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Archive → January, 2012

Austin Daye reminds everyone that he’s a NBA player for a reason

I was thoroughly impressed with the hustle of Walker Russell Jr. and Damien Wilkins in Wednesday’s loss to Miami. I think it really was the key to making the game close.

I’m just joking. After a visit from Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball in Las Vegas (seriously, can this guy just be added to the coaching staff?), who he worked out with all summer, Austin Daye showed his full, tantalizing offensive repertoire, the one that made him such an intriguing prospect in the first place, the beautiful skillset that, despite how abysmally he’s played, keeps a vocal contingent of fans strongly in his corner. Daye scored 28 points in 30 minutes and only needed 18 shots to do it. He hit four of his eight 3-pointers.

For the first time this season, he didn’t pass up shots that he can make. He didn’t over-dribble. He didn’t shrink after the few mistakes he made. He played freely, effectively, confident and with energy. As a result, he played 30 minutes in a game for only the 10th time in his career. It’s no secret that Daye’s most dangerous weapon is his jump shot. When he was passing them up to dribble, he was hurting the team. Against Miami, he wasn’t passing them up and, as happens with all good shooters, they started going in. Then, surprise surprise, the defense adjusted, played him tighter and this gave him opportunities to put the ball on the floor, make a few nice passes and show off some other understated elements of his game.

The formula isn’t a difficult one. It’s unrealistic to expect 28 points per game from him, but it’s not unrealistic at all to expect him to play this well. Daye has the ability to be one of the league’s best shooters. Even in limited minutes last year, shooting 40 percent from three wasn’t an accident. He has a pure, natural shot, a quick release and the height to get it off against anyone. He has other offensive skills that are valuable situationally. He can dribble sometimes. He has a mid-range game. He has a nice, un-blockable floater that he can get off in the lane. It’s all dependent on the long-range jumper though. If that part of his game isn’t working, he’s not skilled enough in the other areas to be much of a factor on offense. But if the shot is falling, and with as good as his shot is, it usually should be falling, those more subtle skills he has suddenly make him a more dangerous player and a tougher cover.

Last season, Daye had some success against the Heat, but also made mistakes as a result of Miami’s size and strength on the perimeter. Tonight, that hardly fazed him. Miami didn’t play well and also played without Dwyane Wade. But LeBron James was still around as were Shane Battier and Mike Miller. All three of those guys are much stronger than Daye. All three are solid or better defensively. All three guarded Daye at times and weren’t shy about using their strength advantages to try and push him around.

I’ve seen Daye play well for the Pistons, but even in those moments, Daye’s physical limitations were still very apparent. He still shied away from contact, he still struggled when defenders resorted to clutch and grab tactics. This was the first time I’ve watched Daye in three seasons and didn’t get distracted by his physical strength disadvantages. This season, Daye’s body of work has been far more bad than good, but in a single night, he’s earned his way back into the rotation and for now, that’s enough.

Monroe attones

Monroe had a brutal performance (as did the entire team) against Oklahoma City. He was bothered by Oklahoma City’s strong interior defense and he missed several close-range shots. If he’s truly an All-Star level big man, he can’t miss shots like that, especially against a good team where opportunities around the basket are limited.

He was 8-for-14, he exploited Miami’s weak centers (apologies, Eddy Curry) and he grabbed 10 rebounds. He was back to the Monroe he’s been all season. But, he’s also still a work in progress. The Pistons had no answer for Chris Bosh, and at some point, the Pistons need Monroe to be able to at the very least make things tough for players like Bosh. He and the other Pistons bigs couldn’t do that tonight.

Monroe also had a good look from close range that would’ve given the Pistons the lead in the final minute. He didn’t make it. That’s OK, but the Pistons are also counting on him to be the focal point of the offense, so at some point those are shots he’s going to be relied on to make. For now, it’s progress enough for him to simply bounce back from his worst performance with another strong one.

