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Archive → November, 2009

Detroit Pistons aren’t ready for games like this

After last night’s 106-93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Jonas Jerebko went up to Kobe Bryant and congratulated him. Bryant look up, saw who it was, looked the rookie in the eye and said, “Good game.”

It’s funny, but I think Kobe was serious.

Last night’s game turned for the worse when Jerebko began guarding Kobe Bryant. Bryant, who missed his first four shots, looked at the rookie and seemed to think, “He’s guarding me?”

All of a sudden, Kobe’s nagging groin injury and his cold shooting stroke disappeared. Bryant scored 40 points and added five rebounds, five assists and three steals. He controlled the game, and there was nothing the Pistons could do about it.

That’s OK. Not many teams can do anything to slow Kobe.

But it was encouraging the Pistons kept playing hard – including Jerebko more than any other starter.

The Lakers built a 28-point lead midway through the third quarter, and Detroit cut it to seven with 1:54 left. Big leads in the NBA naturally shrink because the winning team becomes complacent.

But cutting it that much and forcing the Lakers to bring Kobe Brant back into the game is a little more than the typical swing back to the losing team. So, give credit to the guys out there in the fourth quarter:

  • Jerebko (the only starter with a positive plus/minus rating: +3)
  • Jason Maxiell (13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks)
  • Will Bynum (24 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals and a block)
  • DaJuan Summers (team-best +12 rating)
  • Chris Wilcox (three rebounds in six minutes)
  • Kwame Brown (nine points, five rebounds and three beautiful assists)

But – and there’s a huge but – the Pistons aren’t ready for games like this: road games against the league’s better teams. And they’re certainly not ready for this road trip (games at Portland, Utah and Phoenix in the next five days).

Playing hard is nice, and I think it means something when a player with Kobe’s basketball IQ notices it. But the Lakers exposed some big problems Detroit has.

The Pistons don’t know how to run.

Right around the time Kobe got hot, the Lakers started pushing the ball. This was particularly frustrating because that’s not how Kobe scored.

Either, Kobe scored in the halfcourt or the Lakers ran. And when they ran, Detroit looked lost. The Pistons had no idea how to defend the fastbreak, and the disarray spread to their offense.

The Pistons are now 3-0 in their three games with the slowest pace and 1-5 in their games with the fastest pace.

They don’t rebound well.

Both teams entered the game in the bottom half of the league in rebounding rate. But the Lakers outrebounded Detroit, 44-32.

They don’t have a reliable big man.

Andrew Bynum crushed the Pistons for 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Lakers could just lob the ball into the post, and it was nearly an automatic two points.

This was a night where Ben Wallace looked 35. He didn’t have the legs to challenge the entry pass or the energy to push Bynum around. Several times, the 7-foot Bynum commanded such a powerful position in the post, I couldn’t even see the 6-foot-9 Wallace behind him.

But Wallace didn’t get any help, either. The Pistons had no offensive threat in the post. That allowed Bynum to take half the game off and have even more energy to pound Wallace on offense.

Some of these issues will go away when Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince return. Others won’t.

For now, the Pistons should just hope they get back to Detroit in once piece.

Advanced statistics

Number in parentheses represent where the game’s rating would rank among NBA teams’ season totals.

Offensive rating: 102.3 (25th)

Defensive rating: 116.6 (30th)

Pace: 90.9 (25th)

Game Preview: Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers

Essentials

Date: Nov. 17, 2009

Time: 10:30 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

Detroit: 5-5

Los Angeles: 7-3

Probable starters

Detroit:

PG

SG

SF

PF

C

Rodney
Stuckey

Ben
Gordon

Jonas
Jerebko

Charlie
Villanueva

Ben
Wallace

Los Angeles:

PG SG SF PF C

 

Derek
Fisher

Kobe
Bryant

Ron
Artest

Lamar
Odom

Andrew
Bynum

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Detroit +9.5

Over/under: 191

Score: Los Angeles wins, 100-91

Statistical projection

Detroit offensive rating: 106.8 (14th)

