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Detroit Pistons show reproducible signs of progress in win over Hawks

The Pistons deserved this celebration, the extra few moments to take credit.

The streamers fell from The Palace rafters 0.2 seconds too soon, but a review and cleanup just gave the Pistons more time to hang out in front of their bench and bask in easily their best and most complete victory of the season.

They didn’t have to play the role of Josh Smith, pleading to just end the game already. Rather, they high-fived and chatted. Cool and confident is not a role the Pistons have played often this season, but they played it well late tonight.

With a 103-80 victory over the Hawks, the Pistons leave the Wizards and Kings as the only teams that haven’t beaten an opponent with a winning record.

Best of all, the Pistons showed plenty of positives they can sustain throughout the season.

Before we get carried away, the Pistons can’t always play this well. But they beat a good team by 23. Not everything has to be this perfect every night.

They can get by without Tracy McGrady making four 3-pointers.* They’ll survive not making 19-of-21 free throws. They won’t be done in by Chris Wilcox not playing the type of post defense that helped him finish plus-20.

*Boy, his lift on those shots looked impressive.

But a lot of things that went right could continue to go right, even if on a slightly smaller scale.

Richard Hamilton’s shooting

Richard Hamilton’s field-goal percentage has dropped, in large part, because he’s taking fewer good shots. He’s not necessarily missing the shots that used to be his specialty. He’s shooting more 3-pointers and jumpers he has to create for himself off the dribble. Those aren’t his game.

Tonight, Hamilton worked harder before getting the ball than he did afterward. He continuously put himself in position to score when receiving the pass, and that’s why he scored an efficient 24 points.

The implicit benefits of Hamilton’s performance tonight could be important, too. To get his best shots, the type of shots he got tonight, Hamilton has to trust his teammates. He needs them to set good screens and deliver him the ball when he’s open.

Both clicked tonight, and maybe that will lead to more camaraderie between Hamilton and his teammates.

Charlie Villanueva’s activeness

Charlie Villanueva’s stat lines don’t always tell the whole story, but his numbers tonight are as impressive as they look.

He scored 23 points because he worked his way inside and picked his spots outside. He grabbed 11 rebounds because he battled in traffic. He had three steals and a block because he gave his all on defense.

Villanueva has provided effort most of this season. Tonight was an extreme case of everything going right for him, but when plays this hard, that’s bound to happen sometimes. And when the breaks don’t fall his way, as long as Villanueva plays this hard, those results won’t be bad, either.

Pistons’ rebounding

The Pistons, 28th in rebounding, outrebounded the Hawks, 17th – by an impressive 43-31 margin – largely due to John Kuester’s lineup changes.

Greg Monroe, in his first start next to team-leading-rebounder Ben Wallace, played a large majority of his minutes with the first unit. The way Monroe rebounds – with excellent positioning and strong, soft hands – he can excel on the glass against anyone. So, the Pistons essentially gave a larger rebounding role to Monroe (14.8 rebounding percentage) at the expense of Jason Maxiell (9.4 rebounding percentage).

On the backend, Chris Wilcox – whose 14.3 career rebounding percentage trails only Wallace and Monroe among current Pistons – joined the rotation in place of Maxiell. He grabbed just three rebounds in 20 minutes, but he figures to help on the glass if he keeps playing.

Rodney Stuckey’s aggressiveness

Rodney Stuckey has become more aggressive, bordering on reckless, the last three games. It’s not the most efficient way to play, but for Stuckey, it might be a worthwhile compromise.

On the bright side, he’s averaging 19.3 points (8-of-8.6 from the free-throw line) and 9.3 assists per game. Defenses can’t stay in front of him when he plays at this tempo. But he can’t always play within himself at this speed, and that’s why he’s averaging 3.0 turnovers per game in the last three games.

Stuckey’s attacking style has also carried to defense, where he’s averaging 1.7 steals in the last three games. He’s really pressuring his opponent more.

When Stuckey plays like this and things don’t go right, he looks like he has no clue what he’s doing. But I think it’s worth the higher upside.

Tayshaun Prince’s focus

Aside from a brief moment in the third quarter when Tayshaun Prince lifted his arm in disbelief at a referee rather than getting back on defense, Prince was engaged in this game.

There’s no reason he can’t play like this – 10 rebounds, five rebounds, four assists and committed defense, including a chase-from-behind block on a fastbreak – most nights.

Really, there’s no reason the Pistons can’t reproduce most of what they did tonight. Sometimes, their opponent will play better than the Hawks, and Detroit will lose anyway. But the effort, focus and gameplan should come together like this much more often that it has so far this season.