Wilkins starts for Prince

Tayshaun Prince is still a solid veteran capable of occasional good performances. Much was made of the Pistons re-signing him long-term largely for his intangible qualities — intelligence, leadership, defense, etc. I don’t agree with the signing, but I also don’t disagree with the sentiment. Rebuilding teams that don’t pay any attention at all to maturity, leadership and intangibles in the locker room end up as the Washington Wizards. No one wants that.

My beef though, is that Wilkins essentially showed tonight why the Prince signing was unnecessary. Is Wilkins is good a player as Prince? No. But can he deliver intangible qualities like toughness, defense, intelligence, maturity and being a good teammate for a fraction of the cost? His performance against Miami in 34 minutes gave a resounding ‘yes.’ Wilkins (and Rodney Stuckey, Daye and Jonas Jerebko in more limited turns) did about all a defensive player can do against LeBron James, made things difficult for him. He hustled, played with toughness and played with energy. He didn’t play perfectly — he probably should’ve passed on a couple of his 3-point attempts and he turned it over three times. But he gave decent enough minutes and his energy was a nice compliment to the young players.

The reasons Prince was brought back were valid and justifiable ones. The Pistons just could’ve got those qualities for a much cheaper price.

“It ain’t the same”

A reporter asked Ben Wallace after the game if it was good to hear just a bit of cheers and fans yelling “DEEEEETROIT BAAASKETBALL” for one of the first times this season. Laughing, Wallace responded with the above quote. He’s right — the comparison to the energy of the Palace right now to the Palace during Wallace’s prime years is ridiculous to think about.

But for this team, right now, this is as good as it gets. And for this team, tonight’s game was entertaining. It was fun to see Daye, Knight and Monroe as the team’s driving forces. It was fun to see the team have a chance to win it. It was fun to see Monroe as the guy who got the ball down one in the closing seconds. It doesn’t matter so much that the team lost. What matters is that the young players are asserting themselves and the veteran players are content to let them do that. Even if the results are still a bad team on the court, it’s a positive development compared to last season.

LeBron James and Chris Bosh take on Pistons, likely without Dwyane Wade

Essentials

  • Teams: Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons
  • Date: Jan. 25, 2012
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

  • Pistons: 4-14
  • Heat: 12-5

Probable starters

Pistons:

Heat:

  • Mario Chalmers
  • James Jones
  • LeBron James
  • Chris Bosh
  • Joel Anthony

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +8.5

Over/under: 187.5

Score: Heat win, 98-89.5

Three things to watch

1. Dwyane Wade?

Dwyane Wade flew to Detroit, but none of the Heat Index writers expect him to play. This doesn’t really affect the Pistons chances of winning. (They won’t.) But if you’re headed to The Palace to see the Big Three, count on just two.

2. Austin Daye bouncing back?

After a late-night shooting session with his personal trainer, will Austin Daye break out of his slump tonight? Probably not, but it’s fun to hope. Keith Langlois of Pistons.com at least expects Daye to receive extended minutes again.

Remember, Daye found himself, somewhat, against the Heat last year.

3. Rough waters ahead

After Monday’s loss to the Thunder, the Pistons’ schedule doesn’t get much easier. Their next there games are vs. the Heat, vs. the Hawks and at the 76ers.

Damien Wilkins, via David Mayo of MLive.com (emphasis mine):

“The next four or five games, all the teams are above .500, with playoff and championship aspirations,” Wilkins said. “We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us. It doesn’t take a long time to figure out if guys are up to the challenge or not.”

I fear Wilkins is correct.

Austin Daye summons personal trainer Joe Abunassar to Detroit

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Austin Daye’s personal trainer, Joe Abunassar, came to town at Daye’s request to help him work out, talk with him and boost his confidence, Daye said. Because Abunassar, a Farmington native who like Frank and Pistons personnel director George David was a student manager under Bobby Knight at Indiana, works with Daye in the summers, he has a barometer to gauge what might be causing Daye’s shooting woes so far.

“He was with me last night,” he said. “We were shooting way late. Having him around is good for me because I know I can always get up some shots, hear some words of wisdom. It’s always good to talk to him because I like to pick his brain a lot and he brings out the best in me.”

