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Archive → November, 2010

Pistons limit Dwight Howard, but Magic exploit flaw in Detroit’s defense

Maybe the Pistons can still contain Dwight Howard, after all.

It wasn’t long ago the Pistons gave Howard – and by extension the Magic – more trouble than any team in the NBA. Detroit limited him while defending him one-on-one. That allowed the other four Pistons on the court to excel.

Often, the latter part of that equation – the other four players dominating – was lost in the discussion. After all, it’s understandable slowing the game’s top center steals the headlines.

But the other side was essential to all those wins, and that should be clear after the Pistons’ uneven defensive performance tonight led to a 90-79 defeat – their fourth straight loss to the Magic.

The glass-half-full version of the defense: Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe played excellently on Dwight Howard inside.

The glass-half-empty version: the rest of the team struggled to defend the perimeter.

This was the Pistons’ best game for interior defense of the year. Wallace often kept Howard a few feet farther from the basket than he’d like to be and did so on his own. Monroe needed more help at times, but his relentless energy forced a couple steals and prevented Howard from getting comfortable.

Together, they held Howard to season lows for points (nine) and free-throw attempts (two). Howard also matched a season high with six turnovers.

Tonight should serve as a reminder of what the Pistons have defensively – Wallace can still bring it – and what they will have – Monroe always played hard, and once he adds a little strength, look out. I didn’t think Monroe was ready for a matchup like this. He was.

But tonight unfortunately also serves as a remind of what the Pistons have: a poor perimeter defense.

The Pistons entered the game with the league’s best 3-point defense (.301) – a fool’s gold stat. Detroit’s opponents don’t need to shoot a lot of 3-pointers.

The Pistons’ opponents make 17.2 shots at the rim per game, second most in the league behind the Knicks. When you consider how much faster the Knicks play than the Pistons, Detroit is probably the worst team in the league at defending the rim.

So, teams only shoot 3-pointers against the Pistons when the primary option – dunks and layups – fails. Credit Detroit for taking away Orlando’s primary option, but when push came to shove, the Pistons got shoved. The Magic made 10-of-24 3-pointers.

Despite the 11-point margin of defeat, the Pistons really made Orlando earn the victory. For a half, they looked like the team they used to be. For a half, they looked like the team they are.

I suppose, that’s as much as we can hope for in games like these.

Rashard Lewis goes off… against Charlie Villanueva

A lot of Pistons fans, myself included, have given John Kuester plenty of grief this season. Some of it’s deserved, but I think a lot of it is unfairly based on hindsight. So, I’m happy to do the opposite here.

I was wrong in the preview of tonight’s game. If you missed it, I said:

Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis. I repeat: Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis. One more time in case you missed it: Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis.

Kuester initially said Maxiell was starting because of matchups. If he starts tonight, it’s because Kuester believes he’s better right now than Austin Daye. There’s no other way to spin it.

I hope Daye or Charlie Villanueva gets the nod. Maxiell, even with his smaller size, would probably be the Pistons’ best match off the bench for Dwight Howard.

Lewis led the Magic with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, but a bulk of that damage came with Villanueva, not Maxiell, guarding him.

Against Maxiell, Lewis shot 4-of-7 for nine points in 17:49.

Against Villanueva, Lewis shot 3-of-3 for 11 points in 10:30.

I don’t mean this to be a knock on Villanueva, by the way. He played very well tonight, doing a little bit of everything – scoring inside and outside, rebounding, hustling and, yes, playing defense. (Villanueva had two blocks and a steal.) But his strong defense just didn’t come against Lewis.

So, Kuester was right to have Maxiell guard Lewis for a majority of the Magic forward’s minutes.

Tayshaun Prince takes point-guard duties from Rodney Stuckey

Tayshaun Prince has become the Pistons’ point guard in the halfcourt. Rodney Stuckey often dribbled the ball up court tonight, only to pass to Prince, who initiated the offense.

This is a lot of praise for John Kuester in one post, especially after a loss, but I love the strategy for a few reasons.

1. Stuckey can attack unsuspecting defenses. By bringing the ball up himself, he still has the option to drive to the basket if the defense isn’t set. He’s done that quite a bit this season, with good results.

2. Stuckey plays better off the ball. I still think he has more potential as a point guard than an off guard, but he’s definitely better off the ball right now. Last year, he played at his best next to Chucky Atkins, and this plan creates similar opportunities for Stuckey.

