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Archive → January, 2011

Perfectly imperfect: Pistons show heart of a winner in victory over Magic

When’s the last time you felt this good about the Pistons?

In two weeks, they’ve gone from lethargic and moody to energetic and upbeat. They’re defending and rebounding. They’re hustling and grinding. They’re… winning.

With tonight’s magnificent 103-96 victory over the Magic, the Pistons have their first 5-2 stretch since December 2009 and have won back-to-back games over teams with a combined winning record for the first time all season.

The win wasn’t magnificent because the Pistons played perfectly. The win was magnificent because they put their imperfections on full display and kept coming, anyway. Detroit fans will support a loser, but it must be a loser with heart. These Pistons showed plenty of heart tonight.

  • Austin Daye struggles to defend and rebound against power forwards, but he wasn’t too discouraged to hit big shots down the stretch en route to a career-high 20 points.
  • Tayshaun Prince seems reluctant about becoming a go-to player, but when the Pistons got deep in the shot clock, they passed to him, and he delivered.
  • Tracy McGrady can’t close to leading the league, let alone a team, in scoring anymore, but he caught the Magic off guard by looking for his shot.
  • Chris Wilcox and Greg Monroe defend by fouling, but in this game, that was the perfect strategy.
  • Ben Wallace can’t handle a lot of playing time at his age, but he gave a full game’s effort in his 19 minutes.
  • Rodney Stuckey fails to consistently take advantage of smaller guards, but when Detroit’s offense petered in the third quarter, Stuckey attacked Jameer Nelson.
  • Ben Gordon takes too many bad shots, but he made enough of them tonight.
  • Will Bynum fails to make a positive impact too often, but when he does, it’s spectacular.*
  • John Kuester lacks the communication skills necessary to get a team to fully buy in, but he devised a great scheme.

*Yes, I’m still crediting him for Saturday’s win over the Suns. Tonight was just another forgettable performance for Bynum, but his fourth quarter against Phoenix was so spectacular, I don’t care.

Here’s the trick, though. When the Pistons play with this much heart, they’re no longer losers. They’re not only capable of making the playoffs, they’re likely to qualify.

Last season, the Pistons showed heart at times. The season before, they made the playoffs. If they can do both this year, that would be a major step.

Tonight, they put their best foot forward on that path.

Daye-light shines

Ryan Anderson regularly escaped Austin Daye’s defense to find open shots, and the Magic bullied Daye on the glass.

With that out of the way, Daye played awesomely.

He scored a career-high 20 points, including nine in the fourth quarter. Daye has never looked inexperienced on offense, but has never looked this savvy, either. He made what might be Detroit’s biggest shot outside the final eight minutes of a game in quite some time.

The Magic were on a 14-4 run. The Pistons had made just two shots in the previous 6:25, and that stat doesn’t fully explain how dysfunctional the Pistons’ offense had been. But after Orlando cut its deficit to four and the Pistons called a timeout, Daye buried a 3-pointer to give momentum, and ultimately the game, back to Detroit.

Daye made all four of his 3-point attempts tonight, and he’s made five in a row. That still leaves him short of the 10 straight he made earlier in the season.

As impressive as his shooting has been all season, Daye’s length makes him intriguing because it allows him minimize his shortcomings. Even when he didn’t stick with his man, he made two steals. Even when he got pushed around inside, he grabbed seven rebounds.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for the Pistons tonight.

Tayshaun Prince becomes go-to player

Tayshaun Prince had 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting – impressive numbers, without a doubt. But they don’t begin to demonstrate how well Prince scored the ball tonight.

Several times, when the shot clock was running low, the Pistons passed to Prince. That’s a pretty staunch burden for someone who spent his prime as a fourth option.

But Prince didn’t back away from his teammates treating him like Carmelo Anthony. Rather, Prince stepped up.

While the rest of the Pistons were still getting their feet under them, Prince made Detroit’s first two shots – both difficult and late in the shot clock. Those two shots probably weren’t the difference tonight, but if they missed, the vibe of the game might have been different.

Prince also made six assists and did a good job defending Hedo Turkoglu, who scored four points on 2-of-8 shooting. I would have liked to see Prince rebound a little better, but that’s a minor complaint. Overall, he played incredibly.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for the Pistons tonight.

