The Bench And How It Can Get Better.
So the bench is officially an issue, and it needs addressing. The question is, how to fix it? I'm going to start off by saying that some sort of a fire sale on the bench is NOT the answer. It has still only been 4 games, and all 4 have been against pretty good teams. And the Pistons have won 3 of them. And last night is an outlier in awfulness no matter how bad the bench is. The other thing is that with the whole trade everyone thought that I don't like, is that it is important to remember that while this team is trying to win this year, that does not mean that this team is in any sort of situation to be contenders. They are almost certainly a year away at least. And the the teams 4 best players (Reggie, KCP, Morris, Drummond) are all well under 30 years old, and none of them are going anywhere. The team is in the first stage of winning. And that is that they actually win some. Start to build some continuity. And it should be noted that the starting lineup is freaking blitzing opponents.This team has a lot of young guys who are being counted on to play serious roles. There will be nights like last night where it just is not happening. That does not mean that it is totally broken. HOWEVA, if you look just below that impressive +17.9 net rating for the starters. (Those stats are all per 100 possessions in case you are not familiar with it. So the starters average 102.8 points per 100 possessions, and give up 84.9. For a net rating of 17.9. And yes that is a monster number.) You will see that the bench mob unit has put up a -42.7. Ouch. No matter how optimistic I am, that is really bad. So how do they fix it? Lets start with the in house options for how the bench gets better.
Free Dinwiddie: This might be the first answer. Steve Blake is far from the only reason that the bench has struggled, but he has certainly been the most obvious one. He cannot guard anyone, and he can't shoot, and can't really get any penetration on offense. So far the only useful thing he has done on a basketball court are those crafty passes that end up in good looks for teammates, and that has real value. But it hardly makes up for the fact that he has submarined the D and also can't shoot at all. Dinwiddie will be better on defense by default, although he will certainly not fix all the problems there. But it might do more than you might imagine. The opposing backup point guards (or starting point guard like last night) have had such an easy time getting into the paint, and no one else on the bench is a good enough defender to really cover that. Like they make the correct rotation, but it is not quick enough to stop the driver/get back out to a shooter because bench players are on the bench for a reason. And it results in lots of really easy looks for whoever ends up finishing the play. Whether that be the point guard or some other player. Essentially Blake's inability to stay in front of people has exponentially hurt the defense because damn near any NBA player can hit a shot when it is as open as they have been for other teams. If Dinwiddie can help keep that from happening it might have a sort of exponential help for the D. Also, Dinwiddie has some actual slashing ability and can get to the hoop. Allowing him to actually score a little bit too. And even though Dinwiddie is a bad shooter, he literally cannot be worse than Blake. (I hope) In the end he should be a big upgrade on defense from the basis of being even semi-competent. And also is probably an upgrade for the offense as well. Make no mistake Dinwiddie will not be awesome or revolutionize the bench, he will just be closer to decent. Which could have some sort of a domino effect for the rest of the team.
Reggie Bullock remembers how to shoot: This is another big thing, remember just week ago everyone was clambering for Bullock to get some minutes. Well here are the minutes and he has been an absolute dud. HOWEVA, it is two games, and he is still young. It is concerning because he is not so young and inexperienced that two straight shots that miss the rim make you go "lulz nerves" like it would with say Stanley Johnson. But he is young, and he has showed that he can shoot at least a little bit. If he can find some sort of shot that will help the bench a lot. Both his looks last night were good looks, he just missed them. Assuming he can hit wide freaking open jump shots, he could still have some value. On the plus side with him, his D is not bad. He is still inexperienced so he has had some slip ups. But he goes hard and generally does ok. So if he can manage to hit some shots (even if it is not a super high percentage, even if it is in the mid 30s) he actually can be a pretty useful player.
Stanley Johnson figuring it out sooner rather than later. This dude can play, we all know that. Even on a night like last night where he ended up being pretty awful, he still can get by his man pretty much whenever he wants too. He has been bad at finishing those plays so far, with either a good bucket or a good pass. And often runs into trouble when he runs into the help D and doesn't have another move for them. But he has shown a ton of promise. If he can start to finish those plays at a decent rate that will be a huge boost to the offense. This is also one of the trickier problems however. Because if SVG is smart (which he is) he is going to largely ride this one out regardless of the results. Stanley is so full of potential that he needs some time to learn through his mistakes, and that may take an entire year before he starts to make the right play more often than making the wrong play. But you have to let him do it. There will be times (like last night) where having a rookie be given a real role expected to contribute. Because rookies do things like get to the hoop and try a reverse layup only to hit the bottom of the backboard. (which made me lol) Or miss two free throws at the end of the game. However in the first 3 games he generally was pretty good. So I have faith that these types of games, even though they will happen, will not happen very often. And this is a problem the team should do nothing to fix. He is a rookie bursting with potential, let him spread his wings and try to fly.
