Archive → 2013
- Teams: Minnesota Timberwolves (9-11) at Detroit Pistons (10-11)
- Date: December 10, 2013
- Time: 7:30 p.m.
- Television: FS Detroit Plus
What to look for
Flirting with mediocrity is a dangerous proposition. It creates hope, expectations and gives the impression that better times are ahead. The Detroit Pistons know this all too well.
Detroit secured four consecutive victories and got themselves to an even .500 record. Reality then quickly removed its glove, slapped the Pistons in the face and challenged them to a duel.
The name of that duel: a vengeful Miami Heat. The South Beach team was seeking to avenge an earlier loss at the hands of the Pistons and was successful in the quest. LeBron James and company routed Mo Cheeks’ unit at the Palace of Auburn Hills and barely left traces of the elusive .500 record in the wreckage.
Still, if we look hard enough, the remnants are still there. The Pistons currently occupy the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference standings and furthermore, they might just be the fourth-best squad in the east.
Mind you, it’s difficult to come to this conclusion when inter-conference play takes place, which is exactly the case tonight. Detroit will host a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has a similar record, but plays against superior competition in the Western Conference.
Per ESPN.com’s Hollinger Rankings, the Wolves’ strength of schedule is superior to the Pistons’, a clear indication that Minnesota has played against stiffer opponents so far in the season.
In addition, their net scoring differential is better than Detroit’s, which again makes you believe they might finish 2013-14 with a better record than tonight’s hosts. Indeed, Rick Adelman’s troops are on the cusp of being above average and perhaps even good.
Their statistical profile reveals that they are within range of making the top-10 rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The defense is a work in progress that fluctuates on some level, but their ability to score the ball is interesting to say the least.
Kevin Love makes that offense incredibly lethal given his unique set of skills. He is a true power forward and yet, he is a stretch-four player. He battles underneath the basket for boards and scores around the rim, but he also stretches the floor with his 3-point stroke.
This allows Adelman to use Love in ways that compromise defenses. Hand offs, pick-and-pops and spot-ups are ways that the coaching staff utilize the former UCLA Bruin. His shooting and passing make him a nightmare matchup given that opponents have to find the right blend of defensive attention to direct at him.
If the focus is too great, his teammates will get a multitude of looks because Adelman’s scheme creates a lot of misdirection where one assumes the play is set up for Love but actually is not.
The forward will occasionally serve as a decoy or as the setup man in certain sets specifically because all eyes are on him. This will stretch out the Pistons’ defense tonight because Greg Monroe will likely get the job of slowing down Love.
That will take him away from the rim and give Nikola Pekovic low-post opportunities against Andre Drummond. This is one of the many ways the Wolves score in the paint, an area where they are quite effective.
It’s worth noting that the Pistons lead the league in paint scoring and thus, this contest will probably be played right at the rim for both teams. The difference tonight might be long-range shooting, a stat where both teams are virtually identical so far this season.
Read about the Timberwolves
Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.
1. Is Andre Drummond or Kevin Love more valuable to his team right now?
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Love. It’s close, but he gets the edge for two reasons. First and simply, he’s better. Like Drummond, Love is incredibly efficient, but Love has a broader skillset that makes him more effective. Secondly, the Pistons — with Greg Monroe and Josh Smith — have better alternative big men. Love makes the Timberwolves’ offense way better, an effect Drummond hasn’t had on either side of the ball this season.
Tim Thielke, PistonPowered: Drummond, simply because the Pistons have control over him for a lot longer. Kevin Love and Wolves’ management have been rumored to be at odds ever since they drew up his current contract. There’s a good chance he’ll be wearing another uniform soon.
Bill Bohl, A Wolf Among Wolves: Love. He is the center of the Timberwolves’ universe — everything Minnesota does, especially on the offensive end, flows through him. He’s 5th in the NBA in touches per game, the only non-point guard in the top 15 of that category. His outlet passing has gotten a lot of attention early on, but it’s his half court facilitation – from the elbow, from the wings, kicking it out of the post to open shooters – that makes the offense tick. Because opponents have to respect his outside range, the paint is a more open place for Nikola Pekovic to post up and Rubio, Barea and Martin to drive.