Tracy McGrady once again shoots a lot in a Magic game

Before the game, Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel wrote, “T-Mac is essentially playing the role of a passer.” Before the game, it was true. Ben Wallace is the only Piston with a higher assist-to-shot ratio than McGrady.

But apparently McGrady had something different in mind tonight. He scored 20 points on 19 shots – more shots than he’s taken in a game in 23 months.

McGrady initially caught the Magic off guard and had room to drive the basket and take jumpers without much defensive pressure. But he should have shifted from attack mode sooner. He missed five of his last six shots.

Still, It’s hard not to like a guy who spits in the face of his shortcomings so blatantly. For a night, McGrady convinced himself he’s still an elite scorer.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for the Pistons tonight.

John Kuester’s brilliant defensive strategy

I’m not sure anyone coaches spacing better than Stan Van Gundy. When the Magic run a pick-and-roll, it’s very difficult to stop, because help defenders must come from so far. When Orlando is executing its scheme at peak levels, only elite defenses like the Celtics’ and the Bulls’ have a chance at stopping it.

The Pistons, frankly, don’t have the personnel to defend like that.

So, John Kuester implemented a brilliant plan to stop Orlando. Two elements of the Pistons’ defensive strategy stood out.

1. The Pistons weren’t afraid to foul inside.

This element of the plan was easy enough, considering Chris Wilcox and Greg Monroe foul a lot already. When you consider the Magic rank 29th in free-throw percentage (73.7 percent), the benefits are clear. Plus, Ben Wallace, Austin Daye and Jason Maxiell off the bench gave Detroit cover to use its fouls.

Orlando made just 23-of-34 free throws (67.6 percent) tonight.

But the strategy had an under-the-radar benefit that impacted the game even more in the Pistons’ favor.

When the Magic shoot at least 34 free throws, they’re 3-5. That might be an aberration, but I don’t think it is.

By frequently fouling, the Pistons disrupted the flow of the game. The Magic, whose offense is predicated on making 3-pointers, didn’t get into a rhythm until the fourth quarter, and I think the frequents stops played into that.

In their eight games taking at least 34 free throws, they’re 60-for-183 on 3-pointers (24.7 percent), including 7-of-27 (20.6 percent) tonight.

2. The Pistons gave up mid-range jumpers to secure offensive rebounds

The Magic entered the game 17-5 when they grab more than 25.2 percent of available rebounds (their season total).

Aside from back-to-back tip attempts by Dwight Howard early in the first quarter, the Magic didn’t have a single offensive rebound in the first half. Detroit grabbed 13 defensive rebounds in the first half.

The Pistons controlled the defensive glass because they often sagged off mid-range shooters in order to rebound. The Magic made 58.3 percent of their midrange shots, but that sacrifice was worth it for Detroit. Orlando is comfortable scoring by feeding Dwight Howard inside or allowing everyone else to shoot from the outside. The Pistons made the weakness of their defense match the weakness of the Magic’s offense.

Kuester outcoached Van Gundy, who’s one of the NBA’s better coaches, and he deserves a lot of credit for this win.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for the Pistons tonight.

Ben Gordon’s question shot selection

I groaned before nearly all of Ben Gordon’s 13 shots. He was the anti-Tayshaun Prince. Gordon often forced a shot early in the shot clock. When he shot late in the clock, it was because he held the ball too long.

But Gordon still made six shots and scored 16 points.

Games like this are why Joe Dumars signed him and why Gordon still has potential. Gordon takes a lot of bad shots, but he makes a lot of them.

Can you imagine how efficiently Gordon could score if he took better shots?

He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for the Pistons tonight.

Greg Monroe starts at center

All the dissenting commenters to my post advocating for Ben Wallace to start over Greg Monroe got their wish. It appears Monroe is the staring center, and Wallace will come off the bench.

A big concern of mine was how Wallace would play after sitting on the bench for an extended period of time. Could he get loose when he didn’t just go through warmups? The early returns are promising. Wallace grabbed 11 rebounds in 19 minutes.

Monroe looked fine, too, but when his primary task is guarding Dwight Howard one-on-one, tonight isn’t the game to judge him.