Aaron Baynes: Oh boy. I had not been overly impressed by him through 3 games, although I even said in a recap that I was "warming up to him." But then last night happened. And that warmth is gone again. He now has the worst +/- on the team at -12 per game. Idk what the deal is exactly with him, and that makes me worried that the deal might be that he just is not very good. He is legitimately huge, but he struggles to protect the rim without fouling. And he is able to dunk a little, but his jump shot and overall offensive touch, which is the main reason he got a bigger deal than your average backup center, have been almost totally nonexistent. His only NBA skill so far has been that he is huge, and there are a lot of guys who the team could have for a lot cheaper who are huge. It is still a small sample size, and he has not played a ton in his career. Which means that no one can really know if he is good at anything else. I am in favor of testing this dude out to find out if he can do anything or not. I would like to see them feed him some post ups for instance. Because once again, he is freaking huge, so he should be able to get deep into the paint with regularity, and he allegedly has a good touch which means he should be able to finish pretty well inside. So far his few post ups have gone poorly but he has only had like 3. This may well not work out well, he may not have the touch to finish inside consistently, and he may not have the passing IQ to take advantage of a double team thrown his way. But if that is the case then the bench is in the same place they are now. Whereas if he shows even some ability of having a post game, it would really help the bench to scrap out some points. Ditto for trying to get him so pick and pops. He might not have a good enough jumper to be a consistent threat on a pick and pop. But he does set a mean screen so if he can can some jumpers that could also be a real weapon. Particularly paired with Dinwiddie, who has great straight line speed, but sometimes struggles to get past his man. A huge screen from Baynes could give Dinwiddie space, and an easy pass back to Baynes if he runs into trouble. Once again, he might actually be not very good at anything on offense, but we have him signed to a pretty big contract for a backup for the next 2-3 years (he has a player option for the 3rd year.) So I say lets find out sooner rather than later if he has some real ability in that huge body. Particularly before Jennings comes back, where any source of offense they can find is needed. #freeBaynes (once again I stress, that may well fail horribly, but if it does then we know his limitations. And given his skillset there is a chance it might work out ok.)
Brandon Jennings: Brandon Jennings will come back, this will not fix the defense of the bench, but it will certainly help the offense. Possibly in a HUGE way. Think about it like this, assuming Jennings is close to his old self athletically, (which is what I will assume because if he is not then he has to be totally reevaluated as a player) the bench gets a creating, scoring, facilitating killer to play alongside. And when I look at the bench, I see that literally every player's (outside of perhaps Johnson, time will tell with him, although he has been best as an off ball shooter/cutter so far) best offensive skill is spot up shooting of some sort. So it is possible, that if Jennings is thrown into the bench mob and is able to shred apart opposing backups, suddenly the bench might become really good. Spot up shooters are spot up shooters for a reason. They can shoot really well when their feet are set, and they are open, but really struggle when forced to try and do more. Brandon Jennings might help the team exponentially on offense similarly to how Dinwiddie will help exponentially on defense. The bench could go from a bunch of spot up shooters trying (and failing miserably) to create their own shots, to a bunch of shooters raining down death on wide open shots created by Brandon Jennings. This is the optimistic side, but it is not that far fetched.
Change of face: Getting a new player in some way shape or form. Right now the only realistic option the Pistons have is trading/waiving one of Steve Blake or Joel Anthony. Everyone else on the team is young enough that SVG won't want to trade them. Although if Bullock plays this bad for too much longer he will be added to this list. Because he is young, but he is not as much of a baby as Hilliard or Johnson or Dinwiddie are. He also was basically a throw in on the trade for Marcus Morris, so he will have a short leash. What would be foolish would be for SVG to make any sort of trade of literally any future asset, for any player that is old. I have seen thoughts of trading away Dinwiddie or Bullock or Hilliard or some draft picks. No. Do not do this. Obviously unless there is the sort of one sided trade (Morris, Bullock, Granger for a single 2nd rounder) there is no reason to give up anything. The 3 best bench players on the team are Brandon Jennings, Jodie Meeks, and (by the end of the year probably) Stanley Johnson. Two of those guys are hurt, and one of the is 19 and had one game where he actually looked 19. Obviously if the bench continues to bomb every game then some sort of action will need to be taken, but there is potential for the guys who are here to actually be a pretty good bench. So don't make the sort of overreaction stupid move that the Kings would (and probably will) make. On second thought, make a trade, but wait a couple weeks until the Kings panic. They could probably make a really stupid trade. But in all actuality, unless it is the sort of one sided trade the Kings would make, don't trade any future assets. And FWIW, I don't think any sort of move is coming very quickly. SVG has been pretty clear about not trading future assets so far, and both Blake and Anthony are his prized "veteran leaders" types. And they both have some value in that role. (like there was an interview with Andre where he spoke so highly of Blake, like you could tell he just freaking loves the guy) Also this is SVGs roster now, he brought in the guys he did because he has faith in them. Obviously if this bad play keeps up his hand will be forced. But I would be surprised if anything happened for at least another week or so. He will tinker with the roster he has to try and make it work. Speaking of which.
Rotation Change: The last option is to try and change the rotation the stagger the starers a little bit to minimize the impact of the bench. This will take a little bit of time to figure out what the best situation is. Which guy fits best with the bench etc. The most obvious answer is to play Andre with the bench. Because Andre is really freaking good on both ends. And I think this is (for now) what I would be in favor of. Pull him early ala Dirk and then play him at center with the bench mob. He will shore up the D and get a chance to spread his wings a little more in the post/generally make life easier for the shooters off the bench. And Aaron Baynes is competent enough as a screener/rebounder that he can play with the starters and (hopefully) not see too much of a drop off.
P.S. One thing that the poor bench play has overlooked is HOW FREAKING GOOD the starters have played. The future of Brandon Jennings with the team (particularly beyond this year) is uncertain, and we can't know how good Stanley Johnson will be or how long it will take him to get there. However, 4 of the starters are almost certainly going to be with the team the next several years. (Ersan has next year then will be a free agent) And Stanley Johnson is not going anywhere either. Brandon Jennings wants to be here and SVG wants to keep him. Obviously that does not mean that he will stay but it helps. There is the outline of a absolutely killer team here. Don't let the bench struggles overlook that the first 4 games have been hugely encouraging for the future of this team.
What do you think? Think I'm stupid? Let me know! We all get smarter!