparison: Dwight Howard

Embiid has been hampered a bit lately by a back injury, which will be a concern leading up to the draft.  However, unless it proves to be a nagging injury, or Embiid decides to stay at KU, Embiid will likely be the No.1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.  Guy like Embiid who can score, block shots and rebound on both ends of the floor are hard to find.  His offensive game isn't quite there yet, but he's shown flashes of the coordination and skill it takes to score in the post.  No matter who has the top pick, odds are that Embiid will be their man.

2nd - 76ers - Andrew Wiggins - SF - Kansas - 6'8, 200
NBA Comparison: Rudy Gay

Wiggins hasn't quite lived up to the hype that surrounded him going into his freshman year at Kansas.  However, he's still had himself quite a season for a freshman on a (at times) dominant team and possesses all the physical tools to be a star in the NBA.  His performance against West Virginia provided excellent evidence that Wiggins will be just fine in the NBA. Wiggins scored 41 points on 12-18 shooting (15-19 FT), grabbed 8 rebounds and notched 5 steals and 4 blocks.  The main concerns with Wiggins are his ability to shoot jump shots (34.3 3PT%) and his issues with turnovers (2.1 TOPG, 1.6 APG).

3rd - Magic - Jabari Parker - F - Duke - 6'8, 235
NBA Comparison: Carmelo Anthony

Parker claims that he still hasn't made up his mind about entering the draft, but for now there doesn't seem to be any reason why he wouldn't leave for the NBA.  Parker has hit a bit of a wall over the past few weeks from the perimeter, only hitting 7 of his last 27 attempts from behind the arc.  However, his rebounding has been spectacular, posting five straight double digit rebounding games, including a 14 rebound performance against Georgia Tech.  There was a point where it seemed like Parker would be the consensus number one pick, but it seems more and more lately like he'll go behind both Embiid and Wiggins.

4th - Lakers - Dante Exum - PG - Australia - 6'6, 180
NBA Comparison: Brandon Roy
Exum is gaining steam as a prospect, despite having the least exposure of any of this year's top picks.  As you can see in the video above, Exum does a lot of things well when he has the ball in his hands.  His vision for cutters and open shooters when he's in traffic is one of his best skills, as well as his ability to get by defenders off the dribble.  He could stand to add between 20 and 30 pounds to his frame, but that will likely come with time and through working with a professional strength and conditioning staff.  Exum's jump shot is probably good enough at this point to make defenders honor him on the perimeter, but he would benefit from having a more reliable shot.


5th - Jazz - Dario Saric - F - Croatia - 6'10, 225
NBA Comparison: Hedo Turkoglu
 Recent reports on Saric are that he's considering an offer to play professionally in Turkey, so his spot in the 2014 NBA Draft is tentative.  If he does enter, his combination of size, skill and length will make him a tempting prospect for any NBA team in need of a SF.  Saric is a point forward who plays in the mold of Hedo Turkoglu in his Orlando days.  Saric probably isn't the 5th best player in this draft, but if the Jazz are picking 5th and the top perimeter players are gone, it's hard to project a big like Randle or Vonleh to Utah when they already have Kanter and Favors.

 Click "Read more" for the rest of the 1st round

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Looking Ahead to Next Year: Head Coach

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Looking Ahead to Next Year: Preview, GM

Yet another embarrassing loss for the Pistons leads us into another segment of Looking Ahead to Next Year, where we'll discuss players who aren't under contract for next season, as well as who might be leading next year's team as the head coach.  It seems like every year that the Pistons are at least considering replacing their coach, as the position has been a revolving door during Dumars' tenure as GM.  That tenure certainly seems to be coming to an end, and it appears a new GM will be appointing the Pistons next head coach.  Whoever it is, and whoever appoints them, it will be the Pistons' sixth different head coach since the start of the 2008-09 season. 