Detroit defensive rating: 104.7 (15th)

Detroit pace: 87.4 (30th)

Los Angeles offensive rating: 104.5 (18th)

Los Angeles defensive rating: 102.5 (10th)

Los Angeles pace: 94.7 (10th)

Score: Tie, 95-94

Outlook

The Pistons begin a four-game road trip tonight (upcoming games: Trail Blazers, Jazz and Suns). This will be a tough stretch, and I’d consider winning two of the games a rousing success. Heck, winning one might be pretty good.

Injuries to Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince have hurt the Pistons, and both will be out for this entire trip, according to Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News. And that could be particularly damaging this game.

Who will guard Kobe Bryant? I’m guessing Rodney Stuckey, but that puts Ben Gordon on Derek Fisher. Fisher is pretty strong, and that could mean he posts up Gordon quite a bit. There will be a difficult matchup for someone in the Detroit backcourt.

Pau Gasol and Luke Walton are out for the Lakers, so that might somewhat negate the Pistons’ injuries.

While we do a lot of Xs and Os on this site, I think tonight is really more about focus, passion and execution. The Lakers have pretty much been sleepwalking lately — maybe it’s a title hangover, maybe it’s a lot of things, it doesn’t matter what it is. The Lakers need to find their competitive edge again, Phil Jackson realizes the team needs to find that for itself, and he is letting the players find their way. Hopefully those two losses last week help speed the process. Especially because even with the injuries, the Pistons can win this game if the Lakers slack off.

Detroit plays at the slowest pace in the league, and they have the fewest assisted baskets in the league. Which is to say — welcome to 1990s isolation offense. Tonight will be about man-to-man defense and the bigs making good defensive rotations. Both things lacking against Houston.

Tuesday Trivia: Tiny scorers

Sorry about the lack of posting the last few days. I took a trip to Wisconsin to watch the Michigan football team, and I wasn’t online as much as I thought I’d be. But everything should be back on track now, and we’ll start the week off with trivia.

This week’s quiz is about the top scorers under 6-foot-5, and it’s a pretty tough one.

My score: 8/15

Player Preview: Austin Daye

Role

Jonas Jerebko beat Daye for the backup small forward spot. With Tayshaun Prince out with an injury, Jerebko has moved into the starting lineup. That has meant consistent minutes for Daye.

But he hasn’t done anything to pass Jerebko. When Prince returns, Daye is likely out of the rotation again.

Scouting report

Will: Jack up 3-pointers.

Daye’s skills are limited at this point. He knows how to get his shot off (see Matt Santangelo’s last question below for more info). And he has a sweet shooting stroke.

So, when Daye gets in the game, expect him to try to contribute how he can. For now, that means a lot of jumpers.

Won’t: Jump out of the gym.

Daye’s pre-draft combine numbers were embarrassing. His rankings out of fifty players:

  • No-step vertical: 49th
  • Max vertical: Tie for 49th
  • Bench Press: 49th (Of 49 because Sam Young didn’t lift)
  • Agility: 49th
  • Sprint: 50th

Kevin Durant couldn’t lift the bench press once either, and I’d say his career has turned out OK. But he’s playing small forward and shooting guard. Daye projects to be a 3/4.

These numbers don’t put a kibosh on his NBA potential. But make no mistake, they’re an issue.

Must improve: His toughness

In the limited minutes he’s played so far, I haven’t really seen a mean streak from Daye.

He can create a lot of mismatches as a power forward. But he’ll also have learn to take an elbow from stronger players – and dish it out, too.

I think if Daye was given steady minutes, he’d just get pushed around on a nightly basis.

Stock

Falling

In the summer league and preseason, Daye seemed like he had worked himself into the rotation. The initial assessment that he wouldn’t be ready to do much this year looks true again.

