Posted Aug 22, 2012 10:37 AM
This is the third in a series of articles on the teams that did not make the playoffs last season, previewing their prospects of making it to the postseason in 2012-13. Next up: the Milwaukee Bucks.
Like the other five head coaches who were new to their teams last season, Detroit's Lawrence Frank had to scramble. Hired in early August, Frank -- the former Nets head coach and lead assistant in Boston -- had to cool his heels for another four months, waiting for the NBA lockout to grind to a conclusion.
Then all hell broke loose, with a whirlwind training camp, a sample-sized preseason schedule and a breakneck 66-game schedule. It was dropped on everyone equally, but the thud hit louder on those preaching "new," be it new offense, new defense, new players or new cultures. Limited practice time, canceled shootarounds, three games in three nights -- it didn't make for much of a classroom.
Especially not for a coach such as Frank, with a roster like the Pistons, caught in the early-to-mid stages of a rebuild with way more past and future than present in the house.
In W-L record, the Pistons' 25-41 ranked 22nd, which actually was OK compared to so many of their category-by-category results. They finished 27th in points per game, 25th in field-goal percentage, 27th in rebounds, 28th in assists, 28th in turnovers and 25th in opponents' field-goal percentage. Detroit was 13th in 3-point accuracy and 14th in points allowed, but that was misleading; it ranked 26th in pace and thus 22nd in defensive rating (106.3).
But take a closer look: The Pistons started horribly, (4-20 through Feb. 1), then went 21-21. Their scoring differential tightened from minus-10.8 to minus-1.4. They broke even on the boards over those final 42 games and came within a hair of matching opposing shooters (after losing that category 42.3 percent to 48.6).
Of the six new head coaches for 2011-12, three -- Frank, Toronto's Dwane Casey and the Lakers' Mike Brown -- posted better records after Feb. 1 than before that date. No one got his team to improve across the board more than Frank, evidence of both his coaching and development at a couple of key positions.
Joe Dumars' piece-by-piece rebuilding has gone well, if slowly, of late. Point guard Brandon Knight and power forward Greg Monroe are the goods, and forward Jonas Jerebko, a rookie in 2009-10, is a valuable rotation guy in the grand scheme. Monroe's 30 double-doubles were the most by a Pistons player since Ben Wallace (34) in the 2003-04 championship season. Knight scored the most points (847) by a Detroit rookie since Grant Hill 17 years earlier (and, like Monroe, did it in 66 games). At 15.4 ppg and 12.8, respectively, the two ranked fourth and sixth in scoring among NBA players under age 22.
The other spots? Shooting guard Rodney Stuckey has been around so long -- and already has navigated both lofty and dashed expectations -- that folks forget he's only 26. He topped 30 percent from 3-point range for the first time and he trailed only Russell Westbrook, John Wall and James Harden among guards in free-throw attempts (his per-minute average was higher than theirs, too).
Small forward is old school, with Tayshaun Prince and Corey Maggette. Center -- in the blueprint, anyway -- will be handled by rookies Andre Drummond, the No. 9 pick out of UConn, and Ukraine import Slava Kravtsov. Drummond is a classic project player, physically impressive and gifted but also raw, generating talk of patience at the Orlando summer league.
Detroit looks to be heading into the season with five -- count 'em, five -- rookies: Drummond, Kravtsov, Kyle Singler, Kim English and Khris Middleton. According to Dan Feldman of the PistonPowered blog, the Pistons will be the first team to do that since Milwaukee in 2006-07 and only the 33rd in the NBA in the past 20 seasons. They're of varied age and experience, but that still is a lot of newbies to indoctrinate and, in some cases, lean on.
Let's see, Prince is going up the ladder of Piston milestones -- he's only 82 points behind Grant Hill on the franchise scoring list, needs 699 to become the eighth Detroit player to crack 10,000 and already ranks fifth in appearances (724) ahead of Bob Lanier and Dave Bing. But his biggest value is as mentor for the team's youngsters. Maggette (the flip side of the Ben Gordon clear-out) and Charlie Villanueva are placeholders for the future, too, while Austin Daye's future might be past as a Piston.
It's possible that Detroit could flirt with .500 all season, which could snag them the final playoff berth in the East. But growing up, improving and targeting 2013-14 as their coming-out season seems more realistic.
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