John Loyer's tenure as the interim head coach got off to a good start when the Pistons beat the Spurs at The Palace in his debut, 109-100.  However, since then the Pistons have only won two games in their last 11 tries, and are 3-9 since Loyer took over.  The same problems that plagued the team throughout the first 50 games have been an issue in the last 12.  The Pistons don't take smart shots, move on offense or get back on defense against teams that can score in transition.  All things considered, Loyer has looked overmatched as a head coach, and certainly won't be allowed to return next season.  John Loyer seems like a nice guy and is probably a decent basketball coach, but this team needs a brilliant mind and a strong, vocal leader.  He is neither; so let's take an early look at who might be the next Pistons' head coach.

  • Phil Jackson: Let's get this out of the way early.  Phil Jackson isn't coming back to coach a team.  Phil Jackson isn't coming back to coach a team.  Phil Jackson isn't coming back to coach a team.  Phil Jackson isn't coming back to coach a team.  Alright then, moving along.
  • Lionel Hollins: I'm shocked that Hollins never landed somewhere coaching a team this year.  He has a proven track record, is a great defensive mind and is eager to lead.  Unsurprisingly, the Pistons offered him a spot as an assistant under Mo Cheeks, because they have a hard time judging fits.  Lionel Hollins is a damn good head coach in the NBA and will be on the sidelines somewhere next year.  I really hope it's in Detroit.
  • Kelvin Sampson: Sampson's name has been brought up before in relation to Detroit's head coaching position and figures to be among the candidates again.  Sampson is currently an assistant with the Houston Rockets, but has plenty of head coaching experience.  Sampson was a force to be reckoned with in college stints at Oklahoma and Indiana before recruiting violations derailed his career.  Sampson would be my second preference due to his experience with the Rockets system and style of play.
  • Rex Kalamian: Kalamian is currently serving as Scott Brooks' lead assistant in Oklahoma City, and has been rising through the ranks as a coach over the past 20 years.  He's the main offensive mind on OKC's staff, although it probably isn't hard to build a powerhouse offense around Kevin Durant.  Kalamian will likely get a shot as a head coach at some point, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Pistons interviewed him.
  • Robert Pack: Pack is another Thunder assistant coach who will likely get himself a look as a head coach.  Pack is in his first year in OKC after spending time as an assistant under Vinny Del Negro with the Clippers.  He has a reputation as a hard-nosed leader who commands respect from his team.  Pack retired from the NBA in 2003-04 after 13 seasons as a guard for seven different teams.
If Tom Gores really wants to win now, it's obvious that he needs to give Lionel Hollins whatever it takes to make him the new head coach.  Hollins led Memphis to the Western Conference finals, helped develop Marc Gasol into one of the league's best defenders and featured a balanced offense that played through the post when it was functioning at its best.  If Gores and his new GM decide that it's worth taking a flier on a young coach and developing young talent, I would put my money on Robert Pack.  Pack is renowned for his leadership skills, has experience as a player and fits the mold of a Jacque Vaughn, who is receiving good reviews as a young head coach in Orlando.  It's an important hire, and could prove to be the difference between a postseason appearance and the draft lottery in 2014-15.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Listen to Your Chart: Josh Smith

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Josh Smith and his shot selection have been an easy scapegoat for the Pistons' struggles on the offensive end of the floor this season.  It's no secret that Smith is a poor fit for the SF position due to his lack of range past 20-feet in catch-and-shoot situations, and his utter lack of ability to shoot off the dribble consistently.  Smith is on track to set career lows in TS% (46.3) and eFG% (44.4).  Smith has never been a great shooter, but he's yet to be quite this bad in a season.  Let's take a look at where he has been shooting poorly from (spoiler alert: almost everywhere) and where he needs to be taking more of his shots from.

Josh Smith 2013-14 Shot Chart (via vorped.com)



Josh Smith 2013-14 Shot Frequency by Zone


I'm tempted to just write " :( " and leave it at that.  Only on this year's Pistons team could a guy as good as Josh Smith is in the paint not take more than 70% of his shots from there.  Those sections aren't just green because he's above 50%, they're green because he's above the league average from that spot.  I really wonder if Josh Smith has ever seen his own shot chart.  If he has, I'd like to hire somebody his size to punch him right in the mouth.

