A lot of people thought that the Pistons had a shot at sneaking into the playoffs this season. However, things aren't panning out like that thus far. Other than the poor shooting, what has led to Detroit's dismal start?
As would probably be expected from a team thought able to contend for the playoffs that starts out 3-19, a lot. Probably the most glaring has been Stan Van Gundy's use of his personnel. He's treated Andre Drummond as an iso post threat (which he's not), treated Josh Smith as a franchise player (which he's obviously not), and threw more at Kentavious Caldwell-Pope early than he could handle.
The Pistons have also been in a fair number of close games, losing a couple in overtime, so it's not been very helpful that they've been absolutely awful in fourth quarters. Their true shooting is 47 percent with a point differential of -2.6 for the quarter.
Second halves have been pretty rough as a whole, as it's the third quarter when Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings go out of control. They combine for 47 percent of the team's total third quarter shot attempts, despite making only 38 percent of their shots. So while shooting has been a problem as a whole, situational shooting (and shot distribution) is what's really killing them.
Lastly, this is a team that isn't really good at anything. In the past, there were at least things that could be built on - things like offensive rebounding, shots at the rim, the pick and roll to Andre Drummond. There are no core competencies.
They're still able to generate a fair number of shots close, but they haven't been able to hit them. They're still second in offensive rebounding, but it's dropped from last season when they led the league by 172. So it's not really a surprise when they start falling apart.
Jodie Meeks is finally in the rotation after missing much of the season with an injury. What is expected of him and how has he looked since his return?
The impact of Jodie Meeks isn't really so much about what he personally brings, but more of a minimizing the impact of some of the team's weaker or struggling players. Caldwell-Pope for instance - he's second on the team in shot attempts and minutes, despite shooting only 38 percent. But a big reason that's the case is because of a lack of bodies at shooting guard. Caron Butler, Kyle Singler, and Cartier Martin have been able to help out there, but they're more along the lines of threes who can fill time at the two.
Also, hopefully having plenty of bodies on the wing now means that the idea of Josh Smith ever spending time at small forward is permanently put to rest. Hopefully.
The expectation for Meeks himself is basically just to serve as one of the team's few highly efficient go-to scorers. So far, he's offered even more than that, also flashing signs of being able to serve as a secondary ball-handler off the wing - a much needed role for the team.
Josh Smith looks to be firmly planted as the team's starting power forward now with Greg Monroe being moved to a bench role. Many outsiders called for this move to take place long ago. Why was the choice made to move Smith to the four so recently?
We're just as confused as the rest of the world. But instead of Monroe moving to the bench, most of us are at a loss as to why Smith isn't the one moving to the bench.
Smith has been a terrible player since he came to Detroit, but for some reason keeps being given a prolific role. Going back to 1985 when Basketball Reference's player game finder starts tracking field goal attempts, only one player has taken as many shots as Josh Smith while scoring so few points through the first 25 games of a season. No other player has been given the opportunity to be so incredibly destructive. (It was Rex Chapman's rookie year, in case you were interested.)
Based off performance, Smith belongs behind Monroe and Jonas Jerebko in the rotation at power forward rather than starting ahead of them. Perhaps it's his name recognition or his paycheck or highlighting him for a trade - but we don't have any concrete answers as to why Smith plays such a heavy role for the team.
But the question is likely referring more to why he was trotted out at small forward for so many games after it was such a catastrophic failure last year. One of the big reasons was with injuries to Meeks, Martin, and Luigi Datome, the team was a bit thin on the wings. But there were probably better alternatives available than Smith going back to starting at small forward. Really, Van Gundy's management of the rotations as a whole has been completely befuddling.
Speaking of Smith, both he and Brandon Jennings have been rumored to be on the trading block. How likely is it that one or both of them get dealt before the trade deadline? If they do get moved, what would you like to see the Pistons get in return?
I'm skeptical about the rumors, as they seem in opposition to Van Gundy's statements and actions. He seems to legitimately value Smith and hasn't shown any interest in engaging in serious trade discussions centered around him. Even the Kings rumor from over the summer seemed one-sided, that Sacramento made an offer but Van Gundy declined. My guess is that it's nothing more than external speculation.
Brandon Jennings being included in trade block discussions also doesn't really pass the smell test. He's not been very good, but his contract is reasonable and there's not really internal alternatives knocking on the door down behind him. If a team wanted to make an offer, I'm sure the Pistons would listen - but there's not the same need or urgency to part with him as exists with Smith.
From a fan perspective for Smith, I think the only goal would be to move him without taking on another destructive player or giving up a draft pick. Getting out of some of his salary would also be nice. However, Van Gundy's view is probably different.
Should President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy or Head Coach Stan Van Gundy be blamed for Detroit's poor start?
Both deserve blame in their own way.
President of Basketball Operations SVG should have noticed just how significant Josh Smith's decline was last season and made a priority to move him rather than treating him as a reclamation project. Hope springs eternal in the summer, and a couple of teams might actually have made a run at him. But with another incredibly bad season under his belt, he's quickly becoming one of the most toxic contracts in the league.
He also could have been more aggressive in adding significant talent. The highest profile free agent he chased was Isaiah Thomas, passing on pursuing clear fits on the wing like Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward. Even if the Pistons were unsuccessful, it at least would have been nice for many fans to see him aiming higher than veteran minimum guys like Martin and Aaron Gray.
Still though, there's enough talent on this roster to be competing for the playoffs and it's probably head coach SVG that deserves the biggest share of the blame. The current nine seed in the East is 10-17 and filled with 22 year olds in their starting lineup. Most thought it would be difficult to take a step backwards from the likes of Mo Cheeks and John Loyer last season, but it's actually happened to this point in the season. Van Gundy has just been tremendously disappointing so far.
Will Tony Mitchell ever get any playing time with the Pistons this season or is he relegated to the D-League?
Unless there is a major roster change, it's highly unlikely Mitchell will see any playing time with the Pistons this year. He's buried behind Monroe, Drummond, Smith, Jerebko, and Joel Anthony for frontcourt minutes. Plus he's shown little development as a player, typically looking lost on the court and not providing much in the way of impact.
Mitchell is loaded with talent and his numbers always look intriguing. At the D-League he's shown the ability to rebound, score efficiently, and block some shots - your basic dirty work big man. But there have been lots of rumblings about his work ethic and commitment, and those seem to show up on the court. The question is whether he's more interested in showing off cool dunks in pregame warm ups or developing into a legitimate contributor, and I don't think we've seen a favorable answer so far.