Category → Analysis
I’ve written at length, for different publications, about my fondness for Dennis Rodman. He was my favorite Piston of the Bad Boys era. He temporarily made me a secret Spurs and Bulls fan after he was no longer a Piston. More importantly, he changed the way I thought about basketball for the better. Most kids my age grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. The names are different now, but the concept is the same with kids who wanted to be the next Allen Iverson or Vince Carter or Kobe Bryant or LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Basically, when picking out a basketball hero, points matter. The guys who can score at will are always going to stand out.
Rodman was the first player who became a star without any discernible offensive game, and that helped kids like me with no discernible offensive game realize you can still make meaningful contributions as basketball players without scoring. In fact, he was downright hostile to the concept of offense at times during his playing days, freely passing up shots that he probably should’ve taken. His job was to shut down opponents defensively regardless of position (guarding everyone from Jordan to Shaq at different times in his career) and dominate the glass. He did those two things so well that, even though he wasn’t an offensive threat, he was still one of the most valuable players in the league and, eventually, a Hall of Famer. Those accomplishments for his playing days are incredibly well-deserved.
I stand by everything I’ve ever written about Rodman’s incredible game, his impact and his legacy as a basketball player. But because I’ve written so positively about him over the past several years, I think it’s also important to acknowledge the other story — he’s shameless and destructive.
His high profile demons are nothing new, so I won’t bother recounting them. Rodman, based on his own autobiography, had an incredibly difficult upbringing and a harder start to his life than most could imagine. In adulthood, he’s had struggles with addiction and, based on his emotional Hall of Fame speech, still has immense sadness in his life that is certainly serious and paints a complex picture of what Rodman is coping with.
Rodman’s seeming self-destructiveness, his neverending … uh … unique? I guess? … self-promotion endeavors, his making Gary Busey appear to be the coherent one on a crappy reality TV show … all of those things are mostly harmless to everyone but him (and likely his family, but who knows?). The rock and roll lifestyle, Dennis being Dennis, etc. The defenses (some of which I’ve used too, admittedly) are as familiar as the actions.
But here’s the thing … Dennis Rodman’s recent embrace of a murderous regime in North Korea is unforgivable. Rodman’s worst offense, among many, in an insane interview with CNN that I’m sure most have seen by now, was insinuating that imprisoned American Kenneth Bae, being held without charges in North Korea, was guilty of … something:
“Are you going to take an opportunity, if you get it, to speak up for the family of Kenneth Bae and say, Let us know why this man is being held?’ If you can help them, will you take the opportunity?” Cuomo asked.
“The one thing about politics, Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand — if you understand what Kenneth Bae did,” Rodman said with a pause, then added “Do you understand what he did? In this country?”
“What did he do?” Cuomo said. “You tell me.”
“You tell me,” Rodman shouted. “You tell me. Why is he held captive?”
“They haven’t released any charges,” Cuomo said. “They haven’t released any reason.”
“I would love to speak on this,” Rodman said, again waving Smith off.
“Go ahead,” Cuomo urged.
Instead, Rodman went off on Cuomo for the remainder of the interview, screaming at him to recognize the sacrifice being made by his fellow players.
First, to that last point about the ‘sacrifice’ of his fellow players — they didn’t sacrifice anything. They got paid by a rich dictator to perform for his own personal pleasure. That’s nothing new — entertainers have a history of taking money from dictators for private performances. But most have the sense not to compound a questionable decision probably driven by greed by launching into vague, incoherent defenses of human rights violations. And most certainly don’t try to explain away those vague assertions by essentially saying, “Totally sorry, I was drunk.”
Rodman getting involved with North Korea in the first place, even if Kim Jong Un is really his “friend,” was a horrible idea, as Matt Ufford of SB Nation eloquently wrote last year. Whatever Rodman’s intentions (and I have no idea if they he was motivated purely by money/attention here or if he truly wanted to be a peaceful diplomat who could help the people of North Korea), his tendency to get defensive and emotional, to drink heavily and to just in general be about the last person you’d pick to lead international diplomacy efforts for a long list of reasons, made this always seem to be bordering on the verge of a disaster. His comments to CNN were harmful to Bae’s family as they work to free him, his “apology” was needlessly insulting and his general involvement in North Korea is a completely unnecessary international relations distraction that was completely avoidable.
