The Pistons running out of steam in the fourth quarter and Jodie Meeks getting hot late made Friday’s 96-73 loss to Philadelphia much less competitive than it was in reality. Greg Monroe had another performance that makes him look like a lock to be an All-Star in the near future, Brandon Knight showed a few exciting flashes in his first career start, the defense was good and competitive for much of the game and Charlie Villanueva didn’t play again, so the game was not devoid of positives.
But two recurring problems reared their ugly heads, making it impossible for the Pistons to score enough to stay in the game: the Pistons have a hard time converting close to the basket and a hard time converting far from the basket.
Entering the game, Detroit was among the worst teams in the league finishing at the rim. According to HoopData, Detroit was shooting just 55.8 percent at the rim prior to Friday’s game, 27th in the league. League average is 63.3 percent. The Pistons actually got off to a great start turning that stat around some, hitting 6-of-7 shots at the rim in the first quarter. But they got progressively worse from there — 3-for-5 in the second quarter, 3-for-7 in the third and 1-for-3 in the fourth.
Now, failing to convert that close against Philly was doubly frustrating because Knight and Will Bynum were actually having success getting into the lane whenever they wanted. Neither guy is the most gifted passer, but both were finding guys in position to score, and they just weren’t converting. The Sixers do have good shot blockers in Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes, but the Pistons have been poor at converting layups whether teams have a shot-blocking presence or not.
The other issue offensively for Detroit was the absurd number of open threes the team missed. They were 0-for-10 from 3-point range. Knight was 0-for-5. Austin Daye was 0-for-3. Knight was a streaky, erratic shooter from distance at Kentucky, so his struggles are somewhat more explainable. But Daye shot 40 percent from three last season and shot the ball well from their in the preseason. His biggest asset is his ability to hit threes. The Pistons are now shooting just 31 percent as a team from three on the season, and that includes the solid 40 percent that Ben Gordon is shooting.
Saying that the Pistons struggle to score isn’t going to surprise anyone. But the biggest reason they struggle is because their offense is so mid-range oriented. The Pistons have active players around the basket and guards capable of penetrating and getting all the way to the rim. They are going to get a lot of at-the-rim opportunities this season. Those guards penetrating and those offensive rebounders are also going to result in shooters having open looks from 3-point range. Offense and scoring is certainly a problem, but it’s not a problem because of a lack of opportunities. Taking and missing bad shots is unwatchable and unforgivable. The Pistons taking and missing good shots consistently has been really maddening so far this season.
Jonas Jerebko, power forward
There’s still an argument to be made that Jonas Jerebko, long-term, is better suited to play small forward. He’s not looking as overmatched at the power forward spot as his somewhat slight frame would suggest, though. Against Philly, he played strong defense against the much stronger Elton Brand, helping hold Brand to a 2-for-9 shooting night. Jerebko also grabbed nine more rebounds, pushing his season average to 7.4 per game. He’s also had solid defensive performances against David West, another physically stronger PF. Jerebko has successfully made Villanueva, who received a DNP-CD against Philly, an afterthought.
Maxiell is proving useful
Of all the Pistons’ high-priced veterans last season, Jason Maxiell looked to be the least useful of the bunch. He wasn’t in good shape and his production plummeted for two straight seasons. Plus, as an undersized player dependent mostly on freakish athleticism, Maxiell is the type of player who age can quickly creep up on. Players like Gordon, Rip Hamilton and Villanueva all had some built-in excuses — namely, they weren’t being used in optimal roles/schemes to highlight their strengths. Maxiell, on the other hand, has always just been a role player/energy guy off the bench. It’s pretty impossible to use someone who has never relied on plays being run for him incorrectly, so it was much easier to come to a conclusion that his days as a useful rotation player were over.
This season, though, he hasn’t been too bad. He had 10 points and 5 rebounds off the bench. He’s not perfect (and never was), but he infused some energy and looked like the old Maxiell, not just old Maxiell. Since a poor three-game stretch to open the season, Maxiell has actually looked like a serviceable player again over the last four games.
Above, I highlighted the main problem with Knight’s game tonight — he missed a lot of wide open jumpers. But that shouldn’t overshadow his positives. He’s going to make mistakes, but he’s also going to continue earning minutes because he plays as hard and as tough as any guard the Pistons have put on the floor over the last three years. He’s in Will Bynum territory when it comes to effort.
Against Philly, he helped out on the glass and collected eight rebounds. He showed his toughness after injuring his ankle in the first half. He tried to run down the court and looked to be in a lot of pain. He could barely put weight on the ankle, then he awkwardly limped into the locker room immediately. Ankle injuries, especially for guards who rely on quickness are no joke, so it wouldn’t have been a shock to see him not come back. But there he was, starting the third quarter. He didn’t become less aggressive, continuously (sometimes a bit out of control, but that’s OK for now) pushing the ball up-court and attacking the paint. The one shot he has shown an ability to knock down consistently is that little floater from 8-10 feet. He gets in trouble when he launches it from too far out, but it’s a reliable shot for him in the lane and one that is hard for defenses to stop. Knight is still a work in progress, but his effort and toughness continually make him fun to watch.
Tayshaun Prince might need to rest
I’ve held off on being too critical of Tayshaun Prince‘s performance, simply because he’s playing in obvious pain. He’s as tough as ever, as playing through pain has been a norm for him in his career, but after a 4-for-13 performance against Philly, it might be time to consider having him take a game or two off. He’s now shooting just 38 percent on the season.
I was going to do a separate header for Daye, but he fits the topic here, and I can sum his performance up pretty quickly: he played terrible. He was passive, lacked confidence and missed open shots. It was his first extended action of the season, and I’m sure he was pressing to make up for falling out of the rotation and trying to earn his spot back in one night. Lawrence Frank is a smart enough coach to know that. Hopefully, he’s also a perceptive enough coach to know that Prince could use some rest, considering Detroit’s brutal stretch of back-to-backs over the next week. Combining the two, he can give Daye another shot at a start where nerves are hopefully less of a factor and, when Gordon and Stuckey return, allow Prince to have a game or two to properly heal his knee.
No word on how long Gordon’s personal matters will keep him out, but it appears Stuckey will miss tomorrow’s game as well. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:
Stuckey said he doubts he will play tomorrow. Said he wants to make sure it’s right.
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