2. Would you rather have Drummond or Love for the rest of their careers?
Dan Feldman: Drummond. Love is barely better right now, and he’s five years older. I expect Love to maintain this elite level for several more years, but Drummond is already on Love’s tier and still has plenty of untapped potential. Drummond very well could pass Love in 2014, and even if he never does, Drummond’s youth — and prolonged excellence, even if falls just short’s of Love’s during their primes — gives him the edge.
Tim Thielke: Love. Drummond has more upside, but given his incompetence at the stripe, he is also more exploitable. Ninety-five percent of the time, give me ceiling over floor. But when you’re talking about superstars, you gotta take the sure thing.
Bill Bohl: Without trying to sound too much like a homer (since I live in Minneapolis and write about the Timberwolves), I’d take Love over Drummond for the rest of their respective careers. When you combine Love’s scoring (23.7 per game) and his assists (4.1 per game, nearly double his career average), the sixth-year man is responsible for 31% of the Wolves’ offense. Few power forwards in the league history have possessed his unique skill set – he rebounds (13.7 per game in his career), he posts up, and he can hit perimeter shots (36% on nearly 4 threes per game over the past four seasons).
3. With Minnesota struggling and Detroit finding a little bit of a groove lately to come to similar records, which of the two stars has a better supporting cast?
Dan Feldman: Love. Drummond has more talent around around him, but Love is joined by better-fitting talent. By the end of the season, the answer could change if the Pistons continue developing their chemistry. The tiebreaker for now? Coaching. I’d take Rick Adelman over Maurice Cheeks.
Tim Thielke: The Pistons have more talent on the team, but the Wolves have much better fit. Given that the wording asks about the better supporting cast rather than the better teammates, I’ll have to go with Love. Also, the Wolves’ record is harder to come by than a similar record against predominantly Leastern Conference opponents.
Bill Bohl: How do I put this? I think Detroit’s overall talent is superior to Minnesota’s, but the construction of the Timberwolves as a team makes a lot more sense than the Pistons. In a vacuum, the talents of Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe outpace Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekvoic; but in a five-on-five setting, I much prefer how the pieces fit in Minnesota. Rubio facilitates, Martin can play the two-man game on the wings, and Pekovic is the perfect high-low partner for Love. Not to mention Corey Brewer’s ability to leak out and cut off the ball, which has led to some easy baskets for the Wolves.
Miami trounces Detroit, Pistons (somehow, at 10-11) still hold fourth-best record in Eastern Conference
|Greg Monroe, PF 29 MIN | 3-10 FG | 4-5 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | -15Monroe played hard but was largely neutralized offensively by the Heat. He has to throw his weight around more against smaller guys. His strip as LeBron went hard to the rim was a thing of beauty though.|
|Josh Smith, SF 31 MIN | 6-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 13 PTS | -16Smith wasn’t taking bad shots. He wasn’t hitting enough of his good ones, but this would represent progress if he somehow maintains it. His defense left a lot to be desired, but Smith isn’t a perimeter defender. That’s an adjustment Cheeks has to make. Drummond is good at corralling smaller guys, Smith isn’t. Switch who’s guarding whom.|
|Andre Drummond, C 36 MIN | 8-11 FG | 3-6 FT | 14 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 19 PTS | -12I saw Drummond grabbing boards all over the place and playing fantastic help defense. I had no idea, until I looked at the box score, that he had 19 points. Drummond is a beast!|
|Brandon Jennings, PG 34 MIN | 6-14 FG | 6-7 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 6 TO | 19 PTS | -13Jennings hit 43% of his shots, so that’s better than normal. The 1:1 AST:TO ratio hurts though. Like most of the team, he looked good early and terrible late.|
|Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG 18 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -14Caldwell-Pope had a miserable game. He contributed nothing on offense and while his defense didn’t look awful (it didn’t look good either), he got burned by every wing he tried to cover.|