Good for Austin Daye, who’s apparently not idly waiting for his slump to end. Hard work – and better play – will get Daye back into the Pistons’ rotation.

Brandon Knight holds steady at seven in Grantland rookie rankings

For the second straight week, Brandon Knight is seventh in Sebastian Pruiti’s weekly evaluations of NBA rookie performances:

Yes, Knight has been turnover-prone in his first few weeks in the NBA, but these types of growing pains should be expected from a 20-year-old point guard. However, Knight’s shooting has been a pleasant surprise, especially in spot-up situations. Knight scores 1.00 point per possession as a spot-up shooter, which is in the top third of all NBA players. In catch-and-shoot situations where Knight takes a jump shot without dribbling, Knight’s numbers are even better: 1.273 points per possession, which puts Knight in the top 17 percent of NBA players. As Knight learns to limit his turnovers, he has a chance to become one of the most efficient rookies in this class.

Knight was fourth in the first week’s rankings and has been seventh each of the last two weeks.

Austin Daye among the NBA’s biggest disappointments

Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus ranked the players who have fallen furthest below their preseason projection, and Austin Daye came in fifth:

Daye is suffering through a perplexing slump from the field. He’s missed all 14 three-point attempts this season and hasn’t been a whole lot better inside the arc, shooting 33.3 percent. As Rob Mahoney noted last week, Ben Wallace vocally encouraged Daye to keep shooting rather than trying to take the ball to the hoop. Such forays are largely responsible for Daye’s turnover rate more than doubling in the early going. Daye’s projection hasn’t fallen off as much as the players ahead of him because he’s played just 140 minutes after nearly 1,500 last season, a sample more than sufficient to indicate Daye’s true skill. It’s seemingly a matter of him finding his confidence, but nobody knows when that might happen.

One more note from Pelton, who previously ranked the players who’ve surpassed preseason projections (No Pistons were included.):

You might look at this as the more depressing half of the series, but I actually see it the opposite way. For the most part, these players cannot possibly continue to play as poorly as they have, which is good news for their teams.

Pistons in NBA’s bottom rung, but they’re not the league’s worst team. Hooray!

I participated in a 5-on-5 at ESPN on the NBA’s worst teams. We all – surprise, surprise – included the Pistons on our bottom five, but nobody listed them in the last spot.

I ranked them fourth-worst:

They have twice as many losses by at least 14 points as they do wins. Their horrid offense makes their horrid defense even worse. Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight have promising futures, but both are turning the ball over too much as they adjust to large NBA roles.

Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak had them third-worst:

They don’t make a lick of sense. After Greg Monroe, who continues to quietly produce solid stat lines, the next three Pistons in terms of minutes played are Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Brandon Knight. These three play the same quasi-position and lead the team in shots, while none are shooting better than 42 percent from the floor. Yeesh.

As did Spencer Wellesley Percy of Queen City Hoops:

Brace yourself here. The Pistons rank in the bottom three in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. They use fewer possessions than any other team and also turn the ball over the most in the NBA — not good. The stats are bad, but looking on the bright side they are seeing huge jumps in production from second-year center Greg Monroe (15.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg). He should blossom into the cornerstone of the franchise by season’s end.

Henry Abbott of TrueHoop put them second-worst:

And yes, I’m aware they just beat my Portland Trail Blazers. But look at the schedule! Thunder, Heat, Hawks, Sixers, Bucks, Knicks, with all but the Heat and Hawks on the road. Blink and they’ll be 4-19.

So did Mason Ginsberg of Hornets247:

The home win against Portland over the weekend is nice, but it doesn’t mask the fact eight of their losses have come by 14 points or more. It doesn’t get any easier for them over the next week either, with home games against Miami and Atlanta sandwiched between trips to Oklahoma City and Philly.

