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Pistons frontcourt does a little bullying of its own for a change in win over the Hawks

On Tuesday, the Pistons beat the Lakers despite LA’s big men manhandling Detroit’s. Against the Hawks on Friday, Detroit’s frontcourt compensated for a forgettable performance by Detroit’s guards with a dominant performance in a win over Atlanta.

The Pistons trailed at the half, and actually were out-played by the Hawks in three of four quarters Friday. But for a long enough stretch in the third quarter and early in the fourth, the Pistons were so good that their struggles early in the game and a few miscues late were irrelevant.

Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell and Greg Monroe all turned in great performances against an over-matched Atlanta frontline that was missing Al Horford and defensive presence Jason Collins. Jonas Jerebko had one of his best performances of the season off the bench and Ben Wallace had a retro, forceful pin-block against the backboard on a Marvin Williams layup attempt.

The Pistons were only dominant over a short stretch of this game. The rest of it was pretty full of mistakes. Even their players who played well were not mistake-free. The positive, though, and a real sign of growth for this team as a whole since the beginning of the season is that when players made mistakes — even the veteran players — they worked to atone for them.

With less than three minutes left and the Pistons up four, Prince held the ball virtually an entire possession despite the fact that the Pistons had great success getting the ball inside and moving without the ball. With the shot clock running down, he settled for a contested jumper from the top of the key that missed badly. Atlanta pushed the ball and Prince’s man, Joe Johnson, beat him down the court for a layup to cut the lead to two.

It’s safe to say Prince made up for that series. With Detroit down one and :24 seconds left, Prince made a running jumper in the lane to give the Pistons the lead. Then, on the final possession of the game, he and Rodney Stuckey combined to play fantastic defense on Johnson, forcing him into a tough 3-point attempt that missed as time expired.

Monroe was sluggish early but surged in the third quarter, getting great interior position on virtually every possession and using an array of moves to finish inside against an Atlanta front line that bothered him early with its length, particularly Josh Smith. With the Pistons up one and less than a minute left, Monroe came up with what should have been a game sealing play: he grabbed an offensive rebound. The correct play in that instance, of course, is to kick the ball back out and run clock. Monroe was under duress, but still had open teammates he could’ve passed to. Instead, he attempted to put the ball on the floor in traffic and get to the basket. Jeff Teague came up with an easy steal and drove the length of the floor for a layup.

Although Monroe didn’t play a big role in the closing seconds of the game, he did make a couple of nice plays that could’ve easily turned into disasters. Detroit had to in-bound the ball twice on its final possession, once after a timeout and once after Johnson gave Atlanta’s last remaining foul. Both times, Stuckey threw passes with a little too much on them that were a little too high, and both times, Monroe corralled them in traffic.

While most of the team had its ups and downs in the game, Maxiell was just one big up. He kept the Pistons close when Atlanta was making everything early by also making everything — Maxiell hit his first seven shots, many of them perimeter jumpers (it helped that Atlanta inexplicably refused to put a hand in his face even after he hit shot after shot). He was consistent the entire game, he was all over the offensive glass and he helped harass Smith into an 8-for-19 shooting game. He was also key down the stretch, hitting two hook shots in the paint and getting a huge put-back slam in the final five minutes when the Hawks tightened their defense some and the Pistons weren’t finding as many good looks as they were in the third quarter.

Maxiell finished with 19 points (a season high) and 12 rebounds (tying a season high) and combined with Prince, Monroe and Jerebko to shoot 31-for-46. Monroe’s rapid development has been the most important aspect of this season, but Maxiell’s performance has been the most surprising. Of all the Pistons’ pricey veterans, Maxiell seemed least likely to return to his old form — his game was nearly 100 percent predicated on quickness and athleticism, things that were weakened by his weight gain the last couple seasons and the fact that those skills typically erode quickly in big men as they age.

Not only is he in the best shape he’s been in in quite some time, but he’s also obviously worked on his game. He’s always had the ability to hit a 15-footer, but never reliably and it was never a shot he took with a lot of confidence. This season, he’s not only making that shot, he’s not passing it up when teams like Atlanta give it to him. His contributions this season have been fun to watch and a pleasant surprise for a franchise in desperate need of a few of those.

Stuckey doesn’t dominate, he facilitates

Getting the best of Kobe Bryant in maybe your team’s most-watched game of the season will have a tendency to ratchet up expectations, so Stuckey following up his 34-point thrashing of the Lakers with a modest 11 on 4-for-7 shooting against the Hawks might lead to some “here he goes again with the inconsistency” catcalls from the more cynical among us Pistons fans. Not so though.