|Tony Mitchell, PF 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3Mitchell’s garbage time did not yield anything worth evaluating.|
|Josh Harrellson, PF 11 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -3Harrellson’s battled, but he didn’t exhibit much talent tonight. Cheeks was getting better play out of Jerebko and Villanueva so he had no reason to leave Josh in.|
|Jonas Jerebko, PF 21 MIN | 5-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +1Jerebko played very well and his threes were a huge reason the Pistons stuck around in the first half.|
|Charlie Villanueva, PF 14 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -6Villanueva made the most of his time on the floor offensively. But he may as well have been a pylon on defense. So we pretty much got “good Villanueva” in this game.|
|Luigi Datome, SF 8 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3Datome is a Piston for one reason: to hit shots. He didn’t do that.|
|Kyle Singler, SF 20 MIN | 3-4 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -1Singler is reasonably good at sticking with his man and rotating properly. But he’s also a bit slow, so when the other team moves the ball really well, he’s doomed. I don’t know how much better he was capable of guarding all of Miami’s shooters, but he wasn’t good enough in this one.On the other hand, Singler shot well.|
|Peyton Siva, PG 14 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -2Siva looked like a competent end-of-the-bench player! It’s a miracle.|
I don’t know if Cheeks did anything differently in this game than the one in Miami, but the Pistons looked their worst out of the gate and immediately after the halftime break. At one point, he was playing either Jerebko or Villanueva at SG. Sorry, Mo, you only get points for creativity if it works (or at least if I think it should have a shot at working).
Two Things We Saw
- The Pistons have been pretty up and down in the 3rd quarter this season. This game was a big down. Miami tore the game open by starting the quarter 15-4 and the Pistons never got close enough again to make it seem like they had a shot.
- Miami’s shooting was unstoppable. At one point, their bench had 31 point on 12 shots. In general, when the other team shoots 56% to your 42%, you’re probably not going to win that game.
- Teams: Miami Heat (15-5) at Detroit Pistons (10-10)
- Date: December 8, 2013
- Time: 6:00 p.m.
- Television: FSD
What to look for
The Detroit Pistons have won four consecutive games and now sit at .500. That might not sound impressive, but only four teams in the Eastern Conference have won half of their games or more.
Also, the Pistons’ blowout victory over against the Chicago Bulls gave them a positive scoring differential, which is typically synonymous with winning teams. Detroit’s win streak includes three straight road victories, with the first one occurring against the Miami Heat.
Tonight, the teams reverse roles. Miami will be at the Palace of Auburn Hills looking for some redemption. In their first meeting, Detroit won by double digits because of their rebounding advantage and solid frontcourt passing.
Despite merely playing 22 minutes, Andre Drummond had an astounding eight offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith combined for nine assists. The tandem took advantage of the Heat’s aggressive defense by anticipating rotations and passing the ball to the open man for clean looks.
Kyle Singler was the primary benefactor with four made treys. With that said, tonight’s contest might be a more difficult proposition for Detroit even though the game will be played at home.
ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace spoke to Chris Bosh about the Heat’s rebounding woes and this is what the big man had to offer:
“Every time we step out there, we’re going to take pride in that,” Bosh said. “We’re in a new space now, where the microscope is there as far as rebounding is concerned. And we’re going to have to do a better job. This was really good for us. But we have our work cut out for us [Sunday] and after that [Tuesday] against Indiana. It’s not going to stop.”
Bosh shared his sentiments on the heels of a victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves in which they held their own on the boards. Granted, Kevin Love missed the game, but Miami’s effort was still impressive nonetheless.
The Pistons will probably still win the rebounding battle tonight, but the game will be determined by the size of their advantage. Also, one must pay attention to the Heat’s pressure defense in this one.
