Jonas Jerebko becoming the Pistons’ starting power forward has been a major storyline. But another undersized frontline player’s increased minutes as a result of that move has been overlooked.
That should change now.
Although he played the position at times prior, Jason Maxiell has become Detroit’s primary backup center in its revamped rotation.
In last night’s 93-81 win over the Bucks, Maxiell had 14 points, 10 rebounds and two steals – first double-double of the season. He was also a team-best plus-21.
Chris Wilcox and Kwame Brown have played just a combined 21 minutes in the five games since Jerebko became the starting power forward.
Maxiell has played 74 minutes at center in the span. He’s averaging 9.6 and 7.0 rebounds in 23 minutes per game and making 65 percent of his shots.
With Ben Wallace planted on the bench, Maxiell played the entire fourth quarter at center last night. The Pistons outscored the Bucks, 29-19, in the final frame.
Still, Maxiell has played 36 percent of his minutes at power forward in the last five games, and his plus-minus has been better at that position.
Power forward: plus-15 in 42 minutes.
Center: even in 73 minutes.
But Maxiell’s center play is certainly intriguing.
In the short term, he’s easily the Pistons’ best backup center. They’re an extreme long shot for the playoffs, so that probably doesn’t matter. But let’s check it out just in case.
82Games breaks down every Pistons’ production by position through Feb. 3. Here are the plus-minuses per 48 minutes at center for each player who has spent a significant amount of time at the position:
Ben Wallace: –2.4
Jason Maxiell: –3.1
Kwame Brown: –6.8
Chris Wilcox: –19.5
The long-term possibilities of Maxiell becoming a center are less certain, but they offer a much greater reward.
Until this run, Detroit’s only reliable center had been a 35-year-old Ben Wallace. Wilcox and Brown definitely aren’t long-term answers at the position, either.
I don’t think Maxiell, who will be 27 a week from Thursday, can be a reliable starting center in the NBA. There would just be too many nights he’d be too small.
But if you had to pick a Piston most likely to be in the rotation at position in three years, wouldn’t you have to say Maxiell? You could make a case for Jonas Jerebko, but I think he projects best at small forward.
Joe Dumars has said he wants to use the rest of this season to determine what type of team the Pistons have. I hope he’s keeping a close eye on whether they can be successful with Maxiell as their backup center.
Benching the other backup centers
Jerebko taking his power forward minutes hasn’t been the only reason Maxiell has become the backup center. The other centers on the team have been benched.
This makes a lot of sense with Wilcox. He was given a chance and failed.
But what about Kwame Brown? From Terry Foster of the Detroit News:
"Our biggest concern and I have discussed it with him is defense," Kuester said. "We have to make sure he continually plays the consistent defense that I want to in the scheme. That is pick-and-roll, high pick-and-roll. Just making sure he knows."
If Brown didn’t know, he knows now. That is why he laughed when Kuester’s words were relayed to him.
"Listen, man, I don’t want something to be flared up on what I say," Brown said. "I will do what the coach says in order to get better, although that is a first because there is one thing I do bring to the table and that is defense. That’s the first time I heard that. It’s the first time a coach said I don’t play defense. But like I said, I will learn to play the defense he wants me to play."
This obviously isn’t the only reason Brown hasn’t played much. He’s definitely a better defender than Wilcox, and Wilcox has received a lot more playing time. Foster gives a clue at the reason:
Brown is frustrated and some of that might have flared up during a blowout loss to the Pacers. Kuester summoned Brown into the game but didn’t like how long it took him to get off the bench and decided against using him.
Brown said the incident has been resolved and that he was not angry with Kuester for putting him in during garbage time.
"I have played during 20-point blow-outs. I have come in during the last two minutes of a game," Brown said. "It doesn’t matter. I am paid to play whenever they tell me to. It does not matter to me."
That doesn’t explain why Brown had been stuck on the bench before Friday. Maybe that incident is just an example of an attitude problem. A Ben Wallace quote gives a little more insight. Via Foster:
"Without a doubt he can contribute," Wallace said. "But he got to want it. He’s got to be hungry, man. For me to say you got to do this and do, that’s pointless. You got to want it. Look, man, when you go out there, you got to do what you got to do. If you go out there and are making the same mistakes the starters are making, then you don’t need to be out there."
It’s obvious Brown has the physical ability to play better than he has this year – and his entire career, frankly. If I had a guess, Kuester is trying to motivate Brown to play with more intensity. But I’m not sure Kuester will be the cause if that happens.
His looming free agency might be enough for Brown to get his act together.
Win feels good
The Pistons have won back-to-back games for the first time 24 days. They also picked up their first win in 20 days against a team not on pace to have the worst single-season record of all time.
Credit for new features
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been starting each game review with a couple links at the top. It’s time to come clean.
I completely stole the idea from Royce Young of Daily Thunder. He does a great job, and I definitely recommend following his blog if you want to know about the NBA’s next elite team.
I also added a third link beginning today. Sebastian Pruiti, who runs Nets Are Scorching and NBAPlaybook.com, directed me to PopcornMachine.net. It’s a cool site that tracks how different lineups perform in each game.
Check out Jeremy Schmidt’s recap on Bucksketball.
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