10 Comments

  • Dec 15, 20101:17 am
    by Jeremy

    Reply

    Rip gave us a vintage performance coming off screens for those quick-release open jumpers. He excels when he does this. He’s also a pretty good spot-up three point shooter from the corner. When he tries to play one on one or take contested shots, it doesn’t work out as well. He started taking some of those shots in the second half of the third, after which point I believe he went 0 for 6. Let’s keep him running around screens and sinking mid-range jump shots until someone wants to trade something for him!
     
    Good call on the rebounds and free throw percentage. Another good stat omen: Pistons beat the hawks in both assists and turnovers.
     
    Any idea how many of CV’s rebounds were contested? He didn’t suddenly figure this out, did he?
     
    One day Stuckey is going to figure out when he needs to pass on the drive, and when that happens all will be well in the world. And I think I’ll take four turnovers if it comes with ten assists. I love those free throws too. He’s up 4% on the season over his career average. I just hope he never has to make a 3 point shot to save his life.

  • Dec 15, 20101:53 am
    by Laser

    Reply

    well, you’ll get the good and the bad, because it’s me…
     
    the good: this lineup change, which is so far overdue it’s beyond comprehension. i almost wrote “so far overdue it borders on…” and then come up with something insane for it to border on, but i couldn’t come up with anything more insane than waiting this long to switch to a rotation that works. in fact, it’s so logical and practical that i have to assume dumars finally caved and pointed kuester in this direction. i mean, it flies in the face of every backwards thing we’ve done so far this year. this rotation actually makes perfect sense for chrissakes and could even get ol’ laser rooting for this team again. wouldn’t mind a little austin daye action, specifically at the expense of gordon’s minutes, since he seemed all but invisible and i feel like daye can do more with the microscopic minutes and role gordon figures to enjoy. t-mac looked good, guys actually found rip coming off screens, villa makes sense as the first big off the bench when he’s playing behind two guys who make legitimate sense as a starting frontcourt. also, t-mac keeps this up and he’ll be chasing a ring somewhere in february, which is nothing but solid news for us. so, lots of good to take away from all this. the recap said it all, and the emphasis on how sustainable these positives are says it all, but sort of danced around… (drumroll please)
     
    the bad: the hawks were short their superstar leading scorer and, as a completely separate issue, played a game so sloppy it was embarrassing to watch. they spotted the pistons eight points by settling for jumpers when their front line had ours badly outmatched. and they made sure to lose this one by settling for a lot of bas jumpers and turning it over like crazy. every time they went towards the basket, good things happened, but they played like idiots for most of the night. i think the run where they opened the second half with 11 straight points was much closer to reality than the pistons winning by 23. for all the above reasons, i don’t think the pistons win this game most nights. rip’s not going to go off for 15 in the first quarter and 20 in the first half against joe johnson, and rip’s the main reason we had a 12 point cushion at the break. tying into that, we just plain hit a lot of shots i don’t think we hit most nights. maybe i’m wrong. they moved the ball well and did get plenty of the looks they wanted, but i don’t think you can rely on hitting shots. doing damage inside is more reliable. but, with this personnel, there’s gonna be a TON of jumpers.
     
    the ugly: don’t expect to beat the hawks like this most nights, but it should be enough against some rubbish teams. with a rotation like this and a clean slate, we’re probably a bottom seed in the east. but there’s a lot of ground to make up, and this could just end up keeping us away from the draft pick we need to have a serious team here. i’d be happy to lose every game left this season, and i think that’s in the best interest of the team’s future, but if they’re going to try and win games for some reason, best to do it with lineups that make sense and won’t be torturous to watch. trade prince and t-mac at the deadline and do something about all these shooting guards, which will make room for daye, and we may have something here.

  • Dec 15, 20103:20 am
    by nuetes

    Reply

    you know i might have to disagree with laser for the first time in awhile. the starting front court changed the shape of this game, and quite possibly the season. i think most fans (like 99%) have been calling for this change for over a month now at the least. it is insane that it took this long, and it’s a testament to just how klueless kuester is. i honestly can’t believe it took this long, and for some reason i fully expect something to be changed for no apparent reason the next game. that’s just how kuester rolls.
     
    have i not been asking for some wilcox? have i not been pleading to get maxiell’s scrub bum out of the lineup? have i not been saying monroe needed to play with wallace from the get go? these moves are sooooo obvious. with wilcox, monroe, and wallace we have size. we have guys in the front court that opposing guards might think twice about driving against. we have a mild deterrent to the constant penetration. and that deterrent produces jump shots for the opposing team. which is what the hawks ended up taking.
     
    another thing is the effort, and i can’t help but think it’s a byproduct of kuester finally doing something right. not only are the fans excited about it, the players probably are as well. they finally saw that their coach was giving them a chance, so they went with it and played hard. john salley has his little article on deadspin and in his last one he talked about playing for a coach that a team has no confidence in when he played for miami umpteen years ago. it sounds about like the pistons and kuester. when the coach is clueless the players see it.
     
    anyways i do think this is sustainable. i do think we can rebound the ball better with this lineup, and that’s huge. i do think we can keep some guys out of the paint a little better. i do think we can force the opposing team to shoot a little worse as a result. ok i’m excited if you can’t tell. all the changes i’ve been pining for took place and the team played well. now they have to sustain this so i don’t look like a fool.

