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Archive → January, 2012

The Pistons never met a turnover they didn’t like

Lawrence Frank calling a timeout and then storming as fast as he can towards the other side of the court is quickly becoming one of the few entertaining things to watch this season. One of these times, he’s just going to walk right into the stands and never come back.

There were no shortage of moments that would disgust the most even-tempered of coaches in Tuesday’s loss to the Knicks. Landry Fields made his first six shots. Carmelo Anthony, famous for never passing to anyone ever, had five assists by halftime. Amar’e Stoudemire plays no defense, yet the Pistons rarely attacked him, either with penetrating guards challenging him or by looking for post players to establish position. But above all, the unforced turnovers are the most unwatchable problem the Pistons have right now.

Turnovers have plagued Brandon Knight this season, but that’s to be expected as a young rookie point guard forced into huge minutes because of all of the Pistons’ backcourt injuries. The trend, though, is spreading. Greg Monroe had six turnovers by the start of the fourth quarter. The team as a whole turned it over 20 times and did so in a variety of ways.

Some of them were the brainless type. Monroe made a weak outlet pass without bothering to notice that a Knick was standing right in between him and his target. Austin Daye, with no defensive pressure, simply dribbled the ball off his foot as he tried to advance it up court.

Some of them were bad calls. Monroe is getting no respect from officials. Tyson Chandler played him physically, reached in frequently and on more than one occasion stripped the ball away from him while having a chunk of arm or jersey as well.

Some were the Rodney Stuckey variety — aimlessly driving into traffic, drawing easy charge calls or throwing the ball away after getting caught in the air with nowhere to go.

As a result, the game was obviously another difficult one to watch. There are few positives to point out with the Pistons, which is why I admire Fox Sports Detroit not really trying anymore. Ryan Field was sharing LeBron James’ reaction tweets about Blake Griffin’s dunk on Kendrick Perkins and FSD was running stories about the Madison Square Garden renovations. Really, what else are they supposed to talk about? The Pistons have now lost 10 of 11 games, including six straight. Four of those six have been by 20 points or more. Knight’s play has fallen off drastically. After a semi-positive three-game stretch that looked like Tayshaun Prince was coming out of his shooting slump, he’s regressed back to his mean this season.

The Pistons aren’t going to stumble onto many positives that result in wins this season. Instead, they should be focused on smaller goals. Reducing the turnovers will keep games more competitive. Getting Monroe more touches will make the offense run more smoothly. Those should be the team’s two immediate priorities.

Greg Monroe needs to shoot way more

At the risk of being a broken record … you know what? … scratch that. I will continue to scream about this point as long as it is an obvious and obnoxious trend. Tayshaun Prince shoots way too much. Greg Monroe shoots nowhere near enough.

Monroe is one of the most efficient scorers in the league this season. Prince is a terribly inefficient scorer. It’s ridiculous that after tonight’s game, both guys are attempting 12.3 shots per game. Prince is shooting 41 percent this season. He never draws fouls and he doesn’t create shots for teammates. He is way too involved in the offense.

Although Monroe doesn’t draw a lot of fouls yet, he does get contact on many plays. He’s still a young, unproven player, and he’ll eventually get those calls. On top of that, he shoots a high percentage, he puts pressure on a defense and he sets up good shots for teammates.

Prince was signed to be a veteran leader. I’m worried that Prince’s interpretation of that might make him think that means he’s a go-to player. If Monroe is going to keep developing, Prince needs to take a backseat in the offense and be the complimentary player his skillset suggests he should be.

Walker Russell is the team’s best passing guard

There’s strong evidence that Walker Russell is only a temporary Piston who will probably play elsewhere when the team’s other guards get healthy. The great thing for Russell is he’s created a market for himself by showing in Detroit that he’s a smart, capable bench player who probably should’ve been in the NBA sooner. The unfortunate part for the Pistons is that if he does indeed go elsewhere, they’ll be back to a collection of guards who aren’t particularly good at setting up others.