I’ve harped on the consistency thing with Stuckey as much as anyone, but for me, it has never been about consistency with his numbers. I frankly don’t expect Stuckey to be competing for scoring titles or things like that. What I expect for him is to be a little better version of the player we’ve seen over much of his career: a versatile guy who can carry the scoring burden on some nights, who can shift over and give productive minutes at point guard and who can spend a good portion of his time physically defending the other team’s best perimeter player.

Against the Lakers, the opportunities were there for him to attack and get his own shot frequently. Against the Hawks, who seemed to be paying more attention to him, the opportunities weren’t there and, to his credit, he didn’t force them. I’m not sure the Stuckey from prior seasons could’ve had that restraint. He picked a few spots, took mostly good shots and finished with seven assists, frequently (and correctly) looking to get the ball inside.

More importantly, he defended. He and Prince, like they did with Bryant the other night, took turns on Joe Johnson. Johnson started the game off by hitting his first three shots, then shot 3-for-9 the rest of the way. It has been said many times over the years, but Stuckey has the tools to be a really good defensive player. It’s just a matter of him unleashing those every night.

Prince is at a point in his career where he simply can’t hold up well on defense if he’s forced to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter guy all night every night. Stuckey has a different skillset than Prince, and when you switch them back and forth, you can make whoever they’re guarding a bit more uncomfortable than if he were facing the same man all night. The scoring against LA was nice, but what the Pistons can really build on is how seriously Stuckey has taken defense these last two games.

Quiet Knight

Brandon Knight didn’t make a shot against the Lakers. He also went the first two quarters against Atlanta without making one. Since the All-Star Break, he’s shooting just 16-for-49 and just 3-for-16 from 3-point range. He finally got a couple of looks to drop for him in the third quarter as he got in the lane, so hopefully that gets his shot going. He also played pretty solid defense against Teague and, as always, played hard. But he’s also played a lot of minutes this season and with only one season of college basketball and a short training camp to prepare for this, it might be time for the Pistons to consider reeling back his minutes a bit. They even have a guy on the bench in Will Bynum who could maybe play himself into some trade value if he can get a few minutes here and there in relief of Knight to show that he’s healthy.

22 Comments

  • Mar 9, 201211:26 pm
    by frankie d

    Reply

    i hope joe d is smart enough to trade maxiell by the deadline.
    you just know that some contender out there is scouting him now, drooling over how much he could help them in a title run.
    athletic bigs like him, who will come in off the bench and bang hit the boards and block shots and run and create chaos are extremely valuable in the playoffs.
    i’m sure he could bring a nice return…at least a mid-first round choice, plus…maybe a second round choice.
    he’s at the height of his value now, and i doubt that he’ll keep it up for more than this year.
    sell while the value is high!!!

    • Mar 9, 201211:47 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Like Bynum below, I’m not convinced Maxiell’s value is that high, unless teams have only been scouting his last few games. Even after tonight’s monster performance, he’s still only shooting 44 percent this year, pretty bad compared to his career percentage.

      Best case for him and the Pistons, I think, is he stays, keeps producing and has good numbers at season’s end, then maybe in the offseason when he only has a year left on his deal too, he’ll have more value.

      • Mar 10, 201212:33 pm
        by frankie d

        Reply

        he may have a bit more value right around the draft.
        maybe.
        but i’d take advantage of his recent good play and try to move him now.  i just think this is about as good as it gets with maxiell and the odds are pretty high that this strong play is not going to stay at this high level. 
        a couple of years ago, portland moved martel webster for the number 15 choice in the first.  last year dallas was ready to trade a first rounder and caron butler’s contract for tay.
        a first rounder seems about the price for a good starting player.  i can’t imagine just getting offered a second rounder, or two second rounders.
        maxiell has established a niche in the league.  out here, fans and media talk about “jason maxiell-type” players – physical, active energy players – and those guys can be game changers in a playoff series when teams game plan for everyone else and then a guy like max comes in and creates all sorts of chaos that you can’t game plan for.  i think  a playoff team would be very interested in bringing in a fit, motivated maxiell for their run.

  • Mar 9, 201211:39 pm
    by Daye and Knight

    Reply

    Lakers are interested in Bynum. If they can’t get rondo, sessions or Kirk before the deadlin their fall back option is Will Bynum.

    • Mar 9, 201211:45 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I saw that report in the Freep, but did you check the site they linked to? It doesn’t look credible to me. Feldman also e-mailed a couple guys who cover the Lakers and they’d never heard of the site. The Freep writer who linked it even sounded dubious about its accuracy in his description of it.

      I think Bynum’s injury problems this year and last might make teams a little leery of trading for him.

