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Archive → April, 2012

Pistons should ignore Tayshaun Prince’s request for a veteran point guard

Tayshaun Prince, via Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

"Brandon Knight is our starting point guard and will continue to be, but hopefully we can get a veteran point guard to kind of mentor him a little bit," Prince said. "There can be times that me and Ben Wallace can mentor and help him out and whatnot, but I think if you have a point guard that’s been through the wars, he can help him out a little bit better than we can."

In addition to mentoring Brandon Knight, a veteran point guard would improve Prince’s production. Knight – who didn’t even make the TrueHoop Network’s All-Rookie second team – is still very raw as a distributor, and he rarely put Prince in position to score easily. That’s part of the reason, although only one of many of factors, why Prince shot so poorly this season.

I’m not opposed to the Pistons adding a veteran point guard if they can get one cheaply, but that should be very low on their priority list.

A veteran point guard is just as likely to help Knight’s development as harm it. Lawrence Frank, who will surely take a win-first attitude next season, would likely often play reliable veteran ahead of the less-than-established Knight.

Maybe watching a veteran would be good for Knight. Maybe playing more would be better for him. I don’t think that’s an entirely knowable variable, and I would be hesitant too invest much in a short-term fix at point guard when it could hinder Knight’s progress.

A veteran point guard acquired by trading a player with positive value or signed using a sizable an exception would be an unnecessary luxury, and considering the hefty contracts they’ll be paying next season, the Pistons can’t afford that. They should focus on using their modest flexibility on upgrading their font court.

Detroit Pistons #DraftDreams: Meyers Leonard

Discuss Draft Dreams on Twitter using the #DraftDreams hashtag

Info

  • Measurables: 7-foot-1, 245 pounds, sophomore center from Illinois
  • Key Stats: 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.9 blocks per game, 58 percent shooting
  • Projected: Late lottery/mid-first
  • Hickory High Similarity Score

Why I’m intrigued by this guy

I have no problem saying that I think the NCAA is lame. Even lamer, are mouth breathers in the media who think they are equipped to say when a college kid should or should not go pro. I’m not going to do that here. Meyers Leonard is an intriguing prospect because he’s big and athletic and young, even if he’s the type of player who might elicit “he should’ve stayed in school” type of reactions. I think most NBA teams would like to see a prospect like Leonard stay in school, simply because he’s kind of an unknown right now. Playing on a team that under-performed, for a coaching staff that was lame duck most of the season at Illinois as most knew sometime around mid-season that Bruce Weber wouldn’t be back, Leonard didn’t have overly impressive numbers or dominance to match his physical tools. Selfishly, NBA teams like to see players like that stay in school so they can either excel and build their stock or, more likely, get exposed and see their stock fall.

The player, in this case Leonard, is a first round pick right now, which means a guaranteed NBA contract, so going pro for him is a good decision. For me, guy who watches some college basketball and tries to assess prospects’ fits with the Pistons, it is hard for me to tell how equipped Leonard is for the NBA, even if physically, he looks like he can be a solid or better NBA player.

Pros for the Pistons

The Pistons need size, defense and athleticism, and Leonard possesses those traits. He blocked about two shots per game for Illinois and could be a good rim-protecting presence as a pro.

Leonard was inconsistent at Illinois, but one of the things that suggests he has some untapped potential is he’s late to the frontcourt game. He was a guard most of his basketball career until a late growth spurt saw him shoot up to above seven feet tall. He still moves like a guard at times, he has a face up game and he’s pretty athletic. If he’s the player the Pistons end up with, I expect that he’ll make contributions in a reserve role. He’s probably not the immediate impact player that they could use, but I’m confident he might be able to help with proper development.

The good news for the Pistons is that his biggest weakness is offense. With Greg Monroe shouldering most of the load offensively in the post, that’s less of a concern for them than it might be for other teams.

Cons for the Pistons

He still needs to add strength if he’s going to become a big minutes post presence. Leonard was also pretty inconsistent at Illinois. Now, that can be explained away by the tumultuous environment he was playing in, but this season Lawrence Frank didn’t show much patience for the few players on Detroit’s roster whose energy waned significantly at times. Austin Daye is a perfect example — his confidence was down at the beginning of the season, his production suffered and he quickly got buried on the bench. Leonard and Daye are different players, but he did have some spells this season where he wasn’t as assertive or aggressive as he could’ve been, and I’m not sure how much patience Frank would have if that continued in the NBA.

