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Archive → January, 2012

Rodney Stuckey looks to stay hot against one-time scripted foe, Russell Westbrook

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons at Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Date: Jan. 23, 2012
  • Time: 8 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

  • Pistons: 4-13
  • Thunder: 13-3

Probable starters

Pistons:

Thunder:

  • Russell Westbrook
  • Thabo Sefolosha
  • Kevin Durant
  • Serge Ibaka
  • Kendrick Perkins

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +13.5

Over/under: 186.5

Score: Thunder win, 100-86.5

Three things to watch

1. Rodney Stuckey’s passion

Rodney Stuckey had his best game of the season against the Trail Blazers on Saturday, but he rarely shows supreme focus, drive and execution for two straight games.

Once upon a time, Keith Langlois of Pistons.com was certain Stuckey saw Russell Westbrook making the USA Select Team ahead of him as a slight. History hasn’t quite vindicated that opinion. Patrick and I recently debated whether Westbrook is one of the NBA’s top 10 players. I’m not convinced Stuckey belongs in the top 100.

If Stuckey has his competitive juices flowing tonight, I’ll be surprised – and pleased.

2. Greg Monroe vs. two good defenders

When players legitimately become offensive centerpieces, they often see opponents throw different types defenders at them throughout a game. Royce Young of Daily Thunder expects the physically imposing Kendrick Perkins and fleet-of-foot Serge Ibaka to each guard Monroe tonight. It will be a good test for Monroe as he moves toward becoming the focal point of the Pistons’ offense.

3. No sneaking

The Thunder are an elite team, but like all elite teams, they’re not invincible. A loss of focus, and even one of the NBA’s worst teams could beat them. Unfortunately for the Pistons, Oklahoma City already had its slipup – a loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, which was the Thunder’s only loss in their last nine games.

Are changes coming to the Rookie-Sophomore game?

Alex Kennedy of Hoops World:

Now, it sounds like the NBA is changing the game’s format once again.

There have been rumblings that this year’s Rookie-Sophomore game won’t pit the two draft classes against each other, but rather feature two teams with a combination of rookies and sophomores. We’re hearing that two TNT personalities – possibly Charles Barkely and Shaquille O’Neal – will assemble the teams from the pool of selected players and coach the squads, as well. That means we could see Kyrie Irving throwing alley oops to Blake Griffin or John Wall running a fastbreak with MarShon Brooks.

Not only will this make the game more interesting, it’ll also be more competitive.

The Pistons could actually have three representatives in this game. Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight are close to locks to be selected, but Jonas Jerebko is also a candidate. Since he missed his entire sophomore season, he’s still eligible to play this year.

Why the Pistons still believe Charlie Villanueva can help

Charlie Villanueva has been underwhelming while collecting a hefty paycheck from the Pistons since 2009. This season, he’s only played a handful of minutes and has yet to score a point while nursing an ankle injury. He’s often been talked about as a leading candidate to be amnestied next offseason should the Pistons decide to use the clause.

Still though, despite all the struggles, the Pistons hold out hope that Villanueva will get healthy and contribute despite the evidence that he’s too inconsistent and too much of a defensive liability to be a key rotation player. Beckley Mason of Hoop Speak gets at why that might be, using Ryan Anderson as an example:

The goal for NBA offenses–to make hay in the paint–hasn’t changed. But more than ever, the best offenses are adept at going away from the space they want to use, at using multiple credible shooters to unclog the lane.

It wasn’t so long ago that big men whose primary value was as a shooter were regarded as a curiosity, something to be brought of the bench and examined for 20 minutes a game. If a player over 6-8 didn’t trade primarily in toughness, it was a problem, notable exceptions like Robert Horry not withstanding.

Today, that’s simply not the case. In order to thrive after the environmental shift brought by defensive rule changes, the position descriptions of the NBA’s tallest players has mutated. Players like Ryan Anderson, the prototypical stretch big-man, are no longer exotic or a luxury, but a necessity.

Now, Anderson is a much, much more better player than Villanueva at this point. He not only contributes with his shooting, he’s also a solid rebounder and passable defensive player. Those are two things Villanueva is not, so when his shot hasn’t been falling in his Pistons career, there has been nothing else he does well enough to justify having him on the court.

Villanueva does have that 3-point range though. He shot 39 percent from three last season, which is the same percentage Anderson shoots for his career. The Pistons have slashers in the backcourt in Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey who have the ability to get in the paint and force the defense to adjust. They have a big man in Greg Monroe who has made himself into a viable option on offense who commands defensive attention. The Pistons could clearly benefit from having players on the floor whose range can create space for their other offensive threats. Villanueva should be one of those players, which is why he’ll get another chance to prove it if he ever gets healthy enough and in shape enough to get on the court this season. It remains to be seen if that will ever materialize.

