Pistons Mailbag - December 4, 2013

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. Click here to submit your questions - please include your name, email address and city/state on the form. Return to the Mailbag homepage.

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Editor’s note: You can now submit Pistons Mailbag questions via Twitter. Include the hashtag #pistonsmailbag and, as always, your first name, hometown and state or country. Questions submitted via Twitter will also include the questioner’s Twitter handle.

Al (Kalamazoo, Mich.): Great win over Miami! Do you really think it will be a turning point for the Pistons, Keith?

Langlois: Nothing is guaranteed by that win, but it should certainly serve them well in future such games, on the road, or even at The Palace against good teams, when games turn chaotic and momentum starts to slip away from them, to know that they stared down a pretty big challenge and beat Miami in their building under tough circumstances. But as Greg Monroe told me in the locker room after the game, “It’s something we have to carry over to win games. … We definitely have to find a way to take this game and let it carry over into other games. It starts immediately. We have to change it now. We can’t wait on it.” I don’t think all the good that the Pistons can potentially milk from winning at Miami would be squandered by losing tonight at Milwaukee, for instance, but for winning to beget winning and confidence to really flower, they need to string wins together now and start winning the games they’re expected to win routinely and at least holding their own against playoff teams on the road.

Louie (San Antonio): Why is Charlie Villanueva suddenly out of the rotation and what is the status of Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum?

Langlois: Mo Cheeks would probably object to the contention that Villanueva is out of the rotation because he really doesn’t have a permanently fixed group. He goes with his gut based on what he sees once the ball is tipped, unlike many coaches in today’s NBA who have a set rotation and usually a pattern for when he’ll use players. Villanueva had two pretty good games last week against Brooklyn and Milwaukee, but hasn’t been used regularly since then. Jonas Jerebko, coming off a good game in last night’s win at Miami, is another alternative for Cheeks and he’s used him for minutes that might have gone to Villanueva. Cheeks sometimes uses a deeper pool of players in the first half than he will in the second. As he has said often this year, he expects all 13 players in uniform to be ready to play when called upon. While most coaches would say the same, the reality is there are usually three or four guys on every team who know it will require an injury or an unusual foul situation for them to get thrown into the fray. Not so with Cheeks’ Pistons. As for Billups, he seems to be getting closer to returning from his bout with knee tendinitis. He’s been doing a little more than just rehabbing with Arnie Kander of late, taking part in some running and shooting drills. Bynum had an MRI over the weekend that revealed a left adductor strain, a leg injury. There’s no timetable for his return, but it isn’t expected to keep him out for long.

Tim (Boston): Why doesn’t Andre Drummond try the underhand free throw? It’s so easy and his percentage will definitely go up. Is it because it looks silly? How silly is it to hit 25 percent and become a target late in games?

Langlois: I’m not sure why anybody thinks shooting underhanded free throws is easy. If it were easy, don’t you think we could point to one player other than Rick Barry – almost three generations retired – who’s employed it successfully? Drummond’s never tried it. It would be completely unnatural, which doesn’t mean he couldn’t become proficient at it. But while he’s tinkering with that method, it would be taking time away from working on the other parts of his game, including shooting free throws conventionally. I believe eventually the NBA comes to address the intentional fouling situation, motivated by the fact that games become tedious when the strategy is deployed time after time. My solution: When an intentional foul is ruled, the affected team gets to choose whether to shoot the free throws or take the ball out of bounds with the shot clock reset to 24.

Joel (Bakersfield, Calif.): How may I send a message to Andre Drummond to help him overcome his free-throw woes? I have him on my fantasy team and would like to share a little tip that might pay big dividends. The tip I’d like to give the big guy is to add a little circular motion as he brings the ball up during the shooting motion.

Langlois: Anything to help your fantasy team, Joel. I would suggest hitting him up on Twitter. He’s not exactly a novice when it comes to social media. I’ve gotten several similar offers. I respectfully step aside and let the coaches and Drummond do their thing.

Thiago (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil): With the strong start to the season for Rodney, will the Pistons try to re-sign him or can they deal him in a sign-and-trade situation?

Langlois: A better question for two months from now, Thiago. But Stuckey is such a big part of what Mo Cheeks is doing, I’d be surprised if the Pistons actively shop him near the trade deadline unless something has gone really wrong with the season. It would be hard to imagine, given the state of the Eastern Conference at present, that the Pistons won’t be in the thick of the playoff chase when the season hits the 50-game mark and the trade deadline nears. And the only way I can see Joe Dumars dealing Stuckey at that point would be if somebody overwhelms him with an offer too good to pass up. Yeah, Stuckey will be a free agent, but if he continues playing this well and he has a certain role under Cheeks, he’s smart enough to know that the grass isn’t always greener. If the money is relatively the same here or elsewhere, Stuckey’s seen enough turnover in his time in the NBA to know a situation conducive to productivity isn’t guaranteed anywhere. If he finds that under Cheeks – which he certainly has to date – not sure his preference wouldn’t be to stay put.

Basketball Tweets (@Bballtweets3): How much is the lack of floor spacing hampering the Pistons’ offense?

