Archive → December, 2011
In consecutive games, Brandon Knight (vs. Cleveland), Greg Monroe (vs. Boston) and now, Jonas Jerebko against the Pacers on Saturday have given three reasons to continue watching the Pistons this season. On Saturday, they even won.
The Pistons set an early tone by playing with toughness, contesting Indiana’s shots, running and making hustle plays and Jerebko, who finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, was the catalyst of that effort. It rubbed off on Monroe who, despite picking up two quick fouls on moving screens, kept himself on the court the rest of the game (unlike in the opener), finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Knight didn’t shoot the ball well, but he played under control. Rodney Stuckey bounced back from a terrible performance against Boston — 1-for-11 shooting — to score 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting. He and Knight combined for 13 assists and seven turnovers. (* Note: Stuckey’s turnover line looked much better until the final minute or so. He had just two turnovers until Indiana’s late pressure forced him into steals by Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough)
Interestingly, it was the young players, particularly the frontcourt, leading the charge while veterans played the supporting role, something that rarely happened last year. As we’ve seen, defense inside the paint has plagued the Pistons so far this season. Monroe and Jerebko were much better defensively against the Pacers, but both still give up a lot of strength to Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and David West. Thanks to veterans Ben Wallace and Jason Maxiell spelling the starters for short but productive defensive minutes, Hibbert, Hansbrough and West barely factored into Saturday’s game. The trio combined for 39 rebounds in the season opener. On Saturday, they combined for 15 rebounds. Maxiell actually gave his first productive minutes of the season with 6 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal and no turnovers in about 13 minutes.
Tayshaun Prince didn’t have a great game, but in a few second half stretches when the Pistons needed baskets, he loomed large. In the third quarter, he hit a running bank shot to push the Pistons lead to 13. Just a couple minutes later after an Indiana basket, he hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 14. With less than five minutes to go in the fourth and Indiana on a run that cut the lead to seven, Prince hit a three to push the lead back to 10.
Ben Gordon shot the ball well, didn’t over-dribble and for the third straight game, he finished with four or more assists.
But with Indiana making a furious rally in the final minute, down by six points and with the ball after a Paul George steal, it was again the Pistons’ young players putting things away. Jerebko stole the ball from Paul George. Prince missed a jumper with the shot clock running down, but Monroe tipped it in to give the Pistons an eight-point lead and put the game out of reach.
The game wasn’t significant simply because the Pistons got a much-needed win before embarking on a one of the toughest parts of the schedule they’ll face this season. It was important because in getting the win, they looked much different for the first time under Lawrence Frank than they did under John Kuester.
Young players played prominent roles. The guard rotation — with Stuckey coming out early in the first quarter to allow Knight to get into the game early — made sense. Despite the need for Wallace’s defense, Frank resisted the urge to play him too much (an urge Kuester could rarely resist) and limited Wallace to only 10 minutes. The ball moved. Players certainly made mistakes, but also looked to atone for those mistakes by getting back on defense and playing hard.
In short, the Pistons made progress, and not just because they won. Win or lose, this would’ve been the first game Frank would’ve been able to walk away from and reference as an important point when the young players started to ‘get it,’ the veterans started to buy in and as a whole, everyone looked to be figuring out their roles. The win is nice, but the other accomplishments are far more important to a rebuilding team. This team could still lose a lot of games, but as long as they lose playing as hard and as tough as they did against Indiana, fans will continue to buy in and watch.
After plenty of research, I found that only two other players in Pistons history have put up at least 19 points and 11 rebounds in a single game– Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. Twice in their careers, Laimbeer and Mahorn did what Jonas and Greg did tonight.
On December 8th, 1987, Rick Mahorn put up 20 points and 20 rebounds next to Bill Laimbeer, who scored 30 points and 14 rebounds. Over a month later, on January 22nd, 1988, Mahorn put up 19 points and 12 rebounds while Laimbeer recorded 21 and 14. And for the third time in franchise history, Monroe and Jerebko joined these Pistons greats with one of the three most collectively dominant frontcourt games Detroit fans have ever seen.
Great hustle, Mike. Your looking up obscure basketball stats on New Year’s brought a tear to my eye.
