State of the Association - Part III
Moving to Day 3 of what I suppose you could call Analysisapalooza, today we take a look at the off-season moves of the Pistons, Blazers and Timberwolves.
Beginning with the Pistons, I honestly don’t quite know what to say about Detroit’s roster. They made a significant splash this off-season by signing Josh Smith and trading for Brandon Jennings. They also signed former Pistons champion Chauncey Billups.
When I first heard about the Josh Smith signing, I hated it. Smith is a perfectly capable shot-blocker and dunker, but that's it. More importantly, the Pistons have two very talented up-and-coming big men in André Drummond and Greg Monroe. These two players are finding their identity and gaining chemistry, and they need as many minutes as possible to flourish. Josh Smith cuts into those minutes.
But ESPN’s depth chart currently has the Pistons starting Smith, Monroe and Drummond all at once. To me, this means a very crowded paint, especially when you throw in the driving ability of Brandon Jennings, their new starting point guard.
Add it all up and you get … something very confusing. I don’t understand what the Pistons are trying to do right now. Josh Smith is slotted to start at the 3 but he’s really a shot-blocking 4.
As for leadership ability, Josh Smith isn’t exactly the guy you want teaching your young guys.
And Brandon Jennings will be orchestrating it all from point. Ask Milwaukee how that worked out for them.
Don’t get me wrong. Jennings is a very talented player, and on the right team, he could be very effective. But you’re asking a shot-happy point guard to find a way to distribute the ball between three talented big men. I don’t see this ending well.
I feel sorry for Chancey Billups. He was most likely signing with Detroit just so he could retire there, but now he’s got a classroom of pre-schoolers to lead. Billups can literally be a second coach out on the floor, and he will do his best to keep this team together. Still I can’t imagine this is how he wanted to spend his twilight years in the league.
Overall, I award the Pistons a grade of C-. They acquired talent but the pieces don’t fit. Best case scenario: they end up as the 8-seed in the East. Worst case: Jennings and Josh Smith get into an on-court brawl over the ball and end up getting themselves suspended for the season.
Hey, I said worst case. The most likely outcome is that they end up in the NBA no-man’s land and wind up with the 13th pick in a very talented 2014 NBA draft.
Moving on to happier pastures, we have the Portland Trailblazers, who sported the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award last season, Damien Lillard.
The diminuitive point guard led the league in minutes played last year, mostly due to what may have been the NBA’s worst bench. This is something he will not accomplish in 2013-2014 because the Blazers absolutely addressed their bench woes.
Portland traded for Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson. They signed Mo Williams and Dorell Wright. And they drafted CJ McCollum.
I love all of these moves. Robin Lopez is an above-average center who will protect the rim and allow LaMarcus Aldrige to float a little more on offense. Thomas Robinson is a former top-tier draft pick who just hasn’t gotten the minutes to prove whether or not he can play in the league.
I’m a believer in Robinson. In college at Kansas, he was an absolute bruiser who dominated opponents with his physicality. In the bigger, stronger, quicker NBA, he will find that to be a much larger challenge, so he needs to focus on what he can absolutely do, which is rebound the ball and play defense. He has the physical tools to compete on the glass, but he'll have to alter the “me against the world” mentality he played with in college.
If Robinson can come off the bench and average between 7-10 rebounds a game, and score six points a game, I’d count that as a big success for a guy who still has yet to see major time on the court.
Robinson also allows for the Blazers to play small and quick, with Aldrige at the 5. The Blazers have a variety of small-ball lineups they can tinker with because of the versatility of Wes Matthews, CJ McCollum, Nick Batum and Dorell Wright.
Mo Williams is a top-tier backup point guard who will be able to score and run the offense, but most importantly, he'ill be able to give Lillard some rest.
I award the Blazers an A- with their off-season moves as they addressed everything they needed to address. I expect them to make the playoffs most likely at the 5 spot.
One last note on the Blazers: before he suffered a season-ending injury in his last year at Lehigh, McCollum was shooting an unheard of 52% from three, with 5.3 attempts a game. The dude can shoot. I love his potential.
The last team we’ll be covering today is the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Their main off-season acquisition was signing Kevin Martin. This was a good sign for them; it adds scoring ability to take the pressure off Kevin Love and low-post bruiser Nikola Pekovic, who might be the strongest player in the league. And it gives Ricky Rubio another weapon to play with. They also drafted the mercurial Shabazz Muhammad, who has a high ceiling but a low floor.
I really like where the Timberwolves are headed. I just haven’t seen them put it all together at once. Kevin Love is an elite NBA talent and Ricky Rubio has been a very good point guard. Minnesota needs to put something together if they want to keep Kevin Love from leaving when his player option comes up after the 2014-15 season. Signing Pekovic to a long-term deal was a good start, but the Wolves need to get out there and play.
I award the Timberwolves a B+ for signing Kevin Martin and extending Pekovic to a long term deal. I’m going to say that they make the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season, slotted somewhere in the 6-8 range. Plus, in case you haven't heard, Pekovic likes meat.
It seems my three-part series has turned into a four-part series! Check back next week to get my playoff predictions, my take on which teams will be tanking, and a quick run-through of the impressive 2014 NBA Draft!