Monroe and Wallace played 6:06 together late in the first quarter and into the second quarter. In the second half, their minutes were mutually exclusive.

I’m going to continue monitoring the center rotation. I don’t think there’s another starting job more up for grabs right now. Wallace and Monroe continue to make near-equal claims for the job.

They weren’t perfect, but they were perfect for the Pistons tonight.

Will Bynum struggles

Two days after rescuing the Pistons against the Suns, Will Bynum shot 0-for-7. I think this has become his M.O. – several subpar games followed by one where he puts the Pistons on his back late.

For a low-paid backup, that’s probably worth it.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for the Pistons on Saturday.

New play

At Georgetown, Greg Monroe made use of his passing ability by operating out of the high post. The Pistons have plenty of perimeter players and not enough in-the-paint players, so they haven’t use Monroe in the high post.

But they’ve added a play recently that takes advantage of Monroe’s passing ability.

Monroe sets a screen on the perimeter and rolls to the basket. He’s become adept at rolling hard, so he often draws a help defender. The ball-handler, often Tracy McGrady, passes to Monroe, who evaluates whether the help defender has reached him in time. If he hasn’t, Monroe shoots a layup. If he has, Monroe makes the extra pass to a cutting Piston, whose man left to help on Monroe. That player, often Chris Wilcox, is usually in good position for a layup or a dunk.

Eventually, defense will adjust to stop it, but it’s a nice wrinkle, and I like it a lot.

It wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for the Pistons last night.

Whichever Piston starts at center, Dwight Howard will be a handful

Essentials

Teams: Detroit Pistons at Orlando Magic

Date: Jan. 24, 2011

Time: 7 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

Pistons: 16-28

Magic: 29-15

Probable starters

Pistons:

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Jason Richardson
  • Hedo Turkoglu
  • Brandon Bass
  • Dwight Howard

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +12

Over/under: 192

Score: Magic win, 102-90

Three things to watch

1. Who will start at center?

I’m intrigued whether Ben Wallace or Greg Monroe will start at center tonight. Earlier in the day, I explained why Wallace should get the nod.

2. Pistons’ fatigue

Before the season, I wrote of tonight’s game:

Third game in three cities in four nights + playing premier team = loss.

That still sounds right, but with the Pistons’ recent resiliency, they have a chance. If Detroit competes to the end, tonight will be encouraging.

3. Containing Dwight Howard

OK, I guess should add one new thought for this post. Historically, the Pistons have defended Dwight Howard’s Magic better than any team. Detroit’s luck might fully run out tonight if it hasn’t already. Howard was just named the Eastern Conference player of the Week for averaging 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per game.

Pregame Reading

Chris Iott: Pistons nearly traded Richard Hamilton for Peja Stojakovic

Chris Iott of MLive.com:

Last summer, according to a source, the Pistons were involved in serious talks with two teams about a deal that would have brought forward Peja Stojakovic and his expiring contract from New Orleans to Detroit and would have sent Hamilton to a third team.

I don’t know Iott’s source, but considering Iott covers the Pistons, I’m guessing it’s someone from the Pistons. That should make you skeptical. The Pistons have a motive to increase Hamilton’s value, and launching rumors about Hamilton trades could do that. The Pistons don’t necessarily have a motive to tell the truth to the media.

Also, why was no third team named? Did the source want to protect that team, or did the Pistons and Hornets never find a third team? Considering the source revealed the Hornets, I consider the former unlikely. That means it’s likely New Orleans and Detroit couldn’t find a third team.

So, the Hornets wanted to get rid of Stojakovic, whom the Pistons were willing to take and whom New Orleans later traded to the Raptors. And the Pistons wanted to trade Hamilton, whom apparently nobody wanted even then.

Don’t believe everything you hear – and even if you do, don’t believe it necessarily provides any new information.

Ben Wallace should start over Greg Monroe at center for Detroit Pistons

Before the Pistons’ win over the Suns on Saturday, Ben Wallace hadn’t come off the bench since March of last year. Before that, he hadn’t come off the bench since April of 2009. In fact, Wallace never came off the bench with the Magic, in his first stint with the Pistons or with the Bulls – a 10-year stretch.

