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Archive → December, 2013

Flo-Riding: Pistons travel to Orlando

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (14-16) at Orlando Magic (8-20)
  • Date: December 27, 2013
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons finally bounced back. Well, they kind of did.

The Pistons had lost consecutive games to the Charlotte Bobcats and Houston Rockets entering their last game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bobcats and Rockets victimized Detroit on the interior thanks to sensational efforts by Al Jefferson and Dwight Howard.

Cleveland had the potential to give them the same type of scare because of Andrew Bynum, but instead, Detroit put the pressure on the big man and blew out the Cavs. The contest against Cleveland was the first leg in what is a three-game eastern road trip.

The second game occurs tonight against the Orlando Magic. Jacque Vaughn’s squad has lost three straight games and might finish the season with the worst record in the league.

The team still has some bright spots though. One of them is Arron Afflalo. He is currently having the second-best shooting season of his career despite the fact he’s increased his field-goal attempts on average in every single season.

Afflalo is a solid 2-guard and one can only wonder how many suitors are currently lined up for his services. Detroit will be wise to send some attention his way to ensure he does not get opportunities to put points on the board.

One way to slow him down is by attacking both he and his teammates on the perimeter. Indeed, Orlando has given up some fairly big scoring nights to perimeter players this season and as a result, the Pistons might be able to complement their interior scoring with efficient point production from the wings.

Between their size and athleticism, Detroit should be able to exit Orlando with a victory tonight. Just remember that there is a reason we actually play the games.

Read about the Magic

The Pistons growing history of talent development issues

Are Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton the next Carlos Delfino/Arron Afflalo/Amir Johnson? I doubt it … but I can’t ignore the fact that they’ve played pretty well this month for the Bucks. In today’s Detroit Free Press column, I looked at what the Pistons gave up in the Brandon Jennings trade and, specifically, the need for the team to get much, much better at developing the young players not named Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond that it drafts:

In fact, Knight is actually a perfect highlight of the confused way the organization has attempted to develop talent over the years. Knight, a player who was very raw and erratic and clearly had a lot to learnabout the point guard position in the NBA, was given heavy minutes from the start, while Drummond, a player who was insanely productive from the second he stepped onto the court, had to spend most of last season fighting for scrap minutes behind Jason Maxiell.

The point of all this isn’t to lament what a dream world roster devoid of player evaluation mistakes could have looked like. It’s also not to suggest Knight and Middleton are the next Afflalo/Delfino/Johnson in terms of having productive careers in other places. They clearly still have a lot to prove as NBA players. Those players aren’t coming back, so there’s no point in critiquing things that happened years ago.

The Pistons are going to make the playoffs, and that’s worth celebrating after four years of watching arguably the least interesting basketball team in the NBA. But the reality of the new NBA is that teams are not going to remain competitive if they can’t fill out their rotation with productive and affordable talent, which usually comes in the form of young players on rookie deals. The fact that the Pistons will achieve a goal and likely bring playoff basketball back to Michigan this summer is great. But if they’re going to sustain that success, their track record when it comes to developing their own talent has to get dramatically better.

Josh Smith de-emphasizing long 2s (thank goodness)

Before the season, I made a case for Josh Smith attempting fewer long 2s and more 3-pointerslater clarifying I meant only when sharing the court with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Well, Smith has made remarkable strides.

Me at ProBasketballTalk:

Smith is still taking about the same percentage of his shots from beyond 16 feet as usual – 44 percent this season compared to 41, 45 and 44 the previous three years.

But Smith is wisely drifting back the extra few feet to get an extra point on each make and to space the floor better. Of all his shots from at least 16 feet, 61 percent are 3-pointers – by far a career high. In previous seasons, that number has ranged from 3 percent to 42 percent.

Overall, just 17 percent of Smith’s shots are long 2s, a career low.

You can read the rest of the article at ProBasketballTalk to see what I think about Smith’s 3-point attempts.

Detroit Pistons assign Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva to D-League

Associated Press:

The Detroit Pistons have assigned rookies Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League.

This should help the development of both Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva, but the transaction itself might be an especially positive indicator for Tony Mitchell.

The Pistons were previously unlikely to send Mitchell to the D-League this season, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. Though their D-League strategy has frequently evolved, it seems the Pistons are hesitant to send down players who lack maturity. For them, Detroit prefers to keep them close to the parent club.

Was that the case with Mitchell? I don’t know. But reading between the lines, that the Pistons would have sent down Siva and not Mitchell – two rookies who haven’t played outside garbage time in more than two weeks – says there was, at least one point, a significant between the two.

