In advance of the Orlando Magic's game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday, Orlando Pinstriped Post hooked up with Kevin Sawyer of Detroit Bad Boys, SB Nation's Pistons blog, to preview that night's action and to discuss Detroit's season in general. Below is our email q-and-a exchange.
Evan Dunlap, Orlando Pinstriped Post: The additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings signal that Detroit is ramping up to win now. How would you assess the Pistons through 30 games of this new era? Have they met or exceeded your expectations?
Kevin Sawyer, Detroit Bad Boys: There are two sets of expectations at play here. The first is what I thought the Pistons might achieve given a blank slate in the offseason. My hope was that they would resign José Calderón, draft well, and look for a perimeter wing scorer in free agency. That game plan would have netted 45-47 wins, by my expectation.
As the team is presently constituted, I expected the Pistons to win 39 games. They have met that expectation more or less precisely. My concern is this team is close to its ceiling at that level. Smith has added no value, and has played more NBA minutes than all but 44 players in the league. He isn't going to change his stripes now. Jennings has actually shown some improvement, but past performance suggests those gains will be illusory.
In short, blech.
OPP: Whenever Magic fans discuss potential 2014 free agency targets, Greg Monroe's name seems to come up. The view from outside Detroit seems to be that he may not have a future there, given Smith's arrival and Andre Drummond's entrenchment at center. How do you foresee Monroe's restricted free agency playing out? Is there a chance the Pistons could deal him before February? If so, for what sort of return?
DBB: Joe Dumars faced a similar financial situation with Jerry Stackhouse, a player who was likely to demand near-max money, but who probably wasn't worth it. He traded for Rip Hamilton, and that obviously worked out well. Greg Monroe is a far more valuable asset than was Stackhouse, but I'm not entirely sure Dumars knows that.
OPP: Speaking of Drummond, he's drawn comparisons to Dwight Howard for his combination of size and athletic skill at such a young age. How is he coming along, and what do you think the future holds for him? Can he really reach Howard's level?
DBB: If you look at advanced metrics, he is already at or above Howard's level. That said, advanced metrics rely upon assumptions about what box score stats indicate about defensive performance. On the offensive end, and in terms of rebounding, Drummond is possibly the best big in basketball. On the defensive end, there are some major gaps.
In terms of his career trajectory, I see him as Dennis Rodman with a modestly good post game. Lest anyone thing I'm underselling, that trajectory would make him a first ballot HOF guy. I wonder if a better comparison point isn't Dikembe Mutombo, had he not joined the league at age who knows what.
OPP: Detroit has a better road record than home record. Is that trend an early-season anomaly, or is there something more behind it?
DBB: My brain is telling me it ought to be statistical noise, but we are talking about a five point swing in terms of differential. Further, the Pistons perform better on the road in virtually every major category. Nonetheless, I'd want to see enough games to cancel out the early West Coast swing before I made any concrete evaluations.
OPP: The oddsmakers will almost certainly favor Detroit on Friday. What do you think are the keys to a Pistons win in Orlando?
DBB: Keep Arron Afflalo off the perimeter. Sounds easier than it apparently is.
Take it to the bigs. This could be said of every Piston game.
Cut Jameer Nelson off early. He creates mismatches as soon as he crosses the half court line.
This might be the one player against whom Detroit's weird hard front might be effective.
Thanks to Kevin for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out his work, and that of the entire DBB team, at Detroit Bad Boys.