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Brandon Knight’s injury gives Walker Russell an extended look as primary point guard in win over Hornets

After his best performance as a pro Friday, Brandon Knight didn’t get much of a chance to build on that performance. Knight took an inadvertent elbow to the face from former Piston DaJuan Summers early in Saturday’s win over New Orleans and broke his nose.

Hopefully, the injury doesn’t cause him to miss a lot of time — he’ll probably join a long line of famous masked Pistons like Bill Laimbeer, Antonio McDyess, Rip Hamilton and Charlie Villanueva. In the meantime, though, Knight’s absence allowed another rookie to show what he can do as a team’s primary lead guard.

Walker Russell‘s circumstances are quite different from Knight’s. Knight is a prized, highly hyped lottery pick who will be given ample opportunities to turn himself into a good NBA player. Russell has no such guarantees. He’s playing without a guaranteed contract. If not for a long list of injuries, the Pistons would’ve never signed him even to that non-guaranteed deal. He’ll be 30-years-old later this year. And when the Pistons regulars do return, there’s no guarantee, despite his solid play, that he’ll even hang around on the roster.

Saturday’s audition was big for Russell, and he made the most of it. He showed for an extended stretch what he has shown in the brief flashes of playing time the Pistons have given him: he can run a NBA offense, he always looks to make plays for others, he competes hard on defense and he takes care of the basketball. He scored nine points with four assists, two turnovers and two steals. If the Pistons can’t keep him, he might not be a difference maker, but he will give competent minutes off of most benches in a league that overall doesn’t have an abundance of unselfish, smart point guards.

But Russell’s performance didn’t just do him some favors if he finds himself in need of a new team soon. Subbing the minutes of a shoot-first player in Knight (he’s been getting incrementally better as a passer, but his first inclination his entire life has been to score the ball) for a pass-first (and maybe pass-second) player in Russell allowed the Pistons other shot-loving rotation players the chance to play more freely. Ignoring last night’s performance by Knight for a minute, when he’s been in the lineup, the Pistons offense hasn’t looked good. That’s not all Knight’s fault, but because he’s a shoot-first guy and because Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince are shoot-first guys, they all kind of struggle for power at times. All three guys possess some ability to create for others and all three possess some ability to create shots for themselves. What is usually missing is an understanding of who is supposed to do what. Sometimes all three are too assertive, sometimes none of them are. What has resulted has been a mess of an offense with no true facilitator and three guys who all seem to want that job, but none of the three showing he can do it full-time. Oh, and complicating things, the one guy who is a natural facilitator, who should have the offense running through him, Greg Monroe, plays center, so he relies on others to get him the ball. As we’ve seen all season, there are many games Monroe doesn’t touch it enough as a result.

Subbing Russell for Knight makes that problem less complex. When Russell’s in the game, he brings the ball up, he starts the offense and Prince and Stuckey didn’t have to worry about figuring out when they were supposed to take turns as playmakers and when they were supposed to simply take the shots that came to them.

Monroe also was heavily involved. He finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds, and he also got 17 shots, the most he’s had in the last four games.

I was looking forward to seeing how Knight followed up that first really good performance of his career. It’s disappointing he didn’t get a chance at it tonight, but the game wasn’t a total waste, either. Hopefully, he’s learning how to have command of an offense and run it efficiently when he gets to watch Russell out there.

Big plays by veterans

Stuckey and Prince didn’t have good games overall, but both helped put the game away late with key plays and big shots.

Prince made a nice pass to Jason Maxiell for a dunk to the the Pistons up five with 2:31 left. Stuckey hit a contested 18-footer off the dribble to put the Pistons up seven with less than two minutes left. Maxiell snuck in for an offensive rebound/dunk to put the Pistons up five with less than a minute to go.

Stuckey had a poor shooting night (5-for-13), but he got more aggressive in the second half and started getting to the free throw line by driving inside more. He was passive in the first half, didn’t get a couple of calls, and settled for jumpers after that. It was good to see him come out more aggressive, particularly late in the third quarter and in the fourth.