Chris Wilcox appreciates time with Pistons, would’ve considered re-signing, but Detroit never offered contract

Washington – Chris Wilcox doesn’t regret his two years with the Pistons, even though the team went 57-107, missed the playoffs twice and rebelled against its coach.

“I appreciate every environment I’m in, because everything is different, and you can from every team that you go to,” Wilcox said. “So, it’s all a learning experience. Still learning.”

What did he learn in Detroit?

“I learned that whatever goes on in the locker room, that’s some stuff that really does have to stay in there,” Wilcox said. “Because once it gets to the media, it can get a little bigger than what it is.

“I think it was definitely overblown. I think a lot of stuff that went on last year that should have been in-house leaked out. I think that was the only thing.”

Whether or not the media leaks were the only thing wrong with the Pistons’ interpersonal relationships, Wilcox said he was open to returning.

“Every team has issues, but I would’ve taken consideration to go back there,” Wilcox said. “But at the same time, they wasn’t really talking about nothing.”

Wilcox said he spoke with the Pistons about re-signing, but they never reached specific contract negotiations. Instead, he reached a deal with the Celtics.

“They was a little slow with it,” Wilcox said. “So, I had to make a move.”

Chris Broussard suggests Tayshaun Prince-for-Michael Beasley trade

Chris Broussard of ESPN suggested five trades that would help both teams:

5. Detroit Pistons trade Tayshaun Prince to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Michael Beasley

Detroit is horrible, and in need of a major overhaul. They signed Prince to keep an asset, and turning him into the talented Beasley could end up being a coup. I know Beasley has his issues, but he’s also got game, and with the way things are going in Detroit, it’s worth the risk.

By adding Beasley, the Pistons would have a young nucleus of Brandon Knight, Ben Gordon, Beasley and the impressive Greg Monroe. It’s not championship-caliber, but it has a chance of being better than what they have now. Joe Dumars once helped rejuvenate the careers of Billups and Ben Wallace. Maybe he can get through to Beasley, who after two trades would perhaps be a bit humbled.

For Minnesota, it clears out their congested small forward spot and gives Derrick Williams room to grow. The Timberwolves need to find out whether Williams can play the 3 full-time, and what better way than to move Beasley out of the way. In case you haven’t noticed, Minny has done quite well without Beasley in the lineup, going 5-4 in the first nine games he missed due to injury.

Tayshaun Prince can’t be traded until March 1, and even then, I don’t see the Pistons making this trade. Joe Dumars has maintained a young, growing team needs a veteran to guide it, and he clearly sees Prince as that veteran.

That said, without the all-important chance to assess Michael Beasley’s character issues up close, I’d probably make the trade.

Lawrence Frank should rely on veterans less

In a CBS Sports evaluation of several NBA questions at the quarter-point of the season, Matt Moore picked Lawrence Frank as his most disappointing coaching performance:

Matt Moore: It pains me to say this because I think he’s limited by his roster and will work out in the long-run for the Pistons, but Lawrence Frank has disappointed. Signing veterans with limite upside and impact isn’t his fault, but relying on them is. The pieces are there for the Pistons to come together, but it simply hasn’t so far this year.

I don’t really see what else Frank could do, to be honest. I think he is actually playing his young players quite a bit. Brandon Knight moved into the starting lineup early on, Greg Monroe has a primary role in the offense and Jonas Jerebko is playing about 30 minutes a game. The knock many people have is probably in reference to Austin Daye, but his mix of an injured ankle and poor shooting has made it harder to give him consistent minutes. Other than Vernon Macklin, a marginal prospect at best, there’s not much more youth on the roster that Frank could be playing.

But hey, it’s not all doom and gloom from CBS. Royce Young thinks Knight has an outside shot at Rookie of the Year:

Ricky Rubio is the first quarter ROY, and Kyrie Irving is right there with him, but don’t count out Kemba Walker and even Brandon Knight, who had quietly been playing well in Detroit early on.

Knight will certainly get the minutes to have a shot at the award, but his production will have to drastically improve to catch Rubio and Irving.