      • Mar 10, 201212:22 am
        by Daye and Knight

        Reply

        Yea I think that’s where i saw the rumor, I figured it makes some sense causei know they need help at PG but if it’s not credible then that means Bynum is likely staying put. I don’t think keeping Bynum glued to our bench is helping neither. Bynum could be a nice 2nd PG and spark plug for a team that can utilize him but I can’t see a scenario where he’s moved if the Lakers really aren’t interested.

  • Mar 10, 201212:39 am
    by domnick

    Reply

    why don’t they try to Upgrade our bench by dealing Austin Daye for Chase Budinger? do you see anything wrong with this trade? To me, this trade is good for both sides.
     
    About Will Bynum? hmmm If Indiana is interested? then I’ll deal him for A.J.Price straight up

    • Mar 10, 20129:44 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Houston would never, ever do that trade.

      And the Pacers have Collison and George Hill at PG. Not sure they’d be interested in trading their cheap 3rd string PG for a more expensive, older 3rd string PG.

  • Mar 10, 201212:41 am
    by domnick

    Reply

    by the way….. about this game… we’re doing good… I’m hoping we can carry this win tomorrow against the RAPTORS!! GO PISTONS!

  • Mar 10, 20121:06 am
    by Josh

    Reply

    With that win, Detroit is actually at .500 at home. Kudos to Frank.

  • Mar 10, 20125:32 am
    by Mark

    Reply

    After scoring 34 I thought Stuckey did exactly what he was supposed to against ATL – be a facilitator. Scouting report said stop him from scoring and attacking the basket, so the smart thing was to play more of a playmaker role and it worked. Props to Frank and Stuckey for making the right adjustment going into the game. I thought that was another step in Stuckey’s development. In the past he might’ve went all out attacking every play trying to score 35 this time. But he played it smart and what was best for the team.

    Its amazing how quickly Moose gets himself out of what seem like dreadful slumps. He couldnt do anything right for about 6 Qtr’s straight on offense, then suddenly turned into a beast and made everything he threw up. Blocking shots too. I think Maxiell’s having a positive influence on him on defense. He’s playing with Max’s aggression/physicality at times and there’s stretches where he’s dominant on both ends of the floor and looks like he could be a potential defensive anchor if he keeps improving on that end. Why can’t Monroe be a good shot-blocker? He’s figured out everything else.

    • Mar 10, 201211:24 am
      by swish22

      Reply

      I agree Stuckey showed some maturity.  Great defense on the last position forcing Joe Johnson into a tough three from the corner!  Maybe he really has turned the corner!   REally looking forward to the Afflalo-Stuckey matchup when we play Denver March 21!
       Bynum really can’t get us any real asset in return can he???   Maxiel seemed to me to have more upside trade wise.   Prince still a player a lot of teams would consider adding.  He still can be a very effective defender when in a non-physical matchup!   Please Joe don’t sit on your hands seeing these wins!    Am I dreaming, 4 games out of the 8th spot.  LAwrence Frank for President!   “PLAYOFFS”  Gotta go, JIM Mora on line 1!

  • Mar 10, 20127:41 am
    by Geezer

    Reply

    I thought this would be a game where Moose would struggle against another athletic and tough frontline offensively, but I was pleased to see him adjust and be more aggressive and force himself to make an impact in the game. He made quicker decisions when he got on the block and also made some moves that I wasn’t accustomed to seeing. I think he took another step towards being the 20 and 10 guy that most people envision him to be.

  • Mar 10, 20128:33 am
    by vic

    Reply

    i love how Maxiell just turned into the PF that we need, a shot blocking rebounding, dunking power forward. we could still use another one in the draft, but I sure hope he keeps it up and keeps his weight down, if thats all it took, he better not gain another pound for the rest of his career

  • Mar 10, 201210:12 am
    by Melvin

    Reply

    Only 4 games back of 8th spot

  • Mar 10, 20121:05 pm
    by frankie d

    Reply

    monroe’s adjustments are one of the most impressive aspects of his game.
    you can see him do it, usually from game to game, but sometimes, in the middle of the game, as happened last night.
    for instance, when he played charlotte the first time, the length of mullens bothered him.  in the recent win over charlotte, he adjusted.  instead of trying to avoid the long reach of mullens, he put his body into him, knocked him off-balance and then went up for his shots.  it was a subtle, but clear change in tactics and it worked.
    he made different, but effective adjustments against the hawks.
    smart player.

  • Mar 10, 20123:02 pm
    by frankie d

    Reply

    it is interesting…
    monroe makes adjustments within games and from game to game.
    it takes stuckey years…seasons to make important adjustments.
    if stuckey was as smart as monroe, he’d be an all-star point guard, the player joe d has always envisioned he’d be.
    BB IQ was the one thing joe d did not factor into his evaluation of stuckey.

