PISTONS BASKETBALL IS BACK BABY. Tonight at 7:00pm EST the Pistons will host the Charlotte Hornets for the first regular season game of the year, and first regular season basketball game at LCA. This is the season opener for both teams.
The Hornets have a few new faces, but they figure to be largely the same team as they have been the last few years. They will play super disciplined and high effort defense, clean the defensive glass, and run pick and rolls over and over on offense and hope to scratch out enough points to win games.
They are lead by Kemba Walker, who is the real deal by almost any stretch of the imagination. He had a career year last year (again) scoring 23.2 points per game with 5.5 assists on very good efficiency and despite giving up some size defensively he competes and can really defend. After him is Nic Batum, who is out for at least a couple months after being injured in the preseason. (against the Pistons) In theory the Hornets can avoid too large of a drop off without Batum by giving some more time/offensive duties to Malik Monk and Jeremy Lamb (who is coming off a great preseason) but the Hornets have already been teetering on the edge of having a functioning offense, and there is worry that the dropoff without Batum is enough to push them from a mostly functional (if not all that good) offense into the realm of very bad, but we will see.
Dwight Howard was added this offseason for spare parts, and for all the crap he gets, he still is a good player. He remains a walking double double, cleans the defensive glass like crazy, can protect the paint defensively, and can do some stuff in the paint on offense. He should also fit in very well into the slow paced, conservative Charlotte schemes. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still a monster defender and athlete, and while he can't shoot 3s, he can do some stuff in the paint on offense. Marvin Williams had a down year last year, but he is still a pretty solid 3 and D power forward. I don't know for who the Hornets plan on starting in Batum's place, but the minutes will likely largely go to Jeremy Lamb who has found himself a nice home with the Hornets. He had a monster preseason and is a nice 3 and D player off the bench who possesses a solid dash of shot creation. It will be interesting to see how he fares in larger minutes with Batum out. Malik Monk did a lot of shooting in preseason, and didn't shoot it very well. He figures to be somewhat instant offense even as a rookie but he will probably be terrible defensively, if he can manage to get some shots to fall it would be big for the Hornets, and not ideal that they are counting on a rookie so much. Cody Zeller is a very good all around big guy who plays hard, sets good screens, and can finish around the hoop, Frank Kaminsky joins him to form a very white backup front court. Dwayne Bacon will get more playing time than the Hornets probably hoped/expected him to get with Batum out, I honestly don't know what to expect from him as the backup point guard. It isn't entirely clear what sort of roles the end of bench guys will play, and I will be honest and say that I couldn't really give an overly confident assessment of any of them.
This team will be tough no matter what given how well coached they are, and as long as Kemba Walker is still playing they will be threatening. I lean towards their offense taking a bit of a nose dive without Batum, despite Batum not putting up great numbers last year, but I wouldn't be surprised if they fared better early in the year than a lot of people (including me) think.
Matchups to watch:
Andre vs Free Throws: He shot awesome in preseason and has us all super hopeful. Now they count. Also, I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see him get hacked a bunch in the early season. It is what I would do as an opposing coach. Given how much of the problems had to be mental, I'd come out and immediately put him on the line to try and break him.
Andre vs Dwight Howard: Howard is a shadow of his formal self, but he is still good enough for this matchup to be fun. The NBA's best two rebounders from a year ago and they both like to dominate the paint. Andre has done very well against Howard the past couple years as well.
Bradley vs Kemba Walker: Bradley will be guarding Kemba for the majority of the game I would think. Kemba is the sort of good that you don't really hope to shut down, but keeping guys like Kemba in check is why Bradley is here. I can't wait to see Bradley claim his first skulls as a Piston.
Reggie/Galloway vs Hitting some shots: Both guys looked pretty good by the eye test in preseason, both also missed a bunch of shots. I don't really care about that because it is preseason, but now it counts. Hit some shots please.
Tobias vs MKG: I would guess that MKG will guard Tobias Harris for most of the night. Gilchrist is an excellent defender and will challenge Tobias. If Tobias can fight through for a good offensive night it would bode very well for the Pistons.
SVG vs Rotations: I think the alleged unsureness about the starting lineup is all smoke, but it is not clear what the rotations will be for the Pistons. SVG got more creative in the preseason than he has in his entire tenure with the Pistons, and I'm very curious to see what lineups he decides are worthy of regular season use.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Andre is nailing his free throws.
Reggie Jackson scores a bunch of points.
Avery Bradley envelopes Kemba Walker.
Run for the hills if:
The Hornets hack Andre and he starts 0 for 10 or something like that.
The Pistons can't get shots to fall, even the good ones.
Tobias is struggles badly against the various long defenders the Hornets have to put against him.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Andre shoots over 50% from the line.
Reggie Jackson scores 20 points.
The Hornets struggle to score all night.
Pistons 106 – Hornets 90.
What do you think? What are you looking for? Can Bradley hold Kemba?