  • Dec 15, 20103:43 am
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Laser, the Hawks entered the game 5-2 without Joe Johnson. Obviously, losing him hurt, but they’ve still been playing well.

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  • Dec 15, 20108:41 am
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    since Rip & Tay are untouchable as far as the lineup goes – this was the best possible change that could be made. i would also argue that with T-Mac getting the backup point guard and small forward minutes, Austin Daye should get Ben Gordon’s minutes at the bacjk up two spot. Gordon simply cannot hit a shot and Daye would give the defense a third 3 point shooter to worry about (T-Mac, CV) on the rotation.

  • Dec 15, 20109:06 am
    by vic

    Reply

    finally… I will give Kuester a little leeway because it did take a month or so for Greg Monroe to prove himself.
    But FINALLY, at least a month too late, at the cost of maybe about 10 wins: he made a decision that makes basketball sense, put Monroe in the starting lineup with Ben Wallace.
    Now we have a front line with defense, rebounding, length, and size. Wins will come as a result.

    The only change that remains until we get a trade or an injury or Jerebko comes back: put Daye in to backup Tayshaun. Daye is playing too well to sit on the bench the whole game. A 2nd unit with TMac, Gordon, Daye, CV, and Wilcox/Maxiell is going to give any other team’s 2nd unit LOTS of problems.

  • Dec 15, 201010:48 am
    by Mike Payne

    Reply

    @Lazer:
    When we lost to the Hawks in November, Johnson was nearly useless (14 points on 15 shots) and outperformed by Ben Gordon.  The Hawks beat us on solid games by Smith and Horford, who combined for 40 points, 19 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks while shooting 67% from the floor.  Kuester’s lineup change last night helped to reduce the advantage Atlanta has with these two players.  That’s a fair point to celebrate.  Then again, you could always just make excuses for a Pistons win… on a Pistons blog.  Super cool story bro.

  • Dec 15, 201011:36 am
    by Laser

    Reply

    @nuetes: i don’t think i caught a disagreement in that first paragraph you wrote. i’m thrilled with this starting frontcourt. if this is a reference to my account of the hawks having a decided advantage over them, i stand by my assessment. they’ve got an all-star frontcourt, and we’ve got a (still-very productive but one-dimensional) center past his prime and an unproven rookie. notice how we kept going to rip when bibby and evans were on him? it’s because that’s where our matchup advantage was. maybe atlanta took us lightly (and who wouldn’t?) but they didn’t consistently play to their advantages, and when they did, they briefly took control of the game.
     
    @feldman/payne: i said “AS A COMPLETELY SEPARATE ISSUE” played an embarrassingly sloppy game. i chose my words very carefully there so as not to confuse anyone. it probably got lost in the excitement of a long-overdue rotation shuffle, but they played one of the worst games of the season. tons of ill-timed and unforced turnovers, a bunch of ill-advised and unforced jumpers, a failure to exploit matchup advantages. don’t get me wrong: the pistons played well, well enough to beat a lot of teams, but the hawks were not a “good” team last night. they looked like the pistons usually do these days.
     
    also: i’m not even that high on johnson, but rip doesn’t come in and dominate and set the tone and get them in foul trouble with johnson on him. period. props to the pistons for exploiting the hawks’ guards, but this is a different game with joe johnson playing.
     
    i’m not trying to be overly negative here, but i call it like i see it. there’s no way the hawks could be happy with the way they played. win or lose. they stunk up the place. believe me, i’d have enough to gripe about (the fact that it took 25 games for the pistons to put out a starting lineup that made a SHRED of sense alone has me FUMING mad) without taking anything away from this win, but if you watch the game looking for what the hawks are doing wrong (and that’s how i’ve been watching pistons games lately) it was plain as day that they laid an egg. it didn’t take a good team or good effort (both of which the pistons DID exhibit last night) to beat them. that’s all. more good than bad last night, to be sure, but they didn’t beat “a good team.” they beat “a good team playing like shite.”

  • [...] Meanwhile, Detroit’s win produced some optimism in the Motor City, particularly about Charlie Villanueva’s aggressive play and the Greg [...]

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