3. Prince stays engaged in the game. It happened in the best of times, but it’s been more common now: Prince resigns himself to being a secondary option and his focus and intensity dwindle. But if you force the ball into his hands, that’s less likely to happen. He hustled tonight, even stopping a four-on-one fastbreak in the first quarter.

I criticized the Pistons’ lack of roles earlier in the day, but I love this. I think there’s a clear distinction, though.

Often, the Pistons ask their players to do a little bit of everything. I don’t think that’s a sound strategy. But that doesn’t mean having players who can do multiple things and play multiple positions is a negative.

The Pistons are clearly telling Stuckey to bring the ball up court. They’re clearly telling Prince to initiate the offense.

Traditionally, teams have one player do that, but so what? Redefining roles is absolutely fine.

It’s just important to have roles.

Ben Gordon doesn’t kill Pistons’ chances, and that’s a mild victory

Ben Gordon missed his first two shots – in rather ugly fashion, at that. But then he drilled a 3-pointer on his third shot.

That ability for Gordon not to let slow starts sink him has been a nice improvement this year.

He only made 4-of-10 shots tonight, but he stayed above the Diawara Line with a .479 true-shooting percentage. Basically, that means he did enough not to destroy the Pistons’ chances of winning.

Gordon has now surpassed the Diawara Line in 83.3 percent of his games, a very solid mark.

Not much from Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady didn’t excel against another of his former teams like he did against the Knicks on Sunday. He had three points (1-of-4 shooting), three rebounds, two assists and a team-worst minus-11 plus-minus rating in 16 minutes.

So much for the extra-motivation theory.

Ben Wallace rides the bench down the stretch

Ben Wallace didn’t play in the fourth quarter. Again.

Is it time to follow up with John Kuester about whether there’s really nothing to it?

Tracy McGrady and Detroit Pistons visit Orlando Magic

Essentials

Teams: Detroit Pistons at Orlando Magic

Date: Nov. 30, 2010

Time: 7 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

Pistons: 6-11

Magic: 12-4

Probable starters

Pistons:

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Vince Carter
  • Quentin Richardson
  • Rashard Lewis
  • Dwight Howard

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +11

Over/under: 192.5

Score: Magic win, 101.75-90.75

Three things to watch

1. Tracy McGrady faces old team

Tracy McGrady played the best game of his season against the Knicks on Sunday. Was there extra motivation for him going against a former team? If so, hopefully that manifests again tonight.

2. Will John Kuester change the starting lineup?

Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis. I repeat: Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis. One more time in case you missed it: Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis.

Kuester initially said Maxiell was starting because of matchups. If he starts tonight, it’s because Kuester believes he’s better right now than Austin Daye. There’s no other way to spin it.

I hope Daye or Charlie Villanueva gets the nod. Maxiell, even with his smaller size, would probably be the Pistons’ best match off the bench for Dwight Howard.

3. Magic with the Magic

For years, the Pistons owned the Magic. Detroit had enough savvy big men to defend Dwight Howard one-on-one and still limit his effectiveness. That allowed the Pistons to have a huge upper hand at the other four positions.

As well as the Pistons matched up, they also seemed to have things fall their way against Orlando.

Is there any good karma left? I doubt it. Detroit no longer has the bigs to contain Howard, and luck hasn’t been on the Pistons’ side lately, either.

Pregame Reading

Is the Pistons’ offense or defense better? A lesson in advanced statistics

Patrick and I use a lot of advanced stats on this site, and I think there’s a good reason for it. When used properly, advanced stats can often provide a better assessment of what’s happening on the court than traditional stats.

But we don’t always do the best job of explaining advanced stats to those who don’t otherwise understand them. I’d like to do that more often, and today’s a great excuse to talk about team offensive and defensive rating (sometimes called offensive and defensive efficiency).

Offensive rating is designed to replace team points per game, and defensive rating replaces team points allowed per game.

These advanced stats account for possessions alternating no matter what. When a team scores with 21 seconds left on the shot clock, its opponent gets the ball. When a team scores with three seconds left on the shot clock, its opponent gets the ball.

The team that scores quickly will obviously score more points, but is that really beneficial if it’s just giving its opponent more opportunities to score?

On the flip side, a team that takes more time to score will score fewer points, but it also limits its opponents opportunities to score.

