Yes, it's insanely early to grade the team after 13 games, but Kevin Sawyer does not live by the rules of mere mortals. So read on and share your grades in the comments.
By Kevin Sawyer
Chauncey Billups – A-
Most players excel prior to signing a contract, then experience a dropoff. Billups has been as effective than ever, matching last year’s performance in fewer minutes. If he is able to produce at this rate, he will help the Pistons achieve the proper balance between playing the youngsters and winning their division, and his price tag will seem like an absolute bargain.
Rip Hamilton – C
One of the emerging narratives for the Pistons is how to incorporate the considerable offensive gifts of two wing players who have reached the prime of their careers. Hamilton, for his part, has stepped up in by distributing the ball (5.0 apg) and rebounding. Hopefully, this will draw defenders away from him, because his shot isn’t falling. One has to wonder, however, why his shooting is down across the board (75% free throws?), especially from a player who has been a hallmark of consistency.
Tayshaun Prince – B
To date, Prince been the winning the battle of the wings. After vocalizing (appropriately, in my view) his concerns about his offensive involvement, he is having the best season of his career offensively. That said, Prince has a curious tendency to disappear completely. If that happens, we’ll still have the top notch defense, and Hamilton will inherit a shot or two. That’s the good and bad of it. Generally speaking, Hamilton and Prince represent a known commodity. If one improves, the other suffers. Like Voltron or something.
Rasheed Wallace – A-
Rasheed was in the midst of a borderline career year before an injury briefly sideline him. Rasheed has been an extraordinarily efficient offensive weapon, shooting 42% from downtown while being more aggressive on the offensive end. He’s even on pace for a career high in free-throw percentage. If he keeps this up (and maintains the low rate of techs), he’ll vie for an all-star appearance, even in a suddenly crowed Eastern Conference. See what a little focus will do?
Antonio McDyess – A
It might come as a surprise that McDyess has been the Pistons best rebounder since Big Ben’s departure, which is why he should continue to start even though his game lacks some of the flash of the Pistons younger bigs. What is interesting is that Dice has gotten off to extremely slow starts the last two seasons. He is presently shooting 58% from the field. If this is the cold start, Dice might be carrying the team come April. Either way, the Pistons might consider giving him the rock.
Ronald Murray – C+
There is no reason why Murray should be more productive as a starter, on a per minute basis. Yet, Murray has filled in ably for Billups and Hamilton during their brief absences, while continuing to be utterly horrendous from the bench. On a positive note, Murray seems to be able to deliver quality starter minutes at the flip of a switch. More distressingly, the Pistons are still hurting for backup guard help. At this point, one can’t shake the feeling that the starter/bench disparity is a matter of his own contrivance.
Jason Maxiell – C+
Max’s foul rate is really starting to impact his production. He has reached four fouls six times (including one foul-out) in spite of playing more than 30 minutes only three times. He remains a solid shot blocker, and the rebounding has marginally improved, but I wonder if the blocks aren’t coming at the expense of simply staying in front of his man and boxing out. Either way, he needs to stay on the court and play better defense, or he might suffer the fate of…
Nazr Mohammed – D
Who, up until yesterday, was literally playing himself out of the rotation. I’ve been an ardent Nazr defender, and 12 games do not a career make, but how do you explain this? Does his religion require him to shoot 43% from the stripe in November? I can understand why Mohammed (the player, not the prophet) might lament his treatment to date by the organization, but the Pistons still need his offense off the bench, and his rebounding in general. Let’s hope the last couple of games point to a turnaround.
Jarvis Hayes – B-
I still forget that he’s on the team, but Hayes has been a modest surprise off the bench, easily replacing the Delfino’s production from the backup wing spot. To date, I think the Pistons have been relying too heavily on Hayes. As a rotation guy, he’s great. As the first offensive weapon off the bench? Well, let’s hope this Rodney Stuckey fellow is all he is cracked up to be.
Rodney Stuckey – Inc.
For some reason, I get the sneaking feeling he might not make an impact this year.
Aaron Afflalo – D+
Spellcheck has had opportunity to crack the rotation, and has mostly stayed in the background thus far, content to shoot (and miss) the occasional trey on offense. This team is too deep to feature a poor-man’s Lindsey Hunter in the rotation.
Amir Johnson – B
He has earned his minutes by blocking shots, rebounding, and not turning the ball over, and we can wait for the offensive game to develop. His defensive mindset make him a great mix with Maxiell off the bench. However, he should at least attempt the occasional putback. He has yet to attempt more than two shots in any one ball game. I admire the restraint, but the second unit doesn’t have the weaponry to play 5 on 4 on offense.
Cheick Samb – Inc.
If the Pistons opt not to send Samb to the NBDL for seasoning, they’ll regret it. If they continue to pair him with Johnson off the bench, they’ll regret it even more. Samb has shown real signs that he has an NBA-caliber toolset on both ends of the floor, and that Laker game was fun to watch (for awhile)… But that lineup lacks experience and offense.
Lindsay Hunter – Inc.
Should be sipping gin & tonics from the executive suite, running spreadsheets and scouting 7’6 Chernobyl babies from Belarus, not playing meaningless spot minutes early in the season.