NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #19 Detroit Pistons

Can Stan Van Gundy make something out of this eclectic mishmash of a roster?

This NBA offseason has been very eventful and the preseason is now just around the corner. To help bridge that gap for hoops junkies, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 19th-ranked Detroit Pistons!

The Pistons are put together kind of like a fantasy basketball team. Guys like Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith, and Brandon Jennings all put up numbers in various ways, but we've come to learn that it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to mash them all together at the same time on a real basketball court.

In his first year as the Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations, Stan Van Gundy will have the unenviable task of figuring out what to do with this smorgasbord of incompatible talent. It won't be an easy task, considering the best options appear to be in either trading young talent for better fitting parts or benching a player who makes a little bit too much money to be benched. The results of choosing to stand pat or make a move of that nature could range anywhere from putting Detroit at the bottom of the conference to a spot in the playoffs. Projecting their level of success this season could admittedly be difficult with all those x-factors, so let's see what our algorithms have to say about it.

numberFire Metrics

Projected Record: 39-43
Eastern Conference Rank: 10th
NBA Rank: 19th
nERD: 46.0
Playoff Chances: 49.18%
Championship Chances: 0.75%

Our metrics project the Pistons to finish 10th in the Eastern Conference this season as they are currently constructed. That only seems like a mild jump over their 11th-place finish in 2013-14, but it comes with a full 10-game improvement in their record. What's more, according to the rest of our league projections, that 39-43 record would put them a mere one game out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East (hence the nearly 50% chance of making the playoffs). If you think the idea of this Pistons team competing for the postseason is a stretch, you're probably not alone. Still, don't sleep on just how influential Stan Van Gundy is as a coach and how good this team has the potential to be if everything breaks just right.

Player Movement

Notable Additions
D.J. Augustin (via free agency)
Caron Butler (via free agency)
Jodie Meeks (via free agency)
Stan Van Gundy (coach hiring)

Notable Losses
Rodney Stuckey (free agency)
Charlie Villanueva (free agency)
Chauncey Billups (retired)

The Pistons may have had one of the most underrated offseasons in the NBA this summer. The Van Gundy hiring alone would warrant a passing grade, but Detroit's turnover on their depth chart may make a bigger splash than people realize. D.J. Augustin was the Bulls' leading scorer last season (14.9 points per game) and he offers an immediate upgrade at backup point guard over the now retired Billups (3.8 points per contest in only 19 games). The addition of Jodie Meeks and his 2.1 three-pointers per game on 40.1% shooting should space the floor better than Stuckey was ever able to in seven seasons with the Pistons and Caron Butler represents a slightly less washed up version of Charlie Villanueva to rome around the perimeter as well. With such a glut of big men already on the roster clogging up the paint in Drummond, Monroe, and Smith, that type of outside shooting should make the Pistons' 19th-ranked offense from last year seem much more balanced and ultimately more effective going forward.

Three Burning Questions

Can Stan Van Gundy get this roster to compete for a playoff spot?
The lowest a Stan Van Gundy-coached team has ever finished in defensive efficiency is 12th (2011-12 Orlando Magic) and every single one of his other six full seasons were in the top nine. In other words, you can probably expect Detroit to finish higher than their 25th-ranked mark from last year based on system alone. Given, Van Gundy had Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard as defensive anchors on those Heat and Magic squads respectively, but Andre Drummond seems like a perfectly mouldable 21-year-old for that job, having flashed top-10 defensive potential with a 99 defensive rating back in his rookie season. Other than that, a large part of their success on that end will have to do with Van Gundy's ability to get Monroe to play hard on defense.

As for the offensive end, is Stan the man that finally gets Jennings and Smith to make better choices with the ball? If they become more efficient shooters and offensive players in general, that could go a long way in bringing Detroit back to the postseason. After all, Stan Van has made the playoffs in every single one of his seven full campaigns as a coach (and the Heat made it in the one where Pat Riley replaced him). Getting the Pistons back to the postseason is obviously the goal in Motor City and Van Gundy might be just the man to do it if he can work his magic and get this team clicking better on both ends.

