It was a rough night at the office.
The new-look Pistons weren’t quite ready for the powerful Bulls.
At the offensive end, the Bulls kept the Pistons on the perimeter. Whenever a ball handler would get into the paint, a thicket of arms swallowed scoring opportunities.
At the defensive end, the Pistons couldn’t keep up with the Bulls’ ball movement. And Derrick Rose looks new and improved after skipping last season rehabbing his wrecked left knee.
Yes, it might be asking too much for the Pistons to challenge the Bulls this season.
But no one is expecting to them to.
There is an expectation for the Pistons — who aren’t very far removed from six straight Eastern Conference finals appearances — to make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
Pundits are predicting it, and owner Tom Gores is expecting it.
That doesn’t mean reaching the Eastern Conference finals. But with Boston and Atlanta expected to take steps backward it leaves an opening for several teams including the Pistons to step forward.
“There’s going to be a lot of teams with an opportunity — it’s just what you do with that opportunity,” said Randy Wittman, who coaches the Wizards, one of the teams expecting to fill the power vacuum. “The East changed a little bit with Boston and the changes they made, but some other teams have gotten better, too.
“I think a lot of teams are kinda pointing toward that this year.”
The Pistons are situated to slide in behind the top teams of Miami, Chicago, Indiana, Brooklyn and New York — but there are potential pitfalls.
Blending the mercurial talents of forward Josh Smith and point guard Brandon Jennings into the playing rotation, buying into yet another new coach’s system and the weight of heightened expectations could bring down the Pistons’ plans.
But observers have noted the Pistons’ off-season and can see the potential of adding talented pieces to the imposing core of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.
“In terms of adding athletic talent, they’ve done it,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They’ve had a very productive off-season. They’ve added Jennings. Josh Smith, faced him many times. They bring a different level of athleticism. They youth that they inject with Monroe and Drummond make them pretty unique.”
Do the pieces fit?
Smith and Jennings were arguably the best players on playoff teams (Smith with the Hawks, Jennings with the Milwaukee Bucks), but are they the best players to enhance the talents of Drummond and Monroe?
Even if it turns out well, there will be a period of adjustment. Heat superstar Dwyane Wade can relate when he thinks back to the first season he joined forces with LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
“There’s the human side of you that sometimes wants to do more, wishes to do more, but there’s the other side of you that understands there’s a bigger goal that’s bigger than you,” Wade said. “It’s about the team.”
The questions come at the offensive end, and we’ll start with Smith, who the Pistons will start at small forward beside center Drummond and power forward Monroe.
To fully exploit Monroe’s inside game and Drummond’s runs to the hoop on pick-and-rolls, it was thought that a better perimeter shooter would be needed to create space.
Think back to last season when Drummond and Will Bynum terrorized second units. The outside shooting of Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye created space because they took defenders from the paint.
Smith made only 30.5% mid-range shots and 30.3% three-pointers last season for the Hawks — not exactly a rate to make defenders honor Smith.
But the Pistons have signaled all along that Smith will spend a lot of time at power forward when either Monroe or Drummond go to the bench. He spent a lot of time in the low post in the last two exhibition games and was honored down there, drawing frequent double-teams.
Still, the very nature of the position means Smith will find himself open on the perimeter and new Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks has said he doesn’t mind Smith shooting when his feet are set. Smith is also a good passer — just like Monroe.
“Josh is very comfortable making plays, I’ve always been comfortable making plays,” Monroe said. “Everybody on the team really has good ball skills. They can make a pass, they can make a play so I don’t think that’s a problem.”
It was a rough night at the office.