That’s why points per game and point per game allowed are inefficient. Those stats depend too much on a team’s pace.

A fast team might have a poor offense and great defense, but it will still rank well in points per game and poorly in points per game allowed. A slow team might have a great offense and poor defense, but it will still rank poorly in points per game and well in points per game allowed.

Offensive and defensive rating fix those problems because they’re based on points per 100 possessions, not points per game.

If a team scores 12 points in 10 possessions, its offensive rating would be 120. Likewise, if a team allows 12 points 10 possessions, its defensive rating would be 120.

It’s a pretty simple stat that ranks offenses and defenses without the noise of pace.

What this has to do with the Pistons

The Pistons are the league’s 28th-slowest team, averaging just 89.5 possessions per 48 minutes. That means their points per game and points per game allowed will be lower than the quality of their play represents.

Assuming those traditional numbers accurately characterizes the team’s offense and defense leads to misguided articles like this: Pistons have to find ways to score more points, by Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press.

The Pistons rank 24th in the league in points per game (96.6) and 19th in points allowed per game (101.1), so on face value, Farrell’s decision to focus on offensive shortcomings makes sense.

But a more accurate picture shows the Pistons’ offense is ahead of their defense.

Detroit’s offense rating (105.4) ranks 20th, and its defensive rating (110.2) ranks 25th.

The more you know…

As people who spend a lot of time writing about basketball and reading about basketball, Patrick and I can easily get caught up in advanced stats and assume everyone else is on board. If you ever a have a question about a stat we use, ask in the comments, and we’d be happy to explain.

In his criticism of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade playing together with Miami Heat, Tracy McGrady rebukes Joe Dumars’ positional philosophy

In case you haven’t heard, Tracy McGrady doesn’t think LeBron James and Dwyane Wade complement each other. Via Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

“It’s what I expected,” McGrady said. “You’ve got two guys who really don’t mix. They’re the same type of player. If you look at Boston’s big three, they’re traditional guys. You’ve got a true shooting guard, you have a true small forward and you have a true power forward. You have a shooting guard (Ray Allen) that doesn’t need the ball. In their case, both of their guys need the ball. They’re not great outside shooters, so they just can’t stand out there and wait for one to pass the ball and knock down open shots.

“That’s not their game. They have to have the ball to make plays and catch a rhythm that way. I’m the same way. I’m not the type of player who can stand on the perimeter and wait for somebody to pass me the ball and knock down jumpers. That’s just how it is. They just don’t complement each other.”

McGrady certainly isn’t the first person to criticize the Heat stars this season, and it’s certainly a reasonable opinion. I still think LeBron and Wade are versatile enough to play well together. Just because they haven’t so far doesn’t mean they can’t.

But what I found most interesting is McGrady’s comments pretty much contradict what Joe Dumars told Langlois before last season:

If you look around the league and look at rosters, the more you can have versatile guys on your roster, the better off you are. Less and less now, you find guys pigeon-holed into one position.

It’s nice to have guys who can play multiple positions, but I’m mostly with McGrady on this. You need players who a good at certain and things and other players who are good at others. Everyone doing everything is difficult to pull off, evident by this year’s Pistons.

Hoopism’s stylish word clouds featuring minutes played

Hoopism has a cool post with word clouds for each NBA team based on minutes. Check the site for other teams, but here’s the Pistons:

The first name to jump out at me of a player I’d never heard of was Eddie Miles. Who here surprises you?

Could a hypothetical starting five of former Pistons make the playoffs in the East?

Darko Milicic is obviously the impetus of this post.

For those who haven’t noticed (and judging by the coverage it has received, how haven’t you noticed?), Milicic has found himself of late in Minnesota, averaging 16.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.0 blocks and 3.5 assists per game over his last six games while shooting over 50 percent. He’s also leading the NBA in blocked shots at 2.9 per game overall. Darko Milicic. Darko. Milicic.

But although Milicic and his newfound production is the biggest gut-punch, he’s far from the only recent Piston benchwarmer to suddenly figure things out in another location. In fact, there are quite a few of them floating around the league now, enough to form a pretty intriguing (and cheap) starting five.

Former Pistons have been so good (or at least better than I thought they’d be), in fact, that I’ve recently been wondering: could this hypothetical starting five of former Pistons make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference?