Prince doesn’t deserve the entirety of the blame for the offense running poorly — he’s just taking too many shots and stopping the ball. Knight and Stuckey are also bogging down the offense. Knight’s turnovers are a problem and Stuckey is still too often over-dribbling and not creating good passing angles to get the ball into the post. Neither player creates easy shots for teammates. When Russell is in the game, he’s able to change the tempo, he has good court vision and awareness and he routinely gets players open jumpers or layups. Russell isn’t a long-term piece given his age and non-guaranteed contract, but the Pistons’ offense will get worse if he’s not on the roster.

Jerebko gets it going

Hopefully, after playing only 15 minutes tonight, Jonas Jerebko is primed for a big contribution tomorrow. Jerebko, who has struggled with his shot of late, hit all four attempts tonight and grabbed four rebounds. He also got a little feisty with Renaldo Balkman late in the game.

It might be time to start Jerebko again. The Pistons are getting jumped on at the beginning of games. Maybe Jerebko’s energy to start the game could prevent them from starting in such big holes.

Pistons and Knicks battle for the right to be losers of 9 of their last 11 games

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons at New York Knicks
  • Date: Jan. 31, 2012
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

  • Pistons: 4-18
  • Knicks: 7-13

Probable starters

Pistons:

Knicks:

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +8.5

Over/under: 183

Score: Knicks win, 95.75-87.25

Three things to watch

1. Can Knight bounce back?

Brandon Knight played poorly last night against Milwaukee and, for the first time in his young career, got benched. The plus side? He should be rested tonight after playing just 24 minutes (the first time he’s played fewer than 30 minutes since becoming a starter) and he has a favorable matchup. The Knicks have not got much production out of their point guard spot. Toney Douglas is shooting 32 percent and rookie Iman Shumpert is shooting just 37 percent. How Knight responds to his worst performance of the season will be interesting.

2. Can Greg Monroe have a big impact against Tyson Chandler?

In the first meeting between the Pistons and Knicks, Greg Monroe was decent scoring the ball (15 points on 7-for-11 shooting), but he only grabbed five rebounds and Tyson Chandler defended him well, coming up with a couple steals when Monroe was trying to make moves inside. The Pistons need Monroe to be his usual self offensively, but they also need him to be a much stronger presence rebounding the ball this time around.

3. Can they defend ‘Melo/Amar’e again?

The first time these teams played, Detroit held Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire to 35 points on combined 13-for-29 shooting. That’s pretty good, considering how the Pistons have struggled defensively and considering how both of those guys are dynamic scorers. What was bad was Mike Bibby, Josh Harrellson and Iman Shumpert all having great shooting nights and reaching double figures. The Knicks are struggling, but probably a bit better than their record suggests and a home game against arguably the worst team in the league is coming along at the right time for them. I wouldn’t bet on bad games from Anthony and Stoudemire tonight.

Gregg Popovich’s handling of young players explains why the Spurs won’t hit bottom like the Pistons did

Henry Abbott at TrueHoop has a great piece on Gregg Popovich that everyone who loves basketball should read in its entirety. As anything Spurs-related tends to do though, it made me reminisce about the 2000s Pistons, and namely, why those Pistons have become these Pistons while Popovich’s Spurs, though probably not title contenders anymore, are still a good team despite a roster that has dealt with both age and injuries catching up with its stars and hasn’t had the benefit of lottery picks to restock its talent.

This passage, in particular, caught my attention:

In most systems, on most teams, the big minutes in the big games go to those who have already earned them. In San Antonio, Popovich knows those minutes can do a lot to inspire young players to develop. He has long been handing them out to players who would struggle to make a lot of NBA rosters. And he has way more than his fair share of those players evolve into meaningful contributors. Is it just that his front office knows how to find diamonds in the rough? Or maybe Popovich has mastered the art of polishing.

