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Detroit Pistons 2014-15 Preview - Stepping Into the Van Gundy Era

There is no way around it. Last year's Detroit Pistons played ugly basketball and were very difficult to watch, but with Stan Van Gundy now on board, they are under new leadership and are ready to revamp their style of play.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Spo

Detroit Bad Boys - Detroit Pistons 2014-15 Preview -

The interior should be the Pistons' strength with Drummond growing into stardom under the tutelage of Van Gundy (similar to Dwight Howard before him), Greg Monroe as an offensive lynchpin and Josh Smith finishing on the break, passing out of the high post and defending the interior (and not doing all that bad stuff he's known to do).

This was a strength last year as the Pistons finished first in points in the paint in the NBA despite having approximately zero threats on the perimeter to occupy defenders. Drummond isn't polished offensively but will hoover up all the rebounds and dunk them into oblivion. Monroe and Smith both regressed offensively and both should see an uptick in production as they are put in more sensible lineups.

The Pistons should also be shockingly effective from 3-point range. The team finished second-to-last in 3-point shooting last season but that was because the majority of those 3s were being taken by Brandon Jennings and Smith. While both are still on the team, Van Gundy used his first offseason to sign a bevy of legitimate 3-point threats in Jodie Meeks, DJ Augustin, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin. The team could go from near the bottom of the 3-point standings to in the upper third of the NBA.


2013-14 IN REVIEW
4th in Central Division - 11th in Eastern Conference

Big changes were made in Detroit prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, as Joe Dumars decided to cash in on his enormous amount of cap space by improving the team's talent level. In the process, however, he once again tied up the team's financial flexibility in a string of moves very reminiscent of the 2009 offseason in which he signed Ben Gordon to a $55 million contract while simultaneously inking Charlie Villanueva to five years, $40 million.

Josh Smith's tenure in Atlanta suggests he was worthy of a bigger contract than Gordon and Charlie V, but four years at $54 million? Ouch. An even bigger "ouch" came in the form of his play, as he shot a career low 41.9% from the field, posted his lowest rebounding numbers since his second year in 2005-06, absolutely failed in every possible way in terms of defending at the small forward position and hoisted a career high 265 three-point attempts, converting on just 26.4% of them. In Smith's defense, he was playing out of position the majority of the time but when you're paying a guy over $13 million per year, production similar to his 2013-14 campaign is flat out unacceptable.

Detroit also signed Brandon Jennings to a three-year, $24 million deal. The contract wasn't nearly as devastating as Smith's, but it was signed with the hope that the 24-year-old point guard would take the next step in his development and become a more consistent floor general. Jennings actually went on to post a career high in assists at 7.6 per game but he shot a putrid 37% from the field, increased his turnovers and continued to jack ill-advised pull-up jumpers like he believes he is the second coming of Allen Iverson. With all that talent, you would think "Gumby" would become more efficient as his career progresses, but it simply isn't happening. Granted, he's just 24 years old and he still has time to improve, but his shot selection and decision making need to start improving yesterday.

Eighth overall pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope showed plenty of positive signs on the defensive end of the floor, but underwhelmingly struggled to establish himself and shot under 40% from the field. He still has plenty of time and he's a worker, but the Pistons expected more out of him right away. As the season progressed, KCP's role decreased and he even saw his minutes cut in half after the All-Star break.

Just 50 games into his tenure as Detroit's head coach, Maurice Cheeks was fired in early February with a 21-29 record and a disgusting level of respect from his players. After a while, guys started tuning him out and rumor has it that the group didn't respond well to his philosophies or teaching methods. Replacing Cheeks as interim head coach would be John Loyer, who finished the season with an even more exhausting 8-24 record.

Last year's Pistons team did not fit together, plain and simple. Their three-big starting front line of Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond was never going to work out, especially without any real reliable outside threats on the wing, and as a result they put on an abysmal display of floor spacing and shot selection.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Detroit's borderline unwatchable 2013-14 campaign was the fact that they did not own the rights to their first round draft pick. Even worse, the only reason that pick was dealt in the first place was to send Ben Gordon to Charlotte and get out of his atrocious contract sooner than it was scheduled to expire. The pick was protected and would have remained in Detroit had the ping pong balls bounced their way to gift them a top eight pick, but of course, it fell into the ninth spot.

On the bright side, Andre Drummond proved to be everything his high school hype suggested and unquestionably established himself as one of the top youngsters in the game of basketball. At age 20, Drummond scored 13.5 points per game and finished second in the league in both rebounding (13.2 RPG) and field goal percentage (62.3%), not to mention seventh in total blocks (131 - 1.6 BPG). The kid is an absolute freak of nature and is not only one of the most promising young players on the hardwood, he is rapidly going to transform into one of the best big men in the NBA.



Key Additions - Stan Van Gundy, Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler, D.J. Augustin
Key Losses - Rodney Stuckey, Chauncey Billups, Charlie Villanueva

After 14 years as the Pistons' President of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars "stepped down" from the position in the last week of the 2013-14 season. Throughout Dumars' tenure, he helped construct six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances that were highlighted by back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals and a 2004 NBA championship. However, since the end of that era, he had a tough time rebuilding and made a plethora of questionable moves via trade and free agency as well as making some draft picks he wishes he could do over.