What others are saying

Chad Ford:

While Leonard’s play this season has been a revelation, he’s doing it on a team that’s been in a tailspin for the past month and half. Illinois beat Ohio State on Jan. 10 and since then has lost 11 of 13.

Leonard has been solid in many of those games. But he’s disappeared in plenty as well. Teams love his combination of size and athleticism. But is he ready for the NBA? He still needs serious polish in the low post, and his lack of focus concerns scouts.

DraftExpress:

As we’ve mentioned before, Leonard’s physical tools make him a rare and very intriguing prospect defensively, especially as his frame continues to fill out. He did a better job denying deep post position this season and generally displayed a good effort level, which combined with his size and length, makes him an effective one-on-one defender on the interior, as players have trouble scoring over the top of him.

His excellent agility for a player his size should also help him defending pick-and-roll sets, giving him the ability to hedge and recover quickly. A big key for him defensively will likely the mental side of things and how well he can focus and bring consistent energy on each possession and pick up on team defensive concepts.

NBADraft.net:

Leonard is a very nice prospect for the center position in the NBA … Has really blossomed in his sophomore year and is just hitting his stride and was not a big factor in his freshman season … There really aren’t a lot of weaknesses in his game … He should look to establish an offensive identity and continue to polish his all-around game … With his potential, he’s sure to get some looks in the lottery.

ESPN.com:

His game is not entirely ready for the NBA, but his body is. His heart would love to remain a college kid, “stay a kid a little longer” as he says, but the responsibilities of his life — an ailing mother, a brother in Afghanistan — dictate a more mature path. He still misses home. His town, population dwindling and worn down by a worn-out economy, needs a hero. He wants his college degree, but his family needs the paycheck. It is a pack mule’s burden borne by a man-child, heavy enough to topple most people. That’s where those shoulders come in. They don’t belong to most people. Meyers Leonard is a lot of things — talented and stubborn, smart and starved for praise. Above all, he is responsible. “I want to be a kid for as long as I can be,” he said. “But there’s a lot on my shoulders. My mom is in a lot of pain. My brother is overseas. All of these people, these fans, they want us to be good. People ask me if I’m going to the NBA. There’s just a lot of stuff right now.”

(Seriously, read that ESPN.com story, it’s great)

What is the best thing Meyers Leonard does for his team?

Jeff Kirsman (follow him on Twitter) is the sports editor for The Daily Illini, Illinois’ student newspaper, and Max Tane (follow him on Twitter) is the assistant sports editor (this is a combined effort by them):

One question looms more than others when measuring Meyers Leonard’s NBA potential: What can prospective NBA suitors expect from Leonard when the seven-footer couldn’t even muster a double-double last season while facing opponents the majority of which were shorter than him?

It’s difficult to gauge Leonard’s draft potential due to the inadequacy of his supporting cast and now-fired head coach in Bruce Weber, though to say he is anything more than a project would do a disservice to any team’s scouting report. You can’t teach tall or athleticism, which Meyers brings to the table in spades, but it wouldn’t be unimaginable for Leonard to admit that an at-home situation involving a sickly mother, deceased father and brother in the marines – rather than his capability to bang bodies with the likes of Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum – factoring into his decision to forgo his last two years of eligibility. He is not ready for the NBA.

Whichever team does draft Leonard, however, will receive a player who was the best player on the floor for the Illini when fed the ball consistently. He has an outstanding motor on both ends of the floor, which was shown throughout the season as he got the best of big men like Robert Sacre and Jared Sullinger (twice). He hasn’t filled into his frame, partly because of an Anthony Davis-like growth spurt he experienced in high school. He developed plenty of guard skills before he hit seven feet and has the potential to be a more productive version of Javale McGee.

Previously

Ben Wallace’s biggest influence: his late mother

Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News wrote a very good feature on Ben Wallace that’s well worth a read. An excerpt:

The youngest of 11 children from White Hall, Ala., had to be shielded from being picked on by his older brothers. The person providing the protection was his mother, Sadie Wallace, a diminutive woman feared in her home as if she were 2 feet taller.

"My mother was the biggest influence," Wallace said. "She showed me it’s about being a productive citizen — being responsible for your actions and working for everything you get."

Her voice was in his head when he was arrested for drunken driving last September in Bloomfield Township, when he was carrying an unloaded pistol.

Sadie’s voice will be in his head as Wallace’s name is announced tonight — either as a starter or off the bench.

