In the wake of the news that the Detroit Pistons are acquiring point guard Brandon Jennings from the Bucks in exchange for Brandon Knight and spare parts, it’s worth examining where this puts Detroit’s roster. Joe Dumars’ strategy has been clear this offseason – get the most talented players he can, then worry about the fit later.
Adding Josh Smith was the first big move in this vein, as he is better suited playing power forward than small forward, but the Pistons already had a big man duo in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, so Smith has been slotted in at the small forward spot. This front line has considerable potential, but the spacing is going to be very cramped. Throw in Jennings, a career 35% three point shooter (and sub-40% shooter overall, both last season and for his career), and there is suddenly a lot of pressure on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to perform some shooting miracles as a rookie.
There are several gimmicks the Pistons could employ to open up the floor, but these fixes would be the kind to alleviate pressure, not clear the way for this to turn into a top offense. Ever since Smith came on board, another solution has been floated: trade away one of the young bigs to bring back more talent and clear the log jam up front.
The two options to try to move, Monroe and Drummond, have very different strengths and weaknesses. Monroe is a polished offensive player who can score near the basket or from the elbow. Unfortunately his slow feet make him a liability on defense, especially in the pick and roll. He is also eligible for an extension this offseason, while Drummond has more time left on his rookie deal. Drummond is an athletic beast with little polish, but immense upside on both sides of the ball. The biggest problem he faces (aside from possibly health) is his woeful free throw shooting.
Due to his upside, many have seen Drummond as the keeper between the two, and Monroe would be shipped off to acquire wing talent or picks.
With the Jennings acquisition though, it actually makes more sense to keep Monroe.
He will fit well with Smith down low, who would provide the defensive coverage he needs from a frontcourt mate, while he could operate alternately from the high and low post, feeding Smith on cuts for easy buckets or posting up. Both players also work well out of the pick and roll, where Jennings is effective.
Removing Drummond from the equation and replacing him in the lineup with another wing shooter would also provide substantially more spacing for Jennings and the bigs to operate. With Monroe’s game from the high post, the spacing could go from tragic to above average, a huge difference with the way defenses clog the paint in today’s NBA.
Drummond should also fetch a solid return, especially if Detroit starts the season with him on the roster and allows him to show off his strength and athleticism. It’s time for the Pistons to start making this roster work, and a core of Jennings, Smith, and Monroe will work better than one featuring Drummond this season, and there’s a strong chance that it will work better long term as well.