Monday, December 29, 2014

Weekly Preview: 12/28/14

Record: 7-23 | Streak: Won two | Off. Eff.: 101.8 (26th ▲)| Def. Eff.: 107.0 (20th ▲)

The Pistons enter the final week of 2014 and the first week of 2015 on what is, surprisingly, their third two-game winning streak of the season.  They're also the team's two most impressive wins of the year, having thoroughly beaten the Pacers and crushed the Cavaliers.  For the first time of the year, in my opinion, there is actually a positive vibe around the team.  It's certainly no guarantee that the good feelings are going to last, but it looks like the removal of Josh Smith from the roster has pointed the team in the right direction for the time being.  The offense is moving much more effectively, having scored 119 points against the league's 6th-ranked defense and broken the franchise record for made three-pointers in the win over Cleveland.

Jodie Meeks is a big part of that offensive improvement, having scored in double figures in three consecutive games now.  Meeks has a 16.9 PER and 57.0 TS% through his 8 games (small sample, no doubt), offering stability at the SG position.  Meeks' return also appears to have had a positive effect on the play of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who no longer is forced to log obscene minutes as the only true SG on the roster.  Since Meeks' return, KCP has only played more than 30 minutes in one game, a noticeable feature for a player who had topped 35 minutes eight times in Detroit's first 22 games.  Playing reduced minutes, KCP is averaging 13 PPG on 44% shooting, including 43% shooting from behind the arc.  While KCP's raw production of 13 PPG isn't much of an increase on his 12.6 PPG for the season, when you consider his reduced minutes, it's much  more evident that the return of Meeks has been good for the sophomore SG.  Sustaining the improved efficiency is now the key, both to Caldwell-Pope's development and the Pistons' success.

Click "Read More" for a preview of Detroit's games this week...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Weekly Recap: 12/21/14

* The idea is to get these out on Saturday nights with the previews coming on Sundays.  As I get back in the regular swing of things, the previews and recaps will hopefully be on a regular schedule.

Record: 7-23 | Streak: Won two | Off. Efficiency: 101.5 (26th) | Def. Efficiency: 108.0 (23rd)

The Pistons entered the week with much uncertainty about how waiving Josh Smith would affect the team's play.  While it was reasonable to assume that cutting the offensive cancer out would improve the team's efficiency, I don't think anybody saw such massive improvements coming.  The Pistons upped their offensive efficiency by almost a full point per 100 possessions in just two games.  They also throttled a really good defense and the team that many assumed would win the Eastern Conference.  Against the Pacers, the Pistons upped their season-high for scoring by 13 points and against the Cavaliers, the team set a franchise-high for three pointers made in a game.  Good times are here, at least for a few days, which is the first time you can say that about the Pistons in a long time.  

Pistons 119 Pacers 109

The first game without Josh Smith proved to be the most fun the Pistons (and their fans) have had since...well..Josh Smith was signed.  The offense had a flow to it that was clearly lacking in the last year-plus, which resulted in the Pistons eclipsing the 50% shooting mark for the first time all year.  Detroit matched 25 assists with 9 turnovers, made 10 of their 26 threes and hit 62% of their two-point looks.  That number was propped up by what was an offensive break-out game for Andre Drummond.  Matched up against defensive stalwart Roy Hibbert, Drummond displayed a jump-hook that was practically unguardable, en route to 20 points on 9-12 shooting.  Greg Monroe joined Drummond with a stellar night of his own, posting 19 points and 15 rebounds.  The PG duo of Jennings and Augustin did their part as well, combining for 28 points and 18 assists on 60% shooting, with only two turnovers to boot.  This was arguably the best game of Augustin's Pistons career, and more nights like this would be a great boost for the bench crew.

Pistons 103 Cavaliers 80

The Pistons followed a thorough beating of the Pacers by absolutely whomping the Cavaliers on their own court.  After falling behind by double digits in the first nine minutes and trailing 28-17 through one quarter, the Pistons rose up and crushed the Cavs in the remaining 36 minutes, just as everybody expected them to.  The Pistons rode a hot shooting afternoon to victory, connecting on a franchise-high 17 three-pointers.  Brandon Jennings hit five of his own and KCP and Jodie Meeks each hit three.  The Pistons' hot shooting matched up with a horrid afternoon for the Cavs, as Cleveland finished 31-82 (37.8%) from the field and 5-29 (17.2%) from three.  LeBron James filled the stat sheet, for good and bad, finishing with 17 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 turnovers.  He was joined in inefficiency by Kevin Love, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but only shot 9-19 from the field, including 1-7 from three.  

