Category → Analysis
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. Both the Pistons and Lakers seem to be teams that are still struggling to find their identities. How will Sunday’s game help to make that picture more clear?
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: The Pistons better prove the Lakers’ luster is gone. Despite high expectations after adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers won just one of their first four games last season — against the Pistons. The Pistons played scared that game, succumbing because they thought they should. In hindsight, that looks foolish, because the 2012-13 Lakers weren’t anything special. Neither are the 2013-14 Lakers, and the Pistons must play like they know that.
Brady Fredericksen, PistonPowered: Keep the good times rolling. I’m not sure if calling a win over the Kings a “good time” is a good thing or bad, but the Pistons need to carry it over. Consistency issues have killed this team all season long, and that’s a similarity to the Lakers. With Josh Smith coming off his best game as a Piston and Andre Drummond giving his best Moses Malone impressing these last few games, the Pistons need to take whatever they found success doing against Sacto and build on it against L.A.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: In Tuesday’s win over the Pelicans (and even in the loss against the Nuggets on Wednesday), the Lakers may have already started to find that identity that’s been lacking so far this season. Mike D’Antoni adjusted his starting lineup and moved players into roles/positions that better match with ones they’ve played their entire careers. Against the Pistons, I hope to see the Lakers build on that by playing similar personnel groupings that maximize the style of play that match what those players are comfortable doing. That should mean a more deliberate style from the starters that features Pau Gasol in the post with athleticism from Jordan Hill up front and Wes Johnson on the wing. With the 2nd group, that should mean a more chaotic style led by Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, and Nick Young attacking from the wing with a pick up in defensive intensity on the perimeter.
2. The Lakers’ strength so far this season has been its ability to shoot from behind the arc. The Pistons’ weakness is, well, defending everywhere; including 3-pointers. Will that be a deciding factor on Saturday?
Dan Feldman: Very well could be. The biggest problem resulting from the Pistons’ jumbo starting front line has been a lack of defensive speed. (Chauncey Billups starting doesn’t help, either.) Unable to cover enough ground, Detroit inevitably loses offensive players on the perimeter. With several capable perimeter shooters, the Lakers should take advantage.
Brady Fredericksen: Maybe. The Pistons have been one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to rotating defensively on 3-point shooters. The thing about the Lakers and their shooters is that they aren’t very good otherwise. Guys like Nick Young, Jodie Meeks and Xavier Henry should be guys the Pistons attack offensively. The Lakers are going to make some shots from behind the long-line, but the Pistons need to attack their shooters on the other end of the court.
Darius Soriano: To state it succinctly, yes. When the Lakers shoot well from behind the arc, they’re a much better team overall as their offense not only produces points, but generates the spacing that allows for the dribble penetration that sets up easier shots at the basket via dump offs to the bigs as well as kick outs to the mid-range where Chris Kaman and Pau are effective. If the Lakers can stretch the floor and, ultimately, force the Pistons’ big men into help positions via the penetration that flows out of that, I envision the Lakers being able to score enough points to win.
3. So, who wins on Sunday and why?
Dan Feldman: Pistons. They’ve lost to every opponent that currently has a winning record and beaten every opponent with a losing record with the exception of the 4-5 Grizzlies, who needed overtime to beat Detroit. The Pistons should and have beat teams like the 4-7 Lakers.
Brady Fredericksen: I’ll say Pistons. Neither team is playing great right now, but with the way Drummond and Smith have looked it’s hard to think that won’t be a factor against the Lakers up-and-down front court. Greg Monroe is bound for a rebound game as well. I just don’t buy the Lakers just yet. They’re relying on 3-pointers and it just feels like the perfect scenario for the Pistons to show they aren’t inept in terms of defending a team that lives by the deep ball.
Darius Soriano: I’ll pick the Lakers, though that’s with a bit of hesitation. The Pistons offer excellent athleticism up front and have guards who can really push the pace and score off the dribble. Considering the Lakers have struggled guarding skilled PF’s, I have my concerns about Monroe finding his groove. I also have concerns about the Gasol/Drummond match up as Pau may have difficulty scoring in the post which would then push him more to the perimeter. This will be fine if he hits his shots, but if his jumper isn’t falling, it could lead to empty possessions and long rebound chances that the Pistons can turn into the type of open court chances the Lakers don’t defend well.
Jennings is right, and Smith is a hypocrite.
It’s an open secret that the New York Knicks signed Chris Smith only to appease J.R. Smith, a fine player but not one who deserves that level of special treatment. Jennings might not have anything to gain by pointing that out, though he used it as an opening to say that two of his friends should be the NBA. But he certainly isn’t wrong.
J.R. Smith chides Jennings for deleting tweets and tweeting about someone without including the @ symbol so the tweet appears in the other person’s mentions. But Smith deleted most his aforementioned tweets and doesn’t tweet to Jennings’ actual username once.
