It’s early. The Pistons have a tough schedule. The team is in the midst of a 4 game Western Conference road trip. The 4 losses in a row were all too good teams. The excuses for the 2 win 5 loss start to the season hold some validity, but there are 2 more games on this road trip and the Pistons come home to face the Knicks and then a home-at-home series with the Hawks. It isn’t going to get any easier.
It is starting to look like Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars may have repeated his 2009 failure with different players.
It is hard to forget how then new Head Coach John Kuester couldn’t figure out how to get the most out of Dumars expensive summer time acquisitions of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon in 2009. Already there are signs the new Pistons Head Coach Maurice Cheeks has his hands full getting the most of his new acquisitions.
Brandon Jennings was signed to a 3-year $24 million deal and traded by the Milwaukee Bucks to the Pistons for Brandon Knight, Viacheslav Kravtsov and Khris Middleton. Jennings is a known quantity. A shoot-first high volume scoring point guard and he has stayed true to form despite acknowledging he needed to change his game, but Jennings can’t be chucker in Detroit.
“I definitely have to change my game, for this team, for my teammates, for everybody to be successful,” Jennings said before the season. “The things that I was doing in Milwaukee, I won’t have to do here – take all those bad shots – because we have so many pieces.”
So far, Jennings is taking the most shots of his career at 17.4 per game. His shooting accuracy has fallen to 39.1 percent, his assists per game have dropped and his turnovers are up from last season. Jennings is scoring 18.8 points per game, but he is still doing things the way he has always done them.
Josh Smith was the star addition of the off season and signed a 4-year $54 million contract as a free agent. An annual All-Star snub, Smith is a stats-stuffer, but he has always played his best at power forward. However, with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe entrenched at center and power forward, Smith has been slotted in at small forward where he has been neither comfortable nor effective in the past.
Smith is a slasher and an interior player where he can use his vastly superior athleticism to take advantage of other power forwards. This advantage is diminished when opposite some small forwards and his jump shot has long been suspect. Smith will shoot the three-ball, but his coaches wish he wouldn’t. As the Pistons starting small forward, Smith is arguably having the worst season of his career and has a career low PER of 13.3. Smith is shooting a career low 41.6 percent from the field, his scoring is down 2.2 points from last season and he is collecting over a third fewer rebounds and assists. Smith isn’t a small forward.
Cheeks has already started to make changes, but possibly not the ones expected with a $54 million player. David Mayo on MLive.com reported that Cheeks benched Smith for part of the loss to Golden State.
“Not at all,” Cheeks said, when asked if benching the Pistons’ biggest offseason acquisition in the season’s seventh game was a message. “Like I said, we were just trying to change some things up. It wasn’t about sending a message.
“I just wanted to change some things up. It wasn’t their effort. I just wanted to try and get something different.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope replaced Smith in the first quarter of the Golden State game and the inconsistently used rookie played 24 minutes.
Smith didn’t make a big deal out of being benched for part of a game, but he has to be somewhat confused.
“You can’t really focus on the decisions that people make, higher than you,” Smith said. “You just have to be able to adjust around it. As long as I’ve been in this league, that’s what I’ve been willing to do.
“Like I said, you just have to adjust around situations and circumstances. You can’t really let it affect your thought process. You just have to roll with the punches.”
The Pistons are floundering after another big summer of acquisitions by Dumars. This new head coach isn’t fairing any better than Kuester did in 2009. However, it is still very early in the season and there are still adjustments that can be made. Team chemistry is not always an instant product. Things do need to pick up soon for Detroit, however, as that tough early schedule doesn’t exactly get any easier over the next 2 weeks and losing tends to breed more losing.