Ben Gordon will have to play better if the Pistons hope to content for the Central Division next season. (Associated Press)
For all the talk about what the Pistons need to do before the 2010-11 season tips off, one thing is certain, no matter who is or isn't on the roster: Taking care of business in the Central Division and at home is paramount.
The Pistons finished a league-worst 2-14 in the Central last season, saving their worst performances for the teams they used to dominate. Detroit couldn't muster a victory against Indiana, Chicago or Cleveland. Detroit's scoring was its worst against divisional foes (90.7) and its scoring defense (100.9) was second-worst.
To add insult to injury (literally), the Pistons went 17-24 at The Palace, usually a house of horrors for the opposition over the last several years.
They had averaged 30 home wins since 2005, and even though this group is far from an Eastern Conference powerhouse, an up-and-coming squad must use the home court to its advantage. Especially when the team is finding its way or is in flux.
Milwaukee and Chicago are expected to be the forerunners for the Central, and rightfully so. Milwaukee opened eyes last season, winning 46 games and taking Atlanta to seven games in the first round. Chicago, with the addition of 20-10 performer Carlos Boozer, should finish much better than the .500 mark it attained.
The difference between the rosters is simple: Chicago is led by two top-10 picks (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah) and Milwaukee has two top-10 picks who are panning out (Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings). Those teams were in the doldrums when Detroit was still running things in the East, and it seems the tables have turned. Some people seem to forget that when mentioning the Pistons' recent struggles, they're merely paying the temporary price for their long-term success. The difference is, Detroit is trying to avoid spending long stretches in the division basement.
Guards need consistency
Even with the improvements, it's difficult to fathom Detroit going winless against the top-tier teams this time around. With improved health, the Pistons should be far more competitive against teams they know inside-out.
To improve, Detroit's guard play must be consistent. Too many times last season, inconsistency was the one constant you could depend on from the Pistons. Guard Rodney Stuckey's lowest scoring average came against the Central (15.5) and considering he's playing against the likes of Jennings, Rose and Mo Williams, he should be able to perform against comparable talent.
Don't forget, he torched Rose for 40 points in 2009 and had a 30-point, nine-rebound, six-assist showing against Indiana later that year. While it's possible the scouting report on Stuckey has gotten a lot thicker since then, if a legit big man is there to balance the floor, he'll be better. For all the criticism he takes, Stuckey has shown he's more than capable of shouldering a heavy load and shouldn't be outmatched.
Ben Gordon should be able to get it going, too. He averaged 12.7 points in the division, all the more surprising considering he had played for the Bulls since 2004 and is familiar with the other teams' schemes and strategies. As a starter, he averaged 21 last year and it's not a stretch to say he'll be in that role this year.
Yes, mainstays Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are on the trade market and regardless if they spend some or no time in a Pistons uniform next year, the team must get better in handling its business. Otherwise, they'll find themselves back on the road to Secaucus, N.J., at the draft lottery.