Jennings’ only mistake here was deleting his tweet. If you’re going to be a jerk, own it.
I have no reason to believe that Jennings isn’t working hard enough to become a better basketball player. Jennings spending part of his day tweeting is not a distraction nor detriment to the Pistons.
People have opinions, and Jennings shouldn’t be pressured into hiding his — especially when he’s clearly right. This is all good fun, and it only brings more intrigue to Tuesday’s Pistons-Knicks matchup.
Maybe by then, Jennings will be playing better and will have meshed more with his new teammates. But there’s still plenty of time for him to settle in.
For now, I just hope Jennings grows the courage to stand by his opinions, even if they rattle a few people.
Jennings apologized, according to David Mayo of MLive, and I’m cool with that, too – as long as that’s what Jennings wanted to do. But, now everyone knows what he thinks about Chris Smith, so Jennings might as well own it.
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. There’s not a whole lot to like about the first two games of this western road trip, but who has impressed you most for the Pistons?
Dan Feldman: Andre Drummond. After a little lull, this has been the Drummond I hoped to see this season. He had 16 points, 16 rebounds, two steals and a block against Portland and then followed with 16 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and three blocks against Golden State. I’m not convinced this a turning point rather than a randomly positive spell, but for now, I’ll take bursts of brilliance from Drummond.
Jameson Draper: Drummond. He’s been killing it on the boards and playing relatively well on offense. There’s not much to discuss about his game other than that he’s a budding star, and he seems to be making small improvements with each game. He’s been really fun to watch.
Tim Thielke: Is there any answer besides Drummond? In the two games he has 32 points, 30 boards (15 of them offensive), four blocks, five steals, zero turnovers and hit 16-of-19 shots. If the Pistons had won those games, Drummond would probably have won Eastern Conference Player of the Week, something no current Piston but Rodney Stuckey has ever done.
2. Brandon Jennings was supposed to be trying to evolve into a true point guard. Early in this road trip, he’s been quite the opposite — is this a concern going forward for the now-struggling Pistons?
Dan Feldman: No more so than it was before. I never believed Jennings would magically transform into more of a passer, but I thought — and still do — his talent upgrade would help. Hopefully, Jennings find a happier medium, but the Pistons have much bigger fish to fry — mainly patching the holes in their defense.
Jameson Draper: I don’t think it’s an issue. I don’t know about everyone else, but I really like what Jennings is doing. He’s slowly breaking out of his former shell, averaging a career high in assists thus far. He’s spreading the ball around and shooting at a relatively efficient rate. I’d like to see him become a little bit more of a point guard, but I like what we have seen so far.
Tim Thielke: Yes, Jennings plays with some very efficient scorers in Greg Monroe and Drummond. He should make opponents pay when they focus on stopping those two, but he has been calling his own number far too often when that hasn’t been the case.
3. Josh Smith’s lackluster stretch reached a possible breaking point last night when Maurice Cheeks kept him glued to the bench for much of the massacre at Golden State. How do you think he rebounds these last two games?
Dan Feldman: I like Josh Smith‘s attitude. I doubt he’s fazed. There are few, if any, questions about his effort. For better or worse, I bet he goes back to being the same Smith he’s been his whole career, including so far with the Pistons.
Jameson Draper: He needs to quietly dominate. In the first half against Portland, I really liked what I saw from Smith. He was 4-5 from the field, distributing and playing stellar defense. That was the last good thing I’ve seen out of him. Hopefully in their next games, Smith can go under the radar and play some solid basketball.
Tim Thielke: Smith had a couple bad games. It happens to everyone. But he probably won’t spend much time in the next two games matched up with DeMarcus Cousins or Pau Gasol. Smith should dominate anyone else in those games.
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. Last season, the Pistons labored to an 0-6 record during the early-season road trip out west. How do they avoid that this season?
Dan Feldman: Trying. It’s difficult for Eastern Conference teams to win against the powerful Western Conference, especially on the road. Just two of 13 Eastern Conference teams had winning road records against the West last season, the Heat and Pacers. But the Pistons’ 0-15 at Western Conference teams last season was an unacceptable product of Lawrence Frank’s lackluster leadership and his players’ inability to lead themselves. The Pistons will probably lose most of their games at Western Conference teams this season, but they’ll win at least one if they try.
Brady Fredericksen: Continue to figure it out. It sounds elementary, but with every game, the team shows more and more glimpses of what they could potentially be down the road. This trip’s going to be tough, though. They’ll face some winnable competition, sure, but a road back-to-back against the Warriors has the makings of an, “Oh god, the horror!” losses. That’s just how the league works. Road trips are long, difficult and usually tough for teams still trying to figure out what they are. Hopefully there’s a more clear picture of what this team can do well when they return home.
