Just two more games are left in this preseason before we get to see some real action on the court.
Now if we could just get through this without having anybody else get injured, we might just make it through the first month of the season when we see how tough and resilient our second and third units are. If the Wolves start out 2-8, I won’t be singing the same tune but there is something nice about seeing which players belong because of a big injury.
I’ve mentioned this before but last season we got to see who belonged and who didn’t belong once Rubio, Pek, and Love got hit with injuries. It was probably better than if the Wolves had made the playoffs and pretended Darko, Beas, and Wes were long-term options on this team. It allowed for a changing of the guard outside of the core of this team. Situations like this make me think that there are small glimpses into if you actually want a player on your team.
An example of this was when I was living in Sacramento and covering the Kings in the 2009-10 season. Omri Casspi was everybody’s other rookie darling for the Kings at the time and people wanted him to succeed almost as much as they wanted Tyreke Evans to be great. There were rumors of Francisco Garcia getting the minutes over Omri, and this upset a lot of fans at the time — at least a lot of the fans I was writing to and interacting with on a daily basis.
While Francisco Garcia is a nice role player when he’s healthy, my thinking was this: if Omri Casspi can’t beat Garcia out for a starting spot, he shouldn’t be starting. And I think that type of mentality holds true with what we’re about to see from the Wolves.
If Williams can’t help step in and make up for part of Kevin Love’s absence, that tells us what we need to know about him right now. If Alexey Shved can’t play point guard and is much better as a shooting guard, we know how to use him moving forward. If Dante Cunningham can’t produce with extended minutes the next month, he probably won’t be much help in extended minutes at any other time.
I’m not doubting these players, necessarily; I just think we’ll get to see what they’re made of right away and it should answer any potential questions. It would obviously be nicer if we had this roster with a healthy Love and Rubio to start out because I think most of us are excited about the possibilities of this team as a healthy unit. However, these are the breaks right now we have to deal with. Part of it excites me to see exactly what we’ve got.
For today’s 3-on-3, I’ve brought in Jared Dubin from Hardwood Paroxysm (he’s the new editor!) and Patrick Hayes from PistonPowered.com. Jared also has started a new NBA breakdown site called HoopChalk. Jared is a really smart Knicks fan with a good handle on the league as a whole. Patrick is as tuned in to the Detroit Pistons as you’d want from a blogger. Let’s see what they’ve got to see about tonight’s matchup.
1. Andre Drummond has been impressive this preseason but it is preseason. Can we expect a big rookie year from him or just a big future?
Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Both. I don’t think Drummond will begin the season as a starter. Lawrence Frank likes veterans and incumbent starter Jason Maxiell is serviceable, albeit limited. Plus, Maxiell’s insertion into the starting lineup last season is partially when the team started to recover from a 4-20 start to go 21-21 the rest of the season. Drummond, expectedly, has some flaws that all young, athletic big man have — he’s foul prone, he bites on pump fakes too often against craftier bigs and he’s all kinds of wretched at the free throw line. But all of that out of the way, even in his raw, learning state, he’s already proven to be the second best big man on the Pistons roster. He provides blocks and dunks every time he’s on the court, and those two things have been in extremely short supply for the Pistons in recent years.
Jared Dubin, Hardwood Paroxysm: Most players tend to struggle in their rookie season. Most raw, athletic big men that lack polish on the offensive end also tend to struggle in their rookie season. So yeah, I expect Drummond to struggle in his rookie season. But that does not mean his future isn’t bright. His potential as a game-changing force on the defensive end is obvious. We saw it at Connecticut. There’s a reason he was a top-10 draft pick. And playing next to such a tremendously skilled offensive player as Greg Monroe will allow Drummond to concentrate on what he does best and bring his offensive game along at a more leisurely pace. He has a big future ahead of him, but it likely won’t mean big dividends for Detroit this year.
Zach Harper, A Wolf Among Wolves: I’m not sold on him having a big rookie year because Lawrence Frank doesn’t like the young players so much and Drummond’s free throw issues will be exposed if he’s proving to be a weapon at all early on in the season. Teams won’t hesitate to put him at the line where he has absolutely no comfort at all. Because of this, I think we’ll see some inconsistency in his minutes and inconsistency in his play. However, projecting long-term he looks like a potentially great player. His athleticism, defense, and hands are all big pluses. He has a nice offensive game outside of pure athleticism too. Eventually, he’ll get his free throw stroke to manageable and then we’ll see him really get into a great rhythm on the floor.