Rodney Stuckey plays through injury, but that’s not his battle

Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

#Pistons just confirmed: Stuckey reaggrevated that groin injury, but he’ll continue to play. Down 23

Kudos to Rodney Stuckey for playing hurt, and I hope he sets an example of toughness for his teammates.

But that’s not the battle Stuckey needs to be waging, especially during the latter stages of a 99-79 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight.

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Stuckey has a little extra juice vs. OKC. Likes to go vs. Westbrook. Snub of ’08 Select Team still sticks with him.

That battle – one that nobody outside of Pistons employees cares about – isn’t the right one for Stuckey, either.

Want to prove you’re better than Westbrook? Bring it every game.

Westbrook had 24-6-5 tonight. He had 21-6-3 in his last game. He had 36-7-5, 26-4-7, 21-8-8, 22-7-2 and 30-6-4 in his last five games before that. He’ll probably have something like 24-6-5 in his next game, too. That’s why he just received a max contract.

Stuckey has shown flashes of brilliance, and that got him $8.5 million for each of the next three years. But his salary is generously inflated for what he might be, not what he is. For him to earn more money in 2014, he must play well more often.

Stuckey (12 points on 5-of-11 three rebounds and no assists in a foul- and injury-limited 22 minutes) started the game strong, but he faded by the second quarter. That followed his best game of the season, against the Trail Blazers on Saturday.

I’m not sure whether Stuckey lacks the mental focus or physical conditioning to play so hard – not even necessarily so well – every game. But for whatever reason, Stuckey has never established himself over a sustained stretch.

Stuckey is – obviously to nearly everybody – not close to Westbrook’s level. Playing through injury during a blowout loss won’t get him there. Playing well consistently will.

Once Stuckey gets healthy, that’s what I hope to see from him – not just sporadic bursts of energy, focus and production when it suits him.

Stuckey deserves credit for playing well enough lately to raise expectations, and I’m hoping this is finally the time he’ll break through. But he must earn it in games that don’t hold extra meaning to him.

Brandon Knight stinks up defense

Brandon Knight was dreadful defensively. He got lost defending Daequan Cook off the ball a couple times, allowing two 3-pointers. On the ball, Russell Westbrook carved him up.

At times, Knight let his defensive struggles affect his offense. In the first quarter, James Harden made a transition 3-pointer over Knight. On the next possession, Knight forced a 3-pointer of his own – and airballed.

I know Knight is young. I know the Thunder guards are excellent. I know, I know, I know.

But once again, until Knight puts it together, he hasn’t put it together.

Greg Monroe stinks up offense

Greg Monroe (3-of-14 for 12 points in 27 minutes) really struggled offensively tonight. As Royce Young of Daily Thunder predicted, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka took turns defending Monroe, and both bothered him.

Like I said before the game, the plan for guarding offensive centerpieces is often to send multiple types of defenders at him. This was a test Monroe failed on his road to becoming Detroit’s offensive hub.

With 12, 10, 10, 13 and 4 points in his last five games, Monroe isn’t a reliable No. 1 option yet.

Austin Daye stinks up everything

Austin Daye (3-for-10 for nine points) finally made his first 3-pointer of the season, but for the most part, his shot looked just as off as it has all season.

Daye was just as bad defensively – slow on help rotations and timid once he got there. To be fair, Daye spent many of his minutes at power forward – though, that might have helped his offense against a big man not accustomed to guarding out to the perimeter – and that could explain some of his defensive ineffectiveness. But it doesn’t exactly explain his lack of defensive awareness.

At least he got 20 minutes to work through his problems, his second-longest out of the season.

Setting the pace

Many fans have suggested the Pistons, last in the NBA in pace, should play faster. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

To a degree, a team controls its pace only as well as it defends. The Thunder are not a running team on the face value of its players’ ability to get up the court quickly, but they cause a lot of turnovers and misses that lead into transition opportunities. That’s why they ran so much tonight. It’s much harder to run after allowing a made shot.

Until the Pistons defend better, their pace won’t fluctuate much.