Here’s my lineup:

Chauncey Billups

Billups is the no-brainer of the group. The perception of Billups at the time he was dealt was that he had at least plateaued as a player, if not started a decline.

Well, as his tenure in Denver has shown, stories of his decline were greatly exaggerated. He’s still one of the top PGs in the league, an effective leader/locker room presence and he even posted a career-high season in scoring last year at age 33. There are limitations to Billups’ game (he still struggles some defensively against quick point guards), but I have no doubts that he could still lead a team to the playoffs.

Arron Afflalo

There were signs that Afflalo was going to be a late first round steal when he was in Detroit. He was well known for his work ethic at UCLA and the Pistons also praised him throughout his first two seasons in the league for always working hard in practice even if he wasn’t being rewarded with consistent playing time.

Afflalo was traded to Denver in a cost cutting move and deemed expendable because the team signed Ben Gordon and extended Rip Hamilton. All Afflalo has done is turn into one of the best 3-point shooters in the league, plays solid defense and his .631 true shooting percentage this season is nearly identical to Gordon’s (.632) and it’s a higher mark than Hamilton has ever had in his career for only a fraction of the cost of either of those players.

Carlos Delfino

Delfino is the super athletic and versatile wing off the bench the Pistons really could’ve used during every season of the Flip Saunders era. And unfortunately, Delfino was right there on the bench, ready to get an opportunity, that whole time. He never stayed in the rotation in Detroit for long and was sent to Toronto in a deal for a future second rounder.

Delfino had a solid season with the Raptors, played one season in Russia, then re-emerged as a starter on a playoff team in Milwaukee last season. Delfino isn’t elite in any one facet of the game, but he can shoot, slash to the basket, defend and pass reasonably well.

Amir Johnson

For a late second round pick, Johnson has had a good career already. Most guys picked where he was selected don’t last long in the NBA, and Johnson is now on his third NBA contract. Detroit spent several seasons developing him, hoping he’d become a rotation player. In his final season in Detroit, he briefly started for the Pistons, then disappeared from the rotation, then made a few cameo appearances the rest of the season before getting traded to Milwaukee, who spun him to Toronto for (interestingly) the rights to Delfino.

In Toronto, Johnson has had the same problem that plagued him in Detroit: he fouls too much. But he’s also played consistent minutes.

Johnson can’t be counted on to be a 35-minute-per-game big man at this point, but for 20-25 minutes a game, he’ll play with energy, he’ll shoot a really high percentage, you’ll never have to run a play for him, he’ll rebound and he’ll block shots.

This season, he’s averaging 8.7 points, 5.5 points and 1.1 blocks per game in 20.1 minutes while shooting nearly 60 percent.

He doesn’t have the major upside many thought he did (Matt Watson, I’m looking at you) in Detroit, but he’s become a solid rotation big man who, if he continues this level of production, will be worth the contract many scoffed at when he re-signed in Toronto.

Darko Milicic

As stated above, Darko has been a terror over the last six games after a miserable start to the season. Personally, I don’t want to live in a world where Milicic is a good NBA player. Or one where David Kahn makes a good signing. But we have to face facts: if Milicic produces near this level throughout the life of his contract, he’s going to be one of the best values in the NBA.

And remember: for as long as he’s been around, he’s only 25-years-old, and he’s still a young 25 since most of his NBA career has been spent glued to the bench in Detroit, Orlando, Memphis or New York.

There’s really no reasonable way to predict how this lineup would compete against other starting fives in the league. But (thanks to Dan Feldman for putting running all the numbers in his spreadsheets), we can at least see, based on Win Shares, how they compare.

Here are the Win Shares for my hypothetical starting lineup:

  • Billups – 0.6
  • Afflalo – 1.4
  • Delfino -0.6
  • Johnson – 1.6
  • Milicic – 0

That lineup has produced 4.2 total Win Shares. League average for most common starting fives used by each NBA team is 5.9 Win Shares, so this hypothetical group of starters currently would be 23rd in the league in that department. Not good, although they are better than the Pistons most common starting five, which has 3.1 combined Win Shares.

Another thing to keep in mind: Billups has started the season slow, and his total will almost certainly go up. Delfino has been injured, so he could go up as well and Darko started the season so poorly offensively that even his torrid offensive pace over the last six games still leaves him with a negative total of offensive Win Shares for the season. That could change if he keeps shooting the ball well.