Tim Thielke: Stagger the “big three”. Hopefully someone is bringing this to Maurice Cheeks‘ attention: with zero, one or all three of Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond on the floor, the Pistons have been outscored by 7.3 points per 100 possessions; with two of them on the floor, the Pistons have outscored opponents by 13.7 points per 100 possessions. And each pairing of two bigs has been about equally effective (although the sample size for Monroe/Drummond is incredibly small). I don’t care if it hurts someone’s ego, one of the three should be benched. Any one of them. So far Cheeks has had exactly two of them on the court for less than 18 mpg. That’s absurd. There’s no reason that number shouldn’t be about 30 mpg.
2. With big men like LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Pau Gasol featured on this trip, what do you hope to learn about the Pistons’ big man trio?
Dan Feldman: How they defend when not covering those impressive opposing bigs. The Pistons’ perimeter defensive rotations have been weak this season, and getting their bigs caught in space has been an issue. Players like Smith, Monroe and Drummond often measure themselves against opponents like Aldridge, Cousins and Gasol. I want to see how Detroit’s trio reacts when not covering those bigs, though. They must remain focused and active.
Brady Fredericksen: I actually want to see how they do offensively. When the team played against Memphis, one of the better “big” teams in the NBA, the big trio was actually more good than bad. Monroe and Drummond combined for 28 points and 24 rebounds, and Smith hovered outside and took 11 shots from 3-point range. If they can find more of the offensive cohesion they’ve flashed — ie: Smith being a creator — against these teams and players, I’ll feel better about their fit.
Tim Thielke: We should get a chance to see what type of player they are most and least suited to matching up with. Aldridge is a multi-talented, savvy player with range, but can be susceptible to bullying. Gasol is a physical beast with a lot of passing ability, but is slowing down and can’t match up with Detroit’s big men athletically. Cousins is the kind of player made for video games with every tool you could ask for, but lacks discipline on both ends of the court.
3. Between the Trail Blazers, Warriors, Kings and Lakers, which game are you most interested in?
Dan Feldman: Lakers. The Pistons are better than the Lakers, but the Lakers have played well in stretches and are capable of beating Detroit. Plus, it’s the freaking Lakers. I always want to see the Pistons beat the Lakers.
Brady Fredericksen: Kings. Maybe I’m just a masochist, but I’m fascinated by the Monroe-Cousins rivalry. Last year, Monroe (20 point, 12 boards and 7 assist averages) notched his first triple-double against Cousins (21 points, 13 rebounds) in an early-season matchup. These guys have a history, and they’re both playing the best ball of their careers. Plus, it’ll be a chance for the Pistons to make a statement with a nationally-televised game on ESPN.
Tim Thielke: Probably the Blazers. This will be our first look at how the Pistons fare against a team with a more traditional lineup of fitting players but without a ton of extra talent. I don’t think there is any way the Pistons stop all three of Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum. But the Blazers aren’t stopping all of Monroe, Smith, and Drummond.
There are two scenarios in which I could see Greg Monroe getting traded:
* A team makes an overwhelmingly good offer in which the Pistons get a player better than Monroe in return.
* The Pistons underperform, their frontcourt-heavy roster has fit issues most of the season and, in a panic move to make a playoff push near the trade deadline, the Pistons accept a trade offer from Monroe that nets them a more traditional starter at small forward or shooting guard.
Obviously, one of those scenarios is far preferable to the other. But the far better scenario is not trading Monroe at all because he’s really, really good and still improving. My column for the Detroit Free Press:
Offensively, an argument could be made that his production and skill set already were All-Star-worthy. His defense has notably lagged behind, but he has shown significant improvement this season. His defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) is a very good 99.
Playing with rim protectors like Drummond and Smith certainly helps, but there have been notable improvements in Monroe’s footwork, timing and physicality on defense as well. In the past, he always seemed a step or two slow in rotating or anticipating on defense. This season, he’s beating opponents to spots more frequently. His defensive footwork is not as clumsy. He’s not the leaper that Smith and Drummond are, but he’s learning how to use his strength and positioning to make opposing players set up on the court in spots they’re not as comfortable in. And Monroe has always had quick hands on defense — he’s one of the better bigs in the league at coming up with steals and strips.
Offensively, with Drummond not having a developed post game, Smith chucking shots, and a never-ending supply of shoot-happy, inefficient guards, Monroe remains the Pistons’ best option to get quality shots in half-court sets. Finding a replacement, regardless of position, who can create shots for himself as efficiently Monroe won’t be easy.
I still think, as I wrote before the season started, that there’s a decent chance Monroe gets traded because I do expect this team to have stretches of undisciplined play and poor offense that leads to losses. I just really, really hope it doesn’t happen unless the Pistons get a star in return.
