What do the Pistons do without KCP?
So KCP hurt his groin in some way. We don't know for sure how much time (if any) he will miss at this point, so this post might be pointless, but whatever.
Who will get his minutes?
Well that is a lot of minutes to go around for sure. Stanley Johnson would almost certainly get the start at SG, that is not any question. The question will be how SVG handles the bench minutes from there. Stanley Johnson has, in essence, been the Pistons backup SF and SG this season. (generally) Marcus Morris is the first starter to come off the floor and that is when Johnson comes into the game. SVG then rotates each starter out (one at a time usually) until eventually KCP is the replaced by Marcus Morris. At which point Johnson goes from SF to SG. (obviously the rotations do not go exactly like that every game, occasionally KCP and Morris swap places but that is the general way it goes.) With Johnson starting, there would be 2 holes that need to be filled. The backup minutes at both SF and SG. The easiest answer is that SVG will use Hilliard exactly how he has used Johnson all season. Hilliard is not as big as Johnson but he (theoretically) can play at SF. And really I would say from there it depends on how much faith SVG has in Hilliard. If he really feels good about Hilliard then I would imagine that is the rotation he will use. The other options are that SVG could theoretically throw in Bullock for some time at SF or SG (if Hilliard were to look uncomfortable at either on a given night in a given matchup.) although I would say that is a long shot because SVG has pretty much shown he isn't going to play Bullock. (which is still a little frustrating to me but whatever) The other, and more likely scenario, (and the one that SVG used tonight) is that the Jackson/Jennings pairing will finally make its true debut. It is likely a little ahead of schedule for SVG but it might be needed. I think SVG is going to be very reluctant to have both rookies playing significant minutes at the same time (and he has good reason for that) and by playing Jackson/Jennings it would help to keep them split up. Lastly, in theory SVG could try and use Steve Blake at SG a little bit but I'd be very surprised if that happened.
So what do the Pistons lose with KCP out?
I don't know for sure. Nobody does actually. KCP started all 82 games last year and had started every game this year and plays a ton of minutes. It will literally be new territory for this team to play a game without KCP. I think that the starting lineup will probably actually be just fine. Johnson's game is different from KCP, but it might be just about as effective. Johnson has actually shot a little bit better from 3 than KCP and also is already a better playmaker/creator than KCP is. He is not as effective on those midrange shots coming off a screen that KCP loves so much though. As such the Pistons would have to re-arrange their game plan slightly on offense. Instead of running Johnson around screens trying to get him a clean look in the midrange, it would be more straight PnRs and isolations for Johnson. I don't know for sure if this will result in a loss, no change, or a gain overall for the Pistons offensively. Despite his better play lately, KCP is still not all that good an offensive player, essentially a shooter who does not shoot all that well. But then again, Johnson might not be nearly as effective while going against starters. I would guess there will be some drop off but it might not be much. On defense it is actually a similar story. Johnson is not as good as KCP on defense, HOWEVA, he is much bigger and stronger which makes him more versatile. KCP still really can struggle against guys who are bigger and stronger than he is, that will be a total non-issue with Johnson playing SG as he should have a significant size advantage over pretty much whoever he goes against at that position. As such it might actually be a much smaller drop off than you might expect when losing a defender as good as KCP. The biggest worry I would have defensively is that Johnson probably can not get unleashed onto elite PGs like KCP can, which will leave Reggie to have to take any opposing PG. Which is not a horrible thing, but Reggie is not nearly as good as KCP there. On both ends though, it is a totally new thing, so we can't really know for sure until we see it. Stanley is a rookie, so it might be a big problem starting him. But he is a very good rookie so it might not actually be much of a drop off there. The biggest problem will be, once again, the bench. Johnson plays an important role as a playmaker off the bench, and even if you believe that Hilliard can really play, he is not he creator that Johnson is. And also there is the simple fact that, Darrun Hilliard has played less than 100 total NBA minutes. He has generally actually looked ok, but he might actually just not be very good. We have no idea, and if he is actually not ready for real minutes, the Pistons are up a creek. Because beyond him the options are Steve Blake and Reggie Bullock. I wouldn't mind seeing Bullock play some but not as the full time backup SG. If KCP is out for an extended time then the bench will take the biggest hit unless Jennings can step up his game a little bit to make up for Johnson not being there as much to create some of the shots. But, in theory, Johnson should be able to hold serve for KCP in the starting lineup, and Hilliard looks at least competent so Jennings takes a few more shots and the bench does fine too. It might actually not be so bad.
So what do we look for?
How does the starting lineup fare without KCP. The general thinking this season is that KCP's defensive prowess and hustle are really important intangibles for the Pistons and he is a huge part of the team's success. HOWEVA, his numbers are not actually much good on offense, and he struggles with big guys defensively. If Johnson steps in and the starting lineup does not skip a beat, then it would be good to know. Because the reality is, that after next season, the Pistons will have to decide how much they want to pay KCP. And any evidence as to how the team does without him will be helpful in deciding how much he is worth. (To be clear, I am in no way suggesting that KCP should be, or needs to be replaced. It is just a fact that the Pistons will have to decide how much he is worth because he won't be a max guy. So it will be important for them to try and figure out whether he is closer to an irreplaceable part of the team, or a really good defender who survives on offense feasting off of easy looks created by Jackson and Drummond. I have no idea where he falls there. But they have got to figure that out.) Also, we would all get to see if Hilliard can actually play or not. He has looked pretty decent in his time so far but that is a tiny sample size. if he is able to actually play well though, then Jodie Meeks could become a real trade chip suddenly at some point (this year or next) and the Pistons could have a really cheap rotation player. ALSO, it likely means that Jackson and Jennings will start to play together some, which is also potentially huge as for how the team moves forward into the future. So yeah, while the Pistons are absolutely a worse team without KCP playing, we will get a chance to see a couple of things that will have a real impact on the team going forward.
How do you think they will do?
I think the starters will be totally fine. I think Johnson is actually really good and it will be a small drop off from KCP to him (especially since Johnson brings a lot of the same effort that KCP brings.) the bench is where I am worried. I would love to see Hilliard (or Bullock) get some time in the rotation but the reality is that he is a second round pick rookie, and he might actually be not any good. In which case the bench could trend back towards eternal sadness. If this does in fact force SVG to start playing Jackson/Jennings though, I am totally ok with KCP missing a few games. Because that has to happen, SVG says he wants to sign Jennings and all this stuff, but if Jackson and Jennings cannot play together, you can't have them both. So you have to find out if that works or not.
What do you think? Think Stanley will keep the starters rolling? Is Hilliard an NBA player? Let me know! We all get smarter!