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On Detroit’s young bigs

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Rasheed Wallace, Flip Murray (yes, Flip Murray) and Tayshaun Prince were the keys to victory last night. And to be fair, Flip Saunders probably deserves daps as well: Detroit's zone defense in the second half was largely responsible for the Warriors finally slowing down. But in lieu of an actual recap, I just wanted to quickly acknowledge two other players, who maybe didn't carry the Pistons to victory but still caught my eye.

First, Jason Maxiell, who played exceptionally well in a spot start in place of Antonio McDyess and caught the attention of the folks from Golden State of Mind:

Jason Maxiell is a strong, strong man. 14 points, 14 boards, and a vicious dunk. He's not just a Danny Fortson clone, the guy is a powerful learper.

He did more than just pitch in a double-double, though, adding three blocks and five assists. On the surface, five assists may not look like much, but it literally doubled his season total and accounts for almost 20% of his career total.

Yes, you read that right. In 101 games spanning two years and change, Maxiell has 27 career assists, so five in one game is huge. Not to get too stat geeky on you, but his Assist Ratio (simply, the percentage of his possessions that ends in an assist) has jumped from 3.5 and 3.6 his first two years to 13.6 in eight games this year. That's more a measure of how far he's come instead of how well he's playing (that still amounts to a paltry 2.3 assists per 40 minutes) but it's obvious he's making progress.

Also, and you had to see this coming, Amir Johnson. As I wrote for HOOPSWORLD this morning:

Amir Johnson, who didn't play at all in Tuesday's loss, played nearly 11 minutes on Wednesday, scoring three points with four rebounds, two assists and a block. All in all, he did a solid job filling up the box score in just a handful of minutes and appeared to grow more comfortable the longer he played.

Johnson, 20, obviously needs more seasoning, but it's encouraging to see that he compared favorably to Brandon Wright, a lottery pick acquired by the Warriors in a draft-day trade for Jason Richardson. Wright played six minutes and finished with three points, four boards and a steal.

I've noticed that Johnson has appeared to need a couple of minutes to really get into the flow of things. Some players are like that, others are not (see: Hayes, Jarvis; Maxiell, Jason). That said, I think this could just be a temporary thing, a function of missing virtually the entire preseason, and perhaps more importantly, dealing with an ankle/Achilles injury early in the year.

I know he's supposed to be very close to completely healed, but you can still see him stretching it during timeouts. He may just need a couple of trips up and down the court for it to get completely loose (or for him to trust it 100%). In any case, once he's loose, he finds the ball. His lone field goal of the night came on a nice dunk in traffic -- that's the kind of thing we should end up seeing on a regular basis once he's in the groove. And, for what it's worth, he was +8 for the night and was the only Piston with a positive plus/minus number heading into halftime.