Given that the frontcourt picked it apart, the Heat might simply come out more aggressive and blitz every pick-and-roll and double-team every interior touch. If Smith and Monroe can adjust and again find open players, the Pistons might very well be celebrating their fifth consecutive victory.
Read about the Heat
|Greg Monroe, PF 36 MIN | 3-10 FG | 2-4 FT | 12 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | +20Monroe didn’t have the prettiest stat line, but he owned the paint in the second half. Even as Drummond sat, Chicago’s bigs were worse than useless.Also, he seems to be developing some real chemistry with Caldwell-Pope. Early in the game, Monroe made a lane to the basket appear for Caldwell-Pope by placing the ball perfectly on a pass. Later, he somehow split a pair of Bulls as he fell out of bounds saving a tough rebound to KCP.|
|Josh Smith, SF 35 MIN | 2-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 10 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 7 PTS | +15Smith continues to take bad shots and miss good ones. This has been a rough season for him. But he also gets tons of deflections and hockey assists that just don’t make it into the box score.|
|Andre Drummond, C 30 MIN | 4-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 14 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | -2It’s amazing the Drummond got 30 minutes given his foul problems and the fact that he got hobbled in the second half. But he made his presence felt while on the floor. On one possession in the second quarter, the Pistons managed to get six offensive rebounds (five of them by Drummond!) before Dre eventually flushed the ball home.Drummond’s inability to push Muhammad around was disconcerting.|
|Brandon Jennings, PG 42 MIN | 12-22 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 33 PTS | +25When Jennings actually scores efficiently, he’s really good. Of course, it speaks volumes that the commentators referred to him as “hitting everything” and “unable to miss” in a game where he hit one more than half of his shots.|
|Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG 38 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +19Caldwell-Pope had a couple highlight moments, but he didn’t do much else in between. His defense was again good, but his production should really be higher for 38 minutes of playing time.|
|Josh Harrellson, PF 13 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +16Harrellson was the most important player in the third quarter stretch when Detroit pulled away. The basketball being played at that point was really ugly; everyone was making mistakes more often than not, and Harrellson’s play was no exception. But he outhustled everyone and hustle is even more important in a sloppy game.Harrellson had some beautiful blocks including one that somehow got called a foul.|
|Jonas Jerebko, PF 7 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -3Jerebko played a couple minutes of very good D and hit what felt at the time like a huge three. But he seems to have lost the hustle and do-it-all tendencies that made him so much fun early in his career.|
|Kyle Singler, SF 22 MIN | 4-5 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +5Singler did a miserable job of covering Dunleavy, but contributed more than he gave up. It was a solid outing.|
|Peyton Siva, PG 6 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -8Siva played without making too many mistakes (just one ugly shot and one intended lob that was awful–it clanked off the rim), but he still doesn’t look like an NBA caliber player.With Siva on the floor, the Pistons essentially play 4-on-5 offensively, so you have to hope he completely shuts down his man so that his presence is a wash.|
|Rodney Stuckey, SG 10 MIN | 0-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -2Rough night for Stuckey. But it seems his knee was probably to blame. Here’s hoping he gets well soon, the Pistons have really needed Stuckey so far this year.|
After getting beaten up in a close first half, the Pistons came out swinging to open the third quarter and din’t let up. I don’t know if that’s on Cheeks, but he certainly didn’t seem to screw anything up in this game. That’s enough to keep me happy.
Two Things We Saw
- Both Stuckey and Drummond went down in this game (Drummond returned, Stuckey didn’t). But a Bulls squad missing Rose, Deng, and Butler won’t offer any sympathy.
- The Pistons are getting it done on the road. They hadn’t won at the United Center since 2006, but are now one of just two teams to win in Chicago this year (along with New Orleans) as well as one of just two teams to win in Miami (along with Boston).
- Teams: Detroit Pistons (9-10) at Chicago Bulls (8-9)
- Date: December 7, 2013
- Time: 8:00 p.m.
- Television: FSD
What to look for
The Detroit Pistons have won three straight games overall and claimed back-to-back victories on the road. They will go into tonight’s matchup with the Chicago Bulls looking to reach the .500 mark with a win.