What is this team's starting lineup?
One of the biggest question marks surrounding the team going into training camp and the preseason is who Van Gundy is going to throw into his starting lineup. He has admitted that the Drummond-Monroe-Smith experiment needs to be put to bed, but will he stay true to that idea and bench one of them? If so, who exactly would that be? Drummond and Monroe have too much potential and are too young to relegate to the pine at the fear of stunting their development or alienating them in future contract negotiations. On the other hand, benching the highest-paid player on the team in Josh Smith isn't likely to happen either.

Beyond that, is Jennings really a better choice at point than Augustin? Is Meeks the de facto starter at shooting guard or will the excellent summer of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope carry over and earn him a nod? Has Kyle Singler reached his peak or will he get some consideration at the two or three (or even four)? There are plenty of positional battles to watch in Detroit all season long, likely with no shortage of controversy.

Can Andre Drummond be an All-Star this year?
Drummond finished as our 16th-ranked player in the entire league in nERD last season with a mark of 9.0. That basically means that our algorithms predict that a league-average team with Drummond as one of its starters would finish nine games over .500 (if only the rest of the Pistons were league average, right?). Joakim Noah was the only Eastern Conference center to finish higher (10.3) and Al Jefferson wasn't even all that close (4.8).

Drummond averaged 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1.6 blocks last season, while shooting 62.3% from the field. He'll obviously need to improve on the 41.8% mark from the line, but he joins the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Bob Lanier, and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to ever hit those numbers at a minimum. The scary part? Drummond did it at an age five years younger than any of them. He's the most exciting big man prospect not named Anthony Davis and it's only a matter of time before he's an All-Star staple. Is this the year it starts?

Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch

C Andre Drummond (Yahoo O-Rank: 39)
Andre Drummond took the fantasy world by storm last season, going from a late-round pick to an early-round stud (see averages above). The world has caught up a bit, considering his 39 rank on Yahoo this year, but that might still be too modest. It bears repeating: this kid is only 21 years old. Last season was likely just an appetizer for his third year main course, in which he'll have noted big man whisperer Stan Van Gundy pushing him to be like Shaq and Dwight. Like his big fantasy monster predecessors, Drummond's low free throw percentage is admittedly a buzz killer, but just imagine how valuable he could be if you were punting that category. Oh wait, we don't have to imagine it! Basketball Monster had him as the sixth-ranked fantasy player last season when punting free throw percentage. Sixth! If you're into that sort of thing, Drummond is a must-draft for your squad.

PF/C Greg Monroe (Yahoo O-Rank: 99)
Greg Monroe is a fantastic late-round pick if you're punting three-pointers, but he's also a high-upside sleeper regardless of how you choose to build your team. Just two short seasons ago, Monroe finished as the 42nd-ranked player in fantasy hoops. Yes, he has to share touches and rebounding opportunities with Drummond and Smith now, but the talent is still there and his main dips since that season are only in blocks and field goal percentage (things that could easily come back with the same steady complement of minutes). He's in a contract year with a huge chip on his shoulder after restricted free agency didn't go as he had hoped, so there's plenty of reason to believe he'll finish higher than Yahoo's current rank of 99 (which he has surpassed in each of the last three seasons). What's more, trade rumors are likely to swarm around the Pistons if Monroe and Smith can't find a way to co-exist (Drummond is untouchable) and either leaving town would boost Monroe's stock even more. Get him.

SF/PF Josh Smith (Yahoo O-Rank: 69)
PG Brandon Jennings (Yahoo O-Rank: 91)
There were three seasons from 2009-12 when Josh Smith finished as a second-round value and he's being drafted on the residuals of that ever since. He finished 92nd in his last year in Atlanta (2012-13) and 127th in his first year in Detroit last season. He's an absolute drain in the oft-overlooked areas of field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and turnovers, and he doesn't hit nearly enough threes for the number he attempts. He may be a stat-sheet stuffer, but these days it's happening too much in the wrong places to justify the price tag.

Same goes for Jennings. He finished ranked 118th last year and even 91st as a best-case scenario isn't all that likely. He sucks the life out of your rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage, free throw percentage (for his position), and turnovers, and only gives back decent scoring and steals. The high assists are nice, but not enough to justify taking him at his average draft position. There are far better point guard options all over the draft board that are more properly priced and valued.