Is Danny Green the kind of guy who nails a buzzer-beater to win a huge game on the road over the defending champs? Most people, maybe even including Green, would have said “no” a day ago. But now he hit just exactly that shot — but for a tenth of a second and video review, the Spurs would have won at the end of regulation. This effect echoes across the lineup. James Anderson drove hard to the left of the lane, looking for all the world like an out-of-control guy not far removed from the D-League. But after drawing a defender, he made a beautiful dish to Splitter. And on and on. The five Spurs who played can all file away memories that prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they can hang.

In the Pistons book I wrote during the lockout (which * ahem * can be purchased in electronic or dead tree form here), I wrote about one of my favorite random memories of the era when the Pistons were yearly title contenders:

I used to sit and gaze in amazement at Amir Johnson’s 2005-2006 NBA D-League stats — 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, 1 steal per game on 62 percent shooting. He was long, fast and athletic. He was young, getting drafted straight out of high school in 2005. Surely, the Pistons would find a use for this kid. Obviously, they never did and Johnson went on to become a solid rotation player elsewhere. But the best moment for Pistons fans obsessed with the team’s youth came in a blowout loss to Milwaukee on April 17, 2006.

The Pistons were resting veterans, preparing for the playoffs late in the season. Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace sat out the game. Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Antonio McDyess all played less than 20 minutes each. When the Bucks built a huge lead in the third quarter, it was time for the kids to play.

Bolstered by the young trio of Johnson, Jason Maxiell and Carlos Delfino, the Pistons scored 35 points in the fourth quarter. Johnson made all six shots he attempted, even hitting two 3-pointers, to score 18 points. Maxiell was a wrecking ball, crashing the boards and putting down some ferocious dunks to finish with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Delfino ran, he handled the ball, he defended and he slashed to the basket, filling the stat sheet with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals.

I loved that game. Loved it. Watching those guys get on the court and get an opportunity at extended minutes after rotting on the bench most of the season was really rewarding. Looking back, it was also really depressing, as we all know, because with the exception of Maxiell, Johnson and Delfino didn’t become rotation contributors until Detroit gave them away in trades.

I’ve constantly harped on the player development issue with the Pistons. Detroit has done a great job finding talent in drafts. Teams simply don’t often find players late in the first round or in the second round of drafts that turn into rotation players or better. The Pistons have a long, consistent history of finding value late — Brian Cardinal, Prince, Mehmet Okur, Delfino, Maxiell, Johnson, Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo and Jonas Jerebko have all had solid or better NBA careers and none were lottery picks. Only a few teams can claim that kind of record at finding useful players late over the same time period. It’s impressive. What is unbelievably frustrating is, as we all know, five of those eight players have had their best years in other organizations. It’s maddening. It’s a question that, to my knowledge, Joe Dumars has never been competently asked about. The variations of the question I’ve heard asked — either some form of “How could you let Arron Afflalo go for nothing?!” or “OMG! How could you take Darko over Chris Bosh/’Melo/Wade?!” — don’t get at what the real question is. The question worth asking at this point has nothing to do with the individual players. The players are gone and they aren’t coming back. The question is how has Detroit been so savvy and consistently good at finding value in portions of the draft where most teams struggle to find it and so bad at turning that talent into contributors?

The answer, at least partially, is in that Spurs piece linked above: coaching. Particularly, Flip Saunders. Saunders isn’t a bad coach. In the right situation (read: a veteran, talented, self-motivated team; or, the opposite of Washington), in fact, he’s a pretty solid coach. He won in Detroit. The team’s offense became a fluid machine (at least during the regular season). The defense didn’t fall off much (at least during the regular season). But he failed the team’s young players.

Reading Abbott’s piece on Popovich, I was struck by not only the fact that Popovich, on the surface the last guy you’d expect to be patient with youth, plays his young players. It’s that he plays them with the expectation that they will play at a level nearly as high as his regulars. I’m sure Popovich berates those guys, is hard on them and does all the things that you’d expect a cranky old perfectionist coach like Popovich would do to players behind the scenes. I’m sure that if they get into games and prove to be mistake-prone, he’ll bench them, and if they do it a lot, he’ll probably bury them too. But he also understands something that Saunders and, to a lesser extent, Michael Curry never did. Namely, that although it’s important that young players execute, play defense and play mistake-free basketball, it’s just as important that they know you believe in them.

