True Blue Pistons - January 2014
On David Stern’s last day on the job he’s held for exactly 30 years, Chauncey Billups – one of the very few NBA players who can say they’ve been around for the majority of Stern’s tenure – pondered his influence over the changes he’s seen since leaving Colorado for the 1997 NBA draft.
Stern was a driving force behind the NBA softening the rules on what was allowed defensively – not once, but twice, each time to the detriment of Pistons championship-era teams.
Mr. Big Shot didn’t like the result, but couldn’t blame Stern for the initiative.
Posted Thursday, January 30, 2014
Andre Drummond’s low-post game is in its infancy, a fact no one who’s spent much time watching him over his first 1½ NBA seasons would dispute. Less discussed, and virtually unnoticeable from the stands or your living room, is the fact that his competency as a communicative defensive quarterback – equally critical to his quest for greatness – is equally in its cocoon stage.
“In high school, I didn’t have to talk,” he said after Thursday’s practice a day after the Pistons’ schedule was disrupted by the ice storm that ripped through the Southeast and forced postponement of Wednesday’s scheduled game in Atlanta. “All I had to say is ‘left’ or ‘right’ when a screen was coming. I didn’t have to say when a back-door (cut) was coming because we played a 2-3 zone, so it didn’t really matter. But in college, I wasn’t the best at it, either. That’s when guys are a lot better and they’re smarter with their cuts.”
It is perhaps the area where Rasheed Wallace, one of the NBA’s all-time great defensive communicators, can have the most influence in Drummond’s development. Wallace’s voice cuts through the din even today in NBA arenas from his seat one row behind the Pistons’ bench, barking out warnings of oncoming screens to