The average distance from the hoop for a Josh Smith shot is 12 feet, and only 50.8% of his attempts come within 10 feet of the hoop.  Josh Smith's shot selection would be Exhibit A if you were trying to prove that the Pistons don't do much in terms of looking at things other than raw numbers to analyze their players.  Any Hawks fan who had watched a game in the last eight years could have drawn a rough sketch of this shot chart if you had told them Josh Smith would be playing Small Forward.  Joe Dumars: Dumber than the average Hawks fan.



Josh Smith 2011-12 Shot Frequency by Area
Josh Smith 2013-14 Shot Frequency by Area

Smith's best shooting seasons in Atlanta came in 2009-10 and 2011-12, when he minimized the amount of threes he took.  Smith didn't trade his shots from behind the arc for shots in the restricted area; rather, he traded those shots for mid-range jumpers.  I don't believe this is a function of Smith focusing on increasing mid-range shots, but instead is the result of Smith cutting down on threes and not finding an increase in the amount of good looks in the paint.

Even though Smith didn't get more good looks in the restricted area, he did manage to improve his efficiency by trading threes for mid-range shots.  This appears to be the best-case scenario with Smith.  He managed a 54.0 TS% in the 2011-12 season. Not going to lead the league by any stretch, but a large step up from what he's done this season.  The offense needs to be set up so Smith is standing in the mid-range area when he catches the ball, and not beyond the arc.  Not only does that limit his three-point attempts, but it also gets him a step closer to the basket to start his drives when dribbling, which would stretch the defense off of shooters, if the Pistons had any.  This would also likely cut down on turnovers caused by losing his dribble, which account for 36.4% of his turnovers.  Josh Smith isn't as broken as he seems, just a product of a bad fit.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Addressing the Isiah Thomas Rumor

A rumor developed this weekend that the Pistons might be interested in replacing Joe Dumars with Isiah Thomas this offseason.  I don't think this would happen, not because I think Tom Gores knows basketball, but because I think he knows business.  Thomas doesn't have a track record of success in the position he'd be filling (or any position other than Guard), cost his organization $11.6 million dollars in a sexual harassment lawsuit, and turned a proud franchise into a laughingstock.  Isiah Thomas was a great basketball player and meant a lot to the Pistons organization.  There's no logical connection that can be made between a guy being a great player and even being a good GM.  Joe Dumars' success appears more and more like it was the product of the team he had around him.  Those guys are gone, so are the glory days.

It's not enough to just say Isiah Thomas wouldn't be a good GM without providing solid reasoning is as lazy as saying he'd be good because he was a good player.  So let's look at his tenure with the Knicks, from a player movement standpoint.  Thomas was the Knicks' President of Basketball Operations from December of 2003 until March of 2008.  During that stint, Thomas also coached the Knicks from 2006 to the time of his firing.  Thomas is most notorious for absolutely destroying the Knicks' cap situation, but here's a rundown of specific player moves that Zeke made in his time in New York:
  • Traded Clarence Weatherspoon for John Amaechi, Moochie Norris
  • Traded Charlie Ward, Antonio McDyess, Maciej Lampe and Howard Eisley for Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway and Cezaary Trebansky
  • Traded Michael Doleac and Keith Van Horn for Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed in a three-team trade
  • SIGNED VIN BAKER
  • 2004 Draft: 2nd Round - Trevor Ariza
  • Traded Cezary Trebansky, Frankie Williams, Othello Harrington and Dikembe Mutombo for Jerome Williams and Jamal Crawford
  • Signed Bruno Sundov
  • Traded Nazr Mohammed, Moochie Norris, Jamison Brewer and Vin Baker for Malik Rose and Mo Taylor
  • Traded Kurt Thomas for Quentin Richardson and the draft rights to Nate Robinson
  • 2005 Draft: 1st Round - David Lee, Channing Frye, Nate Robinson; 2nd Round - Dijon Thompson
  • Extended Michael Sweetney (Mike Sweetney needs no extension)
  • Signed Jerome James, amnestied Jerome Williams
  • Traded Mike Sweetney and Tim Thomas for Antonio Davis
  • Signed Matt Barnes
  • Traded Antonio Davis for Jalen Rose
  • Traded Penny Hardaway and Trevor Ariza for Steve Francis
  • 2006 Draft: 1st Round - Renaldo Balkman, Mardy Collins
  • Signed Ime Udoka, Randolph Morris
  • 2007 NBA Draft: 1st Round - Wilson Chandler; 2nd Round - Demetris Nichols
  •  Traded Steve Francis and Channing Frye for Zach Randolph, Fred Jones and Dan Dickau
That's a pretty bad run, although it really didn't start out all that bad.  Things seemed to go south when he took over as head coach.  He made several savvy trades where he got more talent than he gave up, and his drafts in 2004 and 2005 were both really good.  Things went poorly when he signed Michael Sweetney and Jerome James, and it was all downhill from there.  Trading for Steve Francis turned out to be embarrassing, as Francis was a shell of what he was in Orlando and Houston.  His 2006 Draft looks even worse when you consider the fact that Rajon Rondo and Kyle Lowry both went after Renaldo Balkman.  The Knicks failed to make the playoffs during Thomas' tenure, but he only made one lottery pick.  Thomas clearly had as much trouble valuing picks as he did managing the salary cap.