Did anyone ever get the impression that the coaching staff believed in Darko Milicic, for example? There were rumors that the coaching staff was openly hostile to the thought of playing Johnson, disagreeing with the front office’s belief that he could become a capable player. Saunders was never sure Delfino was a better option than Maurice Evans. Basically, with the exception of Stuckey late in the Saunders era (and Maxiell a little bit), no young player got enough playing time to do enough things right to build any kind of confidence. Instead, they fought for scraps, the got occasional minutes in games that meant little to the team and were just being used to rest starters for the playoffs. Compare that to Popovich, playing all bench players in the fourth quarter and overtime against the defending champion (and in-state and division rival) Mavericks. The Spurs and Mavs are only a game apart in the standings. San Antonio at 12-9 actually wouldn’t even have a playoff spot if they started right now. And Popovich sent a lineup of largely untested guys out to close that game? Imagine the impact that would have on your bench guys vs. only playing them extended minutes when a game is out of reach or when your playoff position is already secure.

Most frustrating in all of this is the Pistons actually had a roster set up similarly to the Spurs. Popovich can experiment with his bench like that because he has stars, particularly Tim Duncan, who are not stats-obsessed and who care about winning and going deep into the playoffs. The Pistons had those things, even if they didn’t have an individual player as good as Duncan. I firmly believe that Saunders could’ve gone to his bench much more often. I firmly believe the veteran players would’ve understood it was in their best interest to rest more. I firmly believe that Delfino, Afflalo, Maxiell and Johnson would’ve played well had they been given more minutes. This probably would’ve cost the Pistons some regular season wins, maybe they would’ve been a slightly lower seed in the playoffs, but it also might have gained them some wins in stalled playoff runs.

Saunders’ experience before and after Detroit actually showed he was ill-equipped to handle youth. His most successful Minnesota team came when they added veteran All-Star level players in Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. When the team went with younger (albeit worse) players around Kevin Garnett, Saunders didn’t last long. It’s also impossible to categorize his tenure with a very young Washington team as anything but a mismatched failure. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that he wasn’t comfortable with Detroit’s youth.

During Monday’s game against Milwaukee, a clip aired of Dumars talking about the need to rebuild the talent base and the fact that that doesn’t happen overnight. I hope he also realizes that another run as a contender will involve more than simply finding the talent.

Pistons ignore their biggest (only?) offensive advantage in loss to Milwaukee

It wasn’t super savvy analysis when I noted in the game preview that, with Andrew Bogut out, Milwaukee would be relatively weak in the middle and Greg Monroe should be able to score efficiently inside. Monroe did those things, converting 67 percent of his shots in the Pistons loss. He had another double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Unfortunately, less efficient scorers Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye took more shots than him and, not surprisingly, didn’t hit many of them. They combined to shoot just 13-for-42. It’s even more frustrating when you consider three of Monroe’s 12 attempts were missed tip-ins that came on a single possession.

The other night, I went into detail about how the Pistons just simply played dumb basketball. They did it again, so there’s no point in expounding in great detail once again. Bad teams often don’t play smart, and the Pistons don’t. What has been confounding is that Prince, in particular, and Stuckey to some extent, have been around long enough to recognize when a post guy has a definite advantage and get him the ball a lot. The Pistons have technical issues too — the perimeter guys as a whole do a really terrible job of creating good enough spacing to make entry passes, so as a result, they often throw the ball around a lot, can’t get it to Monroe in a good spot, then settle for a long jumper when the shot clock is running down.

The Pistons don’t have many easily correctable problems, but this seemingly should’ve been one. In the first quarter at one point, Monroe had just three shots while Stuckey/Prince had combined to take 12. There’s no possible way that the Pistons could’ve gone into this game without talking about getting Monroe the ball a lot. It’s disappointing that they didn’t do it much early and it’s disappointing that they didn’t really make the necessary adjustments to get him more shots. It’s on the coaching staff and it’s on the guys on the floor for not recognizing an obvious mismatch the entire game.