That would certainly help them climb the ranks of what is a completely putrid Eastern Conference. Indeed, the Pistons have a chance at finishing the season as the third seed in the east.
However, for all of their potential, the Pistons were built in a rather strange fashion that is somewhat reminiscent of the Sacramento Kings. The Kings have a multitude of individual players that are intriguing talents, but that do not necessarily fit alongside each other.
Grantland’s Bill Simmons took it a step further:
As the self-proclaimed Body Language Doctor, I was obviously excited for a moody lefty with poor shot selection who occasionally clashes with his teammates (Smith) to join forces with a moody lefty with poor shot selection who occasionally clashes with his teammates (Brandon Jennings). But it’s been rockier than even the Body Language Doctor expected. Mo Cheeks has that “mom with three young kids who just had too much sugar” look on his face at all times. If you started a 12-man “Which Two Teammates Would Have To Be Separated In The Huddle” fantasy draft, and the entire first round were taken up by “Boogie Cousins vs. (fill in 12 consecutive teammates),” then the first pick of the second round would be either “Josh vs. Jennings” or “Kyrie vs. Dion.”
Although humorous, this is not exactly news for Pistons fans. But it is incredibly relevant tonight heading into the contest against the Bulls. In their first head-to-head matchup of the season, Chicago took Detroit to task.
The Bulls held the Pistons to 44.2 percent shooting from the field at the Palace of Auburn Hills. That figure seems incredibly respectable until we dig in further into the numbers.
The Pistons took an ungodly amount of contested long-range 2-point shots and actually connected on a great amount of them. NBA.com tells us that Mo Cheeks’ unit hit 11-of-23 (47.8 percent) of their mid-range jumpers in their lone contest versus the Bulls.
That figure is simply not sustainable given that those shots were well contested. Detroit relied on running a lot of two-man action on the wings and it resulted in either Brandon Jennings taking a low-percentage shot or one of the big people taking a tough jumper.
Also, when the Pistons interior players got within proximity of the basket, they saw the outstretched arms of Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson. Both players are great defenders and they force misses by contesting shots with great fervor.
The Pistons converted decent amount of shots at the basket and again, they were by their own standards lights out from mid-range. Despite all that, they only scored 79 points against the Bulls.
Further exacerbating issues, Chicago’s offense was quite efficient on that night despite the lack of creativity in their sets. The Bulls simply relied on swinging the ball from one side to the next and using cross screens.
That consistently produced high-percentage shots and resulted in a night where they hit 53.2 percent of their shots. There is no other way around it: Detroit must defend far better tonight at the United Center.
The Pistons’ offense will probably struggle tonight once more unless they manufacture a plethora of turnovers. That will allow Detroit to get out on the break where their athleticism is practically unparalleled. That gives them an opportunity to avoid executing in their half-court offense.
The Bulls probably win this contest if it ends up being a slow grind out game given that Detroit will be launching long contested jumpers again. If the Pistons speed things up though, they have a chance at taking this one and ending the road trip with a bang.
Read about the Bulls
Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.
1. Let’s just start this out with the obvious question: What the heck has gotten into Rodney Stuckey this season?
Dan Feldman: The Pistons have finally stopped asking too much from him. Stuckey is assisting and rebounding at career-worst clips, effectively focusing on scoring. He’s developed a short mid-range game that has helped him shoot a career-best 2-point percentage by giving him another option than driving out of control to the rim. After trending up the last few seasons, Stuckey’s 3-point attempts are wisely coming down. Better selection from long range has produced a career-high 3-point percentage, too.