There’s no defending Dennis Rodman anymore. It’s possible to live with and explain away destructive behavior that does harm only to the individual him or herself. This is not that though. When Rodman’s jersey was retired, I wrote about how happy I was to see it among other Pistons legends. Now, when you see it next to players who have truly been humanitarian-minded, positive influences in their communities like Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dave Bing, Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson and Bob Lanier, it clearly doesn’t belong. Rodman’s basketball accomplishments can and should never be taken away from him. He’s truly one of the unique, innovative and best players of his era. But that’s all he is. He’s out of his league among those other Pistons greats and is not deserving of the efforts the organization made to honor him. Greg Monroe can keep that No. 10 forever.
I broke down the Luol Deng-Andrew Bynum trade for ProBasketballTalk, and the Pistons are among the losers:
Losers: Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks
These four teams definitely want to make the 2014 playoffs. They’ve sacrificed future flexibility in order to increase success this season.
All four have traded a first-round pick they could surrender in 2014 without even making the playoffs. In other words, to varying degrees, tanking might not even let these teams reap the rewards of a high draft pick. They’re fully or nearly fully on the playoff-contention track.
But it hasn’t gone so well. None of the four has a winning record, and just two would make the postseason if it began today. Here’s how they, and the two teams in this trade, stand in the Eastern Conference:
5. Wizards (14-17)
6. Bulls (14-18)
8. Pistons (14-20)
9. Nets (12-21)
12. Knicks (11-22)
13. Cavaliers (11-12)
This trade obviously shakes up the postseason picture. The Cavaliers are more likely to make the playoffs. The Bulls are less likely to make the playoffs. But the magnitude by which Cleveland’s odds increase is less than the magnitude by which Chicago’s odds decrease.
Simply, that’s because the Bulls are starting in playoff position and the Cavaliers aren’t. Deng will obviously make the Cavaliers better, especially because he fills such a glaring hole for them. But Thibodeau will keep the Bulls playing hard and defending to the best of their capabilities, and that might keep them in the postseason race.
In other words, the Wizards, Pistons, Nets and Knicks must now fend off Cleveland while still combating a dangerous Chicago.
The Pistons are bad in fourth quarters. You already knew that.
But just how bad are they? They’re the worst fourth-quarter team in the league:
And it’s not just one side of the ball holding them back, either:
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. The Pistons have been one of the NBA’s worst teams when it comes to closing out teams late in the fourth quarter. Is this a the kind of smaller issue that will go away with time or, at this point, is it a significant and obvious issue?
Dan Feldman: It’s a minor issue, but it’s definitely more than a non-issue. If games ended after the third quarter, the Pistons would be 18-15. Only the Denver Nuggets benefit more from that alternate reality. But this still too small a sample to panic about.
Tim Thielke: The Pistons are playing opponents to a draw in the first quarter, they’re +1.5 in the second, -0.3 in the third, and -3.2 in the fourth. That’s not a big enough disparity to draw conclusions, but it is enough to raise questions.
Brady Fredericksen: It’s always a significant issue, but it’s one that I think will eventually work itself out. Tim makes a good point — the Pistons aren’t playing the same in the fourth quarter. That’s obvious, the results don’t lie, but they just settle offensively. If you’re not going to defend well, you’ve gotta avoid the scoring droughts.
2. Put yourself in Maurice Cheeks position, what are you doing to alleviate these issues?
Dan Feldman: I’m pulling Brandon Jennings aside and telling him no stop trying to take over games. The Pistons, like most teams, function best when they’re playing unselfishly. Then, I tell the rest of the team not to worry about fourth quarters, that they shouldn’t press to solve an issue that might be nothing more than random variance.
Tim Thielke: Stop pulling Andre Drummond when he gets in foul trouble. Let him play through it to put the team in a better spot before the difficult fourth quarter rolls around. Maybe he avoids further fouling and you look good. Maybe he fouls out early and you’ve maximized the court time that you could have gotten out of him. Then you don’t have to second guess decisions of whether or not to play him in crunch time when his rebounding is an asset, but his free throw shooting is a liability.
Brady Fredericksen: Find some organization. To Cheeks’ credit, he’s beginning to put the Pistons in good spots offensively. I’m sure when you were a pretty good point guard in your playing days, you’ve probably got a feel for at least seeing what works and what doesn’t for a guy. The problem is his point guard(s) aren’t always as aware of what works best all the time. I can’t bash Jennings’ shooting because it’s been just as valuable late at times. According to Sports Illustrated, he’s averaging five points and two assists in the fourth quarter — better numbers than Kyle Lowry, Ty Lawson and Ricky Rubio.
3. These struggles aren’t based on just one issue, but if you had to dump the majority of the blame on one specific for the late-game troubles, what would it be?