Prince also shot poorly, and he and a few others got torched by Trevor Ariza for 17 first half points. Prince did a little better job on him in the second half.

Maxiell had another fantastic game. Last night, I mentioned Maxiell’s previous struggles as a starter. He had a good game as a starter against Milwaukee, but due to injuries, the Bucks were starting their typical backup frontcourt guys. Tonight, Maxiell finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds and a block against a big frontline of Emeka Okafor and Jason Smith. Those guys certainly aren’t All-Stars, but Maxiell has often had problems getting shots off inside against taller players. He was active and delivered another encouraging performance in what has been a nice bounce-back season for him so far.

Jerebko impresses again

After a rough stretch of games where Jonas Jerebko wasn’t his energetic self, his activity has come back nicely over the last three games. He scored 11 points and had five rebounds against the Hornets.

More importantly, though, he’s stayed out of foul trouble the last three games. When Jerebko picks up quick fouls, he becomes much less aggressive. A non-aggressive Jerebko is a non-effective Jerebko. He’s a huge asset with his constant motion and activity when he can stay on the court.

14 Comments

  • Feb 4, 201211:57 pm
    by Daye and Knight

    Reply

    Well, so much for Davis…at least for right now.

    Perry Jones anyone? Thomas?

    Max is looking like our guy at the 4 spot

    Prince and Stuckey fight for power because they’re the only vets on the team so they feel like they have to put the team on their back. It’s maddening sometimes and hopefully they realize that Monroe and Knight is our future, not them.

    It’s nice to see we have it in us to win back to back. Hopefully we can win more games and continue the growth of Monroe and Knight, tho Knight will be sporting the Rip mask for a good minute.

    • Feb 5, 20121:27 am
      by Shane

      Reply

      We can still get Davis… just tank the next ten games as usual LOL

      • Feb 5, 20121:52 am
        by Daye and Knight

        Reply

        Yea Joe Dumars will set them straight and remind them what’s at stake if we keep winning lol he’ll have NONE of that!

  • Feb 5, 20121:36 am
    by KNIGHT and STUCKEY

    Reply

    All the lottery fans wanting to stones to lose might not get there wish because WR Jr is a Real point guard.  And that is want the team needs maybe more then a big man!  Yes I want a strong big next to Monroe, but I think the team has made big steps in the rebounding area even though the stats don’t show it overall.  And Knight has shown he is a shoot first 2 guard in a point guards body.  Joe D is known for finding the bang for your buck players or “combo players” and he picked knight for that reason.  We need to make serious moves for Knight to lead the team or Knight needs to change into a real point guard.  This is the best thing to happen to Knight, hope he learns from WR Jr.
    Greg Monroe: STOP YELLING AND ONE every time you shoot!  You don’t get calls I don’t care what league your playing in when you do that.  If the offense is going to run through you, you can’t be leading the team in turnovers.  Which you are about to be if you keep playing the way you are.
     

    • Feb 6, 201212:16 am
      by apa8ren9

      Reply

      LOL you are right. I thought I was the only one that was annoyed by that.  He keeps going to the left hand drive too often.  I know and he knows he can beat his man but he has to use all of his moves to keep the defense off balance.  They know what he is going to do, which is why is turnover rate is getting higher.  He also needs to make a quicker move from time to time and not hold it.  But alas, that only comes with experience.

  • Feb 5, 20121:37 am
    by Tiko

    Reply

    i hate Stuckey and Tayshaun

  • Feb 5, 20121:45 am
    by KNIGHT and STUCKEY

    Reply

    Hates a strong word Tiko

    • Feb 5, 20122:09 am
      by Tiko

      Reply

      You’re right. I meant to say that I dislike seeing Stuckey and Tayshaun lead this team to worthless victories. Not saying winning is worthless but when it’s vets who have no future role on this team leading us to less ping pong balls I get irritated. That’s just me tho

      • Feb 5, 201211:41 am
        by D_S_V

        Reply

        That adequately describes my feelings on the entire season. 