Patrick Hayes: He’s a totally committed, consistent player who just needed the right coaching and role to thrive. Just kidding. Contract year, contract year, contract year. Stuckey has always had an incredible amount of athletic talent. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s athletic, he’s versatile enough to give competent minutes at both guard spots and he draws and absorbs and incredible amount of contact. Also, for all of his faults as a full-time point guard, he still takes pretty good care of the ball. He just doesn’t try hard all the time, and he said as much in a recent interview with Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News. So, any team that wants to sign him to more than a short-term deal should be very wary of that — if he doesn’t like the coach or his role or whatever, he’s probably going to “shut down.” But a motivated Stuckey on a short, make-good deal? I’d take that skill-set on my team any time.
Brady Fredericksen: Patrick said it, but the dude wants to get paid. Contract Year Rodney Stuckey is aware of the stink that follows him around these days, and he’s always been capable of shaking it. This year he’s comfortable. Michael Curry had a very un-polished version of Stuckey, John Kuester had a very unhappy version of Stuckey and Lawrence Frank had a very perplexing version. He is what he is — a scoring guard that can give you minutes at both spots. He should come off the bench, and he should use his ability to draw contact at the rim. He wants to cash in this summer and he’s being used right, maybe?
2. We’ve seen flashes of this kind of play throughout his career in Detroit, but what’s the one thing he’s doing this season that has kept him so consistent?
Dan Feldman: I reject the premise of the question. If this holds up, it would be Stuckey’s best season, but it’s been just 18 games. Even now that he’s focused more on scoring than he ever has previously, Stuckey has two other independent higher-scoring 18-game stretches: late in the 2011-12 season and December 2009. If there’s any reason to hope Stuckey keeps it up this time, it’s Maurice Cheeks. Stuckey is finally playing for a coach that likes him. That doesn’t excuse Stuckey for his troubles with previous coaches — a lot of that was on him — but as a moody player, Stuckey has definitely benefited from Cheeks’ confidence in him, and that seems like it will remain all season.
Patrick Hayes: A couple of things. First, Stuckey has had a sneaky good post game for a guard for a while now, he just hasn’t always used it — whether that’s his own fault or the fault of coaches for putting him in bad situations is up for debate (though Stuckey clearly feels it was coaches using him incorrectly). It’s probably a bit of both in reality. Stuckey has been used in head scratching roles by the past three Pistons coaches, but he’s also been content to settle for jumpers too often or barrel into the lane with reckless abandon in search of contact. This season, he’s more under control and he’s using great post moves and craftiness around the basket to get better shots for himself. Secondly, he’s hitting his mid-range shots better than he ever has. In fact, he’s also hitting the three at a decent 35 percent clip, although I’m not sold he’ll sustain that number all season — bad long range shooters don’t miraculously turn into good ones over night, so we’ll see where he’s at when the season ends. In short, he’s looking for his shot more but is also more selective about good shots vs. bad ones, he’s playing more against reserves and he’s, by his own admission, playing harder. Those three things have combined to, finally, make him a pretty valuable player.
Brady Fredericksen: Money aside, I think he’s excited to be playing for something. The last three seasons have been draining to watch as a fan, imagine how it is to be one of those players? There’s something to earn, something to play for and a sign of positivity within the organization — that’s going to get any player going. He doesn’t have to try to be a “star” anymore; it’s apparent he’s not, so just go do what you do and help the team win. The last time we saw a Stuckey who was fully engaged, coincidentally, was 2009-10 when the Pistons were last in a playoff race.
3. Reports have already said the Pistons won’t be trading him this season — so, does it make sense to keep him around with the team pushing for the playoffs?
Dan Feldman: Probably. As we saw with the Josh Smith signing and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope draft choice, the Pistons have prioritized — I’d say over-prioritized — making the 2014 playoffs at the expense of their long-term upside. Part of Stuckey’s league-wide appeal is his expiring contract, but unless the Pistons take a worse contract of a better player in return, using Stuckey’s contract in a trade won’t help this season if the return is a worse player on a multi-year contract and draft sweetener. For a team desperate to make the playoffs, the Pistons can get value from Stuckey from using him the rest of this season, regardless of what happens in the offseason.