2. Pistons are stockpiling young assets, kind of like the Wolves tried to do for the past few years. At some point, does Detroit need to bring in more veterans to balance out the experience on the roster? (Corey Maggette doesn’t count)
Hayes: Maggette (other than his nick-naming ability) likely won’t be much of a factor this season, but his expiring contract will play a key role in the Pistons bringing in that veteran presence you speak of. Maggette, Maxiell, Will Bynum and Austin Daye all have expiring contracts. If the Pistons finally, mercifully, amnesty Charlie Villanueva next offseason, they’ll have significant money to pursue free agents next offseason. It’s no secret Joe Dumars has pined for Josh Smith for about four years or so now, so I’d bet he’d be at the top of their list. But they’re also in a position to pursue in-season trades if they materialize, too. They have a combination of young, cheap assets and expiring deals. Of course, the last time they had a mixture of young players on cheap contracts (Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo, Amir Johnson) and expiring deals, they ended up giving away Afflalo and Johnson for next to nothing in trades to free up more money so that they could extend Rip Hamilton (who they’re still paying to not be on the team) and sign Villanueva, Ben Gordon and Chris Wilcox. I would say there’s cautious optimism that Detroit adds an impact player either through free agency or trade, but I do emphasize the ‘cautious’ because of how things played out last time.
Dubin: If you’re a fan of my Twitter stylings, you know I’m not big on the whole VETERAN LEADERSHIP thing being an actual thing. I think it matters somewhat to a team like last season’s Thunder, that was right on the precipice of a championship but mostly lacked postseason experience. Having a steadying hand on board – someone that has been there before but isn’t expected to play a big role in the actual basketball-ing – can help in that situation. But for younger teams far away from contention like the Pistons, I really think they’re better off letter the kids learn, so when it’s really time to win, they’re able to lead themselves. If you’re not contending, why spin the wheels with guys who won’t be a part of the team by the time you’re ready to be a real contender? It’s better to invest that time finding out what you’ve got in the way of young, impact talent.
Harper: When you’re looking at younger guys like Drummond and Monroe together, I love the idea of letting them grow as a duo. I don’t think you need that much veteran leadership with those two guys because they can go out and learn by trial-and-error, which seems to be a nice way for big men to learn their craft. But looking at that backcourt, as much as I like Knight and Stuckey I still worry about the two of them playing together. Seems like they’d be better off with a either a veteran shooting guard that isn’t Ben Gordon next to Knight or a veteran point guard next to Stuckey. They can probably grow with each other just fine, but it’s a risk.
3. In a regular season game with both teams healthy, what would be your most important matchup between these two teams?
Hayes: The easy answer is Greg Monroe-Kevin Love, but those guys are both consistently good and I assume they’d play well against each other most nights. For me, it’s Brandon Knight-Ricky Rubio. Knight is the wildcard of Detroit’s young players. Monroe is already a known commodity and very close to being an All-Star level player. For Drummond, his elite talent is unquestioned, he’s been dogged by whether or not he can maximize his obvious physical gifts. Knight, however, is much more polarizing. His work ethic and maturity make him easy to root for, but his production, both as a college and professional player, suggest he might not be the above average starting point guard the Pistons hope he is. Knight has reportedly spent his offseason working on his passing, decision-making and ability to run an offense as more of a traditional point guard. I’m interested to see how he plays against players like Rubio, a natural pass-first player, this season. If Knight can do some of the things Rubio does for his team when healthy, the Pistons have a chance to be significantly better. If he can’t, they’re clearly headed back to the lottery.
Dubin: I can’t choose between Rubio-Knight, Love-Monroe and Pekovic-Drummond, so I’m going to say it’s the wing matchup between Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Alexei Shved and Chase Budinger and Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Corey Maggette and Austin Daye. That’s a bit of a cop-out, I know, but there are a bunch of intriguing cross-matches there. Stuckey and Roy are the combo guards that take you off the bounce. Kirilenko and Prince can match each other limb for limb. Daye and Budinger present an interesting contrast in styles and athleticism, as do Shved and Maggette. None of these guys is the number one option for either team, but if any stepped up and took control, it could decide the outcome.
Harper: I think I’d definitely have to go with Knight vs Rubio as my matchup. There were some fun moments from the Wolves’ home game against the Pistons last year, but with the experience both players gained from their first season, I’d love to see a second season showdown between both point guards. I really like what I’ve seen from Knight in a scoring sense and he’s learning how to run the offense when he’s called to do so. For Rubio, I like watching his defense against scoring guards like Knight. They both have a lot of ability and I think it could steal the show. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to be crying in the corner.
Place: MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Canada
Time: 7pm Central Time
Viewing and listening pleasure: No TV on tonight’s action, but may I offer you a lovely bread bowl filled with chowder?
Records: Wolves are 3-2 and Detroit is 3-3.
Still sitting at 2.5 Darkos for confidence right now. The Wolves played horribly against Chicago last game, and while it was against some fantastic defensive players, I still didn’t see a lot of encouragement from the Pek-less effort. Stiemsma looked nice and Dante can play some, but Taj Gibson completely shut down Derrick. The backcourt also didn’t look very competent trying to figure things out.
Against the Pistons, there should be an easier time on offense but we’ll see just how much this defensive unit may or may not struggle against some explosive members of Detroit.