Of course, Milicic and Johnson could both see their production decline significantly as well and this whole post will look really dumb in a few weeks when they fall back to Earth.

I’ll definitely be watching as the season goes on though and updating if necessary. In a lot of cases, the players who got away from the Pistons are becoming more significant stories in Joe Dumars’ legacy than the players who are here.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Ben Gulker too this idea and applied it using the Wins Produced stat over at Pistons by the numbers. Check out his whole post, which is really interesting, particularly his idea to sub another former Piston in my hypothetical lineup for Monsieur Milicic. Here’s part of Ben’s conclusion:

These five former Pistons who will make shy of $28.5 million as a group project to win roughly the same amount of games that I (somewhat optimistically) predicted the 2010-2011 Pistons would win as a whole. For context, Rip and Ben Gordon will make somewhere around $22 million combined, depending on which numbers one uses. Wow, just … wow. And it’s not as if these players departures were beyond Joe’s control – all of these players could have been retained relatively easily (perhaps not Delfino, I suppose).

Also, commenter nuetes offers more stats below that are worth checking out if you haven’t already.

Danilo Gallinari giveth and he taketh away in New York’s win over the Pistons

With the Pistons down eight points late in the fourth quarter, Tayshaun Prince remembered that Danilo Gallinari was guarding him.

Prince scored 12 of Detroit’s final 15 points in the final six minutes of regulation, bolstered by Gallinari’s slow-as-Eddy Curry feet defensively, to help the Pistons force overtime. Then, Prince helped the Pistons force overtime again when, down three with less than 20 seconds left in the first overtime, he drove to the basket, hit a layup and drew a foul from Gallinari, whose only instructions for the play were “don’t foul.” Oops.

But for as badly as he was torched defensively, Gallinari atoned in the second overtime, hitting two 3-pointers to open the scoring and give the Knicks all the cushion they’d need to outlast the Pistons 125-116 Sunday, wasting Prince’s brilliant 31-point effort.

The loss was unfortunate, because the Pistons had some positives, but it’s hard to focus on any kind of positive after a loss to a poor team at home in a game the Pistons (as always) lost a second half lead in.

In Detroit’s win over Milwaukee Friday, I didn’t stress too much about the fact that the Bucks dominated Detroit on the boards, particularly the offensive glass. Milwaukee is a very good rebounding team, and getting second shots is kind of what they do.

But the Knicks? Amar’e Stoudemire is a lot of great things, but a physical rebounder is not one of them. And two of the biggest plays in this game involved wing Landry Fields beating multiple Pistons to the glass and getting put-backs. Those kinds of lapses are still aggravating but more understandable if you’re trying to block out David Lee. Someone should be able to get a body on Landry Fields though.

This was an important game for Detroit, as I mentioned Friday, because they have three difficult games coming up (at Orlando, at Miami, home vs. Orlando). Miami and Orland0 certainly haven’t hit their strides yet, but based on how Detroit has done in other games this season against contending teams, it’s hard to picture the Pistons being too competitive, especially on the road, in those games.

Ben Gordon on the court for both overtimes made no sense

I’m a big Ben Gordon fan and among the many who would love to see him get more minutes. But Gordon wasn’t aggressive offensively Sunday, mainly because Prince and Rodney Stuckey were having better games. And if Gordon isn’t aggressive offensively, there’s little reason to have him on the court as the Pistons did for both overtimes against the Knicks. Gordon’s not a great defender, he’s undersized, he’s not particularly adept at handling the ball or moving without the ball. That’s not meant as a knock on him — Gordon just is what he is. A scorer.

I think having Gordon on the court for both overtimes cost the Pistons. The Knicks always play a small lineup, so the Pistons countered with a lineup of Stuckey, Gordon, Rip Hamilton, Prince and Ben Wallace. If Gordon’s not going to be the primary option, why not use a player like Austin Daye or Tracy McGrady? Both of those guys can do multiple things well and, more importantly, both would have the length to bother any of the Knicks wings who were on the court: Gallinari, Wilson Chandler or Fields. Instead, one of those three always had the advantage of being able to shoot over Gordon.

Obviously I overreacted to McGrady’s injury

Here’s what I wrote after Friday’s game when McGrady didn’t return to the game with what was described as ‘muscle soreness:’

Maybe it was premature to get too hyped about McGrady’s growing productivity. Maybe minor setbacks are bound to happen throughout this process, and all this was was a minor setback. But unfortunately, every time McGrady sustains an injury, even a minor one, fans are going to fear the worst. Hopefully he gets back on the court for Sunday’s game against one of his former teams, the Knicks.

