There are no must-wins this early in the NBA season, but this was a necessary step for the Pistons.
They’d lost 21 straight road games against Western Conference foes and had gone just 1-38 record in their last 39 such games. It was a symptom of a team that often couldn’t win, but never believed it would, even when facing similarly weak opponents.
The Pistons lacked talent and were mentally weak. They clearly upgraded their talent this summer, but it hadn’t been clear whether they’d fixed the other problem.
It’s still not clear, but at least their condition has improved.
The Pistons are a much better team than the Kings and should win most games like this. This victory doesn’t deserve wide celebration, but a loss would have caused real worry.
Now that we know the Pistons are progressing, it’s time to set higher expectations – like seeing them win a Western Conference road game outside Sacramento for the first time in more than three years.
|Greg Monroe, PF 30 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-1 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +7
The once-oft-made comparisons between Monroe and DeMarcus Cousins have become less relevant now that the Pistons have surrounded Monroe with actual talent. Detroit’s success is no longer so desperately tied to Monroe (though Sacramento’s is still very reliant on Cousins), but I was still drawn to the matchup. I’m not sure which player I’d prefer given all factors, but games like this show why Cousins has a much higher ceiling. Cousins (26 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks) is an amazing athlete and has great size. At times, it seemed like he just flew around the court. Monroe can still produce, but because he’s not on that level athletically, he must labor to make more of his plays.
|Josh Smith, SF 44 MIN | 6-13 FG | 7-10 FT | 8 REB | 7 AST | 5 STL | 4 BLK | 4 TO | 21 PTS | +11
He was more successful on his bad shots than his good shots, so hopefully this game doesn’t reinforce Smith’s desire to take long jumpers early in the shot clock. He was also aggressive getting to the rim and making plays for teammate, though. On the other end, Smith mostly did not force the Kings into offensive mistakes. Rather, they did that to themselves. But Smith put himself in position to take advantage of Sacramento’s miscues. In previous years, the Pistons haven’t had players who have the athleticism and defensive awareness to make opponents pay for making the ball available. I’d like Smith to force the issue more in the long run, but against a bad offense tonight, he successfully made the defensive plays available to him.
|Andre Drummond, C 36 MIN | 7-13 FG | 1-3 FT | 18 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 15 PTS | +7
Used his size well to score and rebound in traffic. As teams focus more on him, Drummond will have less space to operate, so this type of growth is imperative – especially on a Pistons team that struggles to space the floor.
|Brandon Jennings, PG 39 MIN | 5-14 FG | 0-2 FT | 6 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +11
I didn’t love Jennings’ shot selection, but he did a good job of getting up court and the Pistons’ into their offense quickly. He threw an alley-oop off the backboard to Drummond, who looked stunned to receive it but still finished. Players should use the backboard like that more often.
|Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG 21 MIN | 2-5 FG | 3-3 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +1
Caldwell-Pope is clearly a starter in name only, with Rodney Stuckey and Kyle Singler both playing more than him. But it seems Caldwell-Pope is a legitimate part of the rotation now, and that should only help his development. Generally, I believe players should hunt 3-pointers rather than long 2s. But Caldwell-Pope has clearly been jittery from long range early in his rookie year. I definitely don’t mind him scooting inside for slightly easier looks just to get his confidence up, as Caldwell-Pope did a couple times early. Hopefully, that helps put him on the right track.
|Jonas Jerebko, PF 7 MIN | 2-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -5
Jerebko made the most of his limited minutes, and games like this boost his case for re-joining the rotation. When he focuses on cutting and spotting up for open shots rather than over-dribbling, like he did tonight, Jerebko is effective.
|Luigi Datome, SF 1 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +2
Only the very best shooters in the NBA can come in cold and knock down shots. Maybe we should accept that Datome is not one of the very best shooters in the NBA. He could still become a helpful rotation piece, but it’s time to lower expectations for the time being.
|Kyle Singler, SF 23 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +3
Singler was definitely active, leading both to shots inside on offense and fouls committed on defense.
|Will Bynum, PG 8 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -7
Might Bynum be headed out of the rotation once Chauncey Billups gets healthy? Bynum didn’t do much tonight.
|Rodney Stuckey, SG 30 MIN | 6-13 FG | 3-3 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +5
Stuckey played well from mid-range, both shooting and passing. He’s not a good 3-point shooter, and he struggles to finish at the rim. Perhaps, this is becoming his niche.
I was very curious what Cheeks would do after pledging lineup changes, but Billups’ injury forced his hand. Interestingly, Cheeks used Smith, Monroe and Drummond together 31 minutes, just shy of the season-high 32 minutes they played together against the Grizzlies. Is that a long-term shift? Not necessarily. Those three have struggled defensively as a trio, though they were excellent together tonight. Usually, Detroit’s jumbo front line leaves too many shooters open, because Smith, Monroe and Drummond lack the collective foot speed to cover enough ground. But the Kings, who are still getting used to running an actual offense after years of bad ball, weren’t prepared to take advantage with deft passing.
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