Austin Daye gets benched
One young player who didn’t figure prominently in Saturday’s game was Daye. After hitting 5-of-11 shots against Boston, I was hopeful Daye might be breaking out of his annual beginning of the year shooting slump. But against the Pacers, Daye played about six first half minutes, missed all three shots he attempted (two of them were blocked) and he turned it over once. He’s made just 5-of-22 shots on the season (23 percent) and he didn’t play in the second half. His minutes went to Damien Wilkins instead.
Wilkins didn’t fare much better, missing both of his shot attempts and getting a rebound and an assist. But if Daye doesn’t find his stroke, there’s really not a reason to play him. Wilkins isn’t an offensive threat, but he’s a more natural perimeter defender than Daye and if he comes in, plays solid defense (the Pistons held Pacers wings Paul George and Danny Granger to 6-for-20 shooting) and plays with the energy Frank is looking for, Daye could for the third straight year find himself buried on the depth chart early in the season.
His shot is too good for it to not come around at some point, but with Gordon entrenched in the starting lineup and Charlie Villanueva due back any time, Frank may find that he doesn’t need three offensive specialists in his rotation.
Speaking of Villanueva …
Villanueva’s suspension was over, meaning he actually could’ve played today. Frank said before the game that he didn’t know how much Villanueva would play tonight. Turns out, not at all. Frank said that Villanueva had sat out a practice and he also missed a preseason game tending to a personal matter. The Pistons are too thin up front to not pencil Villanueva into the rotation, but with the Jerebko/Monroe combo going so well and Maxiell playing solid off the bench, the Pistons didn’t have a need to rush him back in today.
Happy New Year!
Have fun out there tonight. Feel free to check back in throughout the evening and leave your surly comments from wherever you might be partying. Be safe folks, and thanks for reading this past year! We look forward to an even more interesting 2012 that hopefully includes less lockouts and player revolts. OK … some player revolts … just less.
- Teams: Indiana Pacers at Detroit Pistons
- Date: Dec. 31, 2011
- Time: 6 p.m.
- Television: Fox Sports Detroit Plus, NBA League Pass
- Pistons: 0-3
- Pacers: 3-0
- Darren Collison
- Paul George
- Danny Granger
- David West
- Roy Hibbert
Las Vegas projection
Spread: Pistons +4
Score: Pacers win, 95-91
Three things to watch
1. Greg Monroe
Monroe had his best offensive showing of the season against Boston. If the Pistons are going to avenge their season-opening blowout loss to Indiana, Monroe will have to have his best defensive performance against Indiana’s big, deep and talented frontcourt.
2. The undefeated Pacers
Indiana comes into this game 3-0 with a good chance at a 4-0 start. Much has been made of Detroit’s tough schedule to start the season (see below). I know Indiana has improved from last season, but four games to start the season against Detroit (twice), Toronto and Cleveland doesn’t exactly tell us much about the Pacers yet.
3. 0-10 watch
After an 0-3 start, the Pistons next seven games are:
- vs. Pacers
- vs. Magic
- vs. Bulls
- at 76ers
- vs. Knicks
- at Bulls
- vs. Maviercks
Tonight starts a three-game homestand for the Pistons. Although all three opponents — Indiana, Orlando and Chicago — are tough, this stretch probably represents their best chance to avoid a catastrophically bad start. Indiana has played a weak schedule and Orlando and Chicago will be on the second night of a back-to-backs.
Matt Moore of ProBasketballTalk listed 100 of his early NBA observations, and a few included Pistons:
55. Lawrence Frank has not gotten through to Detroit yet.
56. Which means Lawrence Frank has has lost about 22 games in a row.
57. The Pistons’ refusal to play younger lineups is baffling.
84. MOAR JEREBKO.
As far as No. 56, it’s 20, but who’s counting?
Fesenko had committed to signing with the Warriors earlier this week, but sources told ESPN.com that Golden State and Fesenko "mutally" canceled their plans to finalize a one-year deal worth just under $1.1 million, in part because Fesenko needs an additional week or two to get into game shape after September knee surgery.
Sources said Fesenko is now leaning toward accepting the Mavs’ one-year minimum offer and is likely to make a decision by early next week.
