Archive → December, 2012
- Teams: Detroit Pistons (7-20) at Toronto Raptors (7-19)
- Date: December 19, 2012
- Time: 7:00 p.m.
- Television: FSD
What to look for
After losing 12-of-13 games from early November to mid-December, the Toronto Raptors have rebounded to win their last three games in a row against Dallas, Houston and on the road against Cleveland.
The Raptors are currently without the services of Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani, which has forced them to rely much more on each other as opposed to playing like a slew of individuals. Indeed, the ball movement looks sharp as players are sharing the wealth and attacking when an opening is provided by the opposing defense.
Otherwise, the team has been more than happy to spread around the rock and find the best option possible to create a high percentage shot.
This is a testament to the professionalism of Jose Calderon that has seemingly been on the block every single season that he’s been a member of the Raptors. Whether it’s T.J. Ford or Kyle Lowry, the Spaniard has always been complimentary of the lead guards playing ahead of him and stepped into the starting rotation and performed admirably whenever injuries have hit.
Consequently, it’s not unreasonable to make the proclamation that Jose is the best backup point man in the league outside of Eric Bledsoe.
Toronto will be dangerous at home tonight as the team seems reinvigorated by their recent winning streak and part of the credit also goes to the ever-underrated Amir Johnson.
Much like Calderon, Johnson has been asked in recent seasons to switch roles on the fly for the sake of accommodating team needs; whether it’s being the first big man off the bench or being a starter, the 6’9’’ forward has definitely been a plus for the team.
He might not be seeing as many minutes as he did in the previous two seasons (although not by much), but his pick-and-roll chemistry with Jose Calderon has at times looked like a telepathic connection as the Spaniard just always seems to find him when he rolls hard to the hoop.
Jonas Valanciunas and Ed Davis are the starting frontcourt du jour, but pay close attention to Johnson in the contest tonight because his ability to defend the pick-and-roll is quite important for the Raps. He has the foot speed and intellect to hedge or trap hard and then rotate back to his man, although there are times where he takes poor angles to close on in the ball handler. Nonetheless, his athleticism and long arms make him a pest defensively for opponents.
Indeed, according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, when the big man is on the bench, Toronto surrenders 101.5 points per game on 47 percent field goal shooting per 48 minutes, but when Johnson hits the court, the defense improves considerably and only yields 95.9 points per game on 43.9 percent field goal shooting per 48 minutes.
This isn’t merely because the Los Angeles native is a good defensive player, he also does a good job of boxing out players and rebounding his area as evidenced by his 9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Put it all together, and the Detroit Pistons will have their hands full tonight when the tandem of Calderon and Johnson hit the court together, but players such as DeMar DeRozan and Linas Kleiza will also be heard from as well in the contest.
This should be an interesting contest as both teams are fighting to prove that they have the potential to be better than what their records say about them.
Read about the Raptors
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.
So has Frank ever considered going a step beyond convention and allowing the rotation – without using any more than the conventional nine or 10 for any single game – to expand to allow for game-to-game flexibility? Could Jerebko be the backup to Jason Maxiell one night, based on either matchups or recent performance, without excluding Villanueva from consideration in the following game?
Consider? Yes. Seriously ponder the viability of such a setup? He’s skeptical.
“In theory, it sounds good,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “The reality is, it’s hard. You’re trying to search if the certain stars are aligned. If you’re really trying to evaluate it, I’ve always been of the belief that you give guys a sample of games to see what they can get done. I’m not saying you can’t do it and that’s the right or wrong way, but it makes it a whole lot harder. If there’s a certain matchup, then yeah. If there’s a certain element in the game missing, yeah. But it’s very hard. Specialist basketball is very hard. It’s hard to play and it’s hard to coach.”
I’m good with that. Basketball is a sport that requires players to feel in rhythm more than the other major professional sports. If a player deserves a spot in the rotation, he should get a decent amount of time to establish whether he should keep it.
"He’s kind of had stops at each spot. When you look at who’s next to give an opportunity, you have him and Jonas."
Frank chose Daye
That stinks for Jonas Jerebko. In Frank’s mind, rightly or wrongly, Jerebko and Daye are close. But because Daye had the slight edge, Jerebko doesn’t get to play at all. That’s a bitter pill for Jerebko to swallow, but at least he can take solace in that, when he returns to the rotation, he’ll stay for a bit.
Daye has to sharpen up to stay in the rotation. But it seems he will get his chance while re-learning a position which he rarely has practiced this season.
"I just basically have to know the offense a little more at the three spot and then just get a little more comfortable," he said. "I didn’t know exactly what to do in certain situations. But I just tried to make good basketball plays, basic plays."
Why? Why? Why?