For a guy who couldn't conduct himself professionally and did a poor job understanding the caveats of the salary cap, Isiah Thomas also had a hard time securing talent.  He had a few bright spots, but overall, the good outweighed the bad.  If Tom Gores were to hire Thomas, it would show a clear lack of judgment, and would likely mark another ugly stretch of three or four years in Pistons history.  Let's all hope that this was just a rumor.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Pistons @ Rockets Game Preview

Game 59; March 1, 2014; 8:00 p.m. ET
Detroit Pistons (23-35) vs. Houston Rockets (39-19)
Toyota Center; Houston, TX
TV: Fox Sports Detroit
The Essentials:
(NBA Rank)PaceOff. Eff.Def. Eff.TS%O.Reb%D.Reb%
ROCKETS98.3 (6th)107.9 (5th)102.1 (8th)57.0 (3rd)27.5 (1oth73.5 (22nd)
PISTONS97.6 (10th)102.5 (18th)105.7 (23rd)51.5 (24th)31.2 (1st)73.9 (18th)
Detroit enters tonight's match-up with the Rockets 3.5 games back of Atlanta for a playoff spot, and 2.5 games ahead of Utah for the league's 8th-worst record.  If the Jazz or Knicks can outperform the Pistons in the stretch run, Detroit can protect their draft pick from the Bobcats.  Here's to hoping Joe Dumars' decision to not take Trey Burke ultimately does pay off.  The Pistons need to lose as many games as possible down the stretch, and tonight offers a great opportunity.  The Rockets come in having won 8 of their last 10 games, and arguably playing their best basketball of the season.  They boast the league's 3rd most efficient offense, but also have a very respectable defense, only allowing 102.1 points per 100 possessions.
Detroit and Houston first met this season on December 21st at The Palace, and boy did Houston really throttle the Pistons.  Playing without Jeremy Lin and James Harden, Dwight Howard put on a show, scoring 35 points and grabbing 18 rebounds.  Houston also got 20 points and 7 rebounds from Chandler Parsons.  Howard's dominance of Andre Drummond might have been the lowest point of the young Center's season.  Drummond only scored 9 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in 29 minutes, while also racking up 5 fouls.  If Drummond really wants to prove that he belongs in the NBA's elite, he'll show that he can stick with Howard tonight.  The Pistons were led by Josh Smith's 19 points (on 20 shots!) in the first match-up, and were also hampered by a 2-11 shooting night from Brandon Jennings. 
Click "Read More" for a run-down of the Rockets' rotation and a breakdown on what the Pistons need to do to lose