Detroit got a dynamic performance from Brandon Jennings, who notched 25 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds on 10-18 shooting.  Jennings showed what he's capable of on a day where his shot is falling, as he hit 5 of his 9 three-point attempts.  Andre Drummond followed his impressive offensive performance on Friday night with 16 points, 17 rebounds and 5 blocks.  KCP and Jodie Meeks chipped in from the perimeter with a combined 27 points on 10-17 shooting, including 6-11 from deep.  Jonas Jerebko, who saw his heaviest playing time of the season (28 minutes) on Friday night, followed up with 27 productive minutes off the bench on Sunday afternoon.  For the second consecutive game, Jerebko scored 10 points, to go with 8 rebounds.  His play offers hope that he may hold some type of trade value at the deadline, should the Pistons choose to go that route.  Either way, as long as he's in town, it appears Jerebko can help the Pistons' offense function. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2015 Mock Draft 1.0 (Two Rounds)

* Much like last year, I've decided to use the lottery simulator to produce the draft order.  Last year, there were suggestions that I rigged the order.  If you have similar questions, tweet me (@Kevin6CD) and I will e-mail you the video of me opening a browser tab and running one simulation.

1 - Detroit Pistons - Emmanuel Mudiay - PG - USA, 1996 - 6'5, 200
Pistons' odds of #1 pick: 15.6%
Should the Pistons find themselves in this spot, an interesting series of decisions would need to be made.  While Mudiay would fit the Pistons' need for a (potentially) elite PG to replace Brandon Jennings, he's not the clear-cut #1 prospect in this draft; Jahlil Okafor is.  Depending on who picks 2nd, the Pistons would possibly have the luxury of trading down one spot, still getting their guy and picking up an extra asset or two along the way.  Projecting trades in an NBA mock draft gets messy in a hurry, so we'll stick with the simple pick, which would almost certainly be Mudiay should the Pistons land the 1st pick.

2 - Minnesota Timberwolves - Jahlil Okafor - C - Duke, Fr. - 6'11, 270
Wolves' odds of #1 pick: 11.9%
This would be another interesting development, should it come to fruition in May.  The Wolves are adequately deep at C, with Nikola Pekovic manning the starting spot when healthy, and Gorgui Dieng a very capable backup, who could easily become a permanent starter some day.  Would the Wolves be able to pass on Okafor though?  The chance to pair a dominant young big with the potentially dominant Wiggins would probably be too tough to pass up.  Should the Wolves go this route, they may also receive quite a return for Dieng or Pek, whichever one they should choose to trade.

3 - New York Knicks - Karl Towns - PF - Kentucky, Fr. - 7'0, 250
Knicks' odds of #1 pick: 19.9%
The Knicks has the unfortunate luxury of being able to simply take the best player available.  Aside from the SF position, the Knicks are in need of a reliable starter at every spot on the floor.  Towns is the most talented player left on the board here, but the Knicks could put Mudiay or Okafor to good use too.  With any of the three, the Knicks would have a solid, young building block to put next to the currently help-less Melo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Weekly Preview: 12/21/14

* Things have slowed down enough now that I expect to have a chance to post more regularly, therefore this blog will now focus on the games as well as the big-picture future and the draft.  Nightly game previews are nearly impossible the way I'd like to do them, so a week's games will be covered in one fell swoop.  Normally, this will appear on Sundays.  Expect a weekly recap on Saturdays as well, when possible.

Record: 5-23 | Streak: Lost four | Off. Efficiency: 100.7 (28th)| Def. Efficiency: 107.9 (23rd)

Detroit will return from a four day holiday break on Friday night, fresh off of the release of Josh Smith.  They also enter a stretch where change is likely to be the only constant.  Stan Van Gundy has promised to make changes to the rotation and the offensive scheme.  Younger players, specifically Spencer Dinwiddie, can expect to see more minutes on the floor.  Other relatively inexperienced players, such as Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can expect to see a bigger role in the offense.  There's also the variable of who will eat the 32 minutes and 14 field goal attempts per game that had been going to Josh Smith.  The minutes will likely be balanced between Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, with Jerebko seeing the biggest increase.  Smith's role in the offense will likely be portioned out evenly between Monroe, Drummond and a bevy of wing players.  That should mean good things for a Pistons offense that has struggled to shoot the ball, behind Smith's ugly 41.7 TS%.

Click "Read More" for a preview of Detroit's games this week...