Dan Feldman: Jennings shooting too much and at the expense of Drummond and Greg Monroe. Among the Pistons’ 10 minutes leaders, Jennings’ shots per minute he’s on the floor increase by most from quarters 1-3 to fourth quarter/overtime. For Jennings to get those extra shots (shots he doesn’t make at a higher clip than earlier in the game), as pointed out by Sean Corp of Detroit Bad Boys, Monroe and Drummond — two of the team’s most-efficient scorers — suffer most.
Tim Thielke: I tend to think that much of the quarter-to-quarter variance is just randomness. But teams undeniably go to the line more in the 4th. And free throw shooting is one of Detroit’s greatest weaknesses.
Brady Fredericksen: Ball movement. I don’t want to place all the blame on Jennings — although that would be really easy — but the ball legitimately stops once they get late in the game. As the point guard, Jennings’ main objective is to keep the offense flowing, but somehow the team always just stands around. Maybe it plays into the fact that Jennings is a proponent of Hero Ball, but when the Pistons get up in the fourth quarter, they play keep away. You can’t win in the NBA like that.
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. What do the Pistons have to look forward to in 2014?
Dan Feldman: Andre Drummond‘s rise. As good as Drummond is right now, he has so much room to get better. The Pistons barely run plays for him, and he still gets lost defensively. His physical profile lends itself to much more on both ends.
Tim Thielke: A playoff berth. The Pistons are going through a bit of a slump right now, but they’re still in the playoff picture. And as long as they can get above the 7th seed, they have a real shot at the second round, too.
Brady Fredericksen: Growth. There’s obviously been plenty of ups and downs so far with this roster, but as the team learns more and more about what they need to do, the more consistently they’ll show up as the Good Pistons who beat Indiana and Miami and not the Bad Pistons, who are currently sleepwalking through the December snow.
2. What’s the team’s biggest challenge moving forward?
Dan Feldman: Figuring out what to do with Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. Assuming Drummond is a constant at center, the Pistons need a forward combination that works with him. Maybe those two develop into that tandem, but so far, it hasn’t worked. So, now what? Monroe, because of his age and contract, is more valuable — both to the Pistons and in a trade.
Tim Thielke: Putting all their pieces together. The Pistons are currently a “whole less than the sum of the parts” team. The good thing about that is that leaves tons of room for internal growth. That growth is certainly not a given, but it’s available.
Brady Fredericksen: Finding consistency in their identity. This is a flawed team, and we’ve gotten far enough into the season to know what the “good” version of these guys looks like. They’re capable of being a very good rebounding team and a pretty solid offensive unit when they’re forcing turnovers. If the Pistons are to keep improving, it starts and ends with their defense and ability to force turnovers — which will fuel their offense.
3. Let’s be bold: What’s going to be the surprise of 2014 for the Pistons?
Dan Feldman: The Pistons will hire a coach with NBA head-coaching experience. I don’t know whether or not that will to replace Maurice Cheeks, but it might be if the Pistons miss the playoffs (which would likely mean a new general manager, who might want to hire his own coach). If the Pistons make the playoffs — likely keep Joe Dumars at the helm — but just sneak in and get knocked out quickly, that wouldn’t leave Cheeks on solid footing. In that case, I could see the Pistons hiring an assistant who previously worked as a head coach both to improve the staff and to have a viable replacement in case they fire Cheeks mid-season.
Tim Thielke: Monroe has a disappointing second half of the season and then nobody lines up to offer him a deal in free agency because they don’t think he’s worth max money and they figure Dumars would match anything less. Monroe has to settle for $41M/4 yrs and then establishes himself as Detroit’s best player on his new deal. Excessive optimism? Definitely. But why not? This is supposed to be a surprising turn of events.
Brady Fredericksen: There’s going to be a panicky trade, soon. I’m not sure to what extreme that trade will be, but I’m confident in thinking that the Eastern Conference is eventually going to take a step up from sucking to just being bad. That means the Pistons are going to have to take a step up, too. If things are looking iffy for this team come next month, Dumars may make some sort of quick-fix trade; maybe moving Monroe or Brandon Jennings. Dumars’ fate is linked to this season’s team — if they sink, so does he. Plain and simple.
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. Who has been the most important Pistons’ player in 2013?
Dan Feldman: Josh Smith. It should have been Andre Drummond, but the Pistons, even after Jan. 1, didn’t play him enough last season, and they haven’t devoted themselves to rebuilding around him since. Smith is the team’s highest-paid player and quite possibly difficult to move at the moment. Smith forces the Pistons’ hand in terms of direction, including how to handle Greg Monroe.