Dumars will remain an advisor to the organization as well as a minority owner, but it was time for a change of scenery upstairs.

One month following Dumars' demotion, the Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy to a five-year, $35 million deal to replace him as President of Basketball Operations along with taking over the team's head coaching responsibilities, similar to the role Doc Rivers landed in Los Angeles last summer. Van Gundy is well-known for leading teams to impressive turnarounds right away, and he has never missed the playoffs. In Van Gundy's first season as head coach of the Miami Heat in 2003-04, he helped them improve to 42-40 after winning just 25 games the year before he took the job (alright, the additions of Dwyane Wade and Lamar Odom had something to do with that, too). When he took the job with Orlando in 2007-08, he helped the Magic improve from a 42-40 club to 52-30 in his first year on board.

Van Gundy's transition is unlikely to initially go quite as smoothly as it did in Miami and Orlando, especially considering the fact that he has never held down a front office position. He's got some excellent pieces to start with, particularly Andre Drummond, but he's got his work cut out for him.

His first splash came in mid-July, when he signed sharpshooter Jodie Meeks to a three-year, $19 million contract to give the team a lift on the wing. His price tag may have been a bit larger than you would have hoped for, but make no mistake about the fact that Detroit was desperate to improve their outside shooting. Meeks is a marksman from anywhere on the floor with limitless range, and is coming off a career year with the Lakers in which he scored 15.7 points per game while knocking down 162 threes and posting career highs in just about every single statistical category. The 27-year-old is likely to start at shooting guard this season and he will certainly help improve Detroit's offensive balance with his ability to space the floor and shoot the rock.

Detroit also strengthened their perimeter game by bringing in 12-year veteran Caron Butler, who played for Van Gundy in his second year as a pro in the 2003-04 season, and point guard D.J. Augustin. Brandon Jennings is likely to keep his starting role, but Augustin is coming off an outstanding season for the Chicago Bulls in which he lead the team in scoring and put up 15 points with five assists per game. Augustin's quickness, pick n' roll presence and aggressiveness will fit in beautifully off the bench.

Meeks and Augustin may not possess quite as much talent as Rodney Stuckey, who the Pistons lost in free agency to the Indiana Pacers after seven years in Detroit, but they certainly fit the Pistons' needs much better. Stuckey is a very skilled one-on-one scorer off the dribble, but is shooting 28.6% from beyond the arc for his career and this team needed to add floor spacers more than Eddy Curry needs to lose weight.

To close out Van Gundy's initial offseason with the club, the Pistons signed Greg Monroe to the one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer after the 6'10" former Georgetown Hoya failed to generate much interest throughout the free agent process. Monroe will become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and the writing is virtually already on the wall that he will not sign a long-term deal to stick around in Detroit.

C - Andre Drummond / Aaron Gray
PF - Greg Monroe / Jonas Jerebko / Luigi Datome / Tony Mitchell
SF - Josh Smith / Caron Butler / Kyle Singler / Cartier Martin
SG - Jodie Meeks / Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PG - Brandon Jennings / D.J. Augustin / Will Bynum

Don't be surprised if either Smith or Monroe ends up coming off the bench. Even if they do end up starting alongside one another to begin the season, it certainly won't stand as their primary frontcourt lineup. It will likely be used in more situational fashion than what we saw last season.


X-FACTOR - Spacing
Last season's Detroit Pistons squad was one of the worst perimeter shooting teams you could ever imagine, both in terms of ability and shot selection. Beyond the simple fact that they did not possess a respectable array of shooting threats on the roster, some of it was due to Josh Smith being placed at the small forward position more than half the time he was on the floor all season. If Stan Van Gundy's history is any indication, the experimentation of an oversized front line is going to come to an end, for the most part.

For this team to be more successful offensively, they are going to have to spread the floor roughly two billion times better than they did a year ago. Luckily for the Pistons, that's Van Gundy's M.O. You can expect a much more diverse offensive attack, less ball stopping and certainly a more efficient perimeter game, headed by free agent acquisition Jodie Meeks.

If Detroit is going to put themselves back in the conversation for a chance to compete in the playoffs, their spacing and offensive efficiency is going to have to improve by leaps and bounds.

The 2014-15 Detroit Pistons will perform at a higher level than what transpired a season ago. How much they will ultimately improve remains to be seen, but it is safe to expect a much more watchable brand of basketball under Stan Van Gundy. That much I guarantee.

You can also expect the franchise, Andre Drummond, to continue his progression as one of the most promising young players the NBA has to offer. At age 21, the big fella hasn't even scratched the surface in terms of maximizing his jaw-dropping potential, which is scary considering how productive he already is.

With that said, it will probably still be tough for the Pistons to reach the postseason, even in the weakened Eastern Conference. Don't get me wrong, they have a chance. However, you might be getting a tad bit ahead of yourself if you're expecting a postseason berth, but they should definitely win more than 29 games and play much more balanced all-around basketball. Detroit actually has a draft pick this year, as well, so the sky won't fall quite as hard as last year even if they end up missing the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

3rd - Central Division
10th - Eastern Conference

Keep your eyes peeled for the Oklahoma City Thunder team preview, coming later today.

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