The Value of Depth

Pistons-Nets game underscores the NBA’s wealth of talent

A wealth of talent was on display when the Pistons battled the Nets on Wednesday night.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
If you didn’t make plans to watch the Pistons-Nets game Wednesday night, you might not have ever tuned in. But if you didn’t, you missed a heck of a game. On paper, it didn’t look very likely we’d get one of those. The Pistons were coming off three tough losses and New Jersey was down to eight healthy players. But you never know in this league when a great game is going to break out just because there are so many talented guys in the NBA and always have been.

Go back to the first truly great era in Pistons basketball. In the ’80s, people had to make plays with the ball if they wanted to have any chance to win that game. That’s what we saw in New Jersey.

Those Pistons teams were fighting against some of the greatest teams of all time, so you had to be able to make a play with the ball or you weren’t going to win. They were able to do it more consistently, really, because they had such great depth – I can’t think of another NBA team that’s ever been any deeper, really. They had so many guys who could make plays with the ball.

It started when Kelly Tripucka was our small forward and the Pistons had a pretty darn good team around him and Isiah Thomas, starting with Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson but also including Detroit’s own John Long and Terry Tyler. There were so many amazing offensive plays made. If you missed shots or free throws or didn’t execute on offense, you had very little chance to win the game.

The Pistons got better defensively later in the decade and then they made plays on both ends, but even early in the ’80s, when Kelly and Isiah were leading a Pistons team that at one point would play the highest-scoring game of all-time – who can forget the 186-184 double-overtime win at Denver? – if you blinked, you missed great plays.

You could argue the Pistons would have won back-to-back championships with Kelly Tripucka, Adrian Dantley or Mark Aguirre at small forward, for instance, because they were all so difficult to stop. As the decade wore on and Jack McCloskey added Dennis Rodman, John Salley and James Edwards to that great mix of players, you had a team that could play with anybody and was closing in on a championship. But don’t ever forget that it started with a really terrific offensive group.

Last night’s game was a reminder that you still have to execute at both ends to win games. And I really, truly believe our current team is getting closer and closer to a team that will make plays with the ball and force the other team to do the same against them. That’s tough to grasp, maybe, when you’re not winning a lot of games, but let’s not forget some of the challenges this team is facing under Lawrence Frank.

Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum have all been out long enough now that you almost forget the Pistons were playing without them on this very difficult road trip. All three of those players are guys who can make plays on the offensive end and have done it on a regular basis throughout their careers. That’s why depth continues to be important in our league and especially important in this compressed schedule.

This trip ended with three games in three nights, as most Pistons fans know, and it was a golden opportunity for Walker D. Russell to get on the court and make plays with the ball. He has now proven to me, beyond any doubt, that he can do that in our league. One man’s injury is another man’s opportunity. We saw that with some of the Nets players and we saw it on the Pistons, as well, with Walker D continuing to shine and help set up his teammates.

I don’t know if we’ll ever see another team with the kind of depth the Pistons had back in the Bad Boys era, but the New Jersey game was a good reminder how many talented players there really are in the greatest basketball league in the world. Even though it wound up a loss when the Pistons saw two tough-luck shots bounce off the rim in the final seconds, it was a well-played and exciting game. If you love pro basketball, or basketball at any level, you had to enjoy that game.