Lack of practice time takes away team bonding opportunities

The impact of the compressed NBA schedule is having a negative impact on every team in the league when it comes to not having enough practice time, particularly for a team like the Pistons that is trying to learn a new coach’s system. But via Terry Foster of The Detroit News, no practice time also is detrimental to simply developing relationships between coaches and teammates:

They’ve only had two full practices the past two weeks and coach Lawrence Frank wanted to get some work in. But the other reason for the practice was to allow the team to bond more.

“We try to get as much court time as possible,” assistant coach Dee Brown said. “We try to text each other and talk to each other as much as possible because it builds a brotherhood. You’ve got to build a brotherhood in Detroit and try to be around each other. You can text and Skype but we got to touch each other and be around each other and try to grow our game.”

Considering the entire coaching staff save for Brian Hill is new and that the Pistons have a handful of new players this year — Brandon Knight, Vernon Macklin, Damien Wilkins and Walker Russell, as well as Jonas Jerebko, who didn’t play at all last season, a lack of on-court familiarity has been noticeable at times. It’s far from Detroit’s biggest problem, but it’s certainly one that would’ve been less pointed if the schedule had been arranged to allow teams to practice more.

Lawrence Frank’s lineup decisions represent another break from previous regimes

Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press:

“You need a balance of both, and you always weigh it in terms of the plus you’re getting on the defensive side versus the minus,” he said. “And also, does it help Jonas coming off the bench? … Like I said, we weren’t going to make a knee-jerk reaction. We made the move, and we’re not going to make a knee-jerk reaction now. But you continue to evaluate it, and you weigh all those factors.”

Lawrence Frank has made lineup decisions that I’ve both agreed and disagreed with — love that he kept Brandon Knight in the starting lineup after Rodney Stuckey was ready to return, not the biggest fan of his decision to start Ben Wallace and bring Jonas Jerebko off the bench. But after the last three years where John Kuester and Michael Curry made lineup decisions with no real rhyme or reason to them, then followed those up by inexplicably changing them before they even had a chance to work or fail decisively, it’s good to see Frank’s more patient approach.

Rodney Stuckey’s rare dunk against Portland

Dan mentioned in his recap that Rodney Stuckey brought out one of his rare authoritative dunks in his great performance against Portland Saturday. Well, those dunks are so rare, that I figured the video of it was worth a post. I can honestly only remember a handful of instances where Stuckey has finished with a dunk rather than a layup in his career. Hat tip to SLAM for the video.

Pistons’ turnovers beget fear of turnovers, which begets more turnovers

The Pistons have turned the ball over too much this season, but they’re letting that problem force them into either more turnovers or bad shots.

That was especially evident against the Memphis Grizzlies, one my favorite teams to watch, and their tough defense. The Pistons made a push in the third quarter, but the Grizzlies countered with great defense. Mike Conley had just missed two free throws, and the Pistons were in a sturm-und-drang phase (Ed: Sturm und Drang was an 18th-century movement in German art, and Jakob, a German, apparently knows what that it is. I do not.) and could have come within eight points.

MEM

Walker Russell receives the outlet and makes a push for the an easy lay-in. Conley is quick to get back on defense, which gives him a good position to defend the play.

MEM2

Although Russell is really fast, Conley is quick himself and stays in front of his man to prevent the fastbreak. Russell has to abort the transition look, and the Pistons get another look at the superb Memphis halfcourt defense.

MEM3

After Russell swings the ball to Tayshaun Prince, he cuts through the lane on the other side in order to create space for the Greg Monroe-Prince pick-and-roll. The pick is not even set when Gasol starts to make the move to show hard on the screen – well, at least as hard as a 7-footer can show.

MEM4

Even though Prince is quick and has long arms and above-average court vision, he can’t drive past Gasol or hit Monroe with the pass. Mayo covers the corner 3-pointer, and all other scoring angles are shut down as well. Notice how Josh Davis has positioned himself to bother Monroe catching a pass. He’s not in position to deflect it, but he is aware of his responsibility on the weak side. The only available pass is a long pass to Jonas Jerebko behind the 3-point arc. I’m pretty sure that is the shot Lionel Hollins wants his team to give up.

MEM5

Even though Jerebko is wide open and is shooting 33 percent on the season, he chooses to make the extra pass to Russell. Monroe is already fighting hard on the inside to get good post position. Additionally, look where Conley and Davis are standing. They are relatively far away from the ball in this situation.

MEM6

A split second later, they are right where the action is. Memphis’ close-outs are supreme. If I wanted my team to learn how to properly close out, I would simply show them Grizzlies tapes. They close out hard and with a huge step, all the while having perfect control over their bodies. Monroe actually has perfect position on Gasol, but Russell fails to get him the ball. Maybe it is a lack of time spent with the team or the general inability of the team to get Monroe more touches, but Russell took Jerebko’s pick. Monroe was furious after the play ended!