Consider me shut up. McGrady had his best game as a Piston, scoring 13 points (6-for-10 shooting) with six rebounds, three assists a steal and a block. But McGrady was most impressive at the defensive end.

Friend of PP Mike Payne (From Detroit Bad Boys) pointed out, despite the protests of know-it-all commenter Frankie D, that McGrady has been really good when he’s been isolated one-on-one against and offensive player this season. We got a couple glimpses of McGrady’s defense in the second half against the Knicks.

His best play came when Raymond Felton kicked the ball to Wilson Chandler for what looked like an open three. Except it wasn’t. McGrady closed out incredibly quickly, surprising Chandler, and forcing him into shooting an airball.

The other play was McGrady giving help to Wallace inside on Stoudemire. McGrady went over the top from behind and blocked Stoudemire’s shot without picking up a foul, something that’s typically hard for a shorter, less athletic player to do against a big with Stoudemire’s hops.

McGrady’s never had a reputation as a defensive stopper, but I think that’s largely because his commitment at that end of the floor came and went. In Houston, he played for a good defensive coach in Jeff Van Gundy and with the Pistons, even with his limited mobility, he’s done a good job using his strength and length to become a pretty solid situational defender off the bench, something I don’t think the Pistons realized they’d be getting when they signed him.

Is the Daye/Maxiell platoon over?

John Kuester made the decision to decide who would start at PF based on matchups. But Jason Maxiell started his fifth straight game against New York Sunday, and if any game would scream out as a potential favorable matchup (or at least more competitive matchup) for Daye, it would be the Knicks’ frontline.

I understand mostly why Maxiell started. He was coming off a really good performance against the Bucks, so why mess that up? But at the same time, Kuester has never been shy about going away from the hot hand to stick to his original plan. Remember Gordon’s torrid start to the season when he moved into the starting lineup after Hamilton’s injury? Despite shaky performances, Hamilton was put right back in the starting lineup when he was ready.

So why didn’t Daye start against the Knicks? It’s looking more and more like Maxiell as a starter might be becoming more permanent.

What to make of Stuckey’s performance?

Stuckey scored 27 points, he shot 9-for-16, he got to the line 12 times and he only turned it over twice. Numbers-wise, it was a second straight really good game for Stuckey.

But there were some key moments that stood out negatively. With Prince as the obvious hot hand in the fourth, Stuckey forced his way into traffic twice, got off weak attempts without drawing contact and had his shots easily blocked each time, once by Stoudemire and once by Chandler. Stuckey’s defense also wasn’t great in the fourth as Felton scored 11 points in the quarter to help lead the Knicks back from a small deficit.

Against Milwaukee, I was impressed with Stuckey’s ability to see the entire floor and surprised that he looked really comfortable in the post, where he rarely sets up. Against the Knicks, I was disappointed that the Pistons didn’t try him much in a post-up position on Felton and that Stuckey tried to do too much late in the game. It was still a good performance, but still a reminder there are some holes in his game that have to be fixed.

Favorited! Detroit Pistons host New York Knicks

Essentials

Teams: Detroit Pistons vs. New York Knicks

Date: Nov. 28, 2010

Time: 1:30 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

Pistons: 6-10

Knicks: 8-9

Probable starters

Pistons:

Knicks:

  • Raymond Felton
  • Landry Fields
  • Danilo Gallinari
  • Amar’e Stoudemire
  • Ronny Turiaf

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons –1.5

Over/under: 205.5

Score: Pistons win, 103.5-102

Three things to watch

1. The Pistons are favored!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe the Pistons have been favored yet this season. They’re coming off an impressive – at least by their standards – win over the Bucks. The Knicks aren’t a strong team. It makes sense Detroit is favored.

This will be a good chance to learn something about this team, how it handles being the front runner. I don’t expect the Pistons to be favored much more often this year, but this won’t be the last time. I’m curious how they’ll handle it.

2. Amar’e Stoudemire’s free throws

Amar’e is shooting worse and turning the ball the ball over more often than usual. But he’s hanging around his career scoring average because he’s getting to the charity stripe and making his free throws about as often as usual.