Three predictions

1. The more Daye plays, the fewer Tayshaun Prince comparisons you’ll see.

They’re both thin. We get it. That doesn’t make them the same player.

Daye is a better outside shooter than Prince. Prince is a better ball handler, defender and rebounder. In time, that will show.

2. Daye will get stronger.

From Chris McCosky of the Detroit News:

Dumars consulted with strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander before selecting Daye.

"We met several times on Daye, just about his body and his ability to get stronger at that size," Dumars said. "If Arnie looks at me and says, ‘I don’t think I can put weight on this or get him stronger,’ I don’t know if I back away, but it would have given me more pause."

Clearly, Kander sees an NBA body lurking within Daye.

"Remember, he’s younger than Tay was and it’s really just a matter of taking care of his body," Curry said. "He will get stronger as he gets older. It’s not a matter of putting a certain number of pounds, it’s just about continuing to get his core stronger, get a routine and he should be fine."

Kander is the best in the business, so I trust Daye can add weight. But I’m not sure if Kander can project how added weight will affect Daye’s play.

3. Jerebko will have a better career than Daye.

Someone asked in one of the ESPN chats which of the two players I thought would have a better career. To me, it’s basically a toss up.

Daye has more upside, but I’ll take Jerebko because he’s better right now.

For each of the Pistons’ new players, I want  get another voice (or more) besides my own into the previews – someone who has seen these players up close more than I have. I call this feature “in other words.”

In other words: The Slipper Still Fits

Zach Bell and Max Mandel of The Slipper Still Fits were a big help and sent over their evaluation of Daye.

Impact

Austin Daye’s legacy at Gonzaga University will always be a point of contention.

The main reason for this intense scrutiny is because Gonzaga has typically been a place where stars have stood out. Adam Morrison, Dan Dickau, Ronny Turiaf all put teams on their backs at varoius points in their careers. 

With Daye, this was never the case. Austin’s impact at GU and numbers were impacted by two things that many people tend to forget. 

First, he was a prototypical guard in high school before hitting a major growth spurt which launched him to 6-feet-11. Because of this, he was still growing into his body at
Gonzaga and many would argue that he was forced to play out of his comfort zone in Spokane. 

Austin’s biggest strength is his ability to play from the outside and use his above average handles to create plays and get into the lane. At Gonzaga, he was forced to play mainly
as a power forward which forced him to spend a great deal of time in the paint rather than on the perimeter. 

Secondly, Gonzaga was extremely deep last season. This was not the Gonzaga of old where Austin could take an Adam Morrison type role and score 25 points in a half. Six players from last year’s team averaged nine points or more a season ago so obviously, the ball was in great demand. 

If Austin had stayed another year at Gonzaga, he would have had the chance to be the guy but unfortunately for Gonzaga fans and luckily for Pistons fans he decided to go pro.

Skills

As far as his skill set, I’m sure you all have noticed that he really can do it all. He’s got a beautiful perimeter shot. I’ve always been a little upset with the Tayshaun Prince comparison because Austin’s shot is so much more pure than Tay’s hitch n’ go. 

He can rebound well in traffic thanks to his length and it already looks like he has put
on some strength over the summer. That will continue as his body is still developing.

He’ll be a great locker room guy for the franchise as well. He sometimes lets his passion get the best of him on the court but that is just the kind of player he is.

I honestly feel like the Pistons are getting a real gem that can contribute now and has
star potential down the line.

In other words: Matt Santangelo

Matt Santangelo played point guard for Gonzaga’s 1999 Elite Eight team. He blogs for Lost Lettermen and was kind enough to answer a few questions.

What do you think of Austin Daye?

“I think Austin’s going to be a great pro. I think because of the situation at Gonzaga, it was good for him to go to the NBA because I think he needs to be around grown that are examples of how to be professional, how to carry yourself on and off the floor. And, hopefully in Detroit, my understanding is that the type of team Detroit has, he’ll get that from day one — good examples. This is how you act. This how you interact with the media. This is how you treat your teammates, the coaches. …

I think he’s a tremendous talent. I think he’s going to be a very good NBA player because of his versatility, his length and his skill set. I think being in that league with the better examples, they’re going to toughen him up quicker, which is one of the things he needs to work on.