1. Size isn’t going to be an issue for either side on Friday, but the play of each side’s guards will dictate a lot. How do the Thunder frustrate Detroit’s guards and how do the Pistons contain Russell Westbrook and Co.?
Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: The Thunder will frustrate Detroit’s guards by showing up. For the Pistons, their challenge is a little more complex. Rodney Stuckey has traditionally played well against Russell Westbrook thanks to his ability to create a rivalry in his own mind. Whatever works — I won’t bash anything that’s effective. I also think for the Pistons to have a chance against Westbrook defensively, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope needs to see time guarding Westbrook. He’s the only Piston guard with the mix of size and athleticism necessary to stand a reasonable chance against Westbrook.
Of course, if Caldwell-Pope plays, that means the Pistons will either play five guards (not ideal) or sit Chauncey Billups or Will Bynum (more ideal). Maurice Cheeks has been very committed to that duo so far this season, but with his backcourt looking to be fully healthy, it’s time to reign in their minutes.
J.M. Poulard, PistonPowered: The Thunder love to play at a breakneck pace and impose their athleticism on teams. Detroit can counter that by protecting the ball, selectively pushing the pace and crashing the glass. Westbrook is at his most dangerous in the open floor, thus keeping him in the half court is key.
I expect OKC’s backcourt to press up on the Pistons’ guards and dare them to venture into the paint where Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are waiting for them. It’s a very tough proposition to convert around the hoop when those players are around and the Thunder might very well be inclined to dare Detroit to try.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Westbrook has a pretty significant size and strength advantage on Brandon Jennings, so I’d expect OKC to work Westbrook a lot in the mid and low posts. Westbrook can overpower other guards sometimes with that and he has a pretty underrated post-up game. And with that, you can tack on fouls and wear them down. I don’t think either side necessarily feels like they’re containing anyone, really. It’s more about just putting them in difficult situations.
2. Turnovers have been an issue for both sides so far this season — is the reckless ball handling going to continue tonight?
Patrick Hayes: Yes. Both teams have length and athleticism on defense and both teams often make risky passes that lead to turnovers on offense. This is a potentially exciting game if both teams play well, but I’d expect some sloppiness as well as lots of spectacular steals and blocks from both sides.
J.M. Poulard: Pressure defense typically is a good recipe to force turnovers and surprisingly, both teams have fared well on this front. The overall athleticism of Detroit and OKC has been problematic for their opponents this season and one can only assume that will continue.
Thus, expect some sloppy play on the part of both teams as well as some transitions plays.
Royce Young: For the Thunder, probably. Their turnovers come and go. It’s a problem, then it’s not a problem. But really, the Thunder often play at their best when they’re fast and loose and free. And with that comes turnovers. The Thunder finally played well against the Mavs and that included 24 turnovers. So I kind of expect more of the same.
3. Outside of each team’s big three players, which role players will rise to the occasion tonight?
Patrick Hayes: For Oklahoma City, Jeremy Lamb. Lamb’s shooting numbers are great through four games — 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from three. The Pistons aren’t defending the three particularly well (opponents are shooting 35 percent from distance), so Lamb could provide a spark off the bench. For Detroit, Luigi Datome. He didn’t shoot well in his first extended action of the season on Tuesday, but he had quality looks. He needs to make a quick impact to secure that rotation spot before Cheeks explores other options at the backup four spot, and tonight could be the night he does it.
J.M. Poulard: Kendrick Perkins. It’s not so much that I believe he will rise to the occasion, but rather that his play will determine the outcome of the contest. Perkins is a physical interior presence that frustrates opposing big men.
He will probably get matched up with Andre Drummond and look to impose his brute strength on the youngster. An intimidated and flustered Drummond does no good for the Pistons. However, if he rises above the veteran’s savvy and outplays him, the Pistons will have a shot at winning late.
Royce Young: Everyone in OKC is drooling over Steven Adams right now and he’s in for a big matchup against Drummond and Greg Monroe. If Adams can provide the needed size and muscle inside to allow Scott Brooks to play small with KD at the 4, it’ll create some mismatches for Detroit.
1. The inability to space the floor and shoot was a fear of Pistons fans entering the season. Well, four games in, do you feel any better about those concerns?
Dan Feldman: Yes. I’m still concerned, but Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond have been aggressive passers. That has helped create space – and turnovers. If those three can protect the ball a little better, the floor spacing could be workable. But better outside shooting would be even more helpful.
Brady Fredericksen: Not really. There hasn’t been a whole lot to like when it comes to the Pistons’ shooting thus far, but that doesn’t mean the offense has lacked likability. Josh Smith has found a way to be a productively, counterproductive player at times. When he’s facilitating from the elbow and on drives, the Pistons’ offense has been very effective. The shooting will improve — it’s very early in the season, remember — and once Maurice Cheeks finds a way to expand the spurts of offensive success, the team will lay fewer bricks.