Plenty more bad games are ahead for the Pistons this season, but watching the failure of veteran players in particular to recognize mismatches has been probably the most frustrating part of the season for me.

Knight and Daye struggle in reversed ways

Against Philadelphia, Brandon Knight played poorly, but he stayed aggressive. He still looked for his shot (even if he missed 13-of-17) and he came up with a steal and a couple of deflections on defense. Lawrence Frank lived with the struggles and Knight still played 37 minutes.

Against Milwaukee, he played poorly and wasn’t aggressive. He only shot the ball four times (making zero), he turned it over four times and he failed to be an impediment at all to Brandon Jennings, who was in the lane most of the night. Consequently, Knight was benched.

Most of the season, Austin Daye struggled with his shot, became passive on the court and passed up good looks that were in his range. As a result, Frank benched him and removed him from the rotation for several games.

Against Milwaukee, Daye’s shot wasn’t falling, but he kept aggressively looking for it. He played 37 minutes.

Although I think Frank has been to patient with mistake-prone veterans, I think he’s clearly been consistent with how he handles young players, and this is a perfect illustration of it. Much of the season, Knight has been allowed to play through ups and downs because he plays hard, with energy and aggressively. Daye has not because he’s often been passive and lacked energy. Tonight the roles reversed, and Daye was allowed to play through his shooting struggles because of his activity while Knight wasn’t because of his passivity.

Agree or disagree with how Frank is handling their minutes, at least he’s being consistent in his reasoning.

What to make of Jerebko?

I agreed with Frank’s thinking when he decided to bring Jonas Jerebko off the bench to save him from early fouls. The problem is Jerebko’s offense is clearly hurt by not playing as much with Monroe. Jerebko is great at moving without the ball and Monroe is great at finding cutters. Jerebko isn’t a great perimeter shooter, but the attention Monroe draws gets Jerebko cleaner looks from outside. As a reserve, Jerebko’s shooting has fallen from 47 to 43 percent. His 3-point shooting has fallen from 36 to 26 percent.

I don’t think it’s terribly vital to start Jerebko, his future in the league might be as a high energy combo forward off the bench anyway. But the chemistry he and Monroe were developing might be more important than Jerebko picking up the occasional cheap foul.

Pistons need to go to Greg Monroe often against depleted Bucks

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons at Milwaukee Bucks
  • Date: Jan. 30, 2012
  • Time: 8 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

  • Pistons: 4-17
  • Bucks: 8-11

Probable starters

Pistons:

Bucks:

  • Brandon Jennings
  • Shaun Livingston
  • Carlos Delfino
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
  • Drew Gooden

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +7

Over/under: 181

Score: Bucks win, 94-87

Three things to watch

1. Injuries in Milwaukee

The first time Detroit played Milwaukee, Greg Monroe had a great game against a good defensive center in Andrew Bogut. Monroe should have an easier go of it with Bogut injured and out of the lineup. Milwaukee’s frontcourt is small, with Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova getting minutes at the center spot.

2. You think the Pistons jerk around their young players?

Jon Leuer of the Milwaukee Bucks is one of the most surprising rookies in the league this season. Still, for some inexplicable reason, he’s yet to crack Scott Skiles’ regular rotation. Check out Leuer’s last four games: DNP-CD; 0-for-1 in 2 minutes; 19 points in 19 minutes (9-for-11 shooting); 0 points in 6 minutes.

Here was Ian Segovia of Bucksketball after Leuer’s 19-point performance:

It took a Bogut injury and Ilyasova foul trouble, but Leuer finally got back on the floor after he was benched for no discernibly good reason at all. The dude just knows how to ball: has a wonderful understanding of floor spacing and how to cut. Plus he has a swell jumper.

