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Chevette to Corvette No. 59: 2010-11 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 30-52
  • Pythagorean record: 31-51
  • Offensive rating: 107.7 (15th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 111.7 (28th of 30)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: John Kuester

Leaders

Top player

Greg Monroe

On a team that had veteran players who had played key roles on a championship team (Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace) as well as a former perennial All-Star (Tracy McGrady), it’s a bit strange to say that the team’s most mature player was a rookie who didn’t even turn 21 until after the season ended.

Calling Monroe, the team’s first lottery pick since 2003, a bright spot, does him a disservice. At times, he was the only thing about this team that was watchable. He’s possibly the only player who was on the active roster who would’ve fit in and contributed on the hard-nosed, intelligent, tough championship teams in 1989, 1990 and 2004. Monroe’s final season stats aren’t eye-popping, which is part of the reason he didn’t get the league-wide attention he deserved. But he continuously improved as the season progressed and after the All-Star break, he was arguable the best non-Blake Griffin rookie in the league. Dan Feldman already laid out the many on-court accomplishments of Monroe:

If I wanted to discuss Monroe’s worthiness, I could tell you no rookie since Chris Webber in 1994 scored more points per game on a higher shooting percentage.

I could tell you, as originally noted by Mike Payne of Detroit Bad Boys, no starting-level rookie big man has ever posted such a low turnover percentage.

I could tell you no starter-level rookie since Reggie Evans in 2003 has grabbed a higher percentage of available offensive rebounds.

But, the very reason Monroe was snubbed by voters — the subtle, selfless and quietly efficient way he plays — is exactly why he would’ve fit in so seamlessly with those great Pistons teams of the past. Here was what I wrote after Monroe was jobbed in the Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie Team voting:

The thing that hurts Monroe when it comes to awards voting is the same thing that made him such a solid player for Detroit this season: subtlety. Watching the Pistons, it was pretty common, especially in the second half of the season, to glance at the box score in the third quarter or so and say, “Wow … Monroe has 12 points and 10 rebounds already?” He’s not particularly explosive or athletic. He scored points by taking good shots, by crashing the offensive glass and by using craftiness around the basket to make up for his lack of athleticism. He’s a throwback player to the earlier 2000s Detroit teams — selfless, hard-working, smart and largely anonymous outside of Detroit. Monroe’s advanced stats clearly make him one of the five best rookies in the league this year. Monroe was also hurt by the fact that the Pistons were not just bad this season, they were unwatchable, perhaps the most boring and predictable team in the NBA to watch on a night-to-night basis. That doesn’t change the fact that Monroe was absolutely Detroit’s best player this season when you factor in production, attitude and upside.

Those are all great reasons to be hopeful for Monroe’s future as a player. But his rookie year also showed that he has great promise as a leader. Veteran players this year were benched for not listening to the coach in-game, they verbally castrated the coach in front of the team, they openly mocked his shortcomings to the media and a few even skipped a shootaround as a sign of protest. In that backdrop of major turmoil, there was Monroe, quietly taking that same embattled coach’s advice to focus on rebounding and defense if he wanted to earn minutes and doing just that after having an up and down preseason that resulted in two straight DNP-CDs to start his career. More importantly, the negativity and competing agendas in the locker room didn’t seem to phase Monroe, even as a young, impressionable player. Here’s what he told Matt Watson after the season:

When asked whether it was difficult to play through all of last year’s drama, Monroe essentially confirmed the need for more focused teammates.

“Nah, because [the problems] never had anything to do with me, they had to do with my teammates. I don’t want to sound selfish, but I just tried to focus on what I had to do to help the team win,” he said.

The Pistons don’t have the roster or salary flexibility for a quick turnaround, but they have at least one young player who embodies the principles that made the franchise great, and that’s no small thing considering the season they just had.

Key transaction

Drafted Greg Monroe

Yeah, Monroe was the best player and easily the key transaction. But I’ve covered his merits above. So we’ll do the runner-up key transaction here.