Obviously, his body needs to get stronger, which he’ll get that at the NBA level because they’re investing a lot of money in that body. So, they’re going to take the time to develop it and work with it if he’s committed to making those improvement – which I think he is.

I think as far as how The Gonzaga team is, I think they’re a better, more cohesive unit now than they would’ve been had Austin come back.”

Looking at his stats compared to other players picked in that range, they’re not overwhelming. Did Gonzaga just have a balanced offense?

“I think some of that was toughness. Some of that is you have five seniors on that team. So, he was kind of battling that, too. By all means, if he would’ve come back this year, I think expectations around Gonzaga would be a lot higher. I think their talent level, you just can’t replace a guy like that because there’s just not that many Austin Daye-type players. …

Once he got into the workouts for the NBA and obviously summer league and everything else, when he really got to show off his skill set, he shined. And there’s no question about his talent, and like I said, his versatility.

I think if he had come back to Gonzaga this year, his whole mindset would’ve been playing for the lottery for the draft. I think that would’ve thrown off the whole cohesive unit, and Gonzaga would’ve struggled, battled with that all year long.”

When he went to the combine, his strength and speed numbers weren’t very impressive. Is he just not that athletic or could that have just been a bad day? Does that show up on the court?

“Obviously, Kevin Durant had a huge amount of publicity for his combine scores as well, the weight lifting and that kind of thing. And he’s Kevin Durant. He’s one of the premier players in the league.

Austin’s not real explosive. He doesn’t jump out of the gym. Some of the dunks he had barely got over the front of the rim.

But what he does is he’s a tremendously skilled basketball player. He handles that he’s 6-11 and 7-foot-whatever wingspan. He has tremendous timing defensively.

Like I said, there’s going to have to be a lot of development, and it’s going to have to happen pretty quick. He’s going to have to get a lot stronger or people are just going to put him on the block and go to work.

But at the same time, they’re going to put him on the block because they’re stronger than him, but he’s going to be longer than a lot of guys he’s going with. That’s going to affect them. That’s what we saw during the good games at Gonzaga.

And I like I said, hopefully the examples around him with Tayshaun Prince and Rip and Stuckey and the rest of the guys, hopefully, he learns pretty quick about being tough and competing ever play, every possession – offense and defense.

I think if he can figure that out, coupled with his skill set, he’s going to be a tremendous NBA player. And I think he’ll learn that quicker at the NBA level than he would have had he come back for his junior year at Gonzaga.”

When he was drafted, the buzz was that he wouldn’t contribute much this year or maybe even next year. From what you saw at Gonzaga, does he have some NBA-ready skills?

“Oh, yeah. He really shoots the ball well. He can get to it. Like I said, he’s so long, he creates his own shot.

Defensively, there’s a couple question marks there: his lateral quickness and his physical strength. But he’s long enough that he’s still going to make an impact on the defensive end. …

His ball handling for his size is amazing. His footwork for his size – that’s such a skill that not too many people talk about it, but he has great footwork. And that’s what allows him to get his shot off a lot.

Where some guys might rely on their speed or maybe jumping ability to get a shot off, he has to rely on his footwork and ball handling to get his shot off because he’s just not that explosive athletically.

So, he’s really skilled. I think, yeah, he definitely has some NBA-ready (skills).”

Why did the Detroit Pistons waste so much money on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva?

Why did the Pistons waste a combined $95.7 million on 10 years of service from Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva?

That’s the question many have been asking since Joe Dumars signed the former Connecticut Huskies on the first day of free agency. The common meme: Gordon and Villanueva aren’t good enough to carry a team.

But that’s a straw man argument. Gordon and Villanueva were never supposed to carry the Pistons. They’re great additions – but just pieces of the puzzle. At least that’s the idea.