Siva has been hailed for his character and work ethic. Mitchel’s effort and desire were frequently questions entering the draft, which is the only reason someone so talented fell to Detroit in the second round.

Again, I’m just guessing at the difference between the two that keyed Ellis’ report.

Here’s another guess: They’ll spend two or seven games in the D-League.

The Mad Ants have home games Saturday and Monday. That would allow Mitchell and Siva to make the most of their time in Fort Wayne, which is close enough that the Pistons can send someone to observe them. After Monday, the Pistons have five days off, a stretch that could feature valuable practice time for the the rookies. It might make sense to call them up just for that.

But if Mitchell and Siva stay with the Mad Ants longer, it could be until Jan. 11. That would give the pair seven games, six in nearby Fort Wayne, in that short stretch. After Jan. 11, the Pistons again have five days off – again, offering a possibility for valuable practice time.

The long-term benefits to the Pistons – quicker development with meaningful minutes, even in a lesser league – are obvious. The short-term implications are clear, too: The Pistons are finally healthy.

With their veterans available, Mitchell and Siva would be buried even further down the bench (or behind it, where the inactives sit). Instead, they’ll get on the court.

3-on-3: Joe Dumars’ New Year’s Resolution

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. With holidays upon us, what should Joe Dumars set as his New Year’s Resolution?

Dan Feldman: Start building a championship-caliber core around Andre Drummond. Dumars has gone for the short-term fix, shedding a first-round pick — a very valuable commodity — just to rid Detroit of Ben Gordon‘s contract a single year early. Then, Dumars used that cap space on Josh Smith, the best player he could get at the time, but someone whose contract might become burdensome down the road. Drummond is a special talent, and he’ll be hitting his prime in a few years. The Pistons should maximize those seasons rather than squandering resources for marginal upgrades now.

Patrick Hayes: No sacred cows?* I don’t really know. Joe Dumars has had a tendency in recent years to think much more highly of his roster than anyone rightfully should. And those past few teams that he talked up positively before seasons started and quickly shifted blame to coaches when they performed predictably poorly weren’t even close to as good as the teams he has now. Now he has a roster that is performing at least mediocrely and looks to be a lock for the playoffs. So … mission accomplished? Most who cover the team seem to agree that Dumars’ job security is dependent on the Pistons getting into the playoffs. Thanks to the East’s dreadfulness, he’s going to achieve that goal. The roster is certainly nowhere close to a finished product that can contend with the league’s elite in the postseason. If just getting there is the goal, there’s little incentive to do anything but watch the team middle its way into the playoffs. Then, with that job securing imperative out of the way, perhaps Dumars can be more comfortable addressing the roster in the offseason.

* Note: Drummond is totally a sacred cow, obvs.

Brady Fredericksen: Make the playoffs. It’s been thought that this could be a playoffs-or-bust season for Dumars, and considering the Grinch-like tendencies (i.e., making basketball terrible), he’s probably cooked if this team doesn’t make the playoffs. The Pistons’ success helps more than just Dumars’ job, too. He needs to hope for the best possible record out of this team so the draft pick they’ll be losing to Charlotte is as low in the first round as possible.

2. Who can help him achieve that as quickly as possible?

Dan Feldman: Tom Gores. Dumars went for the quick fix, because Gores wanted it and everything that came with it. And Gores got his wish. Detroit will probably make the playoffs, adding at least two home games worth of playoff revenue. The Pistons’ attendance is up from where it was the last two seasons, but it still ranks just 26th in the NBA. Upgrading from bad to mediocre helps draw a few extra fans, but the difference is minor. Want big gains? Sacrifice the short term for the long term if necessary.

Patrick Hayes: Andre Drummond. He’s already an All-Star-worthy big man, game-changing defensive presence and one of the most exciting young players in the league. He’s also still very young and has never been asked to shoulder this type of burden — best player on a playoff team — before. He underachieved on a UConn team that underachieved and drastically exceeded expectations as a rookie in way too minor a role last season. If he can maintain this level of production throughout the season, the Pistons will cruise into the playoffs and, depending on how the anyone’s guess seeding in the anyone’s guess 3-8 spots plays out, they could even have home court and a chance to win a first round series, something even the most optimistic of Pistons fans wouldn’t have predicted prior to the season.

Brady Fredericksen: Maurice Cheeks. The pieces are definitely there for the Pistons to make the playoffs and give somebody a competitive series; it’s just a matter of Cheeks putting things fully together by then. These guys show flashes of good, great, terrible and bad — they’re well-rounded. But if this team is going to maximize it’s talent/chances, Cheeks needs to be the guy to do it.