Langlois: The Pistons ranked 13th in the league in offensive efficiency after 18 games, 20th in defensive efficiency. Given that their defense too often forces their offense to take the ball out of the net, that’s not bad, and especially when you factor in their 29th-ranked 3-point shooting. I think there’s reason for optimism that the offense will get better as the season rolls out, too, because the Pistons have gotten very little to date from their shooters. Once Kyle Singler starts hitting a little closer to his norm from the 3-point line – and with last night’s 4 of 6 outing, he’s made 8 of 15 after shooting under 20 percent over nearly a month – and Chauncey Billups gets back, the offense should tick upward. If Charlie Villanueva or Gigi Datome can earn something approaching a permanent role, eventually they should improve the team’s shooting, too. What would really help is an improved defense to give a team that’s proving to be pretty good in transition another handful of scoring chances per game. The Pistons ranked fourth in the league in fast-break points despite the success other teams have had scoring against their half-court defense.

Eddie (@beesinyoface): With the way Stuckey and KCP have been performing lately, how do you think Cheeks will play them once Billups returns?

Langlois: Good question, Eddie. Before Billups went out with knee tendinitis, he was the starter and Caldwell-Pope’s role varied from game to game. I think the safest bet is Billups goes back in the starting lineup and the rookie gets plugged in sporadically. But if he starts to drop 3-point shots at a decent rate – and he, too, has shown signs of a shooting turnaround – he’ll make it tough for Cheeks to make him the fifth guard in a four-guard rotation because he gives them size and speed no one else can offer against opposition wing players.

Todd (@LionsFan1977): Will Tony Mitchell ever get any playing time other than garbage minutes?

Langlois: No one has really seized the role of No. 4 big man, Todd. Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva and Gigi Datome have all had a turn. Jerebko began the season in that role and appears to be the choice again, playing well against Miami. So until one of them really takes the job and runs with it, sure, there’s always a chance Mo Cheeks will give Mitchell a crack at it. Cheeks has shown he’s willing to use all 13 who suit up on game night. Mitchell actually shows a pretty decent touch from 15 to 18 feet on his jump shot in shooting drills. If he ever gets a shot at the rotation and shows he can knock down elbow jump shots in games, he becomes a very intriguing prospect.

John (Westland, Mich.): Why has Joe Dumars gone away from defense, which won us titles in 1989, 1990 and 2004? Our title teams had great defense and a very fast second unit (Salley, Rodman, then Hunter, James).

Langlois: I’m sure he’d object strongly to the contention he’s “gone away” from defense. He drafted Andre Drummond not for his polished offensive game, but because he recognized the need for rim protection. He signed Josh Smith as a free agent and drafted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope because he understood the void the Pistons had in defending athletic wing scorers. Here’s what he told me just before training camp started when the major questions about the Pistons were how they would fit together on offense: “I know we talk about offense and how we’re going to fit and those types of things, but what’s not being talked about is we have a chance to be a good defensive team. And we all know you live in this league with, do you have a good defensive team? We’re not just going to run up and down the floor and simply outscore people every night. We have to be able to defend and we think we’re set up to be a pretty good defensive team.” So far, of course, they haven’t been a pretty good defensive team, though holding Miami to a season-low shooting percentage in last night’s win is encouraging. But they still have the pieces to become one. And it certainly was never his intent to be anything other than that.

Y.S. (@ys61): J-Smoove is solid defensively, but his long-range jumpers don’t look decent and consistent. Is it OK to keep letting him do that?

Langlois: It’s no secret that 3-point shooting isn’t one of Smith’s great strengths, but the fact is that if you play small forward in the NBA – and when you have a post scorer like the Pistons do in Greg Monroe and an offensive rebounding monster like they have in Andre Drummond – a good defense is going to have some influence on the shots it induces you to take. In other words, good defensive teams are going to take something away, not all of the time, but some of the time. Smith is going to find himself at the 3-point line with a short shot clock a couple of times a game. He’s not shooting that much under league average. Does he take some early in the shot clock that might not make the best use of possessions? Sure. I’ve been around enough NBA coaches who’d tell you they’d live with it for a guy who can do so many other things to help win games – like the huge steal and dunk in the closing minutes to help beat Miami.

Alexander (@amifezz): Melo seems to be unhappy in New York. If he asks for a trade, what is the possibility of Monroe or Smith being dealt in a package for Anthony?

Langlois: Slim and none. Keep in mind he’s making $21 million this year. It would take both Smith and Monroe’s salary to make the trade work. And Anthony can (and probably will) opt out of his contract after the season to become a free agent, with rampant speculation that the Lakers will make a run at him.

Sean (@Sean_Corp): If the Pistons decide Smith can’t start at small forward, what is most likely: bringing a big off the bench or trading either Smith or Monroe?

Langlois: Easy: reshuffle the starting lineup. At least in the short term, that would be the first, second and third options. The Pistons are already playing more of the game with only two of the three big men on the court than with all three. I suppose if they brought somebody off the bench, they could spread those minutes out even more. I think the likeliest candidate to come off the bench, if it comes to that, would be Drummond, simply because it’s a role he’s recently held and he obviously fits with the second unit personnel, which is why Mo Cheeks’ rotation is set up for Drummond to come out before Smith or Monroe most nights so he’s ready to come back to start the second quarter along with Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum (when healthy), Kyle Singler and one of Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva and Gigi Datome, usually.

AMV (@antonazucar): How much would trading Josh Smith almost immediately after signing him hurt the chance of future free agents coming to Detroit? Would that fact force the trade of Monroe instead?

Langlois: We’re talking about an extreme hypothetical. I highly doubt Joe D is engaged at any level right now in trade talks involving Josh Smith (who can’t be dealt for another two weeks, Dec. 15, at any rate), and probably not actively seeking a significant trade of any sort at this juncture. But do I think another free agent would be hesitant to sign with the Pistons, if the money and opportunity were appealing, based on the fact another free agent got traded after signing? Not for a second.