But in Detroit’s 98-75 win over Charlotte last night, with Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince still out with injuries, Villanueva and Gordon put the Pistons on their backs.

  • Villanueva: 30 points on 17 shots, four rebounds, two steals and a block.
  • Gordon: 22 points on 16 shots, eight assists, a steal and no turnovers.

I never expected them to carry the team, but it’s nice to know they can at times. When Prince and Hamilton return, this game is even more evidence the newcomers can play at  a high level.

And don’t say that it was just against Charlotte.

  • The Bobcats are a good defensive team. They entered the game fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. And you know Larry Brown teams will defend.
  • Gordon and Villanueva didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
  • TrueHoop Network bloggers predicted the Pistons and Bobcats would win the same number of games this year (36).

The Pistons don’t belong in the same conversation as the Bobcats. And Gordon and Villanueva shouldn’t be compared to Allan Houston and Jerome James.

I found it hilarious a common sentiment of the Gordon and Villanueva bashers before the season was, “Dumars excels at finding underrated players ready to break out. Gordon and Villanueva are already known as good players.” The obvious implication is that we know Gordon and Villanueva are good, but we also know they’re not good enough.

Really? How does that make any sense? Maybe Dumars saw more in them than most did. Isn’t that the point?

A few more games like this, and maybe a more people will get the point.

Bynumite!

Will Bynum had two of the strongest dunks you’ll ever see from someone so small. Video from Natalie Sitto of Need4Sheed:

Larry Lage of the Associated Press tweeted that Bynum would compete in the dunk contest if invited. How can we make that happen?

Hamilton won’t be back soon

Hamilton probably won’t make the Pistons upcoming West Coast trip, according to Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News. That would make his return Nov. 25 against Cleveland at the earliest.

Advanced statistics

Number in parentheses represent where the game’s rating would rank among NBA teams’ season totals.

Offensive rating: 120.4 (1st)

Defensive rating: 92.1 (2nd)

Pace: 81.4 (31st)

Game Preview: Detroit Pistons vs. Charlotte Bobcats

Essentials

Date: Nov. 11, 2009

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit Plus

Records

Detroit: 3-4

Charlotte: 3-4

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Detroit -4.5

Over/under: 172.5

Score: Detroit wins, 89-84

Statistical projection

Detroit offensive rating: 104.1 (19th)

Detroit defensive rating: 104.6 (12th)

Detroit pace: 87.7 (30th)

Charlotte offensive rating: 92.8 (30th)

Charlotte defensive rating: 96.9 (4th)

Charlotte pace: 88.6 (29th)

Score: Detroit wins, 89-87

Outlook

Pistons coach John Kuester will face his mentor, Larry Brown, for the first time as a head coach tonight.

Brown will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time – and deservedly so. If Kuester is anywhere near that level, that’s a tremendous boon for the Pistons.

But is he?

John Krolik of Cavs the Blog discusses how the loss Kuester, who was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator last season, has affected the team. His conclusion: not much – and I tend to agree.

Did Kuester implement a great system last year? Or did LeBron James become a better offensive player because he was a year older? Probably more of the latter.

Are the Cavaliers missing Kuester or struggling to incorporate Shaquille O’Neal in the lineup? Once again, it’s probably the latter.

The NBA is a players league. Having talent – and talent that fits together – is most important. Yes, a coach help it fit, but he can only do so much.

Great coaches help their team a little bit here and there. They don’t make huge mistakes. But how often do you see a coach make the difference between a good season and a bad season?

A coach’s impact should be measured over many years. Sam Mitchell (Raptors), Avery Johnson (Mavericks), Rick Carlisle (Pistons), Doc Rivers (Magic) and Mike Dunleavy (Trail Blazers) each won the Coach of the Year award recently.

All have been fired from the team they won the award with. A season simply isn’t enough time to measure a coach’s value.