And it’s Sadie, who died in 2003, Wallace wishes were here to help him decide, to be a soothing voice telling him not to fear the next transition in his life, to remind him that while 37 years might be ancient in pro sports, it’s still young in the game of life.

"The biggest fight I had was with myself when I had to come to terms that I’d lost my mother," said Wallace, his eyes slightly welling up. "That fight, mentally, was the biggest.

"I’ll never get over it, but I accepted it. … She was always a person I could turn to when basketball wasn’t going well. Any life decision I had to make, she always had an honest opinion."

What would she say?

"Like clockwork, ‘I’ll be there for you,’" Wallace said with a smile. "’No matter where your journey takes you, I’ll be there for you. Take your time and think about it.’ That was my cushion; she was never gonna judge me."

Lawrence Frank: Pistons missed playoffs due to lack of defensive commitment

Lawrence Frank, in an interview with Terry Foster of The Detroit News:

Q. But unless you show signs of playing better defense everything else is fake.

A. That is how we are going to get back to being a winning team and a winning organization and a team that can sustain winning is that commitment. To me, because we did not always make that commitment every night, that is one of the reasons why we are not in the playoffs.

Before the season, I hoped Frank could fix the Pistons’ defense in a single year. He didn’t, and not only will getting that done next year be key for Detroit making the playoffs, I think it will largely determine whether Frank is on track to keep or lose his job.

Greg Monroe receives Most Improved Player vote from J.A. Adande

Thirty of ESPN’s experts cast votes for Most Improved Player, and Greg Monroe received a nod from J.A. Adande. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated made the same choice, and although I didn’t, it’s nice to see Monroe get the recognition.

Tom Gores wants to see the Pistons in the playoffs next season, but he’s not making threats

Dave Pemberton of The Oakland Press:

Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores is pleased with the progress the team has made during his first year as owner. But he also made it clear the expectations raise next season. “We better make the playoffs. That’s realistic,” Gores said of next season.

Now, Pemberton did offer a caveat, that Gores did not appear to be saying that in a threatening manner. Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News tweeted those same sentiments. Gores just feels like the next logical step for this team, after finishing 21-21 over their last 42 games and probably adding at least a rotation player in the draft, is the playoffs.

I concur with those sentiments whether they were threatening or not. My personal belief, which I’ve stated previously on this site, is the Pistons (along with the Celtics, Lakers, Spurs and Bulls) have established themselves as one of the league’s five flagship franchises in the modern era. By the standards that those five teams have set, it’s unacceptable to go more than three consecutive seasons without making the playoffs. This was the Pistons’ third straight playoff-less season. Next season, it’s time to get back, simple as that.

Pistons, Ben Wallace perfect in season finale

With apologies to Ben Gordon, Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, who all had nice moments to watch, this will solely be focused on Ben Wallace, as it should be.

Earlier this season, in a record-breaking performance by Ben Wallace against the Spurs, I wrote this:

Wallace’s 28-rebound performance against the Toronto Raptors on April 17, 2001, even inspired me to go out and spend some of my minimum wage gas station earnings on a Pistons hat. The clerk at Dunham’s kind of smirked. They weren’t moving much Pistons merch at the time. I always took pride in how beaten up that hat was when the Pistons won a championship a few years later and everyone I knew was suddenly wearing Pistons apparel. I knew before them that Wallace was special, and I’m sure the diehards like myself out there took similar satisfaction in loving what Wallace brought to the table before the masses even knew who he was.

I have hundreds of random Wallace memories like that floating around my head right now. Here’s a sampling:

  • My AOL Instant Messenger handle in college was ILikeBenWallace (and I think that was my old Hotmail e-mail password, although I’m sure that account is deactivated by now, so don’t go getting any ideas you enterprising spammers out there).
  • I always seriously stated to people that my biggest dream was to have Wallace attend my wedding. When I finally coerced an actual normal person into marrying me, my co-best men failed in securing a Wallace appearance at the reception, but did present a PhotoShop of Wallace and I watching movies in my parents’ basement. It was met with awkward stares from the mostly non-basketball fans in attendance, but it remains the best gift I’ve ever received for any occasion.
  • I cried when I got married. I cried when my dad passed away. I cried when my son was born. And I cried a little tonight. Those are the only times I can remember crying as an adult. Don’t get it twisted — I’m not saying those events are equal in my life. There’s clearly a hierarchy. I’m not as psychotic as I sometimes appear (usually when replying to commenters who make me mad), but watching the way Ben Wallace plays basketball has profoundly affected me in ways I can’t put into words. Ben Wallace playing basketball has had a meaningful, spiritual impact on my life that is unexplainable, and I think that same thing goes for many who have watched him in Detroit.
  • Part of the reason I’ve never fully warmed up to Rodney Stuckey is because he wears Wallace’s number. There, I said it. It feels liberating.
  • I firmly believe with every fiber of my being that Wallace was a top five player in the league in his prime and that he’s a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame.

