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Curry sets the tone with first practice

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Curry put the Pistons through a three-hour practice on Tuesday, the first day of training camp, and from the sounds of things, he's already making headway in changing the team's identity. From A. Sherrod Blakely:

During Tuesday's first practice of training camp, Detroit Pistons forward Amir Johnson had to pick himself off the floor after unsuccessfully battling Kwame Brown for a rebound.

Moments later, Arron Afflalo put Richard Hamilton on his back.

Soon after that, Afflalo suffered a few scratches on his shoulder and forearm while being defended -- and at one point, was stripped of the ball -- by Will Bynum.

And that was just the last 30 minutes of practice.

[...] "Our big thing is, we want to be the aggressor," Curry said. "That's our No. 1 thing in everything we do."

What exactly does being the aggressor entail? Chris McCosky explains:

The Pistons are going back to playing rugged, man-to-man defense. They will mix in some zone coverages, but predominately, they are going to lock in man on man. They will trap more than they have in the past, especially when young players such as Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo, Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson are on the floor.

Offensively, Curry is adamant about pushing tempo and getting quick offense off turnovers and missed shots, but in the half-court he is dead set on establishing a consistent low-post presence.

"We are going to be really good defensively and offensively we are going to be a team that can beat you 120-110 or we can beat you 80-70," Curry said.

In addition to the team's playing style, Curry has made a couple of key changes to the way the team prepares. For one, Arnie Kander will be more involved. From Keith Langlois:

Curry has been banging the drum since the first days he was named as Flip Saunders’ successor in June. "We’ve got the best in the business in Arnie Kander," he’s said repeatedly, "and we have to do a better job of taking advantage of him."

During Curry’s planned three-hour training camp practices, more than the first hour will be devoted to film work and Kander’s unique training methodologies. Kander is known best for nursing injured players back to health quickly – and for preventing injury in the first place – but Curry thinks left untapped has been Kander’s expertise in tailoring conditioning programs to ensure each player gets in peak physical shape and stays there over the course of an NBA season. That last part, he says, is what he expects to be different this season.

Langlois also noted how Curry had the team working in three five-man groups, with each group containing at least one starter instead of the traditional first-string, second-string and third-string units. On Monday, the groups were:

Red – Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess, Cheikh Samb, Will Bynum and Alex Acker.
White – Rasheed Wallace, Amir Johnson, Walter Sharpe, Rodney Stuckey and Rip Hamilton.
Blue – Kwame Brown, Jason Maxiell, Walter Herrmann, Chauncey Billups, Arron Afflalo.

Curry explained his reasoning to Blakely:

"We'll do that all the time," he said. "I don't see a need in you're starting five playing together everyday, because you don't have that all the time in games. The reality is, we have to have different matchups out there on the court."

I couldn't help but notice that Rasheed Wallace and Amir Johnson were paired together. Might this be confirmation that Johnson has the leg up on the starting job? Perhaps, but I'm guessing it's just a coincidence and that the practice groupings will probably change frequently. If these initial groups were supposed to offer a hint at the regular season rotation, Rodney Stuckey and Antonio McDyess would probably have been paired together, as well.

10/1 Update: Today (Wednesday), Curry switched the groupings up again, though interestingly enough, Amir and Rasheed stayed on the same team. From Dana Gauruder:

Orange Team - Rasheed Wallace, Amir Johnson, Walter Sharpe, Arron Afflalo, Rodney Stuckey
Blue Team - Kwame Brown, Antonio McDyess, Walter Herrmann, Alex Acker, Chauncey Billups
White Team - Cheikh Samb, Jason Maxiell, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, Will Bynum

*****

I'm excited to hear that the Pistons are hoping to play a little more up-tempo this year, but it bears mentioning that we heard almost the exact same thing last year. Here's what I wrote for HOOPSWORLD last October:

The Detroit Pistons have long favored a slow and methodical brand of basketball, eschewing the fast break in favor of clock management, limiting possessions as well as mistakes. Quite literally no one put the brakes on more frequently, as the team ranked dead last in offensive pace in 2006-07.

While it's too early to say that they've ripped that strategy out of the playbook, it was quite clear in the first preseason game against the Miami Heat the Pistons are trying to open things up.

"I think it's something we've stressed in our training camp was our ability to be aggressive and not let teams take breaks," Flip Saunders said after the game. "Push the ball up, and if you don't have something, then get into a quick attack. Don't turn down open shots when you have them, but make quick decisions with the ball and not hold the ball."

The difference, though, is that Curry is hoping to push the tempo on offense by forcing mistakes on defense. Also, instead of players taking the first available shot, Curry is preaching the importance of scoring in the paint, whether it's a big man down low or Billups or Stuckey penetrating. Only time will tell if his strategy yields different (and consistent) results.