Jason Maxiell was playing well at power forward. Charlie Villanueva has been productive as his backup. Andre Drummond’s emergence has meant Greg Monroe has played power forward – and, hopefully, that will happen a lot more in the near future.
At backup small forward, Corey Maggette has been non-descript at best. That position was much more available than a role at power forward.
So, why was Austin Daye practicing more at power forward, especially considering he’s probably a better small forward anyway? I don’t hate that Daye is getting a shot at playing time, but this makes it much tougher for Lawrence Frank to evaluate him. Does that mean Daye will get a longer look in the rotation that he would otherwise deserve, or does it mean he’s less likely to succeed at small forward? Neither answer is ideal. One apparently bad decision begets another.
Frank said Daye would continue to occupy a spot in the rotation until he gets a chance to settle in and he lauded his approach during the season’s first 26 games when he was on the outside looking in.
“He’s been an unbelievable professional this year,” Frank said. “Not being in the rotation, not getting an opportunity and every day being the same guy. I’ve seen really good growth from him and he’s become a professional player. He’s always had skills, but it’s the makeup. A lot of guys are for the team when it’s going well for them. It’s when it’s not going well for them or not getting a chance. Can you be for the team? That’s what a professional player does.”
"I’m older," said Daye, 24. "When you’re a kid and things don’t go your way, you want them to go your way no matter what. As a man, you have to mature and you have to make things happen on your own."
If you’re so inclined, it’s pretty easy to read between the lines and get a rough idea of Austin Daye’s previous attitude. Instead, I’d rather credit Daye for doing the right things this year. This very well could be his last NBA season, and good for him doing what he can to ensure he gets another shot.
For the second consecutive season, the Pistons are 7-20. That has led to multiple articles examining whether this year’s team is better than last year’s – a depressing enough topic in itself, but especially crushing when the answer is clearly no.
Lawrence Frank, of course, disagrees:
"I think we’ve definitely made progress, it’s one of those things where we haven’t seen the result," Frank said. "We’re disappointed in the result, we expect better, but we are a better team than last year."
"It’s disappointing to have the (current) record we have but I think sometimes you look and peel back the onion, that record we had last year, there were many games we weren’t even competitive," Frank said. "We were that team ‘go play the Pistons, knock them out early, they’re done. We’re no longer that team."
In that sense, Frank is absolutely right. Last season, the Pistons had five Pythagorean wins in their first 27 games (which measure what a team’s record should be based on points scored and allowed). This season, they have 10.
But who cares whether the Pistons are better through 27 games than they were last year? Progress should not reset during the offseason. We were told repeatedly the Pistons had turned a corner last season, starting 4-20 and finishing 21-21. Here’s what Joe Dumars said after the season (emphasis mine):
just because of new coach, new system, no training camp, really no preseason, rookie point guard.
“You put all those things together in a shortened season, I firmly believe that’s why we got off to such a tough start. That’s why it took us 20, 24 games before you start seeing guys saying, all right, we’re good enough. We understand what Lawrence is doing now.”
Apparently, Frank wants to be judged as if last year’s progress never occurred. I could accept a step back if the Pistons were playing raw players like Andre Drummond big minutes, but that’s not happening. Though the Pistons are younger, it’s not substantial enough to justify this type of play.
Last year, the Pistons won 38 percent of their games – including 50 percent for nearly the final two-thirds of the season. This year, they’re winning 26 percent of their games. That is not better.
It’s conceivable – likely, even – the Pistons will finish this season further along as a franchise than they ended last season. But they shouldn’t have taken this step back to get there.
“Every team’s point guard has to do what they do best to help their team win,” he said. “If it means Brandon Knight has to score points for us to help us win, then that’s what he should do. When you put the ball into someone’s hands, they have to do what they do best to help your team win, not to fulfill some idea of what someone has for the position. Whatever it takes to put your team in position to win, that’s what you have to do.
“For us, a lot of nights we need Brandon to score. There are going to be some nights we don’t need him to score as much and that’s what I’m talking about – mastering the position. I think he’s starting to figure out nights where we need him to be more aggressive, nights where we need him to get other people involved. That’s where you trust a kid like Brandon Knight is going to figure it out – and we do trust that this kid will get it.”
“He seems more and more comfortable at the position,” the Pistons president of basketball operations said. “He’s starting to see a lot more things and he’s taking the steps he needs to take. It’s been encouraging to watch him grow into his role and that’s all you’re really looking for from that position. You have to know when to attack, know when to give it up, know when to just control your team. He’s still a young guy. He’s probably played about 90 games now. He’s still learning, but I like the direction that he’s headed in.”
I don’t think this message has been lost on Brandon Knight. He has often looked to score this season – definitely more than he did last year – and I’m fine with that, in theory. The idea of a “true point guard” is wildly overstated, and players of many different styles have had success at the position.