Patrick Hayes: Other than Andre Drummond, it doesn’t make sense for the Pistons to oppose trading anyone. That doesn’t mean they should make a lopsided deal or one that improves the team in the short-term at the expense of the long-term, but the team is also simply not good enough to keep anyone other than Drummond off the table. Stuckey is valuable when he’s playing at this level, particularly to a team that is weak in the backcourt as this one is. But he could also help any number of guard-needy teams. I would prefer the Pistons trade him rather than sign him long-term provided they can get good value for him, but he’s also made himself an asset again, so I don’t think there’s any pressure to trade him just because the risk of losing him as a free agent looms.
Brady Fredericksen: If playoffs are the goal, keep him. There’s value in his expiring contract ($8.5 million), and there’s value in a guy who is playing well and has an expiring contract. I’ve always noted that just Stuckey isn’t enough to bring anything back. If the Pistons were to make a legitimate trade, it would probably include Charlie Villanueva ($8.5 million) expiring deal, too. Those are the most valuable trade chips the Pistons have — especially in a year where so many teams want to bottom out. But, if it comes down to keeping Stuckey all season and also making the playoffs, go for it. Just don’t be the team to pay him this summer, too.
I have no doubt that Drummond is a future All-Star. He posted 4.5 win shares last season, at age 19, and a large majority of players who even neared that level as a teenager eventually became All-Stars.
Of the 15 players with more than three win shares in a season as a teenager, 11 became All-Stars: Kyrie Irving, Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett. Anthony Davis will make that number 12 this season.
Thaddeus Young still has a chance to make an All-Star Game, but that seems extremely unlikely now. Cliff Robinson (not to be confused with the former Piston who went by Clifford and mad the 1994 All-Star Game) never made one.
That leaves Drummond.
With all due respect to Roy Hibbert, Al Horford and Chris Bosh, Drummond is the Eastern Conference’s best center right now. Those three could catch Drummond, maybe even before the All-Star break, but Drummond leads right now with his powerful effectiveness that produces 13.5 points on a league-best 64.6% shooting, 12.8 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
Unfortunately, being the best — or even most popular — center in the conference doesn’t guarantee an All-Star berth anymore.
Last season, the NBA switched from starting one center and two forwards to starting three frontcourt players, giving Drummond more competition in the fan vote for starters.
LeBron James is a lock to get one of those spots, and Carmelo Anthony — who has started the last four years and nearly topped LeBron in voting last season — is a safe bet despite a down year.
The third spot is up for grabs, though.
Drummond repeatedly has made the NBA establishment regret sleeping on him. It’s time he stops getting overlooked and gets an All-Star nod this season.
The ball is in Drummond’s court to ensure that the voters, whether they’re fans or coaches, don’t drop it.
Rob Mahoney of Point Forward wrote an awesome article on the Pistons that is definitely worth a read, but this part especially caught my eye:
Detroit’s starting five was eaten alive on the perimeter in the first few weeks of the season. Over the last 10 games, though, the Pistons seem to have caught a rhythm. The clear point of demarcation was an injury-induced change to the starting five. With Chauncey Billups sidelined by tendinitis in his left knee, wiry rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has assumed a spot in the starting backcourt.
That shift, among others, has made a fairly dramatic defensive difference. Despite not logging a single minute with the other starters during the first seven games of the season, Caldwell-Pope stepped in to provide more pressure and athleticism on the perimeter. Billups, 37, still has a reputation as a strong defender, but he shows his age when chasing opponents around screens and was a burden on Detroit’s pick-and-roll coverage. It wasn’t all his fault; Monroe and Drummond are frustratingly terrible at guarding the pick-and-roll without impeding the movement of the ball handler, which made Billups’ job that much more difficult. The Pistons attempted to compromise by having Billups (and many of their other guards) go under screens, though that only afforded opposing guards a safe pocket from which to pull up and shoot.
The entire arrangement was a mess, on top of Detroit’s more generally sloppy coverage through a tough patch of schedule. Billups’ tendinitis, though, forced Cheeks to insert a quicker, longer player into the starting lineup to contend with opposing guards.