It was impossible not to enjoy every second of tonight’s win over Philly, from Wallace showing that he’s still a statistically impactful player (7 points, 12 rebounds a steal and a block in 23 minutes), to the awesome video montages and chance to reminisce about Wallace as a centerpiece of some of the best defensive teams the NBA has ever seen, to teammates having to drag him off the bench, back into the game in the final two minutes when the Palace crowd started chanting ‘We Want Ben.’ I watched all of that, knowing I had to write something after the game, and dreading it. Earlier today, Dan Feldman wrote a nice, heartfelt and rational open letter (sidenote: I also loved the title … ‘My Advice to Ben Wallace’ — that’s the great thing about Feldman, he knows his advice is welcome by anyone at any time) to Wallace, mostly encouraging him to make the best decision for him. Rationally, if Wallace wants to retire, he should. It pains me to say it, but he should if that’s what he wants.

What is hard for me is Wallace can still play at a high level. This season, he was Detroit’s third best player. That’s not hyperbole. His impact in limited minutes is still there. Physically, he’s far from finished. When it comes to basketball intelligence and work ethic, he has even more he can impart to this team than just on-court production. Like Feldman said, selfishly, I want him to come back, but it’s actually not completely selfish — he can help next season. So, after watching tonight’s game, hearing this from Fox Sports Detroit’s Mateen Cleaves (sidenote part deux: I loved Mateen quoting Bon Jovi with a ‘Blaze of Glory line tonight, whether it was inadvertent or not), who talked to Wallace and his wife before the game, I’m encouraged that it might not be over:

“I would not be surprised if he comes back. She wants him to be a stay at home dad, but he can still play.”

I certainly don’t want Wallace to make his wife mad by playing again, but if he’s truly considering coming back next season, that will be a fantastic, positive development for Detroit.

I was more positive, however, after hearing Wallace say this to Fox Sports Detroit’s Ryan Field:

“I like the direction they’re headed in right now. It’s tough to walk away from a team like this.”

That was my biggest takeaway from this game. This team, this season, has been hard to watch a lot. I haven’t been shy at expressing my disappointment during those lows. But it’s easy to be negative when you’re watching just about every second of Pistons basketball (You tend to see more negative than positive when you don’t pick and choose when you watch … we do this for you folks. PistonPowered = People’s Champions). Tonight’s game gave me a chance to step back and take a deep breath. I understand the realities of this team — the salary picture is not pretty, so adding impact free agents will be hard; they probably won’t draft high enough to land the kind of impact player they sorely need; they have bad contracts that are hard or nearly impossible to trade for value. I get it. But did you see them ALL wearing headbands tonight? Did you see how much they were rooting for each other? Did you see how pumped they were to put on a good show for what might have been Wallace’s last game?

I know that stuff doesn’t “matter.” But it also “matters.” I’m not making sense right now. But the thing is, we’ve watched a team the last couple seasons that didn’t seem to care all that much, that didn’t seem to like playing with each other and Wallace was a part of those teams. Those teams contributed to Wallace thinking this would be his last season. This team, though? This team has Wallace wavering. This team has Wallace feeling positive that the organization is moving in the right direction. And if that’s good enough for Wallace, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

The Sixers would actually not mind losing tonight

Essentials

  • Teams: Philadelphia 76ers at Detroit Pistons
  • Date: April 26, 2012
  • Time: 8 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

  • Pistons: 24-41
  • Sixers: 35-30

Probable starters

Pistons:

Sixers:

  • Jrue Holiday Lou Williams maybe? Craig Brackins
  • Evan Turner
  • Andre Iguodala Thad Young Jodie Meeks
  • Elton Brand Lavoy Allen
  • Spencer Hawes

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons -7.5

Over/under: 183.5

Score: Pistons win,95.5-88

Read about the Sixers

Philadunkia

Playing for something

Tonight’s game isn’t just two teams playing out the season. Modest playoff seeding is still at stake for Philly, as Ball Don’t Lie’s Dan Devine explains:

A Knicks win over the Bobcats would lock them into the No. 7 seed and a date with the Heat no matter what Philly does, as New York won the season series between the two teams; a Sixers loss to Detroit would do the same, guaranteeing Doug Collins’ crew a trip to Chicago. The combination of a Philadelphia win and a New York loss, though, would invert matters, pitting the 76ers against the Heat and the Knicks against the Bulls when the playoffs begin.