But for the first time since he was a Wizard in the 1990s, Wallace faces the prospect of becoming a regular bench player.

Wallace missed seven games with an ankle injury before playing against Phoenix, but Detroit’s game against the Magic tonight will be the true test of his role.

A Piston entrenched in the starting lineup has been injured twice this season. Both times, after missing games, he came off the bench until demonstrating he was completely healthy.*

*When Richard Hamilton missed two games with a sore foot, he came off the bench against the Bobcats before returning to the starting lineup. When Rodney Stuckey  missed two games with a sore foot, he came off the bench against the Jazz and Lakers before returning to the starting lineup.

With seven rebounds and strong defense down the stretch against the Suns, Wallace proved he’s healthy.

So will Wallace take his starting position back from Greg Monroe, who has played very well lately? Let’s look at the key considerations and decide who deserves to start.

Defense

Ben Wallace, one of the NBA’s all-time best defenders, has slipped to only above average at 36. In his rookie season, Greg Monroe has climbed to above average. At this crossroads in their careers, the difference between them defensively is minimal.

After reviewing their defense on Synergy, two areas stand out – isolation and pick-and-roll.

Wallace allows .52 points per possession on isolation plays (10th in the NBA), and Monroe allows .95 points per possession (196th in the NBA) on such plays. The difference comes largely because Wallace better understands how to position himself and uses his quick hands to generate stops.

Monroe could be bridging that gap, though. He’s averaging two steals in his last 10 games, and many of them have come on-the-ball.

As far as guarding the screener on pick-and-rolls, Monroe allows .96 points per possession when (29th in the NBA), and Wallace allows 1.12 points per possession (40th in the NBA). Monroe is a bit more agile and capable of hedging then falling back.

The information Synergy makes available to me tracks only on-ball defense. I think Wallace gets an edge with help defense, but his defense has probably fallen off more in that regard than any other. As Monroe learns to read plays, he’ll catch up.

Wallace’s defense has slipped considerably, even from last season. But that change is more pronounced late in games. So, when it comes to defense, Wallace would benefit from starting – and by extension, so would the Pistons.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Rebounding

Ben Wallace leads the Pistons with a 16.8 rebounding percentage, and Greg Monroe ranks third at 15.9 – a negligible difference. Neither is a tremendous leaper at this point, and both use great positioning to grab boards. For the most part, each will grab the same rebounds the other would, but Wallace holds the edge this season.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Offense

Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe are both limited offensive players. Both take about two-thirds their shots at the rim and 90 percent inside 10 feet, according to HoopData.

Wallace sets better screens, but Monroe has closed the gap since struggling to set picks during the summer league.

Monroe entered the league with the reputation as a good passer for a big man, but he’s rightly focused on defense and rebounding and hasn’t displayed that renowned passing ability. Wallace passes well right now. As the Pistons move from their isolation-heavy offense, this skill is becoming more relevant.

What separates the two is their ability to make shots, an area where Monroe has improved by leaps and bounds. Monroe, whose season field-goal percentage is marked in blue, has passed Wallace’s field-goal percentage, marked in red.


Edge: Greg Monroe

Fit with other starters

Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe, for the most part, are similar players. Their primary roles are to defend and rebound. The Pistons could stick either next to Chris Wilcox and Tayshaun Prince and expect similar results.

The difference comes when it relates to the guards.

Monroe and Tracy McGrady have developed a nice chemistry, and Monroe helps McGrady run the pick-and-roll, using his good hands to catch passes on rolls to the basket.

If Wallace, not exactly an offensive threat, tried to fill that role, defenses would trap McGrady. As we’ve seen, he’s susceptible to turnovers when defenses aggressively trap him.

Plus, Monroe benefits from Rodney Stuckey, who passes well for a shooting guard. Wallace can’t take as much advantage of Stuckey’s dumpoffs as Monroe could.

In addition, Wallace, the better screener, would help free lanes for backup point guard Will Bynum to drive to the basket.

Edge: Greg Monroe

Minute distribution

Greg Monroe has worked his butt off since entering the rotation. The Pistons can plug him in at anytime and expect maximum effort and performance. The same probably can’t be said of Ben Wallace.