3. How can Dumars make his fictional resolution happen?

Dan Feldman: Supporting Maurice Cheeks. Dumars has typically taken a hands-off approach with coaches, but for Dumars to have the leeway to build long-term, the Pistons must make the playoffs this season. That means Dumars should do everything in his power — from advising on strategy to easing tension with players — to give Cheeks the best chance of taking Detroit to the postseason.

Patrick Hayes: Well, making the playoffs is probably going to happen regardless of whether Dumars does anything more or not. And simply because that seems to be enough to satisfy Tom Gores’ demands for now, I think any kind of major move involving any key rotation member is probably remote at best. So with a move like that likely off the table, why not make a minor move to net a future asset? They have Charlie Villanueva’s salary to absorb a long-term dead weight contract from a team looking to cut salary. If they could extract a future first round pick or a couple of second round picks to do take on some salary obligations, that’s probably worth it, since they’re probably losing their first rounder in 2014. Or maybe they could use bit players who have been reliable at times in the past like Will Bynum or Jonas Jerebko to pick up a shooter languishing on someone else’s bench.

Brady Fredericksen: Trade for LeBron, Chris Paul or Kevin Durant? I kid, I kid, but he can try to find that one piece. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what exactly that piece is, but there’s definitely ways to improve this product. Could it be a Rajon Rondo trade? Could it be as simple as skimming that “hidden” trade market for a wing player that we might not know is on the market? Whatever it is, there are moves to be made.

3-on-3: Maurice Cheeks’ New Year’s Resolution

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. With holidays upon us, what should Maurice Cheeks set as his New Year’s Resolution?

Dan Feldman: Tightening the Pistons’ defense. The Pistons have made big strides from early in the season, but there are still too many bouts of confusion, especially on perimeter rotations. Cheeks is on the right track. He just needs to keep it up.

Tim Thielke: Reducing the three point disparity. It’s unlikely the Pistons will make a lot of threes any time soon. But that means they really can’t afford to give so many up. Pistons’ opponents attempt the 5th fewest field goals. But a combination of prolific and accurate shooting from beyond the arc puts Detroit’s opponents in the top ten for made threes.

Brady Fredericksen: Why can’t Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond just play nice… and, well, together? It’s been noted countless times this season, but the Pistons’ jumbo lineup has been quite underwhelming so far. It’s a learning experience — Drummond learning the NBA, Monroe learning to guard power forwards and Smith learning to be a full-time wing — but that’s going to be a key to this team’s success going forward. We’ve seen glimpses of these three starting to play better individually this season, now Cheeks just has to figure out how to make it work all the time.

2. Who on this team can help him achieve that as quickly as possible?

Dan Feldman: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Caldwell-Pope, because of his consistency, has been the Pistons’ best perimeter defender. But his offense is limiting Cheeks’ options. Of the 71 players whose scoring volume (points per minute) and efficiency (true shooting percentage) are as low as Caldwell-Pope’s, only John Salmons and Tayshaun Prince play more minutes per game. Essentially, until Caldwell-Pope shoots better, Cheeks can’t play him much more than he already is.

Tim Thielke: KCP is still very much a rookie, but his two biggest skills that continue to develop should be defense and shooting. Luigi Datome looks like a great shooter, but hasn’t been so far. Smith has all the requisite skills to guard the arc, but has been useless against shooters so far. There’s a lot of room for fixing the disparity if any or all of those guys play up to the talent they have.

Brady Fredericksen: Smith. Let’s be honest, right now Monroe and Drummond are what they are — specialty players who are limited. Smith is limited as well, but he’s also the most gifted when it comes to doing playmaking-like things. The more Smith turns long jumpers into opportunities to create for others, the better those three, and the rest of the team, will be. Period. Cheeks should gift Smith with a piece of coal for every missed, contested jumper he’s had this year; though I guess that might require a dump truck.

3. How can Cheeks make his fictional resolution happen?

Dan Feldman: Use his personal connection with Rodney Stuckey to help him focus. If Caldwell-Pope doesn’t start shooting better, the more offensively capable Stuckey defending better is an alternative solution. At their best, Caldwell-Pope and Stuckey defend at about the same level. Caldwell-Pope just does it more consistently. If Cheeks helps Stuckey maintain his defensive intensity, Stuckey can play a bigger role.

Tim Thielke: Let Caldwell-Pope play more minutes. Have Smith focus on sticking to shooters. Give Datome defensive assignments that only require him to stand near the shooter instead of guys who are credible slashing threats.