Pistons Asset Board

Asset Board Explained

The "Value" metric is a function of (almost) everything that makes a player valuable to the organization.  Younger players are generally more valuable than veterans, in that they still hopefully have some potential to unlock; they are also generally cheaper.  Players on team-friendly contracts also receive favor when it comes time to assess a player's value.  Spencer Dinwiddie isn't a better player than a few of the guys he's in front of.  However, he's only 21 years old and making $700,000.  A similar consideration is made with regard to length of contract.  A good player under contract for two more years has more value than a good player whose deal is expiring at the end of the season.  At the other end of the spectrum, if you have two players who are "equally bad", the one with a shorter contract holds more value.

Draft picks due to be made in the upcoming draft are also on the board.  It might be fair to assess the value of future picks, as they are often traded, but due to the speculative nature involved with not knowing where the pick will be, it would be hard to assess a value for these picks.  Just know that in the Pistons' case, they do not own (other than their own) or owe any future picks.  The picks that are on the board are assessed a value based on my opinion of the type of player the Pistons could get with that pick, or the value they could receive in a straight up trade involving that pick.  If this were the 2012-13 season, draft pick values would be greatly reduced.  A top-5 pick in 2013 could net you Otto Porter or Anthony Bennett.  A top-5 pick in 2015 means a shot at Karl Towns, Jahlil Okafor or Emmanuel Mudiay.  Those players have much higher future NBA value than the 2013 group did. 

Last and most importantly, these are, like, my opinions or something.

Click "Read More" for the 2014-15 Pistons Asset Board

Monday, December 22, 2014

Pistons Waive Josh Smith

As reported this morning by Vincent Ellis and confirmed by the team in a press release, the Pistons have waived Josh Smith.  Detroit will utilize the stretch provision to minimize the cap hit from releasing Smith, assuming he is not claimed off waivers.  According to Chuck Myron of Hoops Rumors, the move will cost the Pistons the full $13.5M cap hit this season, and then spread the remaining $27M left on his deal in $5.4M increments evenly against the Pistons' cap through 2019-20.

Josh Smith played 105 games in a Pistons uniform, to the tune of a 33-72 record, and manufactured some of the least enjoyable Pistons basketball in my lifetime.  While Smith isn't completely to blame for the Pistons struggles in the last two years, he's certainly the easiest target.  His penchant for jumpers 20-feet beyond his range and his steady decline in most areas of the game, combined with his team-high salary instantly drew the ire of Pistons fans.  Smith's tenure in Detroit was doomed from the start, when Joe Dumars insisted that Smith could play SF, something he had never done successfully.  His pairing with two inept coaches in his first season didn't do anybody any favors either.  Cheeks and Loyer routinely floated Smith out at the SF position, putting him in place to launch long twos and float helplessly off of shooters on defense.  Smith didn't do himself any favors either.  Whether or not he truly was a toxic presence (all indications are he truly was), his poor body language and blank facial expressions didn't endear him to the fans.  Despite being one of the highest paid players in franchise history, it never seemed like it bothered Smith that his teams were terrible.  Whether that's true or not, the majority of Pistons fans are glad to see him go.

After factoring in Josh Smith's $5.4M cap hit, and assuming the Pistons don't pick up their $947k option on Tony Mitchell, the Pistons have $36,203,240 in salary commitments for the 2015-16 season.  If you believe ShamSports' 2015-16 salary cap projection of $66M, the Pistons figure to have close to $30M in cap space if they don't trade any players under contract next year for players on expiring deals.  Cap space has been an enemy of the Pistons in offseasons past, but the opportunity for Stan Van Gundy to craft a team that plays how he wants it to intrigues me.  With definite, glaring needs at PG, SF and possibly PF going into next season, there won't be a shortage of players for the Pistons to spend their new-found cap space on, such as the following players:

PG: Goran Dragic (U), Rajon Rondo (U), Reggie Jackson (R), Brandon Knight (U)
SF: Kawhi Leonard (R), Jimmy Butler (R), Wes Matthews (U), Tobias Harris (R), Gerald Green (U)
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge (U), Paul Millsap (U), Greg Monroe (U)

As a side note, yes, Butler and Matthews are technically SGs, but both have the size to play SF and Butler has done so extensively in the past.  Any combination of the players above offer the Pistons a sizable upgrade at their respective position.  So while it may hurt to have Smith on the books through the '19-'20 season, releasing him offers the Pistons a chance to immediately revitalize the roster via free agency.  With a player or two from the group above, and a likely top-5 pick, the Pistons have an opportunity to compete in the near future.  It's far from a guarantee, but the Pistons are closer to competing now than they were 24 hours ago.

