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Chemistry between Tracy McGrady and Greg Monroe continues to grow

In a game where little of it was played, a defensive play down the stretch proved decisive in the Pistons 101-95 win over Toronto Friday.

The Pistons led by double figures most of the game, but got lazy in the final few minutes, settling for contested jumpers and even nearly getting an eight-second violation because Tracy McGrady was content to casually saunter up the court, just getting it over halfcourt as the shot clock was hitting ’16.’

That malaise, combined with Andrea Bargnani’s ability to get anything he wanted helped the Raptors pull to within five with the ball and about a minute remaining. Jose Calderon hit a cutting Amir Johnson, and just as Johnson was going up to finish, Greg Monroe stuck a hand in and just jarred the ball loose. The Pistons corralled it and Toronto was forced to foul, essentially sealing the game.

But let’s face facts: the Pistons are not a strong defensive team, and they beat Toronto because they played well on offense. That started and ended with the McGrady and Monroe combination. McGrady scored a season-high 22 points, and he assisted on three of Monroe’s six field goals. The two have great chemistry with each other, McGrady was constantly looking for Monroe on cuts and they run the pick and roll really well together. In fact, McGrady would’ve assisted on a fourth Monroe basket, but Monroe bobbled a catchable pass in good scoring position and couldn’t finish.

In the postgame interview, McGrady praised Monroe’s basketball IQ and said that he loves playing with him. There’s been a lot of debate in the comments about whether the Pistons should attempt to trade McGrady while his value is presumably high right now or instead attempt to re-sign him in the offseason.

Not that this comes as a surprise since I do a poor job of hiding my shameless McGrady fandom, but count me among the people who hope he’s back. When the Pistons signed McGrady, I saw it as a bit of a novelty. Joe Dumars taking a chance on a guy who probably won’t pan out and probably won’t get many minutes, which will probably make him unhappy. Instead, McGrady has been the brightest spot this season, other than Monroe’s development. He’s incredibly unselfish. He’s a good teammate. And unlike another veteran on the team, Tayshaun Prince, McGrady seems unflinchingly positive when it comes to praising and working with his younger teammates. He’s exactly the type of veteran presence the Pistons need around guys like Monroe, Austin Daye and, when healthy, Jonas Jerebko.

When McGrady plays well, I’m always struck with one thought: that guy seems fun to play with. To have a guy who has achieved the stardom in this league that McGrady has play as unselfishly as he does is no small thing.

And I don’t doubt for a minute that, if the Pistons come up with a competitive offer, McGrady will want to stay. The first person he praised in his interview tonight with Eli Zaret was Arnie Kander. McGrady said that Kander has him, “Really pleased about my future.” McGrady also mentioned, again, how great he feels compared to the last two years. Players who have gone through the devastating injuries McGrady has don’t take it lightly when they encounter a guy who helps as much as Kander does. A reunion next season between McGrady and the Pistons shouldn’t be out of the question and it should be something that Pistons fans are excited about building on.

The Pistons actually won a third quarter

It took a three by McGrady with :01 second left in the quarter to do it, but the Pistons out-scored the Raptors 22-20 in the third.

The coaching staff has been (fairly) maligned much of the last two seasons for the team’s consistent poor performances coming out of halftime. Against Toronto, the Pistons didn’t do anything particularly pretty in that third quarter, but they played with energy, even if shots weren’t falling. McGrady bailed them out with 10 points in the quarter and the team actually had a pretty impressive second half defensively against Toronto, holding them to 20 in the third and just 21 in the fourth. Bargnani was a killer all night (he finished with 31 points and 9 rebounds), but the Pistons did a nice job of holding everyone else in check.

Will Bynum makes a rotation cameo

Take one of the Pistons new starting lineup on Wednesday had McGrady starting at point guard and Rodney Stuckey starting at shooting guard and shifting over to play the point on the second unit. It appeared that John Kuester had settled on a three-guard rotation that featured McGrady, Stuckey and Ben Gordon.