Can the Pistons keep Amar’e off the line and watch the rest of his offense game self destruct? Probably not, but they have someone with a chance to do it – Ben Wallace.

Wallace averages 1.8 fouls per 36 minutes, third lowest on the team behind Tayshaun Prince and Chris Wilcox (no fouls in seven minutes, so irrelevant). The Pistons haven’t relied on Wallace much this season, but against a team also competing for one of the East’s final playoff spots, now’s the time.

I’ll be disappointed if Wallace guards Turiaf rather than Amar’e.

3. Pace

No surprises here. A Mike D’Antoni team plays fast, and the Pistons play slow.

Honestly, this game could have a fast pace, and Detroit could still win. But the Pistons have a couple players – looking at you Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva – who can get carried away and sloppy in an up-and-down game. They can’t win if that happens.

Pregame Reading

Rodney Stuckey shows a couple Billups-esque flashes in Pistons win over Milwaukee

Perhaps the most unfair thing to happen to Rodney Stuckey during his NBA career has been the tendency to want to compare him to his predecessor, Chauncey Billups. They aren’t, and probably will never be, similar players, so expecting Stuckey to morph into a quicker, more athletic incarnation of Billups is totally unreasonable.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to compare Stuckey to Billups a little bit.

On the first three possessions of Detroit’s 103-89 win over Milwaukee tonight, Stuckey made some very Billups-like plays, largely because the Pistons used him in the post quite a bit during this game against the smaller Brandon Jennings.

  • On the first possession, Stuckey had the ball in the high post, Luc-Richard Mbah A Moute left Tayshaun Prince to help Jennings and Stuckey found the wide open Prince for a 19-footer.
  • On the next possession, the Pistons again went to Stuckey in the post, this time on the wing. Jon Brockman left Jason Maxiell, who was in the opposite corner out near the 3-point line, and Maxiell immediately cut hard to the basket. Stuckey found him for the dunk.
  • On the third possession, Stuckey walked the ball up, dribbled slightly to his right and then found Rip Hamilton curling off a screen at the opposite elbow in stride for a jumper.

Three plays, three assists for Stuckey, all of them seemingly routine plays. But they stood out because they were the right passes. Billups has made himself into an elite point guard by rarely ever making the wrong pass. He doesn’t get the flashy assists that guys like Jason Kidd or Steve Nash get, he’s not a terror in the open floor like Chris Paul or Deron Williams and he’s not a physical freak of nature like Rajon Rondo, but every year Billups is nearly as efficient and good as all of those more physically gifted players simply because he nearly always passes the ball where he should at precisely the right time.

Stuckey’s major problem as a passer in his career is not that he’s a selfish player and not that he doesn’t know where to go with the ball. He just often knows where to go with it too late. Against Milwaukee, he had one of his best games of the season because he made the right decision virtually every time down the court and he didn’t hesitate. He did a really nice job thinking his way through the game, playing at different paces in different situations, picking his spots to look for the shot himself and set others up and the Pistons as a whole played their best game of the year beginning to end.

They built an early lead with good defense and hot shooting in the first quarter. The bench came in in the second, and although the defense wasn’t as good, Will Bynum, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva provided sufficient offense. Milwaukee opened the third quarter with seven straight points to cut the Pistons lead to five, but Detroit recovered nicely, avoided another terrible third quarter performance and extended the lead early in the fourth quarter, essentially putting the game out of reach.

Milwaukee played without its best player in Andrew Bogut, as well as a very good starter in Carlos Delfino, so the Pistons took it too a team that was depleted, but it was a good win and a nice bounce-back from a poor second half effort in Memphis Wednesday. The Pistons played with great effort against Milwaukee, they were fun to watch and everyone who stepped onto the court was active. The only frustrating takeaway from the game is that if they are capable of playing like this against Milwaukee, they are capable of doing it every night.

Spacing is the key

The Pistons had a lot of success using Stuckey in the post with one exception. Early in the third quarter, Stuckey caught it in the post, got doubled, tried to split the double and picked up his fourth foul on a charge. This possession failed for one simple reason: spacing.

Spacing has killed the Pistons this year. Against, Milwaukee, it was really good with only a few exceptions. Two Stuckey post plays highlight the importance. In one of the plays described above, Stuckey found Maxiell for a dunk in the opening moments because of great spacing. Maxiell was in the opposite corner. Prince and Hamilton were outside the 3-point line. Ben Wallace was at the opposite elbow/wing region. When Brockman left Maxiell and Maxiell cut, there was too much distance for any of the other defenders to recover quickly enough.

