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Handing out midterm grades

By Kevin Sawyer

What better time to do a spot check on our favorite team than fresh off the all-star game. At the beginning of the season, I stated what I thought each player needed to deliver for the Pistons to perform at a championship level. Given that they are on a 61 win pace, there are some solid grades to go around. Here they are…

Chauncey Billups – A

What they needed: Chauncey to be Chauncey

What they’ve got: Chauncey exceeding Chauncey

Billups continues to play at an MVP-caliber level, so what can I say that hasn’t already been said? His ability to match last year’s output in three fewer minutes means that Rodney Stuckey has some dealer money to play with and, more importantly, that Billups should have fresher legs come playoff time. He is also on pace to finish with the highest true-shooting percentage in Pistons history, a testament to his extraordinary efficiency.

Rip Hamilton – A-

What they needed: Hamilton to expand his perimeter game

What they’ve got: TRAMP BALL!

Hamilton wasn’t going to be able to get to blow by defenders forever, so Hamilton needed to continue his transformation into a modern day Reggie Miller by developing his outside game. Hamilton is now on pace to set career highs for both attempts and percentage from three-point range (and rank sixteenth in NBA history in the latter), which bodes well for him as he enters his thirties, but it will mean less consistency from the guy who can drop 20 ppg in his sleep. He was arguably the best player in the conference from December 5 – January 4, but has disappeared from games when his long-range shot isn’t falling.

Rasheed Wallace – B+

What they needed – Fewer techs

What they’ve got – A kinder, gentler Sheed

Sheed has managed to get his technical foul count down to a manageable level, and the team is on pace for about 25 fewer techs this season. As a result, he made his 4th all-star game, just as I predicted. Offensively, he’s done the same thing he has for the last several seasons but, like Chauncey, has done so with (albeit slightly) diminished minutes and fewer turnovers. Not a game goes by where announcers do not opine that Wallace needs to hit the post more frequently. I don’t buy it. His defense is top-notch as usual, and he seems to be doing a better job fronting big men and disrupting passing lanes.

Tayshaun Prince – B

What they needed: More aggression

What they’ve got: Same aggression

As Rip Hamilton goes, so goes Prince in the opposite direction. Prince would be the second scoring option on most teams, but generally falls to the 4th peg on the Pistons. This year, he has had more difficulty than usual getting to the basket, and he is disappearing on offense for longer stretches than normal. That said, he’s passing and rebounding as well as he ever has, and his merciless defense is all the more impressive given his infinitesimal (and ever shrinking) foul rate. With the Pistons re-emergence as a top-three defensive squad, Prince might hear some DPOY talk this year, and it will be much deserved.

Antonio McDyess – C+

What they needed: A replication of the second half of last season

What they've got: A replication of the first half of last season

It would be easy to dismiss McDyess’ woes as stemming from fatigue, but he has been more and more active on the boards as the season has progressed. McDyess has been a late bloomer the last few seasons, and he hasn’t done anything that would cost him his starting spot. Further, he has been fouling a lot less and he has been more than able to stand up to starting big men. I’m still jonesing for those 9-10 shooting games where his 14 footer is automatic.

Jason Maxiell – B

What they needed: More of the same with fewer fouls and turnovers

What they’ve got: Fewer, but still too many fouls and turnovers

Maxiell is in a bit of a slump right now, which could be part of a concerted effort to cut down on fouling, which he has in recent weeks. Max appears ready to take the starting job, but he needs to be able to guard starting big men without fouling out in 16 minutes. On wonders if we have to take a modicum of streakiness from such an emotional player, and his recent slide does coincide with the emergence of Rodney Stuckey (though you think his rate of offensive rebounds would increase). Still, his recent performance has been a major disappointment after his tantalizing start.

Jarvis Hayes – B-

What they needed: Three point shooting in the high 30s

What they’ve got: 38.6% three point shooting

Hayes has actually been a nice surprise this year. His reputation as a streak shooter is somewhat unwarranted, his fluctuating percentage more a function of low volume than anything. By the same token, he hasn’t really taken over any games as yet, so let’s wait on the Microwave comparisons, eh?

Rodney Stuckey – C+

What they needed: An unbroken hand and 43% shooting

What they’ve got: A slow return to preseason form

First off, he needs a nickname. I tried to pimp Stuckey-Snax for awhile, but that didn’t catch fire. Maybe a nickname will help Stuckey’s jumpshot, which will hold the key to his entire career. If he can’t drill 15-18 footers with some regularity, defenders will pack the lane against him, and all that talent and instinct will go to waste.

Arron Afflalo – C

What they needed: Defensive aggressiveness

What they’ve got: The disappearing player

Spellcheck’s game has expanded as his shooting has improved, but the Pistons need a little more energy and, yes, risk-taking from their experienced rookie. He is not yet the disruptive defender Hunter is, and his long range has yet to develop, which leaves him keeping time until the starters come back.

Amir Johnson – B+

What they needed: A 0.8 BPG/Foul ratio

What they’ve got: A 0.6 BPG/Foul ratio

If he could stay on the court, he’d be having a tremendous season. Nonetheless, even without his shotblocking (which is hard to overlook), Amir is doing more than enough to carry his weight. His 18.7 PER rates third on the team. Of the Piston’s young guns, Amir is the one who seems poised to deliver at an all-star level. But not if he continues to get one foul every five minutes.

Flip Murray – Inc.

What they needed: Spot starter duty

What they’ve got: That, and a very handsomely paid cheerleader

Murray got off to a solid start, but eventually found his way to the pine through no fault of his own. Over the last several seasons, has any team had more players lead their team in scoring one game and DNP-CD another in the same season? It’s feast or famine when you wear a Piston’s uniform.