I’d like to explain how the Pistons have excellent prospects (and solid players) at the two most important positions in basketball, center and point guard.
I’d like to imagine when Monroe (22 points on 9-of-12 shooting with nine rebounds, six offensive, and four assists against the Celtics tonight) and Knight (23 points on 10-of-13 shooting, six assists and two steals against the Cavaliers on Wednesday) are clicking on the same night.
But the Pistons’ immediate problems, including the ones involving Monroe and Knight, are too startling. With an 0-10 start on the horizon, it doesn’t seem right to focus on the positive.
The Pistons are NBA medicine.
Start the season 0-3, including a blowout at the hands of the Eric Gordon-less Hornets, like the Celtics did? No problem, the Pistons will cure you with a 96-85 win and let you build a lead as high as 25.
Greg Monroe is an extra-strength dose.
Offensively, Monroe showed what made him so effective last year. He crashed the offensive glass and put himself in position to receive dumpoff passes, converting layups when his teammates found him. He also showed why he has so much potential. He often set up in the high post, hitting cutters with pinpoint passes or knocking down his improved mid-range jumper. If he continues to mesh both styles, he’ll be an elite offensive player.
But as the anchor of the Pistons’ defense, Monroe is wholly overmatched.
Maybe that’s an unfair burden for Monroe, and the Pistons could help him by adding a legitimate defensive big man to play next to him. Hopefully, they find that player in the next draft. They’ll certainly have options, because the lottery will be full of bigs the Pistons will have a high pick.
For now, they don’t have that player, and the responsibility falls to Monroe. Even when the Pistons eventually get him help, that won’t be enough on its own. He doesn’t defend well enough to serve as the second-best defensive big man on a contender. He reads the passing lanes well and has quick hands, his saving graces, and made two steals tonight.
But his man-to-man and help defense are poor. Jermaine O’Neal (19 points on 7-of-9 shooting and seven rebounds) and Brandon Bass (17 points on 7-of-11 shooting) took turns abusing Monroe.
Eventually, it got so bad, Ben Wallace entered the game for the first time late in the third quarter. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Wallace was schedule to have the night off, with the Pistons hosting the Pacers tomorrow. At 37, he might not be capable of playing back-to-backs, and it makes little difference whether he sits out the first or second game. But Monroe’s defense was so bad tonight, Wallace became necessary.
Despite all of Lawrence Frank’s talk about defense, the Pistons are bad defensive team. That’s not necessarily Frank’s fault – Detroit has bad defensive players – but it’s disheartening, nonetheless. Multiple times, the Pistons allowed a Celtic to leak out for an uncontested layup.
Those aren’t all Monroe’s fault, and the Pistons have several sieves. But tonight, he was the worst culprit. Plus, he’s one of two players who are, bar none, the center of Detroit’s future. Fairly, expectations for him are a bit higher.
Multiple times tonight, Monroe pointed to himself after a Celtics basket, indicating that one was on him. To me, that action was unnecessary. I’m already looking at him, and I don’t like what I see.
As good as his offense is, Monroe won’t be a true franchise cornerstone until his defense improves. And as long as the Pistons depend on him, they won’t be a true playoff threat until his defense improves.
Point guard problems
Really, both played poorly, and I doubt anyone change their mind on The Great Knight Debate of 2011.* Everyone will just see their opinion as validated by tonight’s game.
*Which will surely become The Great Knight Debate of 2012 in two days.
As someone who believes Knight should still come off the bench for now, I know this game didn’t change my opinion. Despite all of Stuckey’s misses, he had seven assists, and the offense seemed to flow a bit better when he was in the game.
I’m not totally convinced Stuckey is better than Knight, but I’m not ready to shake everything up and increase the pressure on Knight.
By the way, if you’re wondering about Will Bynum, he played just two minutes, not enough time to show anything of consequence.
Ben Gordon’s passing
Ben Gordon has passed very well the last couple days. With five assists tonight and four against the Cavaliers, he has nine assists in his last two games. It’s been more than a full year since Gordon had such a high-assist two-game stretch.
At least once, Gordon grabbed a defensive rebound, brought the ball up himself and initiated the offense. Are the Pistons giving him more point guard-like responsibilities?