That’s not because Wallace isn’t committed to giving his all. It’s because, at 36, he likely can’t – and John Kuester knows it.

Ben Wallace has started all 37 of his games this season, and he’s started the second half in 36 of them. He’s re-entered the game in the first half in only 43 percent of them and re-entered in the second half in only 27 percent of games.

I’d say there’s a good chance Wallace gets tight while sitting on the bench. If that’s not case, the Pistons are playing him at awfully strange times.

So, it makes sense to play Wallace immediately after pregame and halftimes warmups.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Stature

Ben Wallace hasn’t actively led the Pistons this year. I think his message to the Pistons’ younger players – which, relative to Wallace, is everyone – has basically been, “I’ve been around the block. I’ve seen this already. It’s your turn to figure it out for yourselves. If you actively seek my advice, I’ll help you. If not, you’re on your own. I’m not leading this team. It’s your turn.”

It’s in the Pistons best interest for as many young players as possible to seek Wallace’s advice. If he becomes a bench player, his wisdom won’t shrink. But his respect in the locker room might.

I doubt anyone is running to Richard Hamilton right now for lessons. By starting Greg Monroe, the Pistons risk marginalizing Wallace’s impact on young players.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Development

The Pistons aren’t playing just for this year, even if that’s the primary consideration. The previous sections have analyzed only the present. But what about the future?

Ben Wallace likely will play only one more season, if there is a season. Greg Monroe, if all goes to plan, will be a Piston for many years to come.

So which starter would provide greater benefit to Monroe’s development?

On an obvious level, giving Monroe more experience would benefit him. But there’s no reason Monroe can’t play a lot while coming off the bench. And I think the benefits of playing him provide instant gratification more than long-term positives.

When John Kuester sat Monroe for the Pistons first two games, the rookie got hungry. The lack of hustle, defense and rebounding Monroe showed in the preseason disappeared. All of a sudden, he chased after every loose ball. He learned how to handle adversity and how to compete.

If the Pistons force-feed Monroe a starting job, he might become a better player next season than he would otherwise. But if they make him earn a starting job beyond any doubt, he might become better equipped to help the Pistons during the adversity of a championship run in five years.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Verdict

The difference between each player’s case is razor thin, and in all honesty, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference. Excluding the game against the Bulls, when Wallace injured himself during the tipoff, the two have split minutes fairly equally in game where both played.

Ben Wallace’s minutes are blue, and Greg Monroe’s are red.


I won’t criticize John Kuester for starting either player.But I began this post trying to determine the Pistons’ best course of action, so I’ll give my recommendation.

Ben Wallace should start.

His apparent need to play shortly after warming up, and to a lesser degree, retaining his respect on the team, outweigh the other considerations.

Monroe would likely still play in crunch time, putting the player who best fits with the other starters on the floor when it counts. Plus, he’ll still have a goal to work toward.

We should know tonight whether John Kuester agrees.

 

Richard Hamilton felt offended by John Kuester’s attempt to reach out

Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press:

Hamilton told the Free Press on Sunday morning that Kuester’s attempt to reach out to him consisted of Jerry Hendon, the team’s security head, coming to him a minute before the team was meeting to go over strategy for Saturday’s game with Phoenix to tell him Kuester wanted to talk to him.

"I felt offended that he sent Jerry instead of coming himself or sending an assistant coach," Hamilton said. "I could tell Jerry was uncomfortable and I said no."

If Richard Hamilton would have been OK with John Kuester sending an assistant coach to break the ice, I don’t understand why he’d be offended by Kuester sending Hendon. That part seems pretty inconsequential.

Hamilton should be offended Kuester didn’t try to talk to him sooner – and I suspect that, not the coach’s choice in intermediary, is the actual reason for offense.

Detroit Free Press writer Vince Ellis on shedding Tayshaun Prince, trading Richard Hamilton, re-signing Tracy McGrady and selling the Detroit Pistons

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press chatted with readers Friday, and he provided insight on a number of issues.

Shedding Tayshaun Prince

If Tayshaun is allowed to expire, will Detroit make him an offer this summer? If so, what might it look like?

Vince: Very doubtful on both sides.