MEM7

Now, Russell does not have position to score. He can either swing the ball to Prince or pass it back Jerebko, because Gasol has recovered on Monroe.

MEM8

Russell passes the ball back to Jerebko. Jerebko passes up another shot for the pumpfake. Monroe is guarded by Conley, which is quite a mismatch, but once again, Monroe doesn’t get the ball.

MEM10

Instead, Jerebko passes it back to Russell! Meanwhile, Monroe gets called for a three-second violation.

The Pistons burnt six seconds off the clock in order to have two guys pass the ball back and forth. Monroe was wide open twice!

Memphis intensity during that play was great, and I strongly believe Detroit failed to get the ball inside because the players were afraid of deflections or turnovers.

Pistons signed Damien Wilkins and Walker Russell because they always play how Rodney Stuckey played tonight – hard

Making his way to the court before the game, Rodney Stuckey high-fived Jonas Jerebko, hugged Charlie Villanueva, hugged Austin Daye, tucked in his jersey and then did something few Pistons have done lately.

He smiled.

This was no forced smirk, but a wide grin. Speculating, I’d say he was excited to play the Portland Trail Blazers – the Seattle native’s de facto hometown team – and put on a show for his friends and family watching on television in the Pacific Northwest. Remember, Stuckey (or someone using his account) tweeted he “would go ASAP” to Portland during his contract negotiations with the Pistons.

Whatever his motivation tonight, mission accomplished.

Stuckey scored a season-high 28 points, matched a career-high four 3-pointers, dished five assists, grabbed four rebounds, had just one ball stolen in 38 minutes, took a charge and and even dunked(!) in the Pistons’ 94-91 win. This was a complete performance, and it came in a game it appeared meant a little extra to him.

For the rest of the Pistons, tonight was set to be just another game. It was the second game of a back-to-back and came on the heels of a four-game losing streak – each loss coming by at least eight points. We’re more than a quarter of the way through the Pistons’ season, and it’s clear they’re a bad team.

But that doesn’t matter to two players: Walker Russell and Damien Wilkins.

The Pistons were +11 in the 10:43 those two played together, including a second-quarter run that gave Detroit the lead for good. Russell and Wilkins moved the ball, defended with energy and inspired their teammates to do the same. It’s fitting the game ended with Jason Maxiell diving on a loose ball at midcourt – and a win.

Leaving the arena after every game with a loss becomes demoralizing. These are human beings, not robots. As much as it’s ideal for this team to keep losing and keep improving, it’s not that easy.

If they keep losing, remaining focused on improvement becomes a bigger challenge. If they win more, they forsake precious lottery combinations.

Players like Wilkins and Russell allow them to walk a middle ground.

Russell spent the last few years as a D-League guard and Wilkins has an unguaranteed minimum contract for a reason. They’re not good enough to lift the Pistons out of the lottery, but they’re good enough for wins like this one every once in a while.

I don’t know whether Stuckey will play with the same drive in Detroit’s next game, but I’m quite confident Wilkins and Russell will.

That’s why they’re here.

Bash Brothers

Jonas Jerebko (11 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes) and Jason Maxiell (seven points, seven rebounds and a steal in 26 minutes) definitely benefited from the style Walker Russell and Damien Wilkins dictated tonight.

Jerebko is an excellent ball-handler and passer – for someone who shouldn’t be relied upon to do either often. His strong off-ball cuts set him up to receive passes when the ball is moving well, and he’s capable of making an extra pass or dribbling to force a scrambling defense to collapse, but the Pistons shouldn’t consistently rely on him to create for his teammates. Tonight, they didn’t.

Defensively, both players are best with other good defenders, and the Pistons played strong team defense tonight. Maxiell likes to be physical, but sometimes that takes him out of the play to rebound or help, so his teammates must compensate. Jerebko has the nimble feet to scramble and help and trap, but that’s only effective when his teammates are playing at least decent man-to-man defense. Tonight, they were.

I loved the way both played until Jerebko’s night ended prematurely when his mouth fouled Craig Smith’s elbow, resulting in this:

pp jerebko blood

Brandon Knight scores tonight, but tomorrow?

Brandon Knight scored 14 points, and following 22 points against the Grizzlies yesterday, this is the highest-scoring two-game stretch of his young career. He often took advantage of Portland defensive lapses to get inside for either layups or free throws, which was helpful tonight.

But I’m not sure how much it means going forward. As Knight proves he’s capable of attacking and finishing, defense will gameplan for him and take away the wide driving lanes he saw tonight.

Don’t get me wrong, Knight’s scoring was in no way a negative. I’m just not convinced it’s a big positive. I was much more impressed with his three assists and only one turnover – even if both those numbers are deflated by Knight looking more for his own shot tonight.