Brady Fredericksen: Honestly, I don’t know. The thing that’s most noticeable about Smith’s floating about the perimeter when he’s at small forward is that he’s almost always near the top of the key. Maybe that’s where he’s most comfortable, but it’s most definitely not where he’s making most of his shots. By no means is Smith a great shooter from the corners, but why not try to shift his touches to the far corners? Smith has historically played decently from the baseline, and that opens up the free throw line for Greg Monroe — a spot where he can facilitate from. It can’t hurt, right?

Shot charts courtesy of NBA.com.

Merry Christmas!

Pistons turn up defense after Maurice Cheeks focuses on it, rout Cavaliers

Detroit Pistons 115 Final
Recap | Box Score
92 Cleveland Cavaliers
Greg Monroe, PF 31 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 11 PTS | +3

Monroe is at his best running hard down court and posting up a single defender. When not every defender has found his man, it’s harder to help on Monroe. But when operating in a more crowded post, a negative effect of the Pistons’ jumbo lineup, he’s more prone to struggles. Monroe provided more defensive resistance than usual tonight. He also made a mid-range jumper, but that’s not a big deal until he does so more consistently.

Josh Smith, SF 31 MIN | 10-18 FG | 3-3 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 25 PTS | +19

Smith got hot, making 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions late in the first half. That bolstered his strong interior scoring, though, of course, Smith bricked a few long jumpers for good measure. As a playmaker, Smith too often tried to thread the needle with his pass or dribble. Although that led to a few impressive plays, the overall risk outweighed the reward. The Cavaliers tried to challenge Smith’s liabilities as a perimeter, but that played right into Detroit’s advantage. Alonzo Gee (1-of-4 on 3-pointers) and Earl Clark (2-of-8 on 3-pointers) aren’t the player to punish Smith. In other situations, Smith defended well.

Andre Drummond, C 34 MIN | 7-10 FG | 0-2 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +19

Drummond is fast for his size, and that got him a few open-court dunks. In the halfcourt, his size and hands make him such an easy target inside, and he finishes well, too. Add quality rebounding, and the total package begins coming together. Defense? Drummond provided that, too. Andrew Bynum (0-for-11, two turnovers) is no longer a good offensive player, but Drummond absolutely dominated him.

Brandon Jennings, PG 32 MIN | 6-11 FG | 7-8 FT | 4 REB | 13 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 21 PTS | +26

Jennings was aggressive looking for his own shot in the pick-and-roll, which should help the Pistons’ bigs going forward. It didn’t hurt that Jennings was converting his looks tonight, either. The point guard showed excellent court vision as the Pistons broke open the game in the fourth quarter. Defensively, Jennings skillfully doubled in the post to give Cleveland’s bigs trouble. Kyrie Irving (21 points on 14 shots) tore him up, but Irving will do that nearly everyone.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG 17 MIN | 1-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -2

Caldwell-Pope is a fine defender. He especially stands out on the Pistons, whose defense – especially by their guards – has been unimpressive. But when the rest of the team is defending better, as was the case tonight, he hardly makes an impression on that end. All that’s left is a bad shooter.

Josh Harrellson, PF 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +1

Harrellson was effectively pulled from the rotation in favor of Luigi Datome. Harrellson played only late in each half, after Drummond picked up a foul in the first and after the game was effectively decided in the second. Put in position to help on Kyrie Irving a couple times, Harrellson fouled him once and allowed a mid-range jumper. Not a fair matchup, but about all we have to grade Harrellson on tonight. That and a quick catch and pass to Smith for one of Smith’s 3-pointers, so although none of it was significant, it wasn’t all bad.

Luigi Datome, SF 17 MIN | 6-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +4

Datome made one 3-pointer in five tries, but wow, was it beautiful. His was form perfect, and his release was quick. The arc he put on the shot was incredible. Then, it just splashed through the net. I see why people fall for his shooting, regardless of the results. He actually did a better job inside the arc, going toward the basket. His steal and fastbreak dunk in the final seconds was a nice moment for someone who delivered after not playing this much in more than a month.

Kyle Singler, SF 27 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +23

It seems like Singler is rebounding really well this season, but his rebounding numbers are down a little from last year. Is Singler secretly a good rebounder? He also hit both his 3-pointers, so definitely a good night.

Chauncey Billups, SG 16 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -3

All Billups’ shots were 3-pointers, and on his lone make, he looked like vintage Billups, sticking a shot in a defender’s eye. Otherwise, Billups just slowed the offense.