Tim Thielke: Definitely Drummond. He so vastly exceeded initial expectations and continues to be so good that he arouses consternation in many fans about Monroe and Smith, otherwise very good players. And of course, his continued development remains the Pistons’ best shot at getting the superstar that they probably need to contend again.
Brady Fredericksen: Monroe. The guys been pretty much the only consistent over the past year, he’s a rock. He’s struggled at times, but more often than not he’s thrived — albeit quietly. For a guy who has gone from underrated to overrated over the past year — while doing so at a brisk 22 years old — he’s still played pretty well. There’s a chance he will be the most important Pistons’ player in 2014, too, due to his impending free agency and all of the future ramifications that will bring.
2. What has been the lowest moment for the Pistons in 2013?
Dan Feldman: Every game Jason Maxiell started over Drummond. The Pistons were bad in 2013. Drummond was not, and to boot, he was young. Lawrence Frank ruined many opportunities for fans to be excited about this team in the present and for Drummond to develop and better the team even more substantially in the long run.
Tim Thielke: So many to choose from: not getting to see what Monroe and Drummond could do together last season, hiring Cheeks, pushing themselves just out of the range of the best prospects in the draft, this run of losing five of six to make the playoffs look like they’re not a given even in such a down year with the influx of talent they got. But no, the low point definitely has to be when, yet again, one of the top prospects in the draft, at a position of severe need, fell into the Pistons’ lap and Dumars decided to grab the sort of player who can be had in free agency any year. Because that set the Pistons back a potential star–which is what the team really needed.
Brady Fredericksen: Drummond’s back injury last season. Right before the Pistons pulled the trigger on the Jose Calderon deal, Drummond went down with a back injury and was lost for most of the second half of the season. Making matters worse was that it finally appeared Larry Frank was taking off the reigns a little and giving him some leeway. The idea of Drummond with a really good pick-n-roll guard like Calderon still is appealing, but it never came to be, and once Drummond went down the Pistons went from just plain bad to horrendous.
3. What was the best memory for the Pistons in 2013?
Dan Feldman: Charlotte Bobcats draft Cody Zeller and Phoenix Suns draft Alex Len back-to-back at No. 4 and No. 5. That guaranteed the Pistons could draft one of Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore or Trey Burke at No. 9. The joy, obviously, was short-lived — even if it works out in the long run.
Tim Thielke: Not nearly so many choices on this one. I’d say the hope that came after landing Smith and Jennings. I, like many, was skeptical of how it would all come together. But at least there was talent on the roster. So there was a chance, as there still is, of the team figuring out how to fit it together.
Brady Fredericksen: Anything Drummond, really. It’s tough to watch a team struggle as un-appealingly as the Pistons did last year, but Drummond was the first really exciting player the franchise had had in a number of years. We’ve been able to see this teenage manchild grow from, “he’s definitely a bust,” to, “he’s pretty decent, I guess,” to, “holy crap, he’s really, really good,” over just one short year (and a half). Now, he’s just 20 years old, and there’s soon to be more of those moments — hopefully continuing to get better and better, too.
Would trading Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey for Arron Afflalo and Tobias help Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic?
(Orlando) probably should’ve traded him for Eric Bledsoe this summer when (they) had the chance. Now that’s the standard and I’m not sure there’s a better deal out there, despite the fact that Afflalo has been playing at an All-Star level all year. One deal I think would make sense — Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey for Arron Afflalo and Tobias Harris.
Interesting idea — and one that really doesn’t drastically favor either side — but it’s tough to envision a deal like that actually going down this season.
For one, reports have said they won’t be trading Stuckey, and it’s probably a smart bet that they’d only look to realistically move Monroe as a part of some sort of blockbuster deal today.
But, Ford’s right: Afflalo is in the midst of his most successful season as a pro. He”s actually looking eerily similar to the guy who starred on UCLA’s 2006 Final Four team.
He’d be a perfect fit for what this Pistons’ team desperately needs — shooting and perimeter defense with a little bit of playoff experience thrown in for good measure.
But the dilemma is deciphering whether this is simply just an impressive stretch or if Afflalo has actually turned the corner as a player. Orlando’s got a talented roster, but they’re also 10-games under .500, so is Afflalo just filling up the stat-sheet for a bad team?
Almost all of his numbers are at career-best levels, so that adds to those sustainability questions.
