The Thunder play the Pistons tonight, which means that before the month of November is even halfway over the regular season series between the two will be done. Since the Pistons are still a team in rebuilding mode, we are not likely to see them again until next year, so we took the opportunity to ask SB Nation's Pistons site, Detroit Bad Boys, if they could share with us some of the challenges and frustrations surrounding their team. DBB's Mike Payne was kind enough to answer our questions.
1. In game 1, the Thunder were able to use several surges to keep Detroit at arm's length, but the Pistons were never truly out of it. What do you see this team doing well against OKC that might give them a competitive advantage in game 2?
Against the reigning Western Conference Champions, there is little hope for finding a competitive advantage. There could be, if head coach Lawrence Frank were willing to make changes that fans see as inevitable-- namely, substituting Andre Drummond for Jason Maxiell in the starting lineup. The tandem of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond was first explored against the Thunder last week, and an immediate 7-0 run resulted. In the 8 minutes the two played together up front, the Pistons outscored the Thunder 17-15. That tiny sample doesn't say much, but for a team so dangerously in need of hope, that is the kind of performance we cling to.
If Detroit started Drummond and Monroe against the Thunder, and the duo logged heavy minutes, that would put Detroit in its best position to succeed. With respect due to OKC, Sam Presti seems to feel that a "frontcourt by committee" is enough to compliment its superstar talent on the wings. I don't, and that remains an area where a mediocre team like the Pistons could challenge an elite team like the Thunder.
2. Detoit is off to a slow start this season, but most people overlook the fact that they are very young. Tayshawn Prince seems like the only key contributor over age 30. How do you see this youthful team gelling together, and is your coach Lawrence Frank the right guy for the job?
I think what fans are seeing now is an accurate reflection of what this team is capable of, at least as it is currently managed. So long as the Pistons rely on Tayshaun Prince and a duo of guards that can neither shoot nor pass, it's going to be a very difficult team to watch. Aside from the aforementioned Drummond/Monroe frontcourt, Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler have shown that both are capable of handling all 48 minutes at small forward between them. Jerebko filled in for the injured Tayshaun Prince during his rookie season for nearly 30 games, and the team had a better record with Jerebko.
Rodney Stuckey is a lot better than he has been playing, and in time, his numbers will normalize. He's always been inconsistent and he's not a good shooter, but his ability to draw contact and get to the line makes him serviceable. Until his March injury last season, he was second only to Kobe Bryant amongst shooting guards in free throws attempted. Hopefully he can get back to that in 2012-13. As for Brandon Knight, he'd be solid as a ball-dominant sixth man, but he's not shown the ability to run a five man offense. Despite his high passing numbers to start, he's shoot-first by nature, and he doesn't do that very effectively either.
I'll leave this on a positive note, however. Greg Monroe is a franchise-level talent. He recorded the first triple double for the Pistons since 2004 last Wednesday, putting up 21 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and 2 turnovers. His shot has been off to start the season, but he's quickly approaching an All Star berth. He has an offensive IQ far beyond his age of 22, and his defense is steadily improving. In retrospect, he might wind up the best player selected in the 2010 draft class.
3. The Pistons have gone through some ups and downs since their championship run in 2004. Do you still have confidence in Joe Dumars and the direction the franchise is heading? Your new owner Tom Gores is now entering year 2. How do you think his personal fingerprint has shown up on the franchise, and do you like his direction for the team?
Personally, I have no faith in Joe Dumars or the direction of the franchise, and I haven't seen 2009. With the exception of the bit of luck that brought Monroe and Drummond into Detroit's draft range, nearly every other move he's made has been a clearly predictable failure. Spending $120M in 2009 on Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva was immediately laughable, although it took most fans a few years to figure out just how bad that move was. The hope was that under Tom Gores, things would change... but then Dumars buys out Richard Hamilton for $10M just to make room to extend Tayshaun Prince for $28M until age 35. There is no vision here-- and sadly, no accountability. Our youth movement is still stymied by overpaid, underperforming veterans that our coach doesn't have the balls to bench. Fortunately, the luck the team has had in the draft has made the light at the end of the tunnel very bright. I just hope someone else is in charge up top to make decisions with the big chunk of cap space the team will begin to spend next summer.
One last note on Tom Gores. The Pistons feel like a low priority for him, and the changes he's made so far have been about marketing and entertainment. He hasn't shown a willingness to make changes to a basketball product that so desperately needs an overhaul. Instead, he brings in people like Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer to perform at half-time. In my opinion, gimmicks like that don't feel seats, winning does. And until Tom Gores finally makes real changes to the way the team is managed, winning just isn't going to happen.
Long story short, it is a tough time to be a Pistons fan, and it has been for about five years now. Hopefully the next time we chat next season, we'll both have new and exciting things to share about our teams...
Many thanks to Mike for his insights, and be sure to check out Detroit Bad Boys before tonight's game begins.