People were getting on Lawrence Frank for not playing Austin Daye, and Daye wasn’t even playing well in the bit minutes he was getting. I can’t imagine the reaction Skiles must be getting for keeping Leuer, who is performing at a high level in his spot minutes, must be getting for keeping him out of the lineup.

3. Watch out for those assistant coaches

From Zack Lowe of Sports Illustrated:

4. Coaches screaming/clapping at opposing shooters

It’s unbecoming of a retired player in a suit. It happens across the league, and I caught a Bucks assistant jumping off his seat and screaming just a foot or so away from Josh Smith last Monday, as Smith attempted a key fourth-quarter three. It’s one thing for players to do this; they are generally very young, competitive and enjoy goofing around. But the coaches should cut it out.

But who was it?! I assume, since Lowe mentions “retired player” that would narrow the choices down on the Bucks staff to Joe Wolf, Anthony Goldwire or Sidney Moncrief. Anyway, watch out for those guys if you shoot near them.

Walker Russell says the Knicks contacted him – tampering or considerate?

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press on Walker Russell, whose contract becomes guaranteed Feb. 10:

The point guard said before Saturday that some teams — including the Knicks — have reached out to him in case the Pistons cut him loose before then.

Larry Coon:

Tampering is when a player or team directly or indirectly entices, induces or persuades anybody (player, general manager, etc.) who is under contract with another team to negotiate for their services. The NBA may impose stiff penalties if tampering is discovered, however the league’s practice has been to wait until a team lodges a complaint before investigating (but that’s not to say they don’t continue to monitor the leauge and won’t take action independently if they discover that tampering has occurred).

Perhaps, the Pistons gave other teams permission to speak with Russell. If so, that could be a sign they don’t plan to keep him the rest of the season. Or maybe the Pistons are just being considerate to a player on an unguaranteed contract and want him to have options in case they release him.

Greg Monroe becoming more vocal

Before the season, Greg Monroe said he would be a better leader. Apparently, he’s doing it. Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

If you look at him closely, he’s being far more assertive vocally during games, encouraging teammates, constantly talking to the coaches and pulling guys aside.

"We have to try and change the culture," he said. "In order to do that, you have to step up and start doing so why not me."

Charlie Villanueva might need surgery for ankle injury

Charlie Villanueva, or at least an account purporting to be him, posted on Instagram that he needs surgery (hat tip: Andy Haver):

cv surgery

I have not yet verified the Instagram account belongs to Villanueva, but accounts purporting to belong to Austin Daye and Vernon Macklin also follow him. If this is a hoax, it’s an elaborate one.

Villanueva mysteriously injured his ankle at some mysterious point, and this surgery would be a crushing blow to his season.

UPDATE: Pistons spokesman Kevin Grigg: “The current course of action regarding Charlie’s sore ankle is rest and rehab.”

A case study in what happens when your young players play smarter than your veterans

Late in the first half of Saturday’s loss to the Sixers, after he’d been thoroughly frustrated by how physical Philadelphia’s frontline had defended him, Greg Monroe absorbed a blow from Elton Brand (no call) and converted the layup while screaming something at the referee under the basket.

Monroe picked up a technical foul, one that I didn’t have a problem with, considering the pounding he was taking under the basket. Monroe is too good offensively and too active to not get more calls than he was. And Monroe was angry. He promptly went down on defense and stole the ball from Brand. My immediate thought was the Pistons would invoke the Rasheed Wallace rule and immediately go to Monroe in the post after picking up that technical and displaying so much anger.

Now, because Wallace was some kind of folk hero, the meme was always that he magically played so much better and more aggressive after picking up a tech. I don’t know if that was more legend than reality, but I love the idea of going immediately to any post player who picks up a tech after getting mauled inside. I don’t think Monroe would’ve magically started finishing better around the basket, but I do think there was a chance he would’ve got a call on at least one of those final two possessions of the half. If Monroe caught it, made an aggressive move and drew contact, I would bet he would’ve got that call at that point even if he hadn’t been earlier in the game. That’s just how referees are sometimes. They don’t like it when you berate them, but if it comes to that, they generally start paying a little more attention as long as you aren’t constantly trying to show them up, and Monroe doesn’t qualify as that type of guy.

