SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
|Marc Stein ESPN.com
||I won't be surprised if the Pistons finish second in the Central. I will be surprised if they don't get back to the Finals. New coach or not, no one else in the East has a title-tested core in its prime.|
|Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
||The Pistons remain loaded along the front line, even more than before with Dale Davis coming aboard and the wraps being taken off Darko Milicic. Look for 56-58 wins.|
|Will Perdue ESPN Insider
||Flip Saunders will have this team scoring more points. Darko needs to take advantage of this coaching change and give Big Ben some help in the middle.|
|Jim O'Brien ESPN Insider
||Flip Saunders can coach offense with the best of them. Detroit, only 17th in FG percentage last year, will move into the top 10 in this category. The Pistons' tough man defense will always make them a threat to go back to the Finals.|
|Eric Neel ESPN
|From the get-go they'll be looking to prove it wasn't Larry. No more sleepwalking through November and December.|
|Tim Legler ESPN Insider
See Item 7 for Legler's analysis of the Detroit Pistons.
|Scoop Jackson ESPN
|Flip slip? Never. But Game 7 in the finals won't happen this year.|
|John Hollinger ESPN Insider
||Regular season has never been their thing, but should be a tiger come playoff time. With Evans and revived Darko, bench should be better too.|
|Chad Ford ESPN Insider
||The question isn't whether they'll be good, but how good? If Darko, Delfino and/or Arroyo step up, they'll be the best team in the East. If the learning curve takes longer, they'll be in a dead heat with Miami and Indiana.|
|John Carroll Scouts Inc.
||Detroit has the Defensive Player of the Year in Ben Wallace, and only allowed 89.5 ppg last season. However, Flip Saunders is known more as an excellent offensive coach; it will be interesting which way this team goes.|
|Ric Bucher ESPN Mag
||Flip Saunders will make them more interesting offensively but will take the hit when they don't reach the Finals again. Personal agendas began to crop up last year and will only become more apparent this season. Rasheed Wallace will have his best all-around season but it won't matter.|
|Chris Broussard ESPN Insider
||Slight drop-off defensively will cost them their conference title.|
|Starters: Grittiest first five in basketball isn't about to go soft.|
|Still needs to cut down on the T's and 3s.||
|Known for locking 'em up, but will be filling it up this year.||
|Who else could make Ron Artest back up like traffic?||
|Reggie Miller didn't retire. He just moved to Motown.||
|May try to do too much now that he's free from LB's leash.||
|Bench: Antonio McDyess could start in most places, and Dale Davis adds toughness. But can soon-to-be-35 Lindsey Hunter still get in cats' jocks? Not likely.||
ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands Oct. 26.
Player Efficiency Rating
vs. NBA Avg.: +4.05
Billups was nearly the MVP of the Finals for a second straight season, yet he's never been to an All-Star Game. He's rapidly closing in on Byron Scott and Derek Harper for the title of best player never to make the midseason classic, but that may all change this year because his notoriety has grown considerably.
Billups took a less active role in the offense this season, but made up for it by shooting the ball more effectively. He improved his field goal percentage by nearly 50 points, and his true shooting percentage continues to be among the best at his position. That's a result of his ability to both hit lots of 3-pointers and earn lots of free throws. Many players do one or the other, but only a few do both. Billups took nearly half his shots from beyond the 3-point line and hit 42.6 percent. In fact, one of Brown's favorite plays late in games was to take Billups off the ball so he could run off a screen and shoot a 3 from the left corner. Billups also is a strong, physical guard who forced contact on his drives and earned nearly five free throws a game. Better yet, he's a great foul shooter, clicking at nearly 90 percent last season.
Defensively, Billups was a star performer. He had one of the best defensive PERs at his position and was named second-team All-Defense. Because of his size, he can handle shooting guards and often switched with the more wiry Hamilton when the Pistons faced a physical opponent at that position.
Overall, he's in a position nobody imagined he would be in three years ago when he was a backup point guard for the Wolves: the best player on a championship-caliber team.
Legs on Pistons: Class, say hello to the new teacher, Flip Saunders. The question is: Will the Pistons treat the new guy with the same respect they did Larry Brown, or will they act up and run roughshod over someone they view as a substitute?
There is no doubt the Pistons veterans will enjoy the demeanor of Saunders after dealing with the shenanigans and drama of their former coach. I think they will be very good once again, but the rest of the top teams in the East all got better and the road to the Finals will be much stiffer.
Regardless of what happens, at least we will finally get to see if Darko Milicic can actually make a shot with his warm-ups off.
Tim Legler, ESPN Insider
Experience: 10 years
Reg. season record: 411-326
Playoff record: 17-30
Flip Saunders is a perfect fit for a team focused on another ring. Saunders' teams are always near the top of the league in offensive field-goal percentage. Last year, Detroit was only ranked No. 17.
The Pistons went to two straight finals with great man defense. Saunders, sometimes a zone defense advocate, might find man-to-man D will be good enough.
Jim O'Brien, ESPN.com Insider
Detroit's bench concerns would be considerably lessened if Darko Milicic, the second overall pick in the 2003 draft, were to come anywhere close to living up to the hype.
Milicic spent most of his first two seasons as a human victory cigar, used only when the Pistons had put a game safely out of reach. But in his rare opportunities, Milicic was amazingly bad, earning Larry Brown's unending scorn with his 29.8 percent shooting and general lack of focus.
With a new, calmer coach and two years to learn the ropes, the hope in Detroit is that Darko can provide a quality fourth big man to round out the frontcourt rotation and finally justify the investment of such a high draft choice -- one that could have been used on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade.
Milicic provided his employers some cause for optimism at the European Championships. Despite playing for a Serbia-Montenegro team that was so dysfunctional it made Lindsay Lohan's family look like the Brady Bunch, Milicic put up inspiring numbers in limited minutes. His 40-minute averages for the tournament were 18.0 points, 16.2 rebounds and 5.2 blocks. Plus, he shot 62 percent from the floor and made all his free throws. More important, unlike four teammates, he didn't punch anybody in his own locker room.
Sleeper: Tayshaun Prince made enough strides as a scorer after the All-Star break last season that some expect him to lead the Pistons in scoring soon. Don't laugh. Prince averaged 17.4 points after the break (13.1 before) and is becoming a balanced fantasy option. At 25 and entering his fourth season, it's time to look not only at his defense.
Bust: Rasheed Wallace remains a fine fantasy option, but he's traded in big statistics for winning. Fantasy owners drafted him last season as if his Portland numbers would come back. They won't. Other than the 8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, Rasheed is subpar in comparison to other top forwards. Draft him in the fifth round at best.
Eric Karabell | Fantasy Basketball Index