Greg Monroe does more than score

The Pistons were guard-dominated and didn’t go to Greg Monroe often tonight, but he was still involved, including a big tip shot late in the fourth quarter. He finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.

He has scored below his season average in each of his last four games, and I hope that trend will stop. But as long as he’s not the focal point of the offense, it’s nice to see him still work hard on the glass and defensively.

Austin Daye receives DNP-CD

Austin Daye had his good and bad moments against the Grizzlies, but Lawrence Frank held him out tonight. For someone lacking confidence, Daye will probably suffer in the short term. Hopefully, in the long term, this process will make him mentally tougher.

Rodney Stuckey to return against shot-limiting Trail Blazers

Essentials

  • Teams: Portland Trail Blazers at Detroit Pistons
  • Date: Jan. 21, 2012
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

  • Pistons: 3-13
  • Trail Blazers: 9-6

Probable starters

Pistons:

Trail Blazers:

  • Raymond Felton
  • Wesley Matthews
  • Gerald Wallace
  • LaMarcus Aldridge
  • Marcus Camby

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +7

Over/under: 179

Score: Trail Blazers win, 93-86

Three things to watch

1. The streak

The Trail Blazers have beaten the Pistons six straight games. This obviously makes sense, because in the last three years, the Trail Blazers have been a good team and the Pistons have been a bad team. Neither facct has changed.

2. Rodney Stuckey’s favorable matchup – at least compared to Detroit’s other perimeter scorers

The Trail Blazers force a lot of turnovers, rebound defensively well and send their opponents to the free-throw line often. That means they don’t allow many field-goal attempts, which presents a problem for Detroit’s jump shooters who rely on being in a rhythm.

Rodney Stuckeywho will play, according to David Mayo of MLive.com – could benefit. His drives and ability to get the line aren’t as predicated on rhythm.

3. Greg Monroe vs. LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 9.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game as a rookie, and he he raised those numbers to 17.8 and 7.6 in his second year. Greg Monroe has made a similar jump – 9.4 and 7.5 to 15.7 and 9.6 – from year one to year two.

Seeing these two go head-to-head will show both what Monroe’s future might look like and how far Monroe has to go.

Lebanese star Fadi al-Khatib: Pistons want to sign me this summer

Dany Abboud of Lebanon’s The Daily Star (I am a GM):

Is Fadi al-Khatib NBA material? It’s a question that has been continuously asked by basketball fans on the internet, considering his huge contribution to the success of the Lebanese national team over the past 10 years.

The answer to the question has come from the Detroit Pistons, who have recently been exchanging emails with Fadi, as “The Tiger” confirmed to The Daily Star in a phone call. A contract may be signed as early as this summer.

“It’s true. I have been exchanging emails with Joe Dumars [Detroit Pistons’ President], who has asked me to come in summer,” revealed Khatib, who is 32 years old.

He added: “I don’t know yet if I am going. Playing in the NBA is something professional players dream of, but I have a family and I am starting a new project here.”

I’ve never heard of Khatib, and when I first read this report, I figured he was a young big man. He’s neither, actually a 32-year-old 6-foot-6 guard/forward – but I still hope the Pistons sign him, anyway.

Jonathan Givony and Kristian Hohnjec of Draft Express evaluated al-Khatib before the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan:

While we don’t know much about the Lebanese national team, one thing we do know is that their star player is undoubtedly Fadi El Khatib.

In September of 2003, the Los Angeles Clippers inked him to the one year non-guaranteed contract that is standard for players invited to come to training camp. The Clippers then waived him just a day later when they found out that he actually is under contract with his team in Lebanon. El Khatib reportedly could not resolve a buyout with his team, Sagesse Beirut, at the time, which has forced him to stay in obscurity for the last three years.

One year prior to that, he made a name for himself at the international level by averaging 17.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.6 steals at the last version of the World Championships in Indianapolis. Despite his excellent individual showing there, Lebanon finished dead last in the tournament. This year, the bookmakers so far are predicting a similar fate. If El Khatib can hope them avoid that and continue to put up the type of impressive numbers he did in Indianapolis four years ago, this time at the ripe age of 27, a shot at the NBA or at least a contract with a top European league could very well still be in his future.

Luis Fernández and Hohnjec followed up with a brief post-tournament assessment:

Fadi El Khatib is very decent scorer, but others players are of amateurish quality.

Without knowing anything more about him, al-Khatib is a potential difference maker, and the Pistons desperately need more difference makers. In all likelihood, at his age, al-Khatib will be no better than someone like Damien Wilkins. But Wilkins’ value is already clear at this point, and his upside is practically non-existent.

Bad teams like the Pistons need to take chances on high-upside players like al-Khatib.