As expectations grow, so does the scrutiny. Following years of being an afterthought, life under a microscope is a trade off the Detroit Pistons are happy to make. The Pistons knocked off the Phoenix Suns 100 - 92 to kick off their-six-game west coast trip and in doing so they answered a handful of questions following an uninspiring loss to the Pacers on Tuesday.
After a 3-0 start, how will the young Pistons respond to their first loss?
What changes will Stan Van Gundy make to the rotation to compensate for poor bench play?
How will Marcus Morris perform / react playing his former team and twin brother?
It's a lot to ask (and answer) of a young team that's still trying to forge an identity but this is what happens when expectations grow.
How did the Pistons respond?
Losses are never easy but in an 82-game season, they're inevitable. How a team responds is usually a combination of effort from the head coach and team (player) leaders. In the Pistons case, Stan Van Gundy will react accordingly, but that's only half the solution. The other half comes from Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson and this is where it gets interesting. Drummond is our franchise and future while Jackson begged for a team of his own.
Even though he finished with another double-double (12 points, 17 rebounds), it was a rather ho-hum effort for Drummond. Games don't seemingly start until he commits an unnecessary foul at half court and the head-scratching tradition continued in Phoenix. Eventually, this led to foul trouble late in the third quarter. For every positive highlight that comes from Drummond adding extra pressure in the backcourt, it will never outweigh getting out of position or, worse yet, collecting a cheap foul.
Late in the fourth, Phoenix used the hack-a-Drummond strategy in an effort to get back in the game and it almost worked. Drummond went 0-of-4 during the maneuver, and it allowed the Suns cutting a once double-digit lead to three. Overall, Drummond finished 2-of-13 from the line. While free-throw struggles are nothing new for Dre, game planning against the hack-a-bad-freethrowshooter strategy is a problem that plagues only a few teams.
12 and 17 is a nice game but at best it was a "good enough" effort. As the face of the franchise that's simply not good enough.
Jackson joined Drummond with a lackluster first half of play, however, that all changed in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter. Jackson scored 14 of his game-high 23 in the fourth. He made play after play to help secure the win with both drives to the basket and perimeter shooting.
Jackson wasn't without his own warts, though.
Sloppy and casual ballhandling continues to lead to unforced and ill-timed turnovers. Handling the rock as much as Jackson does, it's only natural to accumulate some turnovers, but it seems the rate could easily be trimmed with a tad more focus.
Again, Jackson had trouble keeping opposing guards in front of him. While Phoenix guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are certainly no slouches, Jackson can do better and he probably knows it. The league is at an all-time high in the caliber of point guard play. It's not going to get easier.
Both Drummond and Jackson are in the infancy stage of their leadership roles. Should things ever turn south, the camera and questions will be directed towards them and that is a completely new feeling. How they continue to respond will determine the success of this team moving forward.
Changes to the bench?
The loss to the Pacers on Tuesday was ugly and attention immediately turned to bench play (or lack thereof). Certainly, all eyes would be focused on how their response would play out.
The biggest "change" was putting Morris on the floor with the second team, giving the unit a viable and versatile scorer. Morris was the first starter to take a break and, in turn, the first to return to the court. Staggering starter and bench minutes is something SVG can tinker with more as Stanley Johnson gets more comfortable.
It's safe to say backup point guard Steve Blake had his best game in a Piston uniform as he finished with eight points and two assists. Most importantly, he helped the backup unit keep (and even increase) the lead the starters provided. Blake is a vet and what happened against Indiana was probably the worst we should see.
Although hitting just one1-of-5 shots, Anthony Tolliver made his impact on the defensive end. He made life extremely difficult for Markieff Morris in the second half, and he also made a handful of non-box-score plays that we've come to expect.
For the time being, Reggie Bullock seems to be the odd man out.
How did Marcus Morris perform?
Every successful team has one of these guys. Maybe two. Two tops. It's the guy who dances to his own beat; not afraid of the moment; irrationally confident; and in many cases, the voice of the team. It can't be forced or faked or fraudulent. Any insincere act can be sniffed out a mile away. It's a slippery slope, though. If the wrong guy takes on the role it can be a disaster. On the current Pistons roster there is only one guy who genuinely fits the bill: Morris.
It's been well documented how Morris ended up in Detroit and heading back to Phoenix would be an early litmus test on how he fits into that role.
Morris, who was booed every time he touched the ball, finished with 20 points and six rebounds. Most importantly, he didn't try to do too much as he played the exact type of game Detroit has come to recognize. Morris didn't score until midway through the second quarter but never showed signs of frustration or let his emotions get in the way. With sliding and leading the second group, Morris becomes an even more intricate part to this team. Who saw any of this coming?
This was a great way to start a long road trip, and even though the Pistons answered the immediate questions it just opens the door to more. The difference being the tenor of the questions. Instead of apathy and indifference, people are asking.....
Are these guys for real?!?!