Better than You Think
How the Pistons actually improved this offseason.
When things are spiraling down, you have to take a risk to get back on track. Detroit took its risk by spending a combined $90 million for Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, while allowing Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace to find new teams.
But don’t misled, the Pistons are improved, and they should be right back in the conversation. In fact, the team developed overnight into a younger version of the 2004 title team. Detroit won’t be as talented defensively, but the team will have the same versatility and balance on offense as it had during its six-year Eastern Conference reign.
The Pistons replaced Wallace with Villanueva, and it looks like they made the right choice. At 24, Villanueva is coming off a career year, while Wallace’s production has declined over the last two seasons. They bring the same skill set and, at this point, Villanueva has the higher ceiling. He’s athletic and consistent offensively. He plays and defends both forward positions. Charlie V’s 16 ppg gives the Pistons an upgrade over Wallace’s 12 ppg—Sheed’s lowest scoring output since 1999.
With Villanueva on the cusp of his prime and Wallace seemingly exiting his, the gap could get larger. The biggest question for Villanueva will be the experience factor. He’s never played in a playoff game, and it’s unclear how he’ll respond while playing for a potential playoff team. A few years ago, until he played with the Pistons, the same questions were asked of Wallace. How did that turn out?
Ben Gordon’s addition gives the backcourt the boost of energy the team needed. Last season, Iverson averaged a career-low 17 ppg. Gordon, like Villanueva, gives the Pistons youth and excitement in the backcourt. He also gives Detroit an impact scorer on the perimeter, who’s in the prime of his career.
At 26, Gordon had his coming out party this spring. In a seven-game, first-round playoff series with the Boston Celtics, he averaged 24 ppg. Regardless of the outcome of the series, Gordon established himself as a go-to scorer. He made big shots down the stretch and wasn’t afraid to carry the team. He thrived under pressure. With games on the line and the defense focused on him, Gordon delivered time and time again.
Gordon makes the Pistons deeper on the perimeter. The Pistons now have a player who, for 48 minutes, needs to be accounted for. Detroit has a player who will create opportunities for teammates by drawing double-teams and getting to the basket.
The Pistons have a mixture of youthful energy and savvy veteran leadership. Rip Hamilton can give the Pistons punch off the bench or continue his role in the starting lineup, leaving the sixth-man spot to Gordon, who proved he can make an impact as a reserve for most of his young career.
The Pistons are quicker in the frontcourt. Tayshaun Prince is still one of the top perimeter defenders in the Eastern Conference, Villanueva can create some problems and Chris Wilcox, signed during the offseason, is active on the defensive end.
The Pistons drafted Austin Daye, who some believe has the potential to be a star. Rodney Stuckey is a steady point guard that will have a full season under his belt as the starter. He finished the last month of the regular season with an impressive stat line, scoring 14 points and adding 5 assists. Stuckey was better in the postseason, boosting his scoring average to 15 ppg.
The Pistons didn’t just make moves; they made the right moves. This team can complement each other, while providing match-up problems offensively and defensively—like the Pistons of ‘03-08. The Pistons have players who know how to win and feature just enough talented, yet inexperienced, pieces to remain aggressive and hungry.
The Pistons needed a change, because the League changed. The Orlando Magic got better; the Celtics got deeper; the Cavaliers remain strong; and the Miami Heat are looking to make a push. Circumstance gave the Pistons no choice.
The League was moving fast and the Pistons couldn’t afford to stand still.