For the rest of the 2014-15 season, waiving Josh Smith is the first official signal that Stan Van Gundy meant it when he said it's time for the team to start developing their young players.  With Smith gone,  the Pistons have more minutes in the frontcourt for players like Jonas Jerebko and Tony Mitchell.  Jerebko may not exactly be young, but should he continue his strong play, his expiring contract could bring the Pistons a young player or a 2nd round pick at the trade deadline.  Smith's departure also means more touches for everybody in the offense, but most likely, more touches for Andre Drummond.  Early returns on the young big man's post game have been discouraging, but with the pressure to win now 100% off, Detroit won't be afraid to watch him grow.  Josh Smith had the highest usage rate on the team and took 14 shots per game; expect a few of those looks to now go to Andre.

The move also signals likely changes in how the backcourt shares minutes.  Brandon Jennings, who was signed in the same off-season as Smith, is firmly on the trade block.  He's not a candidate to be waived like Smith was, but you get the feeling that Van Gundy will jump at the first reasonable offer for the inconsistent point guard.  More minutes are waiting for 2014 second round pick Spencer Dinwiddie, who SVG mentioned by name when he announced that the team was looking to get more minutes for young players.  In limited minutes so far this year, Dinwiddie has struggled to score, but shown his potential as a passer.  With more time and a longer leash, Dinwiddie may also display the scoring talent he showed off in his two-plus years at Colorado.  More minutes for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should also help the Pistons figure out just exactly what they have and what they don't have.

The important thing to remember here, is that it's a new day, and this time the sunrise didn't cost the Pistons nearly as much.  Josh Smith is on to what will likely be greener pastures on a Western Conference contender, which means this once-proud franchise can now continue seeking the same.  Josh Smith is gone, and watching a Pistons game no longer means collective groans every time the worst shooter in NBA history rises up.  We're all one step closer to enjoying Pistons basketball again.

Follow Six Championship Drive on Twitter, @Kevin6CD

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gauging Trade Values: Post Players

Click HERE for the perimeter player portion

This season is practically over!  Let's look at the kind of return that the Pistons' frontcourt players may fetch in a trade...

Tony Mitchell - PF - 0 minutes played; pedestrian D-League stats
Despite only being 22 years old, it's hard to see Mitchell having much, if any, value on the trade market.  Mitchell's greatest value to the Pistons may be helping them tank.  We've seen before with Amir Johnson that you can easily regret giving up on a player without giving him time to fully develop his skill-set.  While I don't think that's the case here, what's the harm in getting Mitchell some minutes on a team that needs to lose as much as possible?
Suggestion: Commit to getting consistent minutes to aid Mitchell's development, whether that's in Grand Rapids or Detroit

Jonas Jerebko - PF - 5.0 PPG, 14.6 PER, 54.1 TS%, 9.3 TRB%, 31.3 3P%, 13.5 MPG
Jerebko has been a bright spot this season due to his consistent effort and versatility.  He's not a starter-quality PF, but he's also not the worst PF on the roster.  Jerebko is a below-average rebounder at PF, but can offer a potential trade partner offense and energy off of their bench.  Hindering his potential trade value is the fact that Jerebko is only under contract through the end of the season.  Injuries will help determine the buyers, as is often the case, but one apparent match right now could be found in Charlotte. 

The Hornets have missed the offense that Josh McRoberts brought them as a stretch four, and they could replace some of that with Jerebko.  Even more enticing for Charlotte, would be that Jerebko is low-risk due to his short contract, and low acquisition cost.  Detroit could ask for a 2nd round pick, and then have Charlotte match Jerebko's salary with a player like Bismack Biyombo, who doesn't factor heavily into Charlotte's rotation.  Biyombo is also on an expiring contract, so the Pistons could easily cut ties with him if he isn't a fit.  If nothing else, the Pistons get a potentially valuable 2nd round pick.
Suggestion: CHA receives Jerebko, DET receives C Bismack Biyombo, 2015 2nd round pick

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gauging Trade Values: Perimeter Guys

At the 17 game mark of the 2014-15 season, it's more than obvious that the Pistons don't have what it takes to get the job done.  The Pistons' glaring lack of talent and cohesion is so obvious now that it would be impossible for sweeping changes not to occur between now and the start of the 2015-16 season.  Sitting at 3-14 on the eve of December, it may already be time to start looking ahead to those changes, which are much more important than the daily happenings at this point.  Stan Van Gundy's tenure isn't off to the start that most of us had hoped for, and it's hard to imagine Jodie Meeks' return within the next month or so will be enough to rescue a start that has the Pistons even in the standings with the hapless Lakers.  Between now and the February trade deadline expect the front office and SVG himself to work the phones and find out what they can get for the expendable pieces on the roster; in other words, what can they get in return for anybody on the roster not named Andre Drummond?  Let's examine the issue by first taking a look at what the Pistons' perimeter players may fetch in a trade.