Vince: Pistons have a replacement for Tayshaun. And look at their needs. Frontcourt help, they have to give Stuck a raise and they want to keep T-Mac around. And without trading Rip, cap space will be limited. And you got to figure the new CBA will make things even harder

I wonder if Ellis has first-hand knowledge of the Pistons’ intentions for Tayshaun Prince, is basing his prediction on Detroit’s apparent path or both.

From what we’ve seen this season, merging the past and future creates a difficult situation. So, it would make sense for the Pistons to let Prince walk if he’s still with the team past the trade deadline (although, if that’s the plan, trading Prince before the deadline makes more sense).

It seems possible Detroit would allow Prince to leave for nothing in the summer, too. Joe Dumars has not been shy about letting key players leave through free agency. Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess all signed elsewhere once their cost passed what would have been wise for Detroit to spend.

On the other hand, those three were all older when Dumars let them leave than Prince will be this summer. Plus, Prince has made it this far with the Pistons, and he’s the only key member of the contending teams Dumars drafted. It’s safe to say Dumars feels fondly about Prince.

Trading Richard Hamilton

What are the rumors on trading Rip? If Joe D is going to make a deal, it needs to be soon.

Vince: No rumors now except the Pistons would like to deal Rip. Read today’s column for possible landing spots but it’s pure speculation.

So much for the Timberwolves. Kaaaaahn!!!!!

Re-signing Tracy McGrady

What are the chances of Joe Dumars signing Tracy Mcgrady long term? I think he can take us back the promise land, big surprise this year

Vince: The chances are good. Dumars has always liked T-Mac and T-Mac likes it here. He isn’t a ring chaser so he’s looking for a place where he’s comfortable.

I think there are a few reasons the Pistons are more likely to re-sign Tracy McGrady than most people think:

Selling the Pistons

What’s the latest you are hearing on the Piston’s sale? Is there any end in sight to the year-long limbo this sale has become?

Vince: Not at liberty to say, but I get the feeling process is close to an end. But until we get official word or a signed agreement you have to be careful. This process has had many turns.

Vince: Gores is in a 30-day negotiating window with Karen Davidson. That sounds like final negotiations to me.

Does Ellis know something? Or his he just basing his feeling on Gores holding an exclusive 30-day negotiating window. Remember, Mike Ilitch also held an exclusive 30-day negotiating window.

Detroit Pistons 2010-11 composite midseason grades

Individual grades

Seven people graded the Pistons for major outlets:

The highest grade for each player is green, and the lowest grade for each player is red.

Player D.F. P.H. B.P. K.S. M.P. C.I. J.R. Avg.
Greg Monroe A A A B A- B+ B+ A-
Tracy McGrady A- A B+ B A B+ A- A-
Chris Wilcox B- B B- A A C B B
Tayshaun Prince B B B- B- C+ B+ B B
Rodney Stuckey C B B B+ B C+ B B-
Charlie Villanueva C B C+ B- B- C+ B- B-
Ben Wallace B- B B- C+ B- C C+ B-
Austin Daye C+ B- C- C C C+ B C+
John Kuester B C+ C D+ D+ C- C C
Ben Gordon D F C D+ C- D+ C D+
Will Bynum D C- D+ D D D+ D+ D+
Jason Maxiell D- F D C C D+ D D
Richard Hamilton F F D+ F D D+ C- D-
DaJuan Summers F Inc. D Inc. D- Inc. Inc. D-
Jonas Jerebko Inc. Inc. Inc. Inc. SH* Inc. Inc. Inc.
Terrico White Inc. Inc. Inc. Inc. SH* Inc. Inc. Inc.

*Superhuman

Team grade

Dan Feldman of PistonPowered: D-

They never would have been great, but the Pistons spent way too much of this season griping, playing softly and sleepwalking through games. Overall, this hasn’t been a likable team. If it weren’t fortheir recent Sustained Success putting me in a good mood, I would have given them an ‘F.’

Patrick Hayes of PistonPowered: D+

Again, I’m probably forgetting too much of the horrible, sluggish play early in the season. Based on record, the Pistons probably deserve an ‘F.’ But I also feel like they’ve found a mix of players that will keep them competitive the rest of the way and with Monroe and Daye getting consistent minutes, along with McGrady in a primary role, they are putting guys on the court who are legitimately interesting to watch for different reasons.

