Darko Milicic and Carlos Delfino each had strong exhibition seasons, but now that the games are for real, they haven't been very involved in the gameplan. Flip Saunders recognizes this, and expects it will change in the near future:
"Sometimes when you are winning games like we are, and you can get one more, you want to squeeze it out," Saunders said. "But you can lose sight of what you are really trying to accomplish."
Saunders knows championships aren't won in November or December. The early months of a season are for building foundations and trust so that when you hit the stretch drive, you know which players you can count on and which you can't.
It's time, essentially, to separate the men from the boys on the Pistons bench.
"We have to start playing some of these guys," Saunders said. "We have to get them some experience so we know where they will be at the end. … We have to make sure we work and develop our bench. Maybe we take a step back in some things to get those guys some more minutes and get them some confidence."
Saunders also addressed Darko's waning intensity late in the games:
Saunders wants to break Milicic of a disturbing pattern. When Milicic gets into games early, his intensity is high. When he plays at the end of games, in what is considered mop-up time, he is listless.
"It's a situation where, do you play well when you get the minutes, or do you get more minutes if you play well?" Saunders said.
Saunders used rookie Jason Maxiell as a contrast to Milicic, and, to a lesser degree, Delfino. Maxiell has 28 points in 21 minutes this season.
"The thing that's been so impressive about Max, no matter how many minutes he gets, two minutes, six minutes, eight minutes, he utilizes them. Darko hasn't done that as well.
"He's going to have opportunities. What do you do with it? He has to be ready to step up and produce."
Milicic said he's been ready.
"I have always said that is what I want," he said. "I want a chance to help the team."
As for his wavering intensity, he said, it's a matter of getting his body warm and loose.
"I warm up before the game and when I come in early, I am ready," he said. "But when I sit and come in late in the fourth quarter, I am cold. Coming in early is much, much better for me."
I don't think Darko is in position to be making any excuses. Coming in cold isn't the most comfortable thing in the world, but there a lot of guys that have made their living in the NBA by doing just that, and proving yourself late in the game will make it all the more likely that you'll see action earlier in the future.
The numbers don't lie -- right now, he's a liability whenever he's on the court. But that doesn't have to be the case. He's already got 11 blocks in 81 minutes -- that's basically 5 per 48. Everytime he gets into the game, whether it's in the first quarter or in the last few minutes, he should make it a personal goal to block two shots and to putback every offensive rebound he snags. Detroit needs him to get into a groove now because they're one Antonio McDyess kneecap away from relying on him for 15-20 minutes a game.
I'm less concerned about Delfino. I mean, I want to see him play well, but Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton are such well-conditioned athletes that the minutes just aren't there, especially with Mo Evans bringing a spark whenever he's in the game. I guess Saunders could alternate bringing in Delfino and Evans just for the sake of sharing the minutes, but we'll have to wait and see how Saunders handles that one.
Saunders to test bench strength [Detroit News]
Detroit Pistons stats [82games]