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On rebounding and Ben’s role in the offense

What started with a quick Pistons Corner tidbit in the Free Press yesterday is becoming something of a legitimate story, with both of the dailies touching upon it today.

From the Free Press:

As the Pistons' main Eastern Conference rivals, Miami and Indiana, dealt with soap operas this week, the Pistons finished 2-1 on the West Coast, moved to 15-3 overall and almost seemed boring in comparison.

True, there's little drama in Detroit, although as coach Flip Saunders points out, there's always something if you want to find it.

"If you want, you can look for drama anytime on any team," Saunders said. "If you really want to, you can look for controversy, you can look for conflict."

OK, then, let's bite. There are two issues -- although small at this point. The first was clear in the Pistons' loss Monday, when the Jazz outrebounded them, 55-27. The second was on display in the locker room, when Ben Wallace said he was unsure what his role is on the team.

Or, as the News put it more succinctly:

Beneath the happy surface of a 15-3 start, a potentially troubling issue is bubbling for the Pistons.

Ben Wallace has not been Ben Wallace.

First, let's look at the rebounds. As I pointed out yesterday, Tayshaun Prince is the only starter that's actually increased his rebounds so far, so this is hardly just a "Ben not being Ben" thing. The Pistons ranked fourth in the league by averaging 43.4 rpg last year, but just 22nd this year by averaging 40.6 rpg. As you'd expect, a lot of those "missing" rebounds are ending up in the hands of the other team: the Pistons have allowed 42.3 rpg so far.

But this is where we need to remember how young the season is. In the three games the Pistons have lost this year, they've been outrebounded 163 to 117Including two absolutely ridiculous games against Dallas (47-26) and Utah (55-27). -- that's 54.3 to 39. In the 15 games they've won, the Pistons have outrebounded their opponents 614 to 598 -- that's 40.9 to 39.9. Seems pretty clear to me that the problem isn't as dire as the lopsided losses make it look, and all the Pistons really need to do is realize that when they win the battle of the boards, they're probably going to win the game. Considering they've played a lopsided schedule with 12 out of 18 games on the road, it's understandable if they've been outhustled of late, and I'm optimistic that things will turn around at home.

While I feel for Ben Wallace as he tries to find his role in the offense, his numbers really aren't down by all that much. He's averaging 8.7 points, 11.2 boards, and 1.7 blocks. Last year, he averaged 9.7 points, 12.2 boards and 2.4 blocks. Granted, he's not getting the same number of field goal attempts (8.8 to 6.3), but he's made up for it by increasing his shooting percentage (45.3% to 48.2%).

Flip Saunders said he planned to talk to Ben regarding his role in the offense. From the Freep:

What Saunders hopes, and what he plans to talk to him about today, is that Wallace understands he has been a key facilitator for the success of the offense, despite not getting a lot of shots or points himself.

"In a way, he's like an offensive lineman in football," Saunders said. "You know, he's the guy setting the screens and getting people into open spots, but he's not getting any of the recognition or credit. His work goes largely unnoticed.

Wallace has said that he feels like he's "just out there running around," but whatever he's doing seems to be working. If you look at the numbers, Wallace is second on the team to Tayshaun Prince with a +21.6 plus/minus ratio. He may feel like he's not contributing, but right now he's more indispensible than Rip Hamilton, Chauncey BillupsBoth of whom have each played like All-Stars. or Rasheed Wallace.

It hasn't garnered too much attention since he hasn't been forced to miss any games, but don't forget that Wallace is battling injuries to both of his feet as well as his left elbow. If that wasn't a factor and he had just a little more explosiveness under the basket, he'd probably be averaging at least 12 boards a game, which would give him that many more put-back attempts to pad his scoring stats. With time, that will come. He has 64 more games to get his numbers where he wants them to be, with a majority of those games played at home.

A lot of people expected the Pistons to deal with a sharp learning curve as they adjust to Flip's offense. After all, this is a club that lost four out of eight exhibition games. But instead, they stormed out to an NBA-best 15-3 start, with only one starter a step behind from last year's production. Try as they might, I don't think even the bored media can make this a real controversy with the team.

Frustrated Wallace unsure of role [Detroit News]
PISTONS CORNER: Rebounding, Ben's struggles could create drama [Detroit Free Press]
Detroit Pistons 2005-2006 Season Stats [82games]