Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 7/19/13
Things seem to have calmed down for the Pistons during the last few days -- no Rajon Rondo or Brandon Jennings rumors popping up -- so let's take a second to look at how the highly anticipated rebuilding process is going. There's no question the team is more talented than it was a year ago. Josh Smith alone makes that true, and Andre Drummond has a season under his belt. Chauncey Billups gives the team some veteran leadership, while Luigi Datome and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope add shooting and athletic ability. Gone are Jose Calderon, Kim English and Jason Maxiell, and second-round picks Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva still haven't signed contracts. Detroit currently controls 16 players, one more than the NBA limit, so they'll eventually have to make at least one more roster move. There's no hurry, and Joe Dumars wants to keep flexibility in case of a trade. One possible scenario would have Mitchell or Siva spend a season playing in Europe. That's what Kyle Singler did with Real Madrid, giving him enough experience to become a rotation player the next season. The most obvious problem for the Pistons is that the new talent doesn't fit perfectly into a rotation. Smith, Drummond and Greg Monroe are all talented bigs, but it's not clear how well they'll work as a front line. Drummond and Smith give Detroit an enviable pair of shot-blockers and rim protectors, but only if Smith plays at his natural position of power forward. Move him to small forward and he's still a defensive asset, but not to the same extent -- especially if he's playing against smaller, quicker players. That also leaves Monroe at power forward, a position where he's struggled badly on defense. It isn't that Monroe doesn't try on defense. He's just limited athletically and doesn't always make quick decisions. If you want an example of what I mean, think of one of the most-replayed moments of last season: The Clippers run a high screen, Monroe doesn't react fast enough, Chris Paul throws a lob, and DeAndre Jordan throws down the alley-oop of the decade, turning poor Brandon Knight into a punch line. That was never fair. Knight made an effort to stop the dunk when most NBA players would've gotten out of the way to avoid humiliation. It was Monroe who lost Jordan to set up the play. That's the reason Monroe's name came up in the Rondo rumors. Monroe's a skilled offensive player and a tough rebounder -- he has made double-doubles routine -- but doesn't exactly fit on the floor with Smith and Drummond. Move Monroe for a point guard, then Smith can go back to his favored spot. There's a reason for some optimism, though -- Rasheed Wallace. All the things Monroe struggles to do, Wallace did them very well. His ability to teach those skills to Monroe is one of the ways Wallace can have an impact on this team. On the offensive end of the floor, the situation is much the same. There's more talent, but there are worries over the flow. Dumars tried to add three things between the draft and free agency: speed, athletic ability and 3-point shooting. There's no question he succeeded with the first two, but the third one remains a question mark. Caldwell-Pope was a good 3-point shooter at Georgia, and Datum has been able to knock down outside shots in Italy; however, neither has played a minute in the NBA. Knight is probably the best proven shooter, but he hasn't found a position where he's comfortable. And Billups is not the same player he was when he led the Pistons to a championship nearly a decade ago. Drummond still hasn't developed any offensive moves beyond the alley-oop and put-back -- another job for Wallace. And Monroe is a good offensive player but doesn't have much range. Ideally, they would be joined by a small forward who's a danger from 3-point range and could open up the floor, providing more room for Drummond and Monroe to thrive inside. Instead, they have Smith, who is a very enthusiastic, yet terrible 3-point shooter. Former Pistons assistant Mike Woodson had gotten the 3-pointer out of Smith's game -- he went 0-for-7 in the 2009-10 season -- but Smith went back outside as soon as Larry Drew took over. In the last three seasons, Smith has averaged more than 150 attempts with just a 30 percent success rate. That either leaves Smith outside with questionable results or puts him closer to the basket, allowing defenses to collapse on the paint and shut down passing lanes. Again, you understand why Monroe becomes an option in trade negotiations. Smith at power forward helps fix the spacing issues, and Rondo is one of the best passers in the NBA. At the moment, it seems like the destiny of the Pistons is in the hands of two key members of the 2004 champs. Wallace will work with Drummond and Monroe, and maybe can even teach Smith how to shoot the three. At the same time, Billups will be on the floor, showing Knight how to play point guard at this level. If all that works, the Pistons will be closer to a playoff run than fans would have thought while the team staggered down the stretch last year.
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