That the Detroit Pistons are playing more inspired basketball this year comes as no surprise—after all how could things be worse than last season’s narcoleptic campaign—and indeed, thanks to the sorry plight of the Eastern Conference, the Pistons have a glimmer of hope at obtaining the East’s final playoff spot.
Lets’ examine Detroit’s thorough 92-82 win over the New Jersey Nets to determine exactly where the Pistons stand in the Eastern Conference.
Despite a rather simplistic offensive attack—John Kuester employed a basic NBA-style flex with cross-screen into pin down action followed by a screen/roll for continuity—the Pistons overwhelmed the Nets, mainly due to the size of their perimeter players.
For example, Tracy McGrady posted up six times, usually after accepting the cross-screen and posting the smaller Nets point guards. This led to 3-5 shooting plus an assist and a missed Tayshaun Prince three (one possession featured McGrady missing a shot and hitting a putback hence the five shots, assist, and missed Prince shot in only six possessions) for eight points in six possessions, a winning ratio.
Tayshaun Prince wasn’t as active in the post, but he did make all three of his post attempts for six points in three possessions, an excellent number. His size, vision, and ability to shoot over the awareness-challenged Travis Outlaw or New Jersey’s smaller perimeter defenders allowed the Pistons offense to function as smoothly as it did. One only needs to look at the box score to see Prince’s excellent floor game—9-18 FG, 7 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLK, 0 TO, 22 PTS.
T-Mac generally made excellent decisions with the ball, with many of his passes leading to missed wide open shots. He was also incredibly active on the glass, pulling down eight rebounds, many of them in traffic—a far cry from the brittle T-Mac of olden days.
Greg Monroe doesn’t jump high but he jumps quick and has terrific range as a rebounder. He’s also a smart cutter, working without the ball for the majority of his 20 points. He also showed nice touch on several passes and dropped in a soft left hook on a post up.
Give Ben Wallace credit for playing hard in the twilight of his career on a team going nowhere. On direct one-on-one moves, Wallace held Brook Lopez to 0-3 shooting with a turnover, plus made multiple excellent rotations and drew a charge. He was strong on the boards, grabbing five rebounds in 17 minutes, communicated the defense, and hustled throughout the game. So long as Wallace’s minutes are managed, he’s still a very good, though no-longer-great, defensive center.
Austin Daye is a player, hitting two of his five threes, dropping in a 15-foot turnaround over his right shoulder, making good defensive rotations, showing hard on a screen that led to Devin Harris traveling, and displaying the proper technique when closing out—sprinting before slowing down with choppy steps—leading to a handful of missed Nets jumpers.
Daye also boxed out throughout the duration, runs well for a 6-11 player, and made a nifty pass on the move leading to a Monroe dunk.
Both Will Bynum and Ben Gordon worked their way through several screens, plus displayed strong hands in ripping Nets players for a pair of steals.
Bynum saw Lopez turn his head while guarding him and immediately took the ball to the basket for an and-one layup.
The Pistons took excellent care of the ball and controlled their offensive glass, making few critical mistakes. Combined with acceptable defense and smart, opportunistic offense, this was enough to vanquish the Nets.
T-Mac’s athleticism is sapped, and he’s just as soft a finisher as ever. Plus with his legs gone, he only finished 3-9 on his jump shots. He’s getting by almost exclusively on his smarts.
Ben Gordon has also always been a terrible finisher in his own right. He combined with McGrady to miss six layups.
Prince doesn’t have a terrific handle which limits his ability to create his own shot. With Wallace and Monroe non-factors, and McGrady and Gordon so ineffective around the basket, the Pistons lack the offensive scorer necessary to create consistent easy offense.
McGrady and Gordon were terrible on their closeouts, particularly McGrady who couldn’t be bothered to rotate on one Anthony Morrow three-pointer, and was poor on several more.
Monroe needs defensive refinement, failing to diagnose plays that needed rotating, and as a result, often being a step late. He also needs a total overhaul of his jump shooting and free throw mechanics. He holds the ball too long in his offhand letting go well into his release. This makes it too easy for the off hand to push or pull the ball right or left. His shooting elbow is also at too flat an angle and needs to be more horizontal for his shots to go straight. On free throws, he only bounces the ball once before spinning it and rearing to shoot—I wonder if he can develop any rhythm on only one bounce.
Monroe isn’t particularly adept at creating his own offense meaning the Pistons are often starting games behind their opponents in terms of firepower.
Bynum has sticky fingers and only passes in emergencies.
Chris Wilcox played poor help defense and was too short to bother Brook Lopez.
DaJuan Summers failed to close out properly, rotate properly, stay in front of his man properly, or rebound properly, without a single good defensive play to his ledger. He also missed a dunk, two jumpers, and was on the endline on a wide open catch-and-shoot situation.
In fact Summers is on the short list for poorest basketball IQ in the game.
It would be a cliché to criticize Charlie Villanueva for being irrelevant.
So where do the Pistons stack up against their challengers for the final playoff spots? Their defense is worse than Philadelphia’s, and much worse than Indiana’s, Milwaukee’s, and Charlotte’s. Plus, while they play with decent awareness on offense, Philadelphia and a healthy Milwaukee are better equipped at creating their own offense and scoring near the basket.
Worst for the Pistons though, Philadelphia and Indiana are primarily young teams expected to improve into the near future, while Milwaukee also has the potential for a brighter future than present.
For the Pistons, their best players are all veterans on the wrong side of their career. It’s dubious to expect the Pistons to play much better than this in the near future without major talent upgrades added to the roster. Right now the Pistons are in NBA purgatory—old, expensive, and short on young athletes. Unfortunately for Detroit, no amount of indulgences can forgive the Pistons for the roster sins Joe Dumars has created.