The Pistons’ defensive rotations really aren’t that much cleaner than they were at the beginning of the season, but Detroit has managed to ramp up its effectiveness by chasing shooters off the three-point line, jumping passing lanes and pressuring ball handlers. It’s amazing how much length and size alone can do under those circumstances. By attacking the ball handler and forcing him to make a decision under duress, Detroit’s bigs are in a position to deflect or intercept passes.
In the 10 games since the Pistons switched lineups and began dialing up the pressure on the perimeter, Drummond, Smith and Monroe have averaged a combined 5.5 steals per game. Detroit has cuffed its opponents by creating turnovers: Of the 25 lineups that have played 100 minutes or more this season, Detroit’s new starting unit ranks third in points allowed per possession. With that group turning opponents over on 31.2 percent of their possessions, avoiding fouls at a remarkable rate and locking down the defensive glass to avoid giving away extra scoring opportunities, the Pistons have seemingly found a way to survive their own over-helping and inconsistent rotations. They’ve leaned into the gambling tendencies of players like Smith and Jennings, in a sense, and had enough success in doing so to both undercut opponents and fuel their own fast breaks.
After bottoming out as the NBA’s worst defensive team, the Pistons have climbed to 20th in defensive rating. At this point in the season, the early failures still weigh heavily on that stat. So the recent improve has been extreme to compensate, and Caldwell-Pope has been at the heart of it.
Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are basically locks to get major minutes. The fifth player to join them has mostly been Billups, Caldwell-Pope or Rodney Stuckey. And as Mahoney said, that lineup with Caldwell-Pope has been among the league’s best defensive units.
Here’s how the Pistons have defended with each Caldwell-Pope, Stuckey and Billups joining the big four. Column widths are scaled to minutes the lineup has spent together, because at this point in the season, we’re still dealing with sample-size issues.
Just to reiterate, the gap between Billups (and to a lesser degree Stuckey) and Caldwell-Pope is amazing. Not only do the Pistons’ big four defend better with Caldwell-Pope rather than Billups or Stuckey as their fifth wheel, they’re better by every major measure. They force more misses and turnovers, yield fewer free-throw attempts and grab a higher percentage of available rebounds.
But why do the Pistons defend so much better with Caldwell-Pope joining that lineup rather than Stuckey, who’s defended fairly well this year?
There are few things at play:
1. Stuckey played more early in the season, when the Pistons were still working out team-wide kinks in their defense and playing a tougher schedule. This unfairly weighs down his defensive numbers in ways that don’t apply to the rookie, who was buried on the bench early. Since Caldwell-Pope entered the rotation, the Pistons defensive rating with the big four and Stuckey is a more respectable 104.9.
2. Caldwell-Pope is probably just a better defender than even an engaged Stuckey, which he is this season in a contract year. The MySynergySports numbers – Caldwell-Pope ranks 85th in points allowed per play to Stuckey’s 123rd – bear this out, and anecdotally, Caldwell-Pope just appears to stick tighter with his man.
3. This one is most important: Caldwell-Pope is a much better off-ball defender than Stuckey. Stuckey is solid on the ball, but he can definitely lose track of his man off it. With Smith, Monroe and Drummond in the frontcourt, the Pistons are short on speed to cover the entire halfcourt area. So, a single defensive liability in the lineup makes a massive difference. Most teams can rotate to cover for a weak spot, but the Pistons are too slow to do that. So, Caldwell-Pope’s ability to stick to his man off the ball has been particularly key.
Maurice Cheeks was handed the tough task of making a lineup featuring Jennings, Smith, Monroe and Drummond work. Before the season, it appeared offense would be the biggest issue, but it quickly became clear the unit was more flawed defensively.
Billups’ injury certainly served as a catalyst for the fix, but inserting Caldwell-Pope into the starting lineup was merely one option of several. Credit Cheeks for choosing the right one and getting the Pistons’ most-used lineup trending in the right direction defensively.