Tim Thielke: Somewhat better. This is definitely an issue that would come back to bite them in the playoffs. But the Pistons aren’t contenders this year anyway. They just need to address this issue in the offseason. There are two teams this season putting up 30-35 percent of their shot attempts at the rim, 12 teams are in the 35-40 percent range, 10 are in the 40-45 percent range, 4 are in the 45-50 percent range. Only the Pistons and Rockets are attempting more than half of their shots at the basket – that’s really good.
As long as the Pistons can keep up that volume near the rim, continue to hit 60 percent of those shots (the above-average clip they are presently converting), and don’t turn the ball over too much in getting those shots, they’ll be fine. The last point is important though. Teams that get more close shots turn the ball over more. Detroit is currently second in attempts at the rim and 10th in turnover rate. I’ll take that.
2. Josh Smith is hoisting a cool seven 3-pointers per game, which ranks as seventh-most in the NBA. Is this something that will slow down as the season progresses?
Dan Feldman: Yes. Smith still might set a career high for 3-point attempts because he’s playing more small forward than usual and more minutes period than usual. But if he finishes the season with even half as many 3-point attempts per game as he taking now, I’ll be shocked.
Brady Fredericksen: Of course. There’s no way Smith continues to chuck up shots at this pace… right? Seriously though, he’s definitely shooting too many 3-pointers. It seems like every time the ball gets swung around the 3-point line and he has a glimmer of a look, he’s taking it. That can’t happen, and I’m pretty sure he’s aware of how poorly that’s worked out for him and the team thus far.
In his defense, he has to shoot some of them, and he’s the only big-man shooter struggling so far this year — Kevin Love has shot just as much from deep and is shooting a similarly terrible 29 percent. Smith isn’t the shooter that Love is, of course, but the Pistons have thrived when Smith is looked to pass, not shoot. Let’s just hope that’s something he realizes sooner than later.
Tim Thielke: Definitely. Smith’s career high for 3-point attempts per game is 2.6. It’s hard to imagine him finishing this season over 3.5 attempts per game.
Also, right now, non-shooters (Monroe, Drummond, Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and Jonas Jerebko) are playing 77 percent of their minutes alongside Smith. Shooters (Chauncey Billups, Luigi Datome, Kyle Singler, Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) are playing just 71 percent of their minutes alongside Smith. Throw in the fact that Caldwell-Pope’s and Datome’s roles are probably only going to increase, and it would be shocking if Smith doesn’t end up sharing the court with more floor spacers as the season goes on.
3. Following Jonas Jerebko’s benching against Indiana, Maurice Cheeks went to Luigi Datome as his backup power forward. Is this a long-term move?
Dan Feldman: No. Datome might be the best option, but he’s not good enough to secure the job this time around. Charlie Villanueva, Josh Harrellson and/or Jerebko again will probably get shots. Then, once Cheeks sees all his backup bigs are only OK at best, he’ll be pick one. Handicapping that race, I give Datome the lead with 35 percent.
Brady Fredericksen: If he starts hitting shots, definitely. It’s tough to just assume that Datome will be a savior as a shooter for this team considering he’s never made a 3-pointer in the NBA. He played well enough in his first action against Indiana, and if he finds his stroke, well, I’m going to unleash so many Mario and Luigi puns — be ready.
Tim Thielke: It will be a long-term change, but I hesitate to say that it is quite yet. It will take a lot more than one game to convince me that a guy whose entire skill set is shooting can’t shoot. And Datome’s defense was passable. But Jerebko is a known quantity. There is security in that. And Datome has yet to knock anyone’s socks off.
Despite my better efforts and the mild protests of this site’s editor, I have occasional tendencies to slip profanities into my writing. Always tasteful profanity, of course, but profanity nonetheless.
So when I took my son to his first Pistons game last week, the team’s season-opening win over the Washington Wizards, the last thing I thought I’d be doing is arguing about swear words. But there I was, in the third quarter of an exciting game, distracted by two goons sitting next to me who were colorfully voicing their frustrations throughout the game. Now, they would’ve been annoying without worrying about my son’s uncanny ability to repeat every word he hears — the objects of their derision happened to be two of my favorite Pistons, Greg Monroe and Will Bynum. Obnoxious fans are always terrible and every team, to some extent, has their own unique breed — let’s be honest here, sports fans in general are the worst, and I include myself in that broad generalization. But what makes fans extra intolerable are when their insults have no merit. Monroe’s defense has never been good, but if you were paying attention against Washington (and in the subsequent two games), his focus at that end of the floor is drastically improved. He’s moving his feet, he’s playing more physically and he genuinely looks like he’s put time in to learning how to be at least an adequate defender, even if the results aren’t perfect yet. Bynum is occasionally a volume shooter, and he was shooting against Washington. But he also made more than half of his shots. So two bozos sitting and yelling tired talking points they gleaned from the most basic scouting report is bad enough, but when the results of the game are actually contrary to what they’re complaining about, it’s even worse. “Hey, stop shooting so efficiently, Will! Where do you get off playing with effort on defense, Greg?”