One of the early possessions in the third quarter was the polar opposite. Prince was closer to Stuckey when he tossed him the ball in the post, so Prince’s man disrupted the play slightly, even though Stuckey did end up catching the ball cleanly. Then, a double came from Ersan Ilyasova, who was guarding Maxiell. As Stuckey tried to dribble away from the double team, Wallace’s man, Drew Gooden, also closed in quickly and forced Stuckey into a charge. Why was the defense able to collapse on Stuckey so quickly and eliminate any passing lanes? Because Prince, Wallace and Maxiell were all within a few feet of each other. None were a threat to catch the ball and score, none were a threat to make a cut to the basket since they were all in each other’s way.

Stuckey is bigger than many point guards in the league. If the Pistons pay attention to where they are spaced on the floor, they might have a different look that appears to be effective, or at least offers some intrigue for their offense, which often gets stagnant.

So … thanks for that, Drew Gooden

Drew Gooden shot nine shots from 15-feet out or more, several of them contested or with plenty of time on the shot clock. Needless to say, he shot the ball poorly, finshing 4-for-14 on the night.

There’s a reason Gooden, who has been a pretty good rebounder throughout his career, is currently on his ninth team in nine seasons. He was a big help to the Pistons tonight. Milwaukee’s offense never found any sort of cohesion, and Gooden continuously taking poor shots was a big factor.

The Thrill isn’t gone

With some poor performances after returning from injury, many began to wonder if Bynum had lost his trademark quickness. The last two games, however, have given hope that Bynum is close to getting back to being his bundle-of-energy self.

He scored 13 points with four assists and just one turnover off the bench for Detroit, and had a highlight-reel reverse layup where he hung in the air, avoided a Bucks defender and spun the ball high off the glass on the other side of the rim for the finish. Bynum did seem to tweak his ankle again late, but he walked it off and finished the game, so hopefully it’s nothing to worry about.

T-Mac not out of the injury woods

Tracy McGrady had a couple of vintage moments, elevating over people for trademark T-Mac dunks in the last week. He’s also talked about being pain-free in his knee.

Then, after playing six forgettable minutes in the first half against Milwaukee, cameras caught McGrady on the bench getting his left knee massaged by Arnie Kander. After halftime, McGrady didn’t return to the bench, and Fox Sports Detroit reported that it was because of “sore muscles.” Definitely not the knee. Probably. Hopefully.

Maybe it was premature to get too hyped about McGrady’s growing productivity. Maybe minor setbacks are bound to happen throughout this process, and all this was was a minor setback. But unfortunately, every time McGrady sustains an injury, even a minor one, fans are going to fear the worst. Hopefully he gets back on the court for Sunday’s game against one of his former teams, the Knicks.

Speaking of the Knicks …

It would really behoove the Pistons to beat the struggling Knicks at home Sunday. If they don’t, they have a pretty tough three-game stretch coming up: at Orlando, at Miami, home vs. Orlando. But if they beat New York and maybe even steal one out of those three games vs. the Magic/Heat, the schedule is a little friendlier the following week or so with Houston, New Orleans, Minnesota and Toronto.

Brace yourself for Pistons-Bucks

Essentials

Teams: Detroit Pistons vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Date: Nov. 26, 2010

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit Plus

Records

Pistons: 5-10

Bucks: 5-9

Probable starters

Detroit:

Bucks:

  • Brandon Jennings
  • John Salmons
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
  • Drew Gooden
  • Jon Brockman

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Detroit +1

Over/under: 183

Score: Bucks win, 92-91

Three things to watch

1. Richard Hamilton’s defense

Hamilton’s defense comes and goes, but it’s mostly been gone yesterday. The Bucks are pretty reliant on John Salmons and Carlos Delfino to support Brandon Jennings on offense. Whether it’s at shooting guard or small forward, Hamilton will have his crack at both those guys.

2. Andrew Bogut sitting on the bench

The Bucks’ best player will miss the game, according to Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Happy Thanksgiving, Pistons!

3. The type of game I liked but nobody else does

The Bucks have the league’s best defensive rating and worst offensive rating. The also play at a slow pace, like the Pistons.

This one will probably be ugly.

Pregame Reading