As you might have guessed, the Sixers would rather face the Bulls in the first round, hence them resting Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young and possibly Jrue Holiday tonight.

Brandon Knight for All-Rookie team

Patrick has repeatedly complained about the Pistons not promoting their players – especially irritating considering how hard they sell their halftime acts. So, we’re doing something about it.

Though the Pistons are finishing a lousy season, they still have players who deserve at least consideration for post-season awards, and we’re going to tell you why. But because we don’t receive a paycheck from the Pistons, we’re not going to stop there like they would if they conducted this campaign themselves. We’re also going to evaluate whether the player actually deserves the honor.

Here’s our look at Brandon Knight for All-Rookie team.

Making the case

Patrick Hayes: I argued early in the year that if you pay too much attention to Knight’s stats, you’ll never be able to enjoy watching him play this season. So, for that reason, it would be silly for me to try and make an argument for him based on his advanced stats.

He’s probably near the bottom of the top 10 if I were to rank rookies based on their impact this season. His passing is still lagging behind, he hasn’t proven he can be a full-time point guard yet and, although he improved later in the season, he turns it over too often.

But I would also argue that no rookie other than maybe Kyrie Irving or Ricky Rubio was asked to do more this season than Knight. Knight came into the NBA clearly raw, clearly needing time to learn his position and clearly a notch below Irving and Rubio in his rookie point guard class. Knight was a backup for just over a week before an injury to Rodney Stuckey put him in the starting lineup.

Knight has had ups and downs all season, but he’s played hard, he’s had a few fantastic games, he’s cut down his turnovers from the beginning of the year when he was a turnover machine and he’s shot the three really well. Plus, he leads all rookies in minutes played and has been incredibly durable.

Dan Feldman: Knight shouldered a heavier burden this season than any rookie save Irving and Rubio. By far, he played the most minutes among rookies this season – 300 more than anyone else. That counts. When on the bench, other rookies weren’t helping their teams.

And Knight played hard for nearly all those minutes. His energy and hustle definitely provided indirect value for the Pistons.

Knight made 3-pointers at an impressive clip, and his passing greatly improved throughout the season. He played within in the game, and perhaps, that somewhat limited his stats. For the most part, Knight appeared to understand his limitations and didn’t force things, leaving more capable veterans to do the heavy lifting.

Honest assessment

Patrick Hayes: He’s definitely on the second team. No question in my mind. It’s hard to put him on the first team — I think Irving, Rubio, Kenneth Faried, MarShon Brooks and Isaiah Thomas are locks for the first team.

It’s not that the second team isn’t going to be competitive as Knight, Chandler Parsons, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Tristan Thompson all have legit claims.

I think Knight has been asked to do much more than most of those guys, though, and reasonably deserves to make it.

Dan Feldman: I sort of think Knight will make the All-Rookie second team, but that’s far from a given. I know I didn’t seriously consider him for the TrueHoop Network All-Rookie first team, and he didn’t make my second-team cut, either. I don’t think Knight as a second teamer would’ve been egregious, but to me, he wasn’t especially close.

Knight is promising, sharing many of the tools of a successful NBA player. But he wasn’t ready to bring them all together this year. All-Rookie teams honor the 10 best rookies, not the 10 most-promising rookies. Knight would probably make the latter list, but he’s a borderline candidate at best for the former.

He turned the ball over too much, didn’t defend nearly as well as his frame suggests he can and had a too-often one-dimensional offense.

That said, I suspect Knight make the actual All-Rookie second team. His scoring average ranks second among rookies, and unfortunately, that’s often too good an indicator for award voting.

Knight left Kentucky after one year, got drafted into a league headed for a lockout that shortened training camp and then was thrust into the starting lineup early in his career. For that, he got valuable experience and millions of dollars. The cost? my All-Rookie vote. I think Knight came out ahead.

Free Austin Daye … literally

Not sure exactly how to explain this picture of Austin Daye, other than it showed up on Charlie Villanueva‘s Instagram account. Normally this is the type of thing that happens to rookies, so I have no idea how or what Daye would do to end up like this (hat tip, Steve Kays).