The ignorance had me frustrated, but the swearing was too much. It’s always weird as a still newish parent to be confronted with a moment when you have to act like an adult, especially if you’re like me and mature decision-making isn’t always second nature. But I was pretty sure that a competent parent in this situation would step in, and I’m an aspiring competent parent, so I leaned over and said, “Sorry to bother you, could you please not say f— so much in front of my three-year-old?”
I was a little nervous about the interaction — I typically try to avoid confrontation with dudes who, A. have goatees; B. have Brandon Inge-style forearm tattoos; and C. wear necklaces. These guys hit all three of those criteria. Luckily, they were peaceful about it, apologized and the rest of the game proceeded f-word free.
That’s typically the type of experience that a parent would write about as ruinous for trying to get their kid excited about a sports team, but the opposite is true — the Pistons did just about everything possible to ensure that people like my son and I had a positive, memorable time that not even typical sports fan drunken belligerence could ruin. Hell, the fact there were people even sitting next to me was an improvement — the last three times I’ve been to the Palace, there were few signs of human life in the cheap seats sections I sat in.
I didn’t go to a live Pistons game for the first time until I was in high school. The team featured Grant Hill, one of the most exciting stars of the 1990s, they won 54 games during the season and the game I went to was a playoff game. It was also super boring. It could’ve been the teal jerseys, the fact that the arena wasn’t even full in a playoff game, the fact that Don Reid and Michael Curry were both rotation players … but after spending my childhood idolizing the Bad Boys, particularly Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman, and dreaming about going to a game and being part of what looked like insane crowds, my first experience just couldn’t live up to the hype I’d created.
The game experiences got better, obviously, and the Pistons had arguably the best, most intimidating home crowd in the league during the peak of the Going to Work era. I have some amazing memories of going to games during those years, particularly being at the game six clincher against Indiana in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, a beautiful 69-65, physical murder-ball fest.
I hope my son loves the NBA, particularly the Pistons, someday, but I was still hesitant about taking him to his first game. If I remember being slightly bored at a playoff game that featured Grant freaking Hill, the Pistons of recent years have been only slightly more preferable than watching C-SPAN. Or worse, hockey. I was worried that my son’s first experience with live NBA basketball would feature horrible shooting, uninterested defense, a washed up halftime act (as Paul Kampe of The Oakland Press abbreviates them, “Hacts”) or worse, Charlie Villanueva.
I decided to take him anyway — those opening ticket prices were too good to pass up — and it was a great decision. There was energy and interest in the Palace, both because it was opening night and because the Pistons, as we saw, played impressively (and continued to in the subsequent games). And as much as the cynical wannabe tormented artist elitist sportsblogger guy makes fun of so-called “in-game entertainment,” it is particularly important for families, as I’m learning. Kids get distracted easily. The Pistons had a constant flow of dance teams, music, giveaways and an impressively elaborate halftime show that combined like 74 dance teams, trampoline dunkers and what, as far as I can tell, were either Storm Troopers or laser tag players running around the court. There wasn’t a single instance that I looked at my son and got the impression he was bored. There was always something going on to catch his attention.
I don’t know if my son will be into basketball or not when he gets older, but when he left the arena, he said, “That was fun daddy.” After the last few seasons of dwindling, uninterested crowds and perhaps even more uninterested teams on the court, that’s a major win for the Pistons organization.
In case the impressive, fun style of play the Pistons have displayed so far doesn’t have you excited enough, I came across this gem of a Tweet from Spencer Percy, writer for Charlotte Bobcats site Queen City Hoops, on Saturday:
Ben Gordon is clearly at the end of this bench and isn’t coming off.
— Spencer Percy (@QCHspencer) November 2, 2013
So every time you get slightly annoyed at Josh Smith’s shot selection or Monroe’s defense or Chauncey Billups’ oldness or whatever other pet peeves develop about this Pistons team, remember how bad we had it very recently and how bad it could be if you were still rooting for a team that had Ben Gordon on it.
From the Vault
I might as well get this joke of a column I once wrote for MLive out of the way if I’m going to continue reliving the low-points of my writing past. Let’s just say I got a little too excited about the Michael Curry hire:
But when we think about Curry, trying to figure out if he fits somewhere between Tim Floyd and Red Auerbach on the scale of NBA coaches is pointless. We need to go outside of the world of sports to find an apt comparison. Michael Curry is the Barack Obama of the NBA.
Frankly, I don’t know whether that’s more embarrassing for Curry or Obama today.