On Friday, however, Stuckey only played 25 minutes and the backup point guard minutes went to Will Bynum. Now, Bynum’s flaws in his game are ever-present — he tends to be a risk taker, he’s turnover prone at times and he doesn’t defend well. But his quickness really bothered Toronto’s guards, he was active, didn’t turn it over and he had one beautiful assist, gliding to the basket for what looked like a layup attempt, only to whip a mid-air cross-court pass to Gordon for the three.

With Rip Hamilton logging his second straight DNP and apparently viewed right now as out of sight, out of mind, the Pistons will need some production from Bynum. McGrady has played 36 minutes in consecutive games, and as good as he’s looked, it’s unrealistic to expect him to hold up after barely playing the last two years. If Bynum can give good minutes, the Pistons will be in much better shape as they try to make their, ahem, playoff push.

Saying little, yet saying so much

The Pistons can’t be a fun team for Kuester to coach right now. Prince called him a buffoon to the media the other day, and I’m sure Prince and Hamilton are both very good at making it clear behind the scenes they aren’t fans of the direction Kuester is leading the team in.

This was a rather innocuous quote Kuester gave when asked about Monroe, but I thought it spoke volumes:

“It’s been such a breath of fresh air to coach someone who wants to continually learn.”

I think it’s easy to forget just how difficult a situation Kuester has been in with this team because of his penchant for, uh, the occasional baffling (dare I say Curry-esque?) decision. But after his latest series of rotation shufflings, I think he finally has things right. Monroe is continually rewarded for playing well with an increased role and more minutes. McGrady clearly won the point guard job, and now he’s been rewarded as the focal point of the offense. Starting Daye at power forward to begin the season was  a poor decision. Removing him from the rotation completely was also a poor decision. But he’s getting 19 minutes per game in January, playing at his natural positions on the wing, and as long as he’s giving effort on defense, he’s not meeting the same quick hook he met early in the season.

This is a long-winded way of saying that, incrementally, Kuester has improved as a coach in subtle ways as the season’s trudged on. I don’t know that it will result in more wins or a playoff appearance or if it’s even enough to prove to the organization that he should be around longer-term. But it has resulted in a team that, win or lose, is far more satisfying to watch when the players who seem to care the most and play the hardest are getting the most minutes.

21 Comments

  • Jan 14, 201110:17 pm
    by jack

    Reply

    I said After the Memphis game that i thought the guys played with good intensity and if they replicate that in games like tonight, they will be in it all night and probaly win. The Grizzlies are a very talented team with a bunch of scorers and a very good frontline. That game was a great sign.

    Also, mark my words, Tmac will be a 20-5-5 Player next season if he is given the right oportunity or be put in the right circumstances. His ability now to attack the rim and finish it off with ease is vintage pre-injury Tmac. Someone give Arnie Kinder a lifetime achivement award allready. Best trainer in the league by far.

  • Jan 14, 201110:32 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @jack:

    I’m extremely excited by what McGrady has accomplished. But I am also still cautious. How he responds tomorrow, for example, in the second game of a back-to-back after logging 36 minutes tonight and 36 on Wednesday will be the true test for him.

    He’s looked amazing. But there are still questions about how well his body can hold up.

  • Jan 14, 201110:39 pm
    by jack

    Reply

    I think he has been averaging huge minutes for the last few weeks and his knee has stoodup to the test so with  not much problem thus far. I’m not to concerned from here on. What i love about him  is he can still effect a Basketball game even if he dosent score heavily. His abilty to draw double teams or be a 6’9 floor general whio can see the floor really well is such a fantastic asset. He plays the Pick and Roll as well as anyone in the league. He must be a joy to play with because if you work hard off the ball and get free , he wont hesitate to get you the ball.

  • Jan 14, 201110:46 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    Well, he’s played 30 or more in 7 of the last 8. He’s still yet to play 30 on back-to-back nights though. He’s had one back-to-back, and he played only 25 in the second game of it. Like I said, there’s reason to be hopeful, but he needs to continue this over a more prolonged stretch to fully evaluate how important a player he can be for them if they choose to sign him next year.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Patrick Hayes. Patrick Hayes said: From @PistonPowered: Chemistry between Tracy McGrady and Greg Monroe continues to grow http://bit.ly/fNEX8H [...]