Instead, the team went two straight possessions without Monroe so much as touching it, let alone catching it in a position to do anything with the ball. The player I expected to recognize that situation was Tayshaun Prince. He didn’t. Rodney Stuckey didn’t either.

In fact, both veteran players had several what you would call “youthful mistakes” in the game.

Stuckey spent much of the game matched up with Jodie Meeks. Meeks does one thing on offense: shoots threes. I lost count of how often Stuckey completely lost track of where Meeks was on defense. It was four times in the first half and one time early in the third quarter before I gave up on it. Meeks converted on 3 of 5 threes and passed up several more good looks. He was seriously open all night.

Prince’s performance was more troubling. His numbers weren’t good, but that’s somewhat forgivable since it was his first game back after a couple off and Andre Iguodala is a great defensive player.

The Pistons had two of their best performances of the season with Prince out of the lineup. The team’s official twitter feed was spouting off about Prince’s “veteran cool-headedness” being a missing ingredient in those games. He returned, the offense stagnated and they had one of their worst performances of the season in Friday’s loss. Making things worse, George Blaha said in the intro before the game that the Pistons had missed Prince because he was playing the best of anyone on the team before he had to miss two games. I get that the announcers have to put a positive spin on things, but that’s just blatantly false. In three games before Prince missed the last two, he shot 3-for-9, 6-for-14 and 5-for-13. Yes, he had that nice three-game stretch before that, but those games so far are an anomaly in what is turning into a very poor season for him shooting the ball.

Against Philly, he shot below 40 percent again, and many of his looks were clean ones. Against Philly, Stuckey played really lazy defense.

My issue is those two factors — missing badly on open shots and playing lazy defense — are things that got Austin Daye removed from the rotation. How Lawrence Frank responds when veteran players are guilty of the same things that young players do wrong will be interesting.

I don’t discount Joe Dumars’ reasons for re-signing Prince. I disagree with the price and length of the contract, but in general, I do agree that it’s a bad idea to throw a team full of young players together with no veteran presence in the locker room (see: Washington for examples of what could happen minus vets). I also have a lot of respect for Prince’s intelligence and knowledge of the game. I do, however, still have serious questions about how he fits in on this team. He’s happiest when he’s playing a lot. So far this season, he hasn’t played well. He’s also had injury issues, but because he likes to play a lot, he hasn’t missed much time or played fewer minutes as a result. Daye had his third straight decent game against Philly. What happens if Daye’s play demands that he gets more minutes and those minutes come at the expense of Prince? What happens if the Pistons continue to play their best when Prince is the least involved in their offense? Will Prince still be OK with his role, still be happy and engaged, if his minutes and role diminish?

Daye was the first reserve off the bench tonight and Damien Wilkins didn’t play until the game was far out of hand, so it looks like Daye has already earned back his rotation spot. Based on how poorly Prince has played overall this season, and how well Daye is now shooting it, if it keeps up, it won’t be long until Daye proves to be the better option over Prince at least offensively as well. I hope it happens simply because the Pistons have more to gain by Daye’s improvement than Prince getting 30+ minutes per game.

How Frank and Prince handle it will be very interesting.

Knight struggles with physical play

In two games this season against Philadelphia, Brandon Knight has shot 9-for-32 and has seven assists and six turnovers. It’s no secret how Philly defends him — they beat him up. Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams attack him on the perimeter, knowing that if Knight gets in the lane, they have shot blockers who can bother him. On those occasions when Knight did get inside, he ended up on the ground pretty frequently. Knight has exceeded expectations this season so far, but how he plays against more physical players is probably something he’s not going to be able to fix until he can get stronger in the offseason.

The Jason Maxiell is still alive tour continues

The Pistons have no shortage of highly paid players who have failed to meet expectations over the last few seasons. But while Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva have had their share of defenders with theories as to how it was the offense/minutes/situations they were being used in that was hurting their games, Jason Maxiell had no such luxury.