    • Mar 10, 20123:32 pm
      by Shaun

      Reply

      It is interesting that you dont factor Stuckey playing the point when he is a natural 2 guard. Monroe plays one position Stuckey plays at least two. How can you not have basketball IQ playing the point when that is not even your natural position. Everyone knows the point is the toughest position in basketball to play. Ask Brandon Knight how easy running the point is. Do you think he has basketball IQ or do you maybe think running a team takes a extreme amount of basketball IQ?

    • Mar 10, 201211:03 pm
      by Stuckey and Whoever

      Reply

      You failed to mention when Joe Dumars came to the pistons who was the starting point guard by his side.  Zeke.  Who was the coach of the team.  Chuck.  Along with a list of cast members to boot.  Don’t tell me Stuckey has all the tools and lord knows he has had the oppurtunities..with whom?  Because if you want  to talk about his numbers they have been great for a 2 guard playing the point with no coach and no one around him.  And look up Joe D’s stats sense you want to compare..when did his numbers make the jump?  When he was 25.  How old is Stuckey, you guessed it 25.  And he has a decent cast and coach around him.  And he is the darn near only one attacking the basketball when every other team knows it, and his numbers continue to get better.  You have to know the point guard spot before you complain about how long it takes someone to develop.

      • Mar 11, 20125:21 pm
        by frankie d

        Reply

        hey, i’m a big stuckey fan.  i’ve been defending the guy since he’s been here.  i’ve always thought he was a very good player and an important part of the team.  i just don’t think he has ever been a point guard.
        yea, he can play the spot because he’s got the skills – including one of the best handles in the league, something that people overlook all the time   – but that is not his best spot.
        its like here in portland now, jamal crawford has been starting at the point because ray felton has been so bad.  he can play the spot, but it disrupts everything else about his game.    for the last 10 games or so, hes’s started sometimes and gone back to his 6th man role at others.  he’s a 10 year vet and his game has been messed with because he’s going back and forth in a role that really isn’t suited for him.
        btw, dumars’ ability to play the point helped zeke immensely, as it allowed him to play off the ball often.  they were an excellent combination.

  • Mar 10, 20124:58 pm
    by frankie d

    Reply

    i do think running the point takes a high basketball IQ.
    yes.
    (and good coaching.)
    the best point guards are like coaches on the floor.  they have to see the game  the same way the coach sees the game.  that takes a lot of smarts.
    guys like magic and dennis johnson and steve nash and derek fisher and chris paul and chauncey and zeke…yea, they are/were smarter than most players.
    imho, we need to give knight a couple of years to see whether he is capable of running the point.  it’s pretty obvious that he got little, if any, useful coaching on the art of being a point guard in college.
    i agree that stuckey is a natural 2 guard.  but if he was smarter, he could be a competent point guard.
    joe dumars is the perfect example.  joe was a 2.  he was a shooter/scorer in college.  he had a point guard’s handle, but he was a scorer.
    however, he was smart enough to be able to be a very effective point guard in the nba  he was smart enough to be able to switch back and forth between the 1 and the 2.  it made detroit very tough to defend because you never knew whether zeke or joe was going to initiate the offense.
    if stuckey had a higher BB IQ he would have been able to control his SG instincts and learn how to be an effective point guard.  lord knows he has had every chance.  he also has all of the necessary tools – quickness, athleticism, a great handle – but he’s never been able to think like a PG.
    stuckey is at his best when he has tunnel-vision.  he’s best when he’s just looking at his man with the ball in his hands, figuring out how he’s going to score on him.  when he has to think about running the team, getting other guys shots, making passes, balancing the floor, running a pick and roll, he becomes mechanical and stiff.  
    i much prefer the aggressive, fluid, “bully” stuckey who is thinking only about putting the ball in the hole and pounding someone on the head if he has to do so in order to accomplish that goal.  when he plays like that he is a joy to watch.  
    btw, its fine that stuckey is what he is.  i don’t think it’s a bad thing.  it is who he is as a player.  i’ve always advocated that he was a SG and not a PG.  i think his success now, as he’s essentially moved over to the SG spot, is proof that view was correct.

  • Mar 10, 20125:47 pm
    by jayg108

    Reply

    Prince was brought back to play role of being the veteran on a young team.  His value is pretty good right now.  I’d pull the trigger on a trade since the team seems to have matured beyond Tayshaun’s influence.  Not that I have someone in mind that’s on the market, but I’d like to see JJ take over at sf.  I’m also wondering if Dumars should’ve kept Wilcox.  He’s a high energy big which is what they should get for trading Prince.
     
     
    BTW: NBA site gave Maxiell the Dunk of the Night for that put back slam and Monroe got the Block of the Night on Teague

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