With the All-Star game on the horizon, now is a perfect time to stop and reflect on the first half (and change) of the season. Joe Dumars does just that in a chat with Keith Langlois over at Pistons.com, and I did the same at HOOPSWORLD. I'll admit, though, in terms of must-read-ness, the Dumars' convo trumps my effort:
LANGLOIS: I did notice with Amir last night, after making those two quick turnovers, he did not go into a shell. He stayed as frantically active as always.
DUMARS: I think one of the best things Amir Johnson has going for him is he’s not self-conscious about anything out there. He just plays. He just plays the game. He doesn’t overthink the game. He reacts to what’s happening on the court. And for a young guy like that, that’s the best thing he can do. He’s not trying to analyze every play, figure out what angle to take. He reacts to what happens. If it calls for him to block a shot, he blocks it. If it calls for him to jump higher than everybody to get a rebound, he does it. If it calls for him to outrun everybody, he does it. He’s going to have time to learn the nuances of the game, but for the time being we need him to play with that reckless abandon you’re seeing him play with.
LANGLOIS: Stuckey, the last couple of games especially, looks like he’s getting closer to the player you were pretty sure you had coming out of the preseason before he broke his hand. It doesn’t look like he’s fighting himself the last few games.
DUMARS: No question. You can see it. I go back to the last preseason game before he got hurt. The light had turned on. From the time training camp started until that last preseason game was about a month. How long has he been back now? Just a little over a month. It’s the same thing. That’s what that two months did. It kind of set him back almost to the beginning. That’s why I have no doubt that he’ll get it. You can’t teach what he does. What he does instinctively, you can’t teach that. That’s a special gift that few guys have, to get to that basket the way he does. Yeah, I think he’s going to get it and I think he has a chance to be a key contributor for us over the second half of the season.
LANGLOIS: The first two big guys off your bench now are Maxiell and Johnson, two very young guys who are a part of the rotation really for the first time this season. Would you be comfortable going into the playoffs with two such inexperienced players in such key roles?
DUMARS: Absolutely. When you get to the playoffs, if you can recall over the last couple of years, the team with the most energy won. The team that had the fresh legs. The team that had the higher intensity won. The team that was able to sustain that. We weren’t able to sustain it. Not against Miami a couple of years ago and not against Cleveland last year. LeBron was brilliant last year, but young Daniel Gibson broke our backs. Fresh legs, wasn’t afraid, no pressure on him. Come off the bench, play off of the veterans. We haven’t had that. So you ask about Amir and Maxey? I love having those young legs, man. The team with the most energy, with the most juice left in them, has got a better chance of winning. I like the fact that those young guys, their energy is going to be off the charts come playoff time. They’ll be ready.
I quoted more text than I'm usually comfortable doing, but it's actually just a fraction of a rather long Q&A -- seriously, if this piqued your interest, you'll enjoy the whole piece.
In my HOOPSWORLD midseason review, I actually talked about some of the same themes, including Stuckey's need to stay aggressive:
Fellow rookie Rodney Stuckey has also had his moments but overall needs to work on his consistency. He suffered a huge setback by missing the first seven weeks of the season with a broken hand, and he looked tentative upon his return. That can partly be attributed to his hand not yet being completely healed, but it was also mental.
"I've just been trying to tell him, don't think when you're out there; just play," said Billups. "Let me do the thinking, don't worry about it. Don't think, just play and we'll get to that later." The advice has worked well the past couple of games; Stuckey now needs to maintain that level of performance over the rest of the season.