An undersized, athletic hustle player who has never relied on plays being run for him, Maxiell has been a useful rotation player in the past as a result of his ability to out-run and out-jump people. Then he got a bit heavier, and he wasn’t so fast and he wasn’t jumping so high anymore. Predictably, his production dove over the last three seasons, and he looked like the player on the roster with the least hope of ever rebounding from that downward trend. Instead, he’s quietly putting together a really nice season. He shot 4-for-7 against Philly and grabbed seven rebounds. He’s played himself into shape after a poor start to the season and although he still does have the ability to make the athletic play, his jump shot from 10-feet and in has really improved as a weapon for him. If he keeps this up, there isn’t a contending team in the NBA who wouldn’t love to have a player like him on its roster.

It would be nice to see Vernon Macklin earlier than garbage time

Vernon Macklin isn’t exactly a “prospect” considering his draft position, age for a rookie and limited skillset. But in the few garbage time minutes he’s received this season, he’s hustled, ran the floor and has a pulse. With Maxiell playing well and Jonas Jerebko in need of minutes, it’s hard to justify getting Macklin into a game when it’s not out of reach at the moment, but the Pistons have a tough stretch coming up over the next few weeks, including their first back-to-back-to-back of the season, so perhaps Macklin can spell Ben Wallace for a few minutes coming up?

When Doug Collins coached the Pistons in the 1990s, he used to start Don Reid, who was terrible, at center. But Reid played hard, gave the Pistons a few minutes early, and then was never seen again most games. With Wallace surely in need of a night off at some point over this stretch, maybe Frank can employ a similar strategy with Macklin, just to see whether he’s completely over-matched by starting caliber players or whether he shows any kind of ability. The odds against Macklin becoming a legit NBA player are slim, but the Pistons don’t have anything to lose by figuring out if he can beat those odds.

Just because not everything is so negative …

This was pretty funny, via Vincent Goodwill:

The kiss-cam: Stuckey sees him and Monroe on it, playfully kisses Greg on the head…

Pistons get a chance to fix mistakes of previous loss this season in Philadelphia

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons at Philadelphia 76ers
  • Date: Jan. 28, 2012
  • Time: 7 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

  • Pistons: 4-16
  • Sixers: 13-6

Probable starters

Pistons:

Sixers:

  • Jrue Holiday
  • Jodie Meeks
  • Andre Iguodala
  • Elton Brand
  • Tony Battie

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +14.5

Over/under: 178.5

Score: Sixers win, 96.5-82

Three things to watch

1. Can they score at the rim?

In a double-digit loss at Philadelphia earlier this month, the Pistons got plenty of shots near the basket, they just struggled to finish them. In tonight’s game, one of the Philadelphia players who bothered a lot of those shots, Spencer Hawes, is out of the lineup, so that should remove one obstacle. Still, Philly has a lot of length on its front line and the Pistons will need to take advantage of opportunities inside to have any chance.

2. Can they score from the perimeter?

The other issue in the previous meeting between these teams was Detroit’s horrible 3-point shooting. The Pistons shot 0-for-10 from distance, and many of those shots were good, open looks. With Austin Daye‘s shot seemingly straightened out, hopefully  the Pistons are a bit more successful from outside tonight.

3. Matching the potent Philly bench

Philadelphia has several players having good seasons, but surprisingly, their leading scorer is sixth man Lou Williams. Williams averages nearly 16 a game off the Philadelphia bench. Thad Young is averaging 12.3 points per game as a reserve and Evan Turner is right on the verge of giving Philly three double figures scorers of its bench at 9.9 points per game.

Bench play has been a weakness for the Pistons most of the season, but with Daye’s improved shooting over the last two games as well as Jason Maxiell‘s re-emergence as a living, breathing NBA player and the energy that Jonas Jerebko and Walker Russell provide, the Philly bench vs. Detroit bench shouldn’t be nearly the mismatch it would’ve been a couple weeks ago.