Archive → November, 2009
Conventional wisdom says there are five elite teams in the NBA right now – the Lakers, Spurs, Celtics, Cavaliers and Magic.
How often would teams would beat one of those five without its top two scorers from last season?
- The Wizards without Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler?
- The Heat without Dwyane Wade and Michael Beasley?
- The Hawks without Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby?
- The Trail Blazers without Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldrige?
- The Nuggets without Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups?
- The Jazz without Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams?
- The Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry?
I don’t think so.
But that’s exactly what the Pistons did in an 85-80 win over Orlando last night. Detroit was so impressive, I nearly forgot Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince were out with injuries.
Sure, the Magic didn’t have Rashard Lewis, who was suspended for the first 10 games of the season. But they won their first three games by an average of 11 points. And they still had Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson.
Something to prove
This game showed Detroit is better than it was last year.
I don’t want to make that seem more meaningful than it is. The Pistons won 39 games last year. They were below average. Improvement from that isn’t an earth-shattering feat.
But so many doubted Detroit. In our TrueHoop Network wins projections, 22-of-26 voters didn’t think the Pistons would win more games than they did last season.
Last night’s win over the Magic wasn’t remarkable because several Pistons had good games. It was impressive because they’d already been playing well, and they proved they could against good teams, too.
- Ben Gordon has scored at least 22 points and had a true shooting percentage of at least 52.2 in each game this year. He scored 23 points in 43 minutes for the short-handed Pistons last night.
- Ben Wallace has played solid defense and grabbed at least nine rebounds in every game this year. His tough one-on-one defense of Dwight Howard early helped frustrate the Magic’s star, who eventually fouled out.
- Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum are still young, and they both look better than they did last year. They’ve stepped up at key times. With Hamilton and Prince out, they combined with Gordon to score 63 of Detroit’s 85 points.
- Rookie Jonas Jerebko went 0-for-5 shooting, but he played solid defense on Vince Carter. Carter took a ton of contested jumpers early that really killed Orlando’s offensive rhythm.
That’s a big chuck of production that wasn’t there last year.
This game wasn’t perfect for the Pistons – far from it. But most of their problems have to do with ironing out the kinks that come with having eight new players and a new coach.
The Pistons aren’t title contenders. They’re going to lose plenty of games this year and look really bad at times. They’re a long shot to win a playoff series.
But let’s give them a little credit. They’re better than last season.
Date: Nov. 3, 2009
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Television: Fox Sports Detroit
Las Vegas projection
Spread: Detroit +6.5
Score: Orlando wins, 100-94
Detroit offensive rating: 100.9 (21st)
Detroit defensive rating: 99.7 (7th)
Detroit pace: 87.2 (30th)
Orlando offensive rating: 123.0 (1st)
Orlando defensive rating: 111.0 (20th)
Orlando pace 92.2 (20th)
Score: Tie, 100-100
The Magic are the first team the Pistons play this year that made the playoffs last season. You’d like to Detroit have a winning record after opening with weaker competition, but Orlando isn’t unbeatable.
Although Richard Hamilton will be out for Detroit, the Magic are missing three starters:
Vince Carter is a game-time decision, but he’s doubtful with a sprained ankle, according to OrlandoMagic.com
Mickael Pietrus stayed in Orlando with the flu, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Rashard Lewis is still serving his suspension for failing a drug test (the Pistons luckily play the Magic twice while he’s out).
Orlando is still probably better than Detroit. But it’s not a slam dunk.\
This week’s quiz has few unique answers, so I found it quite easy to get a respectable score. There are a couple of tricky answers that might evade you though. Can you get them all?
My score: 22/25
Atkins will be the team’s third point guard. If he plays regular minutes, there’s a problem.
Will: Make me happy.
I always felt bad for Atkins. He was the starting point guard when the Pistons went from 32 to 50 wins, and he did everything then-Pistons coach Rick Carlisle asked of him.
But Detroit brought Chauncey Billups in the next year. Billups was bigger, more talented and ready to become one of the league’s top points guards.
Atkins went to the bench, a role that doesn’t really suit him. He’s a streaky shooter and needs minutes to get in rhythm.
He was good enough to help the Pistons turn around. But he wasn’t good enough to make Detroit elite, like Billups did. So, he was cast aside after toiling on the bench for two years.
I feel for a guy who did all he could, and it still wasn’t enough. By making the team this year, Atkins finally has karma swinging in his direction.
Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum, Ben Gordon and maybe even Tayshaun Prince will see minutes at point guard before Atkins gets on the floor.
Must improve: His point guard play.
Before the season, Atkins talked about how he had become more of a true point guard in the last few years. I’m not sure how true that is since he played just 56 games the last two seasons, but that also means there’s little reason to assume it’s not.
“Over the years, I’ve learned how to hold back and do other things and let the scoring game come to me,” Atkins said. “So, I’ve learned over the years. I was a young, brash kid when I first got here. I’m a little older now.”
Atkins said the main thing he’s learned is how to conserve his energy. There’s no need to burn out right when he enters the game.
“The game may not dictate you scoring a lot of points at that time,” Akins said.
Know of any point guards on the Pistons who sometimes try to score too much and tire because of it – either in the course of a game or a season?
If Atkins keeps improving his ability to be a true point guard, his value as a mentor will increase.
Atkins appeared washed up when Detroit signed him for training camp. And he still might be, but at least he made the roster. That’s a pretty big upset.
1. Stuckey will repeatedly praise Atkins for mentoring him.
Joe Dumars is banking on Stuckey being the future of the franchise. Without having observed training camp, I have to think Atkins made an impression on Stuckey. That would be the most logical reason Atkins made the team.
2. Atkins will be a positive force in the locker room.
I don’t think Atkins will even be active for more than 25 games this year. But I think, as a 10-year veteran, he knows how to act.
Sometimes, you can put up with shenanigans from your star. But it makes no sense to allow nonsense from your 14th man. In that sense, Atkins was a good signing.
3. Atkins will be in the NBA, but not Detroit, next year.
Atkins was in the right place at the right time to make the roster this year. The odds of everything working out in Detroit again next year are pretty slim.
But I think a year with Arnie Kander will do his body wonders. I don’t see Atkins, 35, retiring quite yet, and I think he’ll be healthy enough to latch on somewhere.