        As for this comment above, “This is the best thing to happen to Knight”. I have to disagree. I do not think having your nose broken the day after you put up by far your best performance in your young NBA career is a good thing. My best case scenario was Knight building on his performance, not getting his nose broken so he could have the luxury of watching Walker Russell. I do like me some Walker, but I’d prefer Knight not to have to worry about getting his nose broken again – which can be a real problem with this injury.

  • Feb 5, 20122:13 am
    by Daye and Knight

    Reply

    I’m definitely on record for being a Stuckey fan, in fact I’m one of 2 Stuckey slappies so as President we issue this statement from the Stuckey Slappies Fan Club:

    “We of the Stuck on Stuckey delegation would like for you to stop being a hater”

    Stuckey drew fouls late in the game and converted 7/8 free throws and finished with 17 points. His shot was off but it’s asking a lot for a guy with a sprained ankle and groin injury to produce much better. Stuckey has moments where even I can’t help but to scratch my head, but c’mon we all have to admit after that Portland game we was on board with a Stuckey/Knight back court.

    I have no argument for Prince however…well except maybe he’s a lot better off than he was the beginning of the season and like it or not he puts us in a much better position to win than Daye or Wilkins.

    Regardless, wouldn’t surprise me to see Tay get traded to a team that needs a SF and a vet and are at the moment pushing for a playoff berth…Utah fits that bill

    We would want a big man, well Utah has plenty

    Trade Tayshaun for Al Jefferson

    Why else would Dumars give Prince a 24 million dollar deal? To make the numbers work for THIS trade to happen

    That’s why…well that’s what I would like to believe anyways, is the reason we brought him back, then we can draft Barnes or Jones and call it a day

    Done and done!

  • Feb 5, 20123:07 am
    by KNIGHT and STUCKEY

    Reply

    I have no beef with Stuckey because well I have always thought of the guy as a rare talent in this game.  Unfortunately he had the most potential to get hurt this season and did.  I think he is part of the core on the older side even though 25, and that really isn’t old.  For a slasher who again leads the team in assists and can really get his shoot off anytime he needs to.  Which is why i think the other young guys need more shots to feel comfortable in the offense.
    Tayshaun is another story, he has been one of the most underrated players for a long time.  And he still has gas in the tank, but it looks like we are trying to mix diesel with reg unleaded when he is in sometimes.

  • Feb 5, 20125:02 am
    by pokerpro932

    Reply

     That was a good game,although  I really have mixed feelings about the win.Was I the only one hoping for a close game near the 100s , so that our young guys can get their stats,but still lose?
     Nevertheless,I think there were a lot of positives in this win,such as the play of Jonas,Moose and Max.I think you should have made a bigger comment on Monroes game tonight.He really looked as our star cornerstone player.He was asking for the ball alot,and everybody was trying to give it to him.I enjoyed the end of the first quarter,or the second,I cant really remember,when every our attack went through Moose and he made something happen everytime.I also noticed that he gambled a lot of times on D.He leaped to steel the entry pass to the man he was guarding,a lot of times giving him an open lane to the basket.I think that he is doing that,because he understands he cant defend really good in the low or high post,so he just flips a coin and tries to get a fastbreak opportunity.
     Also,did you notice that one possession for the Hornets,when Monroe stripped someone,the ball went out of bounds,then Monroe stripped him again,one more time resulting in a inbound for the Hornets,and then he just stole the ball from I think Emeka.I really liked that hustle and energy he brought tonight.

  • Feb 5, 201210:33 am
    by danny

    Reply

    Too early for Draft Projections IMO. What are the chances that any given team actually picks according to record or order? Its much more likely they’ll be picking in a spot other than #4.

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