Admittedly, Matt and I have been of two different minds regarding both Rasheed Wallace and Jason Maxiell this season. In an attempt to fairly characterize our opinions on the two, I'll say the following:
Matt has felt strongly from the beginning of the season that Jason Maxiell is deserving of major minutes based upon his monstrous performances in the preseason and his potential on both ends of the floor. Matt has also been extremely frustrated with Sheed's penchant for taking the uncalled-for three point bomb with 11 seconds left on the shot clock and has repeatedly pleaded with his television for Sheed to take the ball down low.
Me? I thought that Maxiell could eventually be a nice complementary piece, but until he learned how to pass the ball out of the post, he would be nothing but a black hole on a perimeter-oriented team. I felt that Rasheed was having his best season as a Piston, and -- while he's not dominant defensively on the inside -- his commitment to rebounding and blocking shots to compliment his (sometimes) inside/(primarily) outside game on the offensive end made him the team MVP.You'll notice that my statements are given in the past tense.
(Both Matt and I wanted to see an increased role for the team's younger players in order for Joe Dumars and Coach Flip to make an accurrate assessment of what the current team was capable of by the February trade-deadline.)
Well, the sample size couldn't be much smaller, but in the absense of my "team MVP" -- coinciding with increased PT for Maxiell -- the Pistons have ground out back-to-back wins on back-to-back nights in impressive fashion. To my surprise, the Pistons have seemed a "tougher" team in Sheed's absence with Maxiell in the game (coupled of course with increased minutes for a rejuvenated (but still surly) Dale Davis).
Perhaps this should not have been a shock. In their recent wins over the Nets and Sonics, the Pistons have attempted 10 and 11 three-point attempts, respectively... their lowest totals of the season. (For the season, the Pistons average 17.4 attempt per game.) Without Sheed's often perimeter-oriented play, Piston bigs are back to their Larry Brown ways -- banging down low, grabbing offensive boards, and taking advantage of put-back opportunities.
Which bring us to the inevitable Ben Wallace mention. With Ben permanently stationed down low last season (even his most ardent supporters will admit that his "range" was measured in inches), the Pistons had a presence in the offensive lane on seemingly every shot attempt. But with Ben's muscle off to Chi-town, who was going to do battle with 4s and 5s of the league to pull down the offensive boards? Sheed? Not when 1/3 of his shot attempts are from beyond the arc. Nazr? He's the team's most prolific offensive rebounder but sees only 19 minutes of floor time per contest. Dyess? Tay? The Dolphin?
To illustrate Maxiell's influence on the Pistons' game, consider this: he is averaging as many offensive boards per game as Sheed this season (1.6) in almost 1/3 the minutes (35.3 to 12.8 minutes per game). He leaves the beyond-the-arc guard play to the Pistons' All-Star backcourt, and joins double-D in the tussles down low.
So, question. Without knocking Rasheed (whom I still feel is a vital component to the existence of any Piston games past the second round of the playoffs), is it safe to say that Maxiell and Dale Davis' play over previous two games has shone a light upon one of the '06 Pistons' glaring deficiencies -- their lack of physical play down low (and thus the creation of high % offensive opportunities as a result)? Has this lack of interior fortitude been one of the reasons for the fan apathy shown thus far this season? Could this be a turning point for the team, or -- as some of you have expressed -- do you fear that 'Sheed's return will spell the end of extended minutes for Maxiell?
I invite you to share your opinions in the comments. Me, I'm off to a matinee showing of Rocky Balboa. Not kidding.
[Edit: as for Rocky, I'd be lying if I said that it was everything I wanted it to be. But an 80% solution is more than I ever could have hoped for.]