Today's edition of The Questionable Blogger takes us to Detroit. Well, really, it just takes us to my email account, where I exchanged some questions with Mike Payne of SBNation's Detroit Pistons blog, Detroit Bad Boys. The Pistons, the best team in the East not so long ago, have fallen on hard times recently, and Mike sheds a little light on why that is.
Be sure to check Detroit Bad Boys for my answers to Mike's questions as well.
Steve Perrin: A few years ago, Joe Dumars was widely considered the best GM in basketball. He had traded for Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace, signed Chauncey Billups for peanuts, and then acquired Rasheed Wallace at the trade deadline as the final piece of a championship roster. Now, he's the guy who signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to terrible contracts. As someone who closely follows the team, is Dumars a genius or an idiot? Or is it all just blind luck?
Mike Payne: I've got a lot of respect and reverence for the Joe Dumars that built the 2004 championship team. But the new Joe Dumars that replaced him after the Antonio McDyess signing? "Idiot" might be too kind of a description. The summer of 2009 was when I gave up on the guy, and he's lost a lot of fan support since then. Beyond the aforementioned Gordon and Villanueva contracts from hell, he also sent Arron Afflalo to Denver for nothing, Amir Johnson to Toronto for nothing, drafted Austin Daye over Ty Lawson and DaJuan Summers over DeJuan Blair. In one summer, he completely blew the draft, completely blew his free agent moves and completely blew the trade market. The franchise has been reeling since.
Pistons fans were really hoping things would change as soon as Tom Gores bought the team. Sadly, there's only been more of the same since. Dumars drafted another combo guard who can't run an offense, then blew his free agent money on aging and under-performing veterans. If it wasn't clear before, it should be clear to every fan that Joe Dumars is not the right guy to manage this team-in-transition.
SP: The Pistons don't have a lot to cheer about these days, but you do have one of the best young bigs in the league in Greg Monroe. We don't get to see a lot of Pistons games these days out here in L.A. Tell us what makes Monroe so special.
MP: Greg Monroe is the most exciting thing going for the Detroit Pistons, he's a universally loved figure on an otherwise controversial roster. He has a terrific under-the-basket offense that is cerebral, calculated in nature, a rare player that comes out of college with a refined low-post toolkit. The thing is, if you're not paying careful attention, you may not realize that he's dominating the game. You could watch 48 minutes of basketball, notice Monroe having a few nice plays, but then you'll be shocked when the box score shows he just put up 32 and 11 on DeMarcus Cousins.
He's not the highlight reel athlete that Blake Griffin is, he makes his presence felt with foot work, pump fakes, spin moves and precision timing. Currently, Synergy Stats has Monroe ranked as the 13th best isolation player in the league regardless of position, and it is a joy to watch if you're a fan of the game. When the ball is in his hands, good things happen, it's my only regret that head coach Lawrence Frank doesn't run the offense through him more often.
Last, Monroe's defense is a work in progress. He's capable and focused, but not yet very effective. It's a common dream in Detroit that the team wins the draft lottery and pairs Anthony Davis with Monroe in the frontcourt. Monroe needs an above-the-rim, shot-blocking defensive dynamo as his partner. If Detroit can put a pairing like that together, they've got the frontcourt needed to climb back toward the top of the Eastern Conference.
SP: Other than Monroe, which players on the current roster do you think the Pistons should be building around right now? How has Brandon Knight looked? What's up with Austin Daye?
MP: I was crushed when the Pistons drafted Brandon Knight, I absolutely did not see that coming. Nearly all of us on DetroitBadBoys wanted one thing if Bismack Biyombo was off the board-- either trade down for Kenneth Faried or trade out of the draft entirely. Instead, Knight fell and Dumars decided to draft a player that the team didn't need but reminded him of himself. Knight has the potential to be a solid NBA player in the mold of Jason Terry, Ben Gordon or Jamal Crawford. The problem is that they expect him to become a point guard. He hasn't yet established a passing game in his collegiate or professional career. Out of every single rookie guard of the last 10 or more years, no point guard has started out with a lower assist rate than Knight. Generally, if a player hasn't at least shown the core competency of running an offense (as reflected in assist rate), it's foolish to expect that he'll one day figure it out. If he does, it could take five, six years.
If the Pistons just saw him as an on-the-ball, off-the-bench scorer, I'd feel much better about Brandon Knight. He can do that. Sadly, it's not what the Pistons needed in the 2011 draft.
As for Austin Daye, he shot 16% from the field in February, the team's best month since Chauncey Billups was still running the show. If he was rated on his recent performance, he might go undrafted in the D-League.
SP: The Clippers were very interested in signing Tayshaun Prince to be their small forward this off-season, but Prince wound up re-signing in Detroit for 4/$28MM. Did you find that decision as strange as I did? How did that signing make sense for either the Pistons or for Prince (aside from getting paid in Tay-Tay's case)?
MP: I absolutely find it strange, and frankly I was really hoping he'd sign with the Clippers. Tay is so much better suited to the Western Conference, where the small forwards are generally finesse players unlike the big body 3s in the east (LeBron, Pierce, Carmelo). Prince has a really difficult time defending these huge SFs and has a harder time scoring on them. In the West, however, Tayshaun could have been very effective against players like Kevin Durant and Rudy Gay, and beyond those two the small forward isn't really a position of power. For the Clippers, it might have been nice to have a guy on the roster who earned his reputation as a Kobe stopper.
Instead, he signed an extension in Detroit. A city where his welcome was fully worn out. He's used as Detroit's #1, #2 option on offense when he has no business being in the top 3. He needed to join a team where he can be veteran glue, not top option. He's even earned a nickname in Detroit that describes his impact on the offense pretty well: Isolayshaun. I love it. Not as cool as "Monrobocop" though.
SP: The Pistons are 12-8 in their last 20 games after starting the season 4-20. I say it's mostly schedule related -- a lot of wins against Washington and Charlotte and New Orleans and Sacramento -- but they've also got victories over the Hawks and Lakers and Celtics (twice!) in there. So what's the dealio? Are the Pistons suddenly good?
MP: If you say it's schedule related, you're probably right. I feel the same, as the Pistons lucked into playing teams like New Jersey three times in a week. They had the easiest February schedule I can remember as a fan, beating teams they were supposed to beat. I do think they got a solid take away from those wins. Wins bring a lot of confidence, and that allowed them to stand up to teams like the Lakers, the Hawks, and those miserable Celtics.
Is this a 12-8 team? No. Their record is slightly worse than it was last season, and their schedule won't be kind to them as they approach the final stretch. Personally, I'm a lot more interested in lottery balls than I am in wins anyway. Basketball gods, please bring us your glorious unibrow. And Dumars, please don't blow another pick...