We're only four games into the season, but one thing is already clear about this year's Pistons team: The bench is 100% trash without Brandon Jennings and, to a smaller extent, Jodie Meeks. Jennings will be back at some point in December, but the level of his contribution will be TBD until we've seen a month or so of his play. Players coming back from a torn Achilles generally don't fare well for the remainder or their careers. Kobe Bryant is a shell of his former self, our own beloved Chauncey Billups succumbed to the injury and Wes Matthews is not off to a good start in Dallas. They're the rule, and there haven't even really been any exceptions to this point. If you have high hopes of Brandon Jennings coming back to rescue this group of reserves, I would start learning how to deal with disappointment. A healthy Jennings is exactly what this bench needs. A healthy Jennings is far from guaranteed to be what it gets. Jodie Meeks will also return at some point this year, but that probably won't happen until closer to the trade deadline in February. Regardless of how and when the Pistons get those two back, they need to figure out some answers before the bench submarines the team's playoff efforts. I've got a few ideas for fixes, so let's examine the options.
Move Anthony Tolliver into the starting lineup and Ersan Ilyasova to the bench: This has absolutely nothing to do with Anthony Tolliver deserving to start, and everything to do with giving the bench some kind of offensive identity. Ilyasova and Tolliver essentially serve the same purpose, but Ilyasova does the job much better. One of the biggest problems with the bench right now, other than the PGs, is the fact that it lacks an offensive identity. There's no such thing as a go-to player with the bench group, and Ilyasova could become that if he plays more minutes with the reserves. Ilyasova's current 15.5 USG% is the lowest among the starting crew, and by far the lowest of his career. Sliding Ilyasova to the bench would help to reduce the amount of possessions used by guys like Steve Blake and Aron Baynes by giving them to a far more talented option. Giving some of Ilyasova's possessions with the starting five to Tolliver probably just means that we're sliding some open three point attempts from a career 37.1% shooter to a 35.5% shooter. If Ilyasova's open to it, this is my top preference to inject some life into the reserve group.
Take the ball out of the hands of Blake/Dinwiddie: Going away from using the PG in the traditional sense could be another solution. Steve Blake has turned it over on 29.2% of the possessions he's used so far, and Spencer Dinwiddie turned it over twice in his 7 minutes against the Pacers. Blake's 2-17 from the field and Dinwiddie hasn't shown any flashes of being viable offensively. So what's the point of even utilizing a true PG at this point? Stanley Johnson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can share the ball-handling duties when Reggie Jackson isn't on the floor, because that literally could not be worse than letting Dinwiddie and Blake do it. Shorten the rotation by a man, keep a starter or two on the floor and only use Johnson, Bullock, Tolliver (or Ilyasova) and Baynes off the bench.
Start reshuffling the way Stanley Johnson uses possessions: Checking in at a 24.0 USG%, Stanley Johnson actually boasts the second-highest Usage Rate on the team. That would be less of a problem if Johnson weren't 9-33 from the field and 2-8 from beyond the arc. According to NBA.com's play-type statistics, Johnson has used zero post-up possessions through the first four contests. The game is moving too fast for him right now, and it might help him and the bench unit's offensive prospects to slow things down and let him try to use his physical traits to his advantage. The six game West Coast trip should offer a few matchups where he has a physical advantage on the reserve SF opposite him. Mo Harkless in Portland, Omri Casspi in Sacramento and even TJ Warren in Phoenix could provide a good test for Johnson's ability to maneuver in the post. It's worth a shot, and I'd have to think it results in more than the 2 points the Pistons bench put up against Indiana.
Trade for Mario Chalmers: I've never been an admirer of Mario Chalmers' game, but the Pistons can't afford to give up significant assets for a bench piece. Zach Lowe, generally one of the league's most reliable sources, has stated that Miami is willing to move Chalmers for salary relief in order to avoid luxury tax penalties as a repeat offender. A deal that's built around Chalmers and Dinwiddie, or that involves a third team so Miami doesn't have to take salary back, would work for both Detroit and Miami. If it's not true that Miami is willing to move him for free, I'd even consider a protected 2nd round pick going their way. Detroit absolutely has to find an upgrade in the backcourt. While Chalmers isn't anything special, he would be a massive upgrade on the current options and has enough experience playing off the ball that he can share the floor with Jennings once he's back. A career 36.1% shooter who's still in his theoretical prime, Chalmers is my top preference if the Pistons are going to fix the bench by adding a new body.
Sign a veteran PG: This isn't a route that I really want to pursue, but it's definitely an option. Going this way leaves the chance that you just end up with another guy like Steve Blake who has nothing left in the tank. Options here are guys like Will Bynum (assuming his Chinese deal has an NBA out), John Lucas III, Jordan Farmar, Nate Robinson and AJ Price. That list isn't easy on the eyes, but it bears considering. Are guys like Farmar and Robinson going to be worse than Steve Blake? That's hard to say. I'd rather not find out though.
Sign a PG out of the D-League: There's not a long history of guys going on from the D-League to be reliable contributors in the NBA, but if we're rolling the dice on a PG, I'd rather do this than bring in a retread. The Sixers plucked Robert Covington away from the Pistons last year, and he turned into a reliable starter by year's end. The Pistons would just need someone who can play 15-20 minutes per night behind Reggie Jackson. The Pistons did add Ryan Boatright to their D-League roster after training camp, but I'm looking for a guy who has more experience. Some options I would consider include Keith Appling, Jimmer Fredette and Sundiata Gaines. Fredette would be my top preference, again, because he can't possibly be worse than Blake, and could split minutes with Dinwiddie as situations demand. Appling, Gaines and Boatright seem like they probably won't be any better than Dinwiddie or Blake. With Fredette, maybe he has a hot shooting month and keeps the bench offense alive until Jennings is back? At this point, we're grasping for straws, which is a necessary measure when the PGs have been so bad behind Jackson.
Some of these ideas seem like a huge reach, and they are, but at this point, something absolutely has to be done about the bench. The path I would follow if I weren't patently unqualified to make these kinds of decisions, would be one of small changes on the West Coast trip, followed by large scale moves if there aren't signs of life by the time the team returns to The Palace of Auburn Hills. The starters are good enough for this to be a playoff team, and not just the kind that sneaks into the 8th seed in a watered down Eastern Conference. We won't get to see the full realization of this if a bench group led by 35-year old Steve Blake and a fledgling Spencer Dinwiddie continues to get outscored 43-2, or some other ridiculous spread. It's only four games into the season, but the evidence is strong that the current alignment hasn't worked for the bench crew. Let's hope that SVG can figure out the problem before it leads to another 30-something win percentage.