Austin Daye’s slump buster?
Austin Daye missed four of his first five shots, but he made four of his last six shots to finish with 11 points. Hopefully, that sets him on the right track after he went 0-for-8 with no points in the Pistons’ first two games.
But sometimes, we see patterns where none exist, and Daye’s 5-of-11 night doesn’t exactly inspire on the whole. It will take a good game, not just a few good quarters, from Daye until I’m convinced he’s back on track.
- Teams: Detroit Pistons at Boston Celtics
- Date: Dec. 30, 2011
- Time: 7:30 p.m.
- Television: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass
- Pistons: 0-2
- Celtics: 0-3
- Rajon Rondo
- Ray Allen
- Paul Pierce
- Kevin Garnett
- Jermaine O’Neal
Las Vegas projection
Spread: Pistons +9.5
Score: Celtics win, 96.25-86.75
Three things to watch
If Knight’s performance against Cleveland on Wednesday ends up the best game of his rookie year, that wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible thing. He was that good.
The bigger question is how well Knight plays game to game, and that starts tonight. If he consistently produces like he did Wednesday, he should start sooner than later. For now, though, that’s still a big if.
2. Defending the perimeter
A lot of attention has been, deservedly, paid to the Pistons’ terrible interior defense. But that has distracted from another big problem: their 3-point defense.
Detroit is allowing opponents to shoot 51.9 percent from beyond the arc, worst in the NBA. Also troubling: the Celtics are leading the league with 51.2 percent 3-point shooting. It’s early, and both numbers will certainly drop, but its still a weakness-against-strength matchup for the Pistons.
Paul Pierce, who missed the Celtics’ first three games, will start, according to Sean Grande. That will make defending the perimeter even more difficult.
3. 0-10 watch
After an 0-2 start, the Pistons next eight games are:
- at Celtics
- vs. Pacers
- vs. Magic
- vs. Bulls
- at 76ers
- vs. Knicks
- at Bulls
- vs. Maviercks
All eight of those teams made the playoffs last year, and the two that didn’t have winning records (Pacers and 76ers) should be much improved.
He’s also said that when he decides someone has earned a shot at playing time – either a starting job or a move into the rotation – that he doesn’t react to one- or two-game samples. Five games, more or less, is his litmus test.
To those criticizing Frank for sticking with older and higher-paid starters when he said he’d base his decisions on merit, I think he’s been fairly consistent. Just because Brandon Knight played better than Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon for one game doesn’t mean Knight is better than them.
Patrick made the case that Knight should start, and in many ways, I agree. Knight gives the Pistons their best chance at a star player, and minutes would help him. Against Cleveland, he looked great. And of course, nearly every fan would rather watch the budding Knight than Gordon and Stuckey.
But Frank has promised his starters a few games to prove themselves, and I think it’s wise he follow that plan. If Knight keeps playing as well as he did in Cleveland, he’ll get his shot.
According to Frank, it would come next week.
Last season Stuckey played 31 minutes a game for the league’s third-slowest team. This year I expect the Pistons to play less slowly, and I expect Stuckey to move up to around 34 or 35 minutes a game. Combine those two factors with another year of experience and the departure of Richard Hamilton, and Stuckey’s scoring average could move into the high teens.
He quietly took a solid step forward offensively last season and is getting his post game to the point where small guards are dead meat against him.
We’ve been waiting for Rodney Stuckey to break out for a few seasons, and he keeps making small steps, but never the big one. Is this the year? I’ll believe it when I see it.
The few times the Pistons seemed to get good shots against Cleveland came either out of guards (usually Brandon Knight) pushing the ball or on broken possessions when a loose ball got batted around and found an open man. Matt Moore at Hardwood Paroxysm makes the case that forcing things should be a fixture of the offense:
The Pistons are still trying to figure out who they are, but the problem is that they may find out they are someone they don’t want to be, and will still be that because it’s better than being nothing. They need to force the issue in being a young team. Monroe stole the ball on a nice play Wednesday night, and as he outlet the ball to Gordon and ran the lane for the give and go… Gordon re-set the offense. You’ve got to force the issue with this team because you don’t get many chances. And to do that you have to have players too young to know better.