The Pistons' Big And Promising Future
Since they plummeted out of playoff contention three years ago, the Detroit Pistons have not had much luck with ping-pong balls. They have picked at No. 7, No. 8 and No. 9 in the last three years, which isn’t normally a recipe for success for a small-market team that can’t rely on attracting quality free agents.
However, due to the increasing fascination with guard play in the NBA, the Pistons were able to get the most skilled big man in the 2010 draft (Greg Monroe) and the most athletic big man in the 2012 draft (Andre Drummond). And in a league getting smaller by the year, Detroit has the chance to buck convention by building an elite team around two Twin Towers.
Monroe, still only 22 years old, is one of the NBA’s most promising young big men. With a usage rating of 23.4, he’s one of the rare big men who can create his own shot with his back to the basket. In his second year with Detroit, he’s already averaging a double double (15 points and 10 rebounds on 52% shooting).
The most impressive part of his game is his passing ability; like many of the products of John Thompson III’s Georgetown program, he’s a dynamic passer from the post capable of having offense run through him. He averaged 2.3 assists a game last season, and his 3.2 career average in college suggests he could become a passer on the level of a Pau Gasol or a Vlade Divac.
And while Monroe is not a great athlete, at 6’11, 250 with a 7’2 wingspan, he has more than enough size to be passable on that end of the floor. He has the bulk to defend the low post but not the lateral quickness to defend on the perimeter or the explosiveness to protect the rim, which is why Detroit spent the last two years searching for a frontcourt partner who could minimize his weaknesses.
In 2011, both Bismack Biyombo and Tristan Thompson, athletic shot-blocking 4/5’s, were off the board when they were picking. But in 2012, a run on guards let Andre Drummond, a player with as much upside as No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, slip all the way to No. 9.
Drummond, a super-athletic 7’0, 280 shot-blocking machine, has the potential to be an MVP caliber player. But even if he never reaches his ceiling, his game complements Monroe well, giving Detroit a two-headed 6’10+ monster in their front-court.
There isn’t a center in the NBA, even Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, with more finishing ability at the rim than Drummond. That’s a great fit with Monroe’s ability to dissect an offense out of the high post. He’s not a great perimeter shooter, but his 74% free-throw shooting percentage indicates that’s part of his game that can improve with age, which will alleviate concerns about floor spacing with two big men.
On the other end of the floor, Drummond, who averaged 2.7 blocks in 28 minutes a game at UConn, has the physical talent to be an elite defensive anchor. He has a 7’6 wingspan and a max vertical of 34’ inches; it’s going to be impossible to consistently finish over him at the rim.
Detroit doesn’t have that much talent around their two big men, but it’s much easier to build from the inside-out than the outside-in. An elite defensive big man makes poor perimeter defenders passable and good ones great. On offense, big men who command double teams can create open shots and driving lanes for their guards.
Just as importantly, it’s far easier to find replacement-level guards than replacement-level big men. In the second round, Detroit found two players -- SG Kim English (Missouri) and SF Khris Middleton (Texas A&M) -- who might be able to develop into long-term starters on the wings. Finding two starting caliber big men in the second round is pretty inconceivable.
English, a tough and athletic 6’6 195 wing, defended four different positions in college and he has the foot-speed to be an elite perimeter defender. While he’s extremely limited with the ball in his hands, he’s a knock-down shooter who can space the floor (46% from three) and force defenses to respect him.
Middleton, a versatile 6’7 215 small forward, would have been a first round pick in 2011, but a preseason knee injury ruined his junior season and sent him sliding down draft boards. As a sophomore, he was a five-tool small forward for Texas A&M, scoring (14.3 points), shooting (36% from three), rebounding (5.2), passing (2.8 assists) and defending multiple positions.
Brandon Knight, their lottery pick in 2011, was fairly underwhelming as a rookie, but he should still develop into a starting-caliber PG. At 6’3 180 with a 6’6 wingspan, he’s a good shooter and a good athlete, and if Detroit can run more of their offense through Monroe, his lack of elite playmaking skills won’t doom the Pistons.
Along with the extremely athletic 6’10 Jonas Jerebko, Knight, Middleton and English give Detroit four intriguing perimeter players they can develop around their big men. Austin Daye regressed terribly last year while Rodney Stuckey has never developed into the starting PG they envisioned, but they could still be usable pieces as well.
The final piece would be an All-Star caliber shot-creator from the perimeter, and Joe Dumars will have several chances in the lottery and free agency, now that they’ve dumped Ben Gordon’s contract, to find them. As the Philadelphia 76ers have found out, and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards will, searching for a great big man can be fruitless. Both those teams may end up regretting passing on Monroe and Drummond, allowing Detroit the chance to build a contender from the back end of the lottery.