Get your Mailbag questions in
We debuted the PistonPowered Mailbag last Wednesday and had a pretty good response for our first run. If you have questions about the Pistons, the NBA, the appropriate age to expose your child to the f-word or other politicians who are like NBA coaches (Stan Van Gundy is totally Chris Christie, right?), send them to patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or tweet me @patrick_hayes.
Rodney Stuckey entered his first game of the season for the Pistons on Friday and promptly missed a wide open layup. After that, he proceeded to be the most efficient offensive player either team put on the court and helped the Pistons nearly win a road game against one of the league’s best teams from last season.
Trailing by 10 points with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, Stuckey scored six points and assisted on a Chauncey Billups three-pointer to help the Pistons out-score Memphis 20-8 in the final minutes of the third and enter the fourth quarter with a lead. Stuckey left the game with just under eight minutes remaining and the Pistons up by two points. He scored 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 23 minutes and, along with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 13 points in 18 minutes off the bench, provided the Pistons’ backcourt with a needed spark as Billups struggled shooting the ball (1-for-7) and both Billups and Will Bynum struggled to defend Memphis starters Mike Conley and Tony Allen, who combined for 38 points on 13-for-22 shooting.
The Pistons led by six with just over a minute remaining, allowed Memphis to tie the game, then ran out of steam in overtime. Maurice Cheeks didn’t go back to Stuckey or Caldwell-Pope despite their success and the defensive lapses (and poor shooting, in Billups’ case) of his starters. The loss of a lead in a winnable road game and a perplexing coaching decision are certainly worthy of questioning, but the overall takeaway from this game is a positive. In my mailbag the other way (by the way, keep sending me questions for it — patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes), I mentioned that the Grizzlies were a team I was really looking forward to seeing the Pistons play, not just because they’ve had success with a big lineup devoid of shooters like the Pistons are trying to, but because they’ve been one of the league’s toughest, most physical teams over the past few seasons. The Pistons … haven’t been, to put it delicately. Talent deficiency aside, at no point during the past four seasons have the Pistons ever looked like a team that can play with the intensity or physicality necessary to even compete for a playoff spot, let alone get one. I wondered how this more talented version of the Pistons would respond to arguably the league’s most physical team, and the answer is a favorable one.
Greg Monroe is not a good defensive player, but he had some solid defensive possessions against the Grizzlies. Stuckey played under control while at the same time using his strength and quickness to his advantage — he has not always been able to combine those things at the same time throughout his career. Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith were active defensively, combining for nine steals and five blocks. Caldwell-Pope played confidently in the second half after an erratic first half. Cheeks, for that matter, didn’t bury his rookie on the bench after KCP forced some things that weren’t there on offense in the first half. The overall result is not a favorable one — the Pistons are now winless in their last 19 Western Conference road games (hat tip, Vince Ellis). At some point, good efforts in a tough road loss to a good team will still be net failures, and that point will signify when Pistons basketball is truly back to where it needs to be. But this is still a process and although the Pistons didn’t leave Memphis with a win, they did leave with continued reasons to be optimistic about where they’re headed this season.
|Josh Smith, SF 44 MIN | 7-23 FG | 2-3 FT | 8 REB | 5 AST | 3 STL | 3 BLK | 5 TO | 19 PTS | +5Let’s start with the obvious negative — Smith shot too much. Like, way too much. It wasn’t even just a matter of him missing good looks — that’s frustrating, but I don’t have a huge issue with him taking jumpers within the offense if they’re decent shots. But too many of his shots were forces — 23 shots for a guy struggling is just way too much, especially on a night when Greg Monroe was having some success inside.
So why the C grade? Everything else. Despite Smith’s poor showing on offense, he still rebounded, he still passed well, he still defended, he still blocked shots and he was a terror in passing lanes. That’s why you live with occasionally ugly shooting nights.