There’s a chance Afflalo could finally have blossomed into what some thought he was moving toward in Denver, but he could also be this year’s O.J. Mayo, sans a contract year.
Tobias Harris is a nice prospect who put together some very impressive games last season. I’ve got my doubts on whether he’s any better suited defensively to be a full-time small forward than Josh Smith, but he’s very well suited to do the job offensively.
Due to a number of injury issues, he’s gotten off to a slow start this season, so his value may have dipped a bit, but he’d still bring athleticism, rebounding and a much-needed shooter from deep to the Pistons.
As for the outgoing pieces, this is the kind of deal that makes some sense for the “Trade Greg Monroe” crowd. Monroe is a one-way player today, but trades and re-signings aren’t about the now. When you re-sign a young player, you’re valuing him for what he will bring to the table down the road — not what they’ll do tomorrow.
The big thing with this hypothetical is that Monroe is going to get better; that’s the logical step for a 23-year-old who’s improved steadily since he got into the NBA. Is Afflalo, 28, going to keep seeing this late-career boom as he enters his 30s? He’s under contract until 2015-16, and he’s got a player option for $7.75 million that he’d likely accept in that final season.
Like Afflalo, Stuckey is probably playing the best ball of his career right now. That’s likely related to his impending free agency, but the combination of him playing well and having a big expiring contract may be attractive to Orlando if they decide that tanking is the way to go — even though they only trail the Pistons by 2.5 games for the final playoff seed in the East.
If you’re the Pistons and you’re not loving the future of the jumbo trio, this isn’t a bad deal at all. It’s a short term fix that doesn’t put the team in a horrible position going forward.
What do you think?
1. With holidays upon us, what should ________ set as his New Year’s Resolution?
Dan Feldman: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can take fewer long 2s. Caldwell-Pope is taking 24.8 percent of his shots from between 16 feet and the 3-point arc, most among the Pistons’ rotation players. But he’s making just 26.0 percent of them, lowest among Pistons who’ve attempted a 3-pointer besides only Kyle Singler and Greg Monroe. Through the Pistons’ first dozen games, Caldwell-Pope was making fewer than a quarter of his 3-point attempts. So, I understood Caldwell-Pope taking a step forward to build his confidence. But it hasn’t worked. He’s shooting 31.7 percent on his 3s, 5.7 percentage points higher than he is on long 2s. Might as well take the step back, get an extra point per make and space the floor better.
Tim Thielke: Josh Smith should go hard to the basket over and over and over, stop shooting jumpers, and take more hook shots. Hat tip to Jakob Eich; since his article, I’ve been noticing how often those go in.
Brady Fredericksen: Monroe needs to figure out his defensive issues. There’s plenty of good that Monroe brings to the table, but his defense has been so bad this season. It’s almost like he’s been sprayed by an anti-defense skunk. Yeah, he’s no Blake Griffin when it comes to athleticism and he’s no Roy Hibbert when it comes to rim protection, but that doesn’t excuse you from bad defense. There are plenty of plodding big men who aren’t high-flyers out there — you can always be a good positional defender. That’s something he needs to improve on if he wants to avoid becoming a punchline after someone pays him handsomely this summer.
2. Can any current Pistons’ help him achieve this resolution quickly?
Dan Feldman: Smith. If Smith can cut down his long 2s, so can Caldwell-Pope. Obviously, Smith sees why 3s are more efficient. If he wants to be a team leader, he can share the knowledge with a player who needs it.
Tim Thielke: Yes, every Piston has to get on Smith about his perimeter shooting. If his teammates were constantly telling him they’ll go far out of their way to feed him the ball for drives and hooks and begging him not to shoot jumpers, you’d have to figure that would have some impact on Smith.
Brady Fredericksen: Smith and Andre Drummond. The easiest way to hide a bad defender is to provide him with adequate help, literally. Drummond is far from a perfect rim protector — and Smith can’t really be one as a wing — but those guys can surely be of assistance to Monroe. This is a team defense issue, though. Golden State still plays well defensively despite the fact that they’ve got their own defensive sieve in David Lee. If your supporting cast defends well, even a poor individual defender can look serviceable.
3. How can Maurice Cheeks make this fictional resolution happen?
Tim Thielke: Stop playing Smith so many minutes alongside both Monroe and Drummond. Play him at PF with just one of those two.
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.
Before the season, I made a case for Josh Smith attempting fewer long 2s and more 3-pointers – later clarifying I meant only when sharing the court with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Well, Smith has made remarkable strides.
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.