Brown has proven himself through many years of excellent coaching. I’m not sure if Kuester will.

But at least he’s come far enough to experience this game, which surely must be a thrill.

Tuesday Trivia: NBA head coaches

This week’s quiz doesn’t seem too tough. But when the time is ticking down, you feel the pressure.

My score: 28/30

Detroit Pistons win on a Sunday, and sadly that’s news

Michael Curry made me feel stupid (which proves I’m not another NBA coach).

“I think Joe (Dumars) was madder than anybody else about us losing all those Sunday games, and usually that has something to do with what you were doing Saturday night,” Curry told the Detroit Free Press after the season.

I never made anything of the Pistons’ 4-12 record in Sunday games last year. It just seemed like coincidence.

Then Curry dropped the bomb, and it all made so much sense.

I felt duped. The team had quit, and I should’ve known better. A 4-6 record is happenstance. A 4-12 record is a problem.

There were a lot of on-the-court problems last year. I could see that.

But until I read Curry’s quote, I had no idea the off-the-court issues went so deep and had such an immediate impact in the team’s play.

So, although yesterday’s 88-81 over the Philadelphia 76ers isn’t that big of a deal in and of itself, it made me happy.

One Sunday win doesn’t prove the Pistons are partying any less on Saturday nights this year. But it’s a sign they’re not.

It’d be nice to know all of last year’s trouble is behind them. (And maybe in front of the Memphis Grizzlies).

But I won’t be tricked again. I know I can’t assume the players are acting professionally. (I’m not opposed to them going out, but 4-12 says they went a little too hard for a little too long.)

Yesterday’s win should build trust between the team and the fans. It’s a step in the right direction, and that’s really all you can hope for.

Advanced statistics

Number in parentheses represent where the game’s rating would rank among NBA teams’ season totals.

Offensive rating: 104.8 (20th)

Defensive rating: 96.4 (28th)

Pace: 84.0 (31st)

Game Preview: Detroit Pistons at Orlando Magic

Essentials

Date: Nov. 6, 2009

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

Detroit: 2-3

Orlando: 4-1

Probable starters

Detroit:

PG

SG

SF

PF

C

Rodney
Stuckey

Ben
Gordon

Jonas
Jerebko

Charlie
Villanueva

Ben
Wallace

Orlando:

PG

SG

SF

PF

C

Jameer
Nelson

J.J.
Reddick

Matt
Barnes

Ryan
Anderson

Dwight
Howard

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Detroit +13

Over/under: 192

Score: Orlando wins, 103-90

Outlook

The Pistons lucked out by facing Orlando twice while Rashard Lewis is still suspended. That worked once, and it’d be nice if Detroit capitalizes again tonight.

Game Preview: Detroit Pistons at Toronto Raptors

Essentials

Date: Nov. 8, 2009

Time: 1 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

Detroit: 2-4

Philadelphia: 3-2

Probable starters

Detroit:

PG

SG

SF

PF

C

Rodney
Stuckey

Ben
Gordon

Jonas
Jerebko

Charlie
Villanueva

Ben
Wallace

Philadelphia:

PG SG SF PF C

Louis
Williams
Andre
Iguodala
Thaddeus
Young
Elton
Brand
Samuel
Dalembert

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Detroit –1.5

Over/under: 192

Score: Detroit wins, 97-95

Statistical projection

Detroit offensive rating: 104.1 (20th)

Detroit defensive rating: 105.9 (15th)

Detroit pace: 88.3 (30th)

Philadelphia offensive rating: 107.3 (13th)

Philadelphia defensive rating: 110.4 (24th)

Philadelphia pace: 94.4 (9th)

Score: Detroit wins, 98-97

Outlook

The Pistons’ injury problems haven’t let up yet.

Richard Hamilton will miss the game, and Tayshaun Prince is out indefinitely, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.

Any win the Pistons can salvage without them is really a bonus. I think it’s mostly just a matter of biding time until their return.