But Knight, when he’s running the offense, must remember many of his teammates are more efficient scorers off the ball than he is on the ball. That doesn’t mean he should never shoot. I just think he has more room to improve at setting up his teammates than setting up himself – though both could use work, considering he’s at his best right now spotting up off the ball.
As Dumars said, “He’s still learning.” There’s no need to panic about Knight’s development at this state. It is OK to acknowledge his flaws, though. The Pistons are allowing him to play the style that suits him best rather than some preconceived notion of what a point guard should, but he still hasn’t learned what that ideal style s yet himself.
Monroe has always been a skilled high-post passer, but this season Detroit is asking him to do more by stepping up the pace of some sets that feature Monroe at the elbow. One favorite: Detroit will run a pick-and-roll on one side of the floor using the non-Monroe big man — usually Jason Maxiell — to set the screen and roll to the hoop. As Maxiell rolls, Monroe will flash from the baseline up to the elbow on the opposite side of the floor, catch a pass from Detroit’s point guard, and fire an immediate bounce pass to Maxiell near the hoop. It’s Lawrence Frank’s way of using Monroe as a pick-and-roll middle man, doing the work Brandon Knight isn’t ready to do consistently. Good stuff.
Last season, Rodney Stuckey took plenty of point-guard duties from Brandon Knight when times got tough. But Knight, to his credit, is doing much more this year. Still, even with Stuckey coming off the bench, the Pistons aren’t asking Knight to run the offense at all times this year. It’s a huge help the Pistons have a passer as good as Greg Monroe, who’s helping Knight’s gradual process into becoming a complete point guard.
Before we get started, let me say that my stream to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants-Canton Charge game cut out about four times, so I saw the Mad Ants’ 97-81 loss in chunks. From what I saw, here’s what I picked up on.
Khris Middleton played poorly. He shot 3-16 from the floor. 3-16. He also had six points and six rebounds while playing only 28 minutes. He had five assists, which was nice to see. At least he did something. Overall, though, it was a disappointing sight to see such a poor performance after two solid performances to begin with.
Kim English, on the other hand, played better. He was second on the team in points with 15 while playing 33 minutes, but the most impressive stat is that he was 7-12 from the floor, which is 58.3% field goal shooting. He also had six assists, proving that he scored points unselfishly and spread the ball around nicely. It was another promising performance, reaffirming my beliefs that English could find himself in the rotation at shooting guard for the Pistons in a short amount of time.
The Mad Ants next game is away on Friday against the Maine Red Claws at 7:00 p.m. The game will be streamed on the D-League’s YouTube channel.
Monroe and Drummond have logged only 91 minutes together so far, and you can kind of understand Lawrence Frank’s reluctance. Detroit’s offense, already in the league’s bottom 10, drops off by about five points per 100 possessions — a huge number — when the two bigs share the floor. But the defense improves by about the same amount — the equivalent of jumping from about 20th to fifth overall. Detroit is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league, but when Monroe-Drummond (Mummond?) take the floor, they grab everything in sight, rebounding at a league-best rate on both ends.
Drummond is raw, and Detroit struggles to space the floor on offense as it is. Monroe is a minus defender, and the pair are in the very early stages of developing a defensive chemistry — of learning when to switch on the fly, how to time those rotations, and when to help elsewhere.
And Drummond plays with a restraint that makes it look as if he’s afraid to unleash his full athleticism, lest he accidentally injure teammates or fans in the first 10 rows. He’s a freak, and once he finds the right balance between freakishness and control, he could develop into a devastating player — and a perfect back-line complement to the ground-bound Monroe on defense. As it is, he’s still figuring out what to do with himself when Monroe works with the ball at the elbow or rolls to the rim on pick-and-rolls. He needs to learn how and when to cut off of Monroe so as not to clog things up; there’s a reason Frank uses Charlie Villanueva as a floor-spacing power forward to break things up.
Lowe makes some excellent points, and they’re worth digesting. But it’s important to remember that the Pistons’ big men are all limited, so any duo will have some shortcomings. Because Monroe and Drummond are so important to Detroit’s future – and because the present has become so irrelevant – I’d much rather they get more minutes to develop together.
“What people see is this raw talent that he brings,” Dumars said. “What people don’t see is the infectious personality that he has. That’s why you see so many people embracing him. That’s why he’s such a likeable guy. He has an infectious, great spirit about him that makes you root for him. He’s a guy you root for when he gets on the floor because he’s so open and pure and honest with you. That’s what people don’t see about him that we all – everybody, internally – know this kid has a great spirit about him.”
I already like Andre Drummond a great deal, so this is a bit of an existential crisis. Is it possible to like him even more? As I ponder this question, I’m comforted that everyone is probably in the same boat.