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The Pistons' longest-tenured player needs to show veteran leadership and take a step back in the offensive game plan. It's time for him to take a back seat to Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight for the sake of his team and his own effectiveness.
I already expended more than 1,000 words talking about Tayshaun Prince's past and everything he's meant to the winning legacy of the Detroit Pistons. Unfortunately, recent seasons have been less kind to Prince as his skills have diminished, his numbers have dipped, his team has lost and he has shown his displeasure and frustration openly.
And equally unfortunately at the same time that his production has diminished it seems the coaching staff have asked him to do more and more on the offensive end. For years, Prince was one of the most reliable producers in the league who year-in and year-out gave you the same production in all facets of the game. However, the last few years have seen diminished returns and many questioning why the last remaining piece of the Pistons championship glory hasn't outlived his place in Motown.
Tayshaun Prince: 2011-12 Year in Review
13.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 turnovers, 42.1% shooting
After years of being the model of consistency, Prince started to show signs of slippage a few seasons ago and last year was his worst since his rookie year. The most charitable interpretation is that on a team starving in both experience and talent, coaches leaned on Prince to do more than he should have, treating him as a safety valve to bail out an offense that would consistently break down and go on long scoring droughts.
The less charitable interpretation: isolayshaun. Simply put, far from bailing out the team, Prince would suck up the majority of the shot clock after receiving the entry pass. Instead of initiating the offense, he ground it to a halt, dribbling out the shot clock and settling for a jump shot.
Surprisingly, it wasn't his inability to hit long 2-pointers that hurt his numbers, he converted those at roughly the same rate he has his entire career. It was up close where he couldn't convert and it really hurt the offense. He only hit 29 percent of his shots from three to nine feet, a product of those awkward whirling forays into the lane. And after hitting 68.8 and 77.5 percent the previous two season, last year he only hit 63 percent of shots at the rim.
Not only couldn't he connect from the field (career-low 42.1 percent shooting last season), but he also couldn't get to the line (lowest free-throw attempts since his second year in the league). This led to a truly abysmal 47.1 percent true shooting percentage. Of the 50 small forwards who played 20+ minutes last season only six had a lower true shooting percentage than Prince.
On the plus side, he still plays quality defense (although nowhere near his peak) and rarely ever makes mistakes. He never commits fouls, rarely turns the ball over and can still pass. If only he didn't take 14 shots per game.
Areas to Improve in 2012-13
1. Shot Selection
Prince might be the NBA embodiment of the Peter Principle. For those unfamiliar, the Peter Principle is the concept that quality employees are given a series of promotions until they are inevitably promoted to a level beyond their ability. Prince was a quality fifth banana, a quality fourth banana and could possibly be a quality third banana. But he should never be the offensive leader on a good team.
Prince has led the team in field-goal attempts each of the past two season. On a team with Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey that should never, ever happen. Monroe for his efficient, crafty game in the paint and Stuckey for his ability to get to the free-throw line. And even though Ben Gordon was a profound disappointment in Detroit, he probably should have been taking more attempts than Prince.
For the team to improve and for Prince to stop his downward trajectory he will have to cut down on his shot attempts. And considering the possibility of growth from a roster of young players Prince could conceivably cede a lot of the offensive load to teammates.
You can slice and dice Prince's numbers all you want but in the end it is really simple. For years he was a valuable piece via middling production offensively, the ability to run the floor and solid man and help defense. To get back to a similar place Prince will have to show leadership by ceding leadership. Too often he seemed in contempt of his young teammates and easily got frustrated by their mistakes.
He needs to trust in his teammates, particularly Monroe and Stuckey, and help mentor the team's bevvy of young small forwards.
2012-13 Projected Production
Even if you could explain away some of his drop in production to outside factors, there is still the simple matter that Prince is a 32-year-old player with 842 games and 28,548 minutes under his belt. With that many miles on his tires continued decline isn't out of the question. It's not a given but it's more likely we get something like the 2011 Prince than the mid-2000s edition.
And don't forget that there is a much deeper reserve of players for coach Lawrence Frank to turn to in an effort to get a cohesive offense and defense on the floor at any given time. Any one of Corey Maggette, Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye or Khris Middleton could play alongside or in place of Prince.
Still, I can't be help but be a slight optimist. Last season was just too outside of his normal production. And with such a rich and consistent history of production it's probably not worth delving too deeply into this area or that. Let's get to the numbers!
29 minutes, 12 points, 3 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.1 turnovers, 45% shooting
Tayshaun Prince is not as bad of a player as he showed last year, but even if he improves across the board he should take a step back and allow this team to run through Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight. He could be a good wing man by setting up for the corner 3, cutting to the basket when the opportunity presents itself, and be willing to be on the receiving end of a pick-and-pop or a pick-and-roll.
What he shouldn't do is call for the ball with 18 seconds left on the shot clock, dribble down his man without actually making any headway and twirling around or stepping back for a last-second shot. It's time for him to be a true veteran and leader and playing the role role to which he is best suited.