  • Jan 15, 201112:06 am
    by Rodman4Life

    Reply

    Well said Patrick.
    I think McGrady is not only still young, but wiser in that he isn’t using unnecessary energy off the ball or downcourt waiting for the ball to arrive.  It is nice that the ball is in his hands so he can dictate the tempo, because if he was off-ball, he would move far less and tire out quicker.  With the ball, he can control the pace, yet his passing is quick enough to generate a quick fast break.  He seems truly efficient on the court, it’s that playful smile that probably hides just how tired he really is!!

  • Jan 15, 201112:34 am
    by Fennis

    Reply

    Random Question:
    What will the frontline rotation look like when Jonas gets back after the All-Star break? I ask this after watching another awful (truly awful) defensive night from Charlie V. I like the guy, but his defensive instincts make me sad. I don’t think his problems can be coached away. Kuester made the right move in bringing him off the bench. I can even see him as a 10mpg microwave off of the bench on a contending team. But there is no doubt that his defense demoralizes the team. None of these guys are great defenders (although I really like Monroe’s post-D potential), but Villanueva is the only bonehead defender.
    How many minutes will he log after Jonas returns given that Monroe and Wilcox and Big Ben are ahead of him in the 4/5 rotation?

  • Jan 15, 20111:51 am
    by Laser

    Reply

    he may not be old, but by no means is tracy mcgrady “young” by NBA standards.

  • Jan 15, 20113:49 am
    by jack

    Reply

    Who said he is young?This is a guy who has hardly played in the last two years so thats less mileage then an average 31 year old.

  • Jan 15, 20114:40 am
    by Ex-Rocket-Fan

    Reply

    I’m an unabashed T-Mac fan, but I’m disturbed by some things I’m seeing in his game lately.
     
    His off the ball play and hustle, especially on defense/help defense and transition, is a huge concern.  To some degree, this has always been a weakness of his, but in the past his prolific scoring numbers covered it up.  One play that really sums up what I’ve been seeing from him in this regard is when the Pistons were getting back in transition, and a Raptor (Amir Johnson?  can’t remember) was running the wing.  T-Mac was the closest defender, but instead of picking him up, he just pointed to him, telling some other Piston to pick him up.  A second later, that streaking Raptor received a pass on the baseline and dunked.
     
    T-Mac has had several plays like this this season where he just displays an utter disdain for hustle.  I’ve seen several plays where there is a loose ball in his vicinity where he doesn’t even make an effort to retrieve it.  I’ve seen possessions where the Pistons get the ball in transition, and he never even makes it past the opponent’s free throw line, much less half court.  To make it worse, sometimes in these situations, since he never made it past half court in the first place, he’s often the first one back on transition D, backpedaling to guard the paint, only to serve as a human turnstile when the opposing team attacks him in transition for layups.
     
    As long as he is effective on offense, okay maybe this stuff will be forgotten by most.  But these little things affect the outcome of games.  He is not a consistent enough offensive force to propel the Pistons to consistent wins, so I don’t see how these deficiencies can be overlooked.
     
    As much as you can say T-Mac is unselfish based on his offensive play, you can just as easily say he is selfish and lazy based on his help D, non-hustle for loose balls, and terrible (at times) transition game.
     
    I’m a long time T-Mac nuthugger so maybe that makes me hypercritical of him, out of a desire to see him dominate (pipe dream? probably).  Compared to how he started the year, yes he IS playing well, but his play as of late has raised my expectations of him.  He needs to shore up those areas of his game mentioned above, but I’m not sure he will at this stage of his career.

  • Jan 15, 20118:41 am
    by jack

    Reply

    He has hardly been anything of those things you stated. His defense has been sharp on/off the ball and he has made a very conceret effeort to be a factor on the boards as well. His hustle plays has been very good for this team.

