Just a few years ago, the Detroit Pistons were amongst the elite teams in the NBA. Their core of Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince had the team contending every single season. They had wily veterans like Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess that made their bench incredibly deep. They went to the Eastern Conference Finals an outstanding six straight years. They battled teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, the best teams in the NBA, and even beat the Shaq-Kobe era Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals. They looked poised to be elite for a long time.
But then something happened. In 2006 they lost Ben Wallace. After losing the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics, the Pistons began a roster revamp. They traded away Billups and McDyess to Denver for Allen Iverson in November 2008. They made the playoffs, but were swept by the Cavs in round one. Iverson then left the team, causing them to sign Ben Gordon to a five-year, $55 million contract, and then signed Charlie Villanueva as well. Even with the changes, they were knocked out of playoff contention by March of 2010. 2010 then brought more change, with Lawrence Frank being installed as head coach and also parting ways with Rip Hamilton.
The current Pistons are a potpourri of players and skill sets. They have good young talent like guard Rodney Stuckey, guard Brandon Knight, and forward/center Greg Monroe. They also have a bunch of random veterans like guard/forward Corey Maggette and the aforementioned Villanueva. Prince is the only member left of the old Pistons, and his contributions have gone down in each of his last few seasons. His 12.7 points per game last season were his lowest since 2003, and his shooting percentage dropped a full five percent from 47.3 percent in 2010-2011 to 42.1 percent in 2011-2012. He may still be their captain, but he’s no longer their best player.
The biggest question mark on this team is Andre Drummond. The former Connecticut Huskie has a lot of potential, but due to his lack of college production, is the biggest risk from the NBA Draft Class of 2012. Look at his college stats from last season: he averaged 10.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks while shooting 29.5 percent from the free throw line and 53.8 percent from the field. His free throw percentage is even lower that Shaquille O’Neal’s 50.4 career percentage, and Shaq may have been the worst free throw shooter in NBA history. At 6-10, 270 pounds, he’s a legit physical specimen, but his stats don’t indicate future greatness. If he works out, the Pistons will have a scary good (and big) front line in Drummond and Monroe. If not, then Drummond is next in line in the Desanga Diop/Greg Oden/Sam Bowie of big men who couldn’t quite cut it in the NBA.
Overall, don’t expect much from the Pistons next season. They are going to be okay, but nothing special. All of their young talent will continue to grow, especially Monroe and guard Rodney Stuckey. Watching Drummond play should also be interesting, as he is either going to be a major steal or a complete bust. They won’t make the playoffs, and will look ugly at times, but the Pistons are rebuilding. And like the Cavs, only time will tell if they are on the right path.