The Detroit Pistons have been looking to upgrade their situation at point guard all offseason, and finally pulled the trigger on one which obviously is an improvement when it comes to his talent and scoring ability, but also has a few risk warnings attached to him. Still, trading for Brandon Jennings probably pushed the expectation level for the Pistons even higher, in what might become more than a simply return-to-the-playoffs season.
The last time Detroit made the playoffs was 2009. Since then, after being the most consistent team in the East for almost a decade, they’ve won only 35.6% of their regular season games, hovering around the 30-wins per season mark.
Things changed this summer. Waiting for Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to become a beastly duo in the paint wasn’t enough. With plenty of cap space but a shortage on individual talent, the Pistons added Josh Smith on a $56 million, four-year deal, which certainly improves their overall situation but does bring some cause for concern in terms of shot selection and how their lineup is going to look, and then moved on to the point guard improvement.
Brandon Knight is a decent player, averaging 13.3 points and 4 assists per game last season. But he doesn’t bring that extra factor to a team. He isn’t courageous or bold enough when it comes to creating shots, and often prefers giving up on the ball when he finds himself in a jam. While he does try and avoid silly mistakes, he just doesn’t bring enough creativity to an offense that clearly needs it.
Jennings is the opposite. He’s confident, very athletic and has no problem creating his own shot. The problem is that he believes in himself a bit too much for everyone’s taste, which also cost him around $16 million when you consider the contract he was looking for.
Eventually, he got a $24 million, 3-year deal in the sign & trade between the Milwaukee Bucks (getting Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Slava Kravstov) and the Pistons, and it’s now his job to prove he can become more than an inefficient scorer with flashes of supreme scoring and passing talent here and there.
Jennings has no problem beating defenders and getting to the rim, but he has a very low conversion rate in the paint, and in general prefers taking very tough two point shots than looking for a better one. In his four seasons with the Bucks he hasn’t shown any inclination to improving that huge problem in his game, shooting 39.1% from the field last season.
Defense is an issue as well, and Jennings has been very incompetent at it over the last couple of seasons; almost looking like he lost interest in defending. Both Monroe and Drummond aren’t the defenders Larry Sanders is around the rim, which means Josh Smith, possibly playing a lot as a small forward, is going to have to cover for Jennings quite often unless the Pistons do a good job of shaking the bad habits off of him.
There’s no doubt that in the top-heavy East, the Pistons look like playoff contenders all of a sudden. The top 5 in the East seems to be set in stone, but the other three spots are going to be very different from last season, and the Pistons should be one of the teams that fills that void. If Jennings finally grows up? Going deeper than the first round might be in the cards for them.