Poised for a Push

Painful losses mask progress as Pistons struggle to close out games

George Blaha sees things turning around for Brandon Knight and the Pistons.
Ron Turenne (NBAE/Getty)
It isn’t easy in times like the Pistons are going through now to try to put things in perspective. They’ve lost six games in a row and it feels like the progress we all saw a few weeks ago has been lost. But I loved the quote from coach Frank when he said you’ve kind of got to peel back the onion a little bit. The record is similar to last season, but the results are nowhere near similar. These have been hard-fought, competitive games against rosters stocked with NBA talent.

This is a team that’s often ahead, and sometimes by double digits, early on. They just have to figure out what to do in the last five or so minutes to turn these Ls into Ws. You’ve seen teams figure it out. Toronto, for one example. The Raptors are suddenly rolling. Bottom line, they’ve come up with a winning formula and they’re now playing with probably 10 percent more confidence and that makes all the difference in the world.

You just can’t go out and manufacture that. It almost has to happen and when good things happen in games and they happen in stretches of games, suddenly a team gets that winning feeling and they know, somehow, in the back of their mind, we can do this and we are going to do it. That’s exactly what the Pistons need right now. They’re not that far away. I feel bad for the guys, but they could win four or five in a row and people would say, the light’s been turned on, and I would agree.

Building championships takes time and it has to start somewhere and there have to be some special pieces that come through that pipeline, both early and later on. I don’t think Joe D is nearly finished putting this team together, but when you look at what he’s been able to do the last few years, you have to feel pretty good about where the Pistons are heading.

Andre Drummond has become a tremendous offensive rebounder already, despite the fact he’s only 19. He would be the first to admit he still has a lot to learn about playing in the NBA.

He’s just the latest piece to the puzzle. Before him, the Pistons added Brandon Knight, who on balance has played extremely well the past few weeks and is really one of the tougher covers in the backcourt in our league because of his range and ability to drive. He can stop in the lane and hit the floater, take it to the rack and shoot with tremendous range.

And Greg Monroe, I think, speaks for himself. He played in Toronto the way most centers would like to play every night. I know he wants to get to the point where he’s a threat to score in the middle 30s every night and he’s a lock to score somewhere in the 20s. I think that will happen. He can score with either hand, he’s very creative around the basket and he also knows how to take advantage of a matchup. He proved that last night.

When you build through the draft, it really is a fundamentally sound way to do it because it gives you so much time to take a look at these players in all different kinds of situations and certainly the last three draft picks are bona fide NBA players, if not NBA stars, and they all could become that eventually.

Then you have a guy like Kyle Singler, who wasn’t a lottery pick but if you had a redraft he would definitely be a solid first-round pick. Kyle’s shown how creative he can be around the basket, he’s a physical defender and he can score from distance. He’s a great competitor and he’ll just never, ever back down.

I really like what I’ve seen of Kim English and Khris Middleton, too. They both bring a lot to the table. We haven’t seen a lot of them in games, but we’ve seen them in practice and they can both play. They’ll both be in this league for a long time.

And if you watch Slava Kravtsov work before games with Roy Rogers, along with Andre Drummond, he can do everything you want a big man to do. It’s just a matter of time with him and Slava understanding what it’s like to play at this level against this kind of competition. Some European guys don’t miss a beat, but for most it’s a brand new world.

I love what I see for the future with this team. In the present, I think the Pistons will start winning games sooner than later. I’d be surprised if by the All-Star break these guys haven’t put together a couple of nice winning streaks and put together a few weeks of plus-.500 basketball. Once that happens, as I said before, confidence is an amazing thing.

It’s one thing to have confidence in your own game; it’s another thing to have confidence in your team down the stretch. No matter how unselfish you are, and no matter how much you want to win as a team, you still have to see it unfold before you start making winning plays when you have to. And then it becomes second nature.

We saw it with the Bad Boys and we saw it with the Goin’ to Work group. They absolutely knew how to win and were sure they were going to win. When they didn’t, they were surprised. That’s what has to happen here. I’m not saying this team, as it sits right now, is ready to play at that level. But, trust me, it’s a lot closer to being there than it looks like right now. That breakthrough is going to happen. You can feel it coming.