Rodney Stuckey, SG 31 MIN | 6-16 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 5 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +25

Stuckey finished poorly, making just 3-of-11 shots in the paint, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of his offensive contributions. The Pistons’ movement, player and ball, was better with him on the court, and it started with him moving and passing well. That gave his teammates better lanes to make cuts and passes themselves. Defensively, Stuckey was seemingly everywhere, collecting five steals.

Maurice Cheeks

As I’ve said before, it seems Cheeks does his most significant coaching between games rather than during them. Fox Sports Detroit reported during tonight’s telecast the Pistons focused on defense before this one. Because the game was played at such a fast pace, the final score underrates how well the Pistons defended tonight. Their defensive rating was 88.0, which would rank first in the NBA – by a wide margin – over the full season. The Cavaliers’ season-long offensive rating is just 97.4, 27th in the league, so this wasn’t the toughest opponent. But considering the Pistons’ season-long defensive rating is 104.1, 20th in the NBA, this performance was definitely stronger than usual. And aside from Stuckey, I can’t identify a single player whose individual defense greatly bested his usual level. The Pistons played excellent team defense, and given the timing, Cheeks deserves credit.

Ohio-Michigan Bowl: Pistons travel to Cavs

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (13-16) at Cleveland Cavaliers (10-16)
  • Date: December 23, 2013
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons were humbled in their last contest. Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets came into the Palace of Auburn Hills and checked the Pistons into the Smackdown Hotel.

The defeat was the second in a row for Detroit. Tonight’s opponent offers a bit of reprieve because of their roster construction. Indeed, Mo Cheeks’ unit struggled with containing post players in their last two contests and it resulted in double-digit losses.

Al Jefferson of the Charlotte Bobcats tortured the Pistons frontline and the Rockets’ Howard was even more impressive. Detroit will get away from interior forces when they take on the Cleveland Cavaliers this evening.

The Cavs have interesting pieces on the inside, but they are erratic. Andrew Bynum was once upon a time viewed as superior to Howard in the mind of some, but injuries have considerably dropped his stock.

The former Los Angeles Lakers center has games where he is impressive down on the block because he combines his size and strength with terrific touch. Bynum has a good hook shot he loves to unveil with his back to the basket if he is unable to get himself all the way to the hoop.

His low-post game occasionally comes with flashes of brilliance. He might uncork a drop step or a simple Madden truck move where he goes right through his defender for a dunk. Watch below:

With that said, Bynum no longer generates fear like he once did. He is impatient with his back to the basket and consequently, he will rush shots instead of kicking the ball back out to his teammates when a solid field-goal attempt is unavailablle.

Also, he has knack for seemingly falling apart whenever additional defenders come his way. The big man will cough up the ball or simply put up a low-percentage shot. As a result, Cleveland cannot consistently go him to on the interior.

Instead, Mike Brown places the ball in the hands of Kyrie Irving and allows him to dictate the offense. Uncle Drew is incredibly crafty with the ball, which allows him to beat just about any defender off the bounce.

Irving and Tristan Thompson have developed a good pick-and-roll chemistry, thus expect the Cavs to milk the two-man game tonight as much as they can.

Cleveland has intriguing pieces and should contend for a playoff spot, however their roster is simply too flawed. The core of Irving, Bynum and Anderson Varejao is injury prone. That’s a huge problem given that the second unit is quite unremarkable.

Furthermore, the Cavs have had some dissension in the ranks, which is rarely a sign of great times. There is talent there, although it does not fit appropriately. Just remember, there are nights where their collective skills will mesh and help them look like an actual postseason squad.

The Cavs have won six of their last 10 games and also, if we look at their schedule so far this season, they have registered some interesting wins at the Quicken Loans Arena.

Teams such as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers have fallen in Cleveland. The Pistons will have a tough task ahead of them tonight, but ultimately their interior play should win them the game provided that Brandon Jennings does not feel the need to submit his And 1 Mixtape to Irving and the Cavs faithful.

Read about the Cavs

Cavs the Blog.

Brandon Jennings warned for flopping

Brandon Jennings was warned by the NBA for flopping during the Pistons’ loss to the Rockets on Saturday. Next time, he’ll be fined $5,000.

Here’s video of the play, via Ben Golliver of the Point Forward:

I don’t like flopping, and I wish it were eradicated from the game. But I think reviewing potential flops by video can be an unfair way to judge them. Obviously, a player shouldn’t be punished for falling while attempting to make a play, and honest effort can look like a flop on video if a player falls a certain way. Sometimes, I think players are unfairly tagged with intent to flop when the motive is unclear.

This is not one of those times.