|Andre Drummond, C 48 MIN | 6-13 FG | 0-1 FT | 16 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -11As we became accustomed to last season, Drummond compiled his statline extremely quietly until you suddenly look at it and realize, “Wow … he has a double-double and I barely even noticed.” His 48 minutes may have been a tad too much (“48 minutes? That’s three games worth of playing time for him!” – Lawrence Frank) — he was winded, particularly in overtime, and was slow to react on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol buckets inside late. Still … he was enough of a game changer that my “Andre Drummond Defensive Player of the Year” campaign remains viable.|
|Greg Monroe, C 41 MIN | 6-10 FG | 4-4 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 16 PTS | +5As mentioned above, Monroe needed more touches. He was scoring efficiently against every defender Memphis threw at him. More importantly, he battled defensively against Gasol and Randolph. In the first two games of the season, he’s moving his feet better and reacting more quickly on defense than he ever has. That’s still not leading to overall solid defense from him — there are still lapses on his part — but he has no doubt worked on his defense and that’s starting to show.|
|Chauncey Billups, PG 32 MIN | 1-7 FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -11Billups struggled shooting, he struggled on defense and he had a clean look at a game winner in regulation that he missed. He ran the offense well as expected. He’s now played more than 30 minutes in two straight games, and that’s probably too much, especially on a night when the Pistons had two other guards having great games.|
|Will Bynum, PG 32 MIN | 7-11 FG | 3-5 FT | 2 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | -15Bynum scored efficiently, he passed well and he made some big plays late in the game on offense. He was also a sieve defensively against Mike Conley.|
|Jonas Jerebko, PF 7 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -7Jerebko didn’t play in the second half. He wasn’t very active on offense in the first half, but he rebounded well … until the final play of the half when he, Monroe and Drummond all stood and watched as Randolph had an offensive rebound fall in his lap for a layup at the buzzer. Not sure who was more at fault on the play, but they were all in position to make that rebound more difficult for Randolph.|
|Kyle Singler, SF 20 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -3Singler shot well, but was a step slow on defense most of the night and was late closing out on shooters. Not the typical solid Kyle Singler effort that we grew accustomed to last season.|
|Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG 18 MIN | 4-7 FG | 4-4 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +8Caldwell-Pope drove into traffic twice in the first half and attempted to get off wild shots that Cheeks looked displeased about. When he returned in the second half, he stopped trying to drive the ball, he knocked down two open jumpers, he made nice cuts and he filled the lane on breaks. Caldwell-Pope’s defense is enough to make him an option to play most nights. If he can focus his offense on simply taking the shots that come to him, he could be earning a lot of minutes by the end of the season.|
|Rodney Stuckey, SG 23 MIN | 8-13 FG | 2-3 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | +14I said most of it above, but Stuckey’s performance was really what made this a competitive game. The Pistons were flat before he entered the game, and his energy clearly rubbed off on teammates, particularly Caldwell-Pope during their minutes together in the third and fourth quarters. Stuckey, for all of his baggage from years of the organization trying to pinpoint exactly what he is, could be an incredibly valuable player for this team if he’s engaged. That, of course, has always been the question with him — whether he can keep his motivation level consistent. This season so far, he’s 1-for-1 in being engaged. This was a very good performance that hopefully signal positive things to come.|
|Maurice CheeksI loved how Cheeks handled Caldwell-Pope. He yanked him in the first half when he was a little erratic, but he still went back to him in the second half. The Pistons have had several coaches in recent years — dating all the way back to Larry Brown — who have been far too impatient with young players. It was great to see Cheeks having confidence in Caldwell-Pope, and I’m glad Caldwell-Pope was able to reward that trust with a good second half performance.
What I did not like — with the offense struggling late in the fourth and in overtime, Cheeks didn’t go back to Stuckey or Caldwell-Pope. Bynum and Billups will both be important players this season, but both are also situational players. Just because they happen to be starting right now doesn’t mean you have to roll with them no matter what. Play the hot hand or hot hands. I’m not sure it would’ve changed the result of the game, but it certainly would’ve caused Memphis to have to make a late adjustment.
Perhaps the highlight of many positives in the Detroit Pistons’ season-opening win was the play of starting guards Will Bynum and Chauncey Billups. But as we know, with injured guards Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey returning to the lineup at some point, could soon be broken up in favor of some as-yet undetermined combination. So how can Jennings and Stuckey not mess up what Bynum and Billups started? I discussed copying their blueprint in today’s column for the Detroit Free Press:
Bynum has never been viewed as starting point guard material by the Pistons. He’s inconsistent, occasionally plays a little too fast and he doesn’t excel as a traditional halfcourt, pass-first point guard. But there are two point guard-like things that he does exceedingly well — he’s a good drive-and-kick player and he’s a good pick-and-roll player. Those two things happen to fit perfectly with the Pistons’ bigs.
We’ve seen how good he is in the pick and roll with Drummond since last season. And on drives, Drummond, Monroe and Smith are all great at slipping to the basket if their man cheats off of them to attempt to stop Bynum’s penetration. Bynum is a good passer when he’s on the move, so he usually finds them. The team’s backup forwards, Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler, are also good at making cuts to the basket, so Bynum’s ability to find players will come in handy whether he starts or comes off the bench.
Bynum will be a decent contributor with some ups and downs, no matter his role. The important thing for the Pistons is whether Jennings can replicate the masterful way Bynum both used his bigs to create shots for himself and set up good opportunities for them in the first game. Like Bynum, Jennings is a good ball-handler with a quick first step, so if he’s as committed as proving himself as a good distributing point guard as he’s said he is, he can easily replicate the success Bynum had in the opening game by simply attacking his man off the dribble, using screens well and always looking for cutting big men.
Or, a more succinct version of that column: USE YOUR BIGS, JENNINGS AND STUCKEY!