Britt Robson of Sports Illustrated: C

Let the rebuilding begin in earnest, because it is just as certain after 42 games as it was back in October that even if the current roster overachieves, Detroit still isn’t going to be anything more than first-round fodder for the Celtics or the Heat. Losing Jonas Jerebko in the preseason was a rough blow to that rebuilding process, but over the past couple of weeks it has been good to see John Kuester’s belatedly giving big minutes to rookie center Greg Monroe and finding more time for second-year forward Austin Daye. Kuester has also stopped using veteran shooting guard Richard Hamilton, whom the coach insists was benched as part of a rotation change, not to keep him healthy before a possible trade.

Charley Rosen of Fox Sports: C+

The dullest, most agitated team in the NBA is still playing a notch above expectations.

NBA Facts & Rumors: C-

The Pistons have been a tough team to figure out halfway through. Some nights, they look like a legitimate playoff team. Other nights, you fear for another Malace at the Palace but this one coming only between the Pistons.

Coach John Kuester is on the verge of losing his team and with trade rumors hanging over the heads of their core players, the Pistons haven’t been able to fully commit to a rebuilding youth movement. You can’t say the Pistons have disappointed anyone in the first half because there really weren’t expectations, but they’ve played some ugly basketball to this point.

Steve Aschburner on NBA.com: D+

Halfway through the season, Kuester still is searching through the parts bin to find the right mix of players for his starting lineup and rotation. It would be one thing to faze out the holdovers from recent Pistons glory days — Hamilton, Prince — in a full-scale youth movement, but T-Mac has played a bigger role lately.

It is a statement on the East, rather than a credit to the Pistons, that they are within 2 1/2 games out of the eighth playoff spot. We’ll assume that Kuester and the front office are sharp enough not to fall for that fool’s gold. They need to force-feed the youngsters and stay focused on the future, which — harsh as it might sound — ought to include a bare minimum of the fellows currently employed.

Average: C-

Doroit Pistons logo bears a striking resemblance to Winnie the Pooh

My aunt once found a Michigan State Wolverines sweatshirt, but I think this takes the cake. Jason Miklian took this photo Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, for Deadspin:

Will Bynum and Pistons’ bench propel team to comeback win over Phoenix

Will Bynum has been my favorite Piston for most of the last three seasons.

It’s not because I think he’s underrated or deserves a larger role than his current one. But he’s always extremely entertaining. Admit it … even when he makes horrible plays, he usually makes them spectacularly. Rather than just list the things I enjoy about watching him, I’ll just point to Saturday’s fourth quarter in the Pistons’ 75-74 win over Phoenix. It had a bit of everything that is great about Bynum.

First of all, through three quarters, describing the Pistons as listless would be generous. They honestly looked worse most of tonight than they did last night vs. New Jersey, and I thought that was their worst game of the season. Then, Bynum came in in the fourth quarter and scored all 12 of his points (and didn’t miss a shot in the quarter), he didn’t turn the ball over and, more importantly, his quickness keyed a strong defensive quarter that allowed Detroit to overcome a 15-point deficit.

Bynum had great ball denials on two consecutive Phoenix inbound attempts late in the game. The Suns clearly wanted to get the ball to Steve Nash down three with less than :10 seconds to play, and Bynum just wouldn’t let him get free (unfortunately, a boneheaded foul during a deadball by Rodney Stuckey on the second inbound attempt negated Bynum’s good defensive play).

Bynum was all over the court, even where he wasn’t supposed to be. He snuck into a Phoenix huddle during a deadball. He’s short, he can get away with that.

Even his postgame interviews are fun. Eli Zaret asked him if he was "feeling good" about his spot in the rotation after this recent solid production off the bench: "Nah man! I’m not feeling good!," Bynum said with a big smile, noting that he understands that he has to keep fighting for any minutes he gets.

The Pistons played as ugly as it gets, but the team defended well enough and Bynum, Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince hit enough shots in the fourth quarter to steal one from a Phoenix team that fell asleep.

Prince’s big play

With Bynum at the line and about :11 seconds to go, he missed the second free throw that would’ve put the Pistons up three. Prince snuck in between Grant Hill and Marcin Gortat to get the rebound and get fouled on the play by Gortat.

Now, Prince split at the line as well when he could’ve put the Pistons up four, but that extra point he earned at the line turned out to be a valuable one, since the Pistons gave up a three to Channing Frye on the final play that cut the deficit to one. If Prince didn’t make that play, there would’ve been a much better chance for Phoenix to tie or take the lead.

Stuckey the shooting guard hits a snag

Stuckey had three fantastic games shooting the ball shortly after moving over to the shooting guard spot for the Pistons, and many fans, including myself, were very encouraged and felt he finally found the natural position he’s most comfortable playing.

As it turns out, he might be just as inconsistent at shooting guard as he was at point guard. He’s followed up those three great games with three horrid ones. He shot 5-for-14 vs. Boston, 3-for-12 against New Jersey and 3-for-15 against Phoenix. Only three of those attempts against Phoenix came outside of 18 feet. There’s just no excuse for Stuckey to shoot that poorly over a prolonged stretch anymore.

The new defensive stoppers

Ben Wallace returned to the lineup, coming off the bench against the Suns. His stats weren’t overwhelming — 7 rebounds, a steal and a block in about 23 minutes — but Wallace unsurprisingly was a catalyst for that defensive effort. More surprising was who the other players on the court were when the Pistons put together that fantastic defensive fourth. Noted stoppers Bynum, Ben Gordon and Daye joined Prince and Wallace.

Gordon and Bynum did a nice job keeping the Phoenix guards in front of them and the length of Daye and Prince allowed the Pistons to quickly close out on shooters. The Suns were just 2-for-9 from 3-point range in the fourth and 5-for-19 overall in the quarter.

The Pistons’ tour of Lopez brothers continues tonight vs. Phoenix

Essentials

Teams: Detroit Pistons vs. Phoenix Suns

Date: Jan. 22, 2011

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

Pistons: 15-28

Suns: 20-21

Probable starters

Pistons:

Suns:

  • Steve Nash
  • Vince Carter
  • Grant Hill
  • Channing Frye
  • Robin Lopez

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons -1.5

Over/under: 206.5

Score: Pistons win, 104-102.5

Three things to watch

1. To scrap or not to scrap?

A distinct pattern this season for the Pistons has been the constant changing of the lineup and rotation. After McGrady was inserted as the starting point guard and Stuckey moved to shooting guard, the Pistons put together their first stretch of cohesive play of the season. Until last night. The Pistons played arguably their worst game of the season against a very poor Nets team. Although predicting John Kuester‘s moves is no easy task, he’s pretty reliably changed things for the sake of change this season, so if the Pistons perform poorly against Phoenix, it wouldn’t be a shock to see yet another lineup shakeup.

2. Monroe vs. a soft Phoenix frontline

Monroe has played several really nice games for the Pistons lately, but he’s yet to have a breakout moment where he completely takes over a game and is dominant. Phoenix would be a good opportunity for that to happen, considering the Suns don’t have that imposing of a frontline with Lopez, Frye, Hakim Warrick and Marcin Gortat as their rotation bigs. Monroe is sure to find himself with some matchup advantages, and it would be nice to see the Pistons go to him a lot early.

3. It’s Mentoring Night

Tonight is mentoring night at the Palace. Here’s friend of this (and every other Pistons blog) Ben Gulker to sum up what that means:

Throughout the evening, mentoring will be featured at The Palace and (hopefully) during the game as well. In addition, the Pistons have made discounted tickets available via this link (and this link only!). Further, the Pistons will donate $5 to Mentor Michigan for each ticket that is sold through this promotion, 100% of which will be granted to local mentoring programs throughout the state. When purchasing tickets, please use the keyword “mentor“.

It goes without saying that this is an incredible opportunity for youth mentoring. All of us involved are incredibly grateful that the Pistons have partnered with us to raise awareness about the importance of mentoring for Michigan’s youth, and we’re confident it will be a very special evening for all who attend.

Shameless Request: If you (or others you know!) are planning on attending another Pistons game this year, please take a moment to consider if you could make it this one.

So there you have it. If you’re around the Auburn Hills area and have nothing to do, why not take in a Pistons game and support a good cause?

Pregame Reading