  • Jan 15, 20118:44 am
    by jack

    Reply

    This ex rockets fan is a hater so he puts this name as a mcgrady fan so he covers up  what is very obvious in his post. The guy hates tmac and is trying his best to make him look bad. You are not fooling anyone. I can go and post about all the players i hate but so noone suspects me i’ll say i’m a fan. Dudes motives are plain as daylight. Nice try though.lol

  • Jan 15, 20119:05 am
    by gmehl1977

    Reply

    How funny is this comment.
     
    “Hopefully by which time the MeloDrama is all but guaranteed to be over when the Nets conclude their west coast expedition against the Warriors”. from Insidehoops

     
    MeloDrama (ha ha) that is comment of the year. Luv it.

  • [...] Piston Powered In a game where little of it was played, a defensive play down the stretch proved decisive in the Pistons 101-95 win over Toronto Friday. [...]

  • Jan 15, 201110:25 am
    by Keith P

    Reply

    @Ex-Rocket Fan

    I’ll agree that Tracy’s defense has its issues, but overall I’m pretty happy with it. He’s definitely not a real quick help defender or anything like that with his limited mobility, but his quick hands make him a decent man defender.

    As far as not going for loose balls, I can’t imagine I’m the only one that thinks T-Mac is better served staying on his feet in those situations. While he’s playing well, his injury history is still there. I don’t want my aging guard, with bad knees, diving on the ground for loose balls. I have a little panic attack everytime he hits the deck after a foul as it is.

  • Jan 15, 201110:30 am
    by brgulker

    Reply

    Love your emphasis on the Kuester quote, Patrick. I think amidst all the Kuester hate, people are forgetting how difficult some of htese players have proven to be to coach going back all the way to Saunders.
     
    Furthermore, Kuester isn’t getting any credit whatsoever for Monroe’s continued development, which is puzzling, because he takes all sorts of heat whenever people perceive problems in the games of other Pistons (i.e., Ben Gordon and the ‘inconsistent minutes’ argument).

  • Jan 15, 201110:45 am
    by Jacob

    Reply

    I didn’t like the T-Mac signing at first, figured he would just cause rotation problems, but I am eating some crow now. He has been a professional all season, adjusted his game immensely from what he used be to become a facilitator and the best playmaker we have, and seems to be a great influence on the young guys – like Patrick said. I am so glad he is on this team on hope the Pistons resign him. The legend of Arnie Kander grows….may be the best in the business

  • Jan 15, 20112:01 pm
    by Ex-Rocket-Fan

    Reply

    @jack I’m not a T-Mac hater.  Ask Patrick Hayes, he’s seen my posts, he can vouch for me.  In fact, if it wasn’t for T-Mac, I wouldn’t even care about the Pistons.   :D  I know Pistons fans will hate that but it’s true, what can I say.
     
    But I admit I wrote that post still steaming from the debacle in Chicago.  To  my credit, I missed the Memphis game, but I just got finished downloading it and watching it.  In the Memphis game, T-Mac did play better in those “energy” areas (hustle plays, transition, getting to loose balls).  If I wouldn’t have missed the Memphis game maybe I would have eased up on my criticism.
     
    On the other hand, the Grizz aren’t a high energy team, and the Raptors just suck.  I’m guessing that’s what will continue to give T-Mac trouble, athletic, high energy, high intensity teams like the Bulls.
     
    On the other OTHER hand, if he can keep up the scoring barrage (I know it’s not likely, but I can dream), then it will cover up all those faults.

  • Jan 15, 20115:10 pm
    by Ryan

    Reply

    Be interesting to see how Monroe plays against Cousins tonight, looking forward to actually watching a Piston’s game for a change.

  • [...] Piston Powered In a game where little of it was played, a defensive play down the stretch proved decisive in the Pistons 101-95 win over Toronto Friday. [...]

  • Feb 1, 20113:31 am
    by VJ

    Reply

    McGrady should be complimented with a dominating big man, like a Dwight Howard perhaps, He (Howard) could anchor the defense, at the same time, He could catch all the “Lob Passes” McGrady could give…..

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