Signed Tracy McGrady to veteran’s minimum deal for one year

McGrady doesn’t figure to be a part of Detroit’s long-term plans and with the team only winning 30 games, it’s not like he was a difference maker. But, because the pending sale of the team made adding salary via the mid-level exception out of the question, taking a flyer on a once-great veteran like McGrady was about the only type of move Joe Dumars could make in the offseason.

But, from the standpoint of being a fan of McGrady finding a way to extend his career, he had a fantastic season. He showed unselfishness that is sometimes rare in alpha-dog superstars who have always been relied on to score a lot of points. He showed versatility, playing both wing spots and proving to be the Pistons’ best halfcourt playmaker at the point guard position. He even improved defensively, as noted by Mike Payne early on in the season:

Warning– stat nerdery.  If you have access to Synergy, take a look at McGrady’s defensive stats.  On 49 defensive possessions so far this season, Tracy is holding his man to 29.7% shooting.  That makes him the 13th best defender in the league so far this season– regardless of position.

McGrady’s defense held up, too. For the season, opposing players shot 36 percent with McGrady defending them. He also developed fantastic chemistry with Monroe, which made them really fun to watch when they were on the court together. McGrady’s play was a surprise, and if it were not for his involvement in the Philly shootaround incident, I daresay he could’ve even been called a full-on bright spot this season.

Trend watch

Will Pistons match 1990s mark of three straight seasons without a playoff appearance?

When Chuck Daly took over the Pistons in 1983, the team began a run of nine straight playoff appearances. Then Daly left, the roster aged really quickly, Jordan’s Bulls ascended and the team made questionable moves (particularly trading Dennis Rodman for Sean Elliott) that compounded the problems. The team hit bottom and went three straight seasons without making the playoffs.

It’s hard not to see the parallels between that version of the Pistons and this one. And maybe Joe Dumars’ involvement as a player in the first doomed him to repeat some mistakes of the past. But after eight straight playoff appearances, a clumsy rebuilding on the fly attempt and two straight playoffs-less season, the Pistons could tie that 1990s streak unless young players on the roster quickly and significantly improve or the Pistons somehow pull off a heist in a trade.

Why this season ranks No. 59

Covering the entire season for PistonPowered, I’m sure no one is interested in more debate on whose to blame in the failed coach-players relationship, whether or not Dumars should be fired for allowing the roster to become the mess that it is and just how much the sale of the team actually impacted the on-court performance this season. I daresay those topics have been beaten into the ground.

Instead, this season ranks No. 59 because it was depressing watching key members of a championship team be a part of the mess. Prince and Hamilton, in particular, seemed to be the unhappiest Pistons this season. Both let those frustrations boil over publicly. Both were absolutely ill-equipped to deal with being on a young team not talented enough to be considered close to a contender. It was sad watching that because both guys have meant so much to the organization, because both provided signature moments during the fantastic run the team had from 2003-2008.

It has been suggested that the Pistons would’ve been better off trading Prince and/or Hamilton well before this season, when their values were much higher and while the team was still a playoff contender. And after how things played out, it’s hard to argue the opposite. But I think I found an answer to the question of why, even after losing the team’s two best players, Billups and Ben Wallace, deals involving Prince and Hamilton never happened over the years when reading Halberstam’s Breaks of the Game. Halberstam talks about the Portland Trail Blazers holding on to key players that won a title as compliments to Bill Walton even after Walton had gone:

“He (Portland GM Stu Inman) was in the process now of creating a team without Walton. The Walton team was dead. Its demise was hard to accept because it had been so brilliant. It had been the kind of team professional basketball men spent their entire lives dreaming about, wanting only to have a small share of it. Yet it had actually come together in Portland, in no small part because of his (Inman’s) handiwork; he had seen the different pieces before they were even pieces, and it was difficult to realize that a team as fine and young as that could be gone just as quickly as it had come together. Many of the people connected to it, including the fans, were still living in the past, waiting for the magic to strike again. (Coach Jack) Ramsay was a little that way. He still looked at (Maurice) Lucas and (Lionell) Hollins and (Bobby) Gross and thought of the past and the good days. Sometimes, a few of his players thought he coached as if Walton were still there. Some of the younger players wondered why he had not come down harder on Lucas and why he seemed so tolerant of Hollins. Some of them thought he was physically afraid of Luke. The truth was different. Ramsay was tolerant of Lucas and Hollins because they had been part of that championship team, and part of that moment. He was not alone; some of the players themselves, Lucas, Hollins and Gross especially, were still in a way rooted in the past, waiting for things to happen that would never happen again.”

This Pistons team doesn’t exactly mirror that Portland team, but that description of Portland’s downfall is as close to a perfect description of what has happened to the Pistons over the last few years as anything I’ve ever read.

Previously

63. 1979-80 Detroit Pistons

62. 1993-94 Detroit Pistons

61. 1963-64 Detroit Pistons

60. 1965-66 Detroit Pistons

11 Comments

  • Sep 19, 201110:07 am
    by neutes

    Reply

    I’m surprised you guys went with 10-11 as being worse than 09-10. Or even 08-09. While they had the in-fighting and Kuester was essentially a lame duck coach I don’t think the expectations were ever much different. I feel like 10-11 was the culmination of two straight years of terrible decisions and was entirely predictable from the outset. Jerebko tearing his Achilles though…Disappointment level: 5

    08-09 for instance, after the Billups trade expectations were still high. Most fans didn’t think the team was going to tumble. Then we had to deal with the Rip/AI who’s going to start who’s going to come off the bench drama. Curry’s lack of coaching or accountability. Stuckey getting thrown to the wolves. Keep Billups and were a contender. Disappointment level: 7

    09-10. Now this was the season where the Billups trade was supposed to pay off. Except Gordon and CV were not the answers their contracts would have dictated. Losing Billups, Afflalo, Amir, Sheed, and Mcdyess all but guaranteed something ugly was going to happen, however that wasn’t the average fans expectation. Only stat nerds looked at this and wanted to slam their heads into a wall. Bringing in two high priced scorers – most fans had high hopes for this season. They went out and spent big now they were supposed to win big. Disappointment level: 8

    • Sep 19, 201110:18 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Well, here was my reasoning:

      First of all, 10-11 was basically a culmination of two-three years of bad decisions, as you said. It felt like the lowest the organization could sink (I hope I’m right and there isn’t an even lower point coming).

      08-09 was bad, but that team still made the playoffs. 09-10 was bad, but that team had a litany of injuries (not saying those players being healthy would’ve changed the results any, but still …).

      The coach-player fights in 10-11 were unprecedented really. I mean, there are only a handful of situations in modern NBA history where the players openly rebelled with the equivalent of skipping a shootaround. I didn’t come into this season with high expectations, but the reason it ranks lower than the others is that I didn’t expect that the basic professionalism of players, coaches and front office alike would erode to the point it did this season. I wasn’t so much disappointed in the on-court product. The team certainly wasn’t good, but it was probably better than a couple other teams in Pistons history. But all of the other stuff that went on was very disappointing, and combined with the poor record, that sinks this team lower than some other seasons in my mind.

    • Sep 19, 20112:52 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      Yeah, the boycott was a crazy low point. And there is no way that a season like 08-09 even competes with 10-11. Playoff team vs team with virtually no positives.

  • Sep 19, 20111:06 pm
    by Murph

    Reply

    I think the fact that John Kuester didn’t start Monroe and didn’t play him enough minutes until 37 games into the season, is a good indictation of just how incompetent Kuester really was.  Clearly, Kuester didn’t realize what he had in Monroe. 

    Kuester didn’t start Monroe until January 12th, and only then because Ben Wallace hurt his ankle in the previous game, against Chicago.  By that point in the season, the Pistons were already 12-25, and the season was all but over.

    • Sep 19, 20112:50 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      It was more of an indication of just how much Monroe improved over the season. Remember how at the beginning of the year he couldn’t take a shot without getting blocked, his FT% wasn’t just low, it was Biedrins low, and he wasn’t accomplishing anything on D. Heck, even in Summer League, he was far from one of the best players.

      • Sep 19, 20113:49 pm
        by Murph

        Reply

        Maybe.  Monroe did haul down 10 rebounds in his 2nd professional game.   And on 12/1 he had 15 pts and 8 rbds.  And on 12/10, he had 8 pts and 15 rbds.

        Those are some big games for a 20 year old rookie.

        • Sep 20, 20119:12 am
          by tarsier

          Reply

          Yeah but they were just a game here and there. For a young player, those would be great if they were normal games, but they are pretty bad for someone’s top games. Also, two of those were in December before he was a starter but as his role on the team was definitely increasing.
          Kuester was not a great coach. But I think he treated Monroe very fairly and the only result any Piston fan has to gripe about on that note is his not getting on the all-Rookie team. Maybe if Kuester had used him more early on, he would have. But I am gonna blame the voters for that not Kuester.

          • Sep 20, 20111:26 pm
            by Murph

            IMO, Monroe showed his potential from almost the very first time he stepped on the court, including the Summer League, where he had 27 points and 14 rebounds in one game. 

            However, Kuester had him burried behind Big Ben, CV, Austin Daye (who he started at PF) and even JMax, for almost half the season.

            IMO, it was decisions such as this that caused the Pistons’ players to lose all respect for Kuester.  There was a reason that the players mutinied.  And the reason was that Kuester didn’t know what he was doing.

          • Sep 20, 20112:07 pm
            by tarsier

            On good summer league means little especially when he didn’t dominate the other games. In November, Monroe average under 4 ppg and 5 rpg in about 18 mpg with 35% FG and 46% FT. However, improvement was visible so he got more minutes in December (despite the fact that one could argue those numbers do not deserve more minutes). In December, he averaged 6.1 ppg and 5.3 rpg in more than 21 mpg with 51% FG and 55% FT. That is significant improvement but I think it would be hard to argue that that sort of production deserved more minutes than he was getting. From the beginning of 2011, he was getting big minutes consistently and soon became a full time starter. The rest of the way he average 12.2 ppg and 9.1 rpg in 32 mpg with 57% FG and  66% FT. Now tell me: when did Monroe get treated unfairly? And did his experience not pay massive dividends? It’s possible he would have done just as well if he had been spoon-fed 30 mpg off the bat. But I doubt he would have done any better.

          • Sep 20, 20119:36 pm
            by Murph

            “Now tell me: when did Monroe get treated unfairly?”

            My point isn’t that Monroe was treated unfairly.  My point is that Kuester was an incompetent coach. 

            Had Kuester played Monroe, who was his best big man and probably his best player last season…had Kuester played Monroe more at the beginning of the season, perhaps the Pistons would not have gotten off to such a dreadful start, and then Kuester might not have lost the team, the team might not have mutinied. 

            I mean Kuester started Austin Daye at PF for the first 9 games of the season, with the Pistons going 3-6 in those games.  IMO, the Pistons would have had a much better chance of getting off to a good start had Monroe started at PF, along side Big Ben.  Kuester was a dope.

  • Sep 21, 20117:54 am
    by Murph

    Reply

    Another unusual thing that stands out about Monroe is that he led the team in steals, as a rookie.  I looked it up.  Monroe was 6th in the NBA last season in steals, among big men.  And 4 out of 5 of the big men ahead of Monroe (Howard, Millsap, Garnett, J.Smith, Blair) played many more minutes than Monroe.  Only DeJuan Blair had more steals in fewer minutes than Monroe, among big men.

    To me, this indicates that Monroe has great hands and a high basketball IQ.

    And speaking of great hands and a high basketball IQ, it’s too bad Kuester never thought to take advantage of the outstanding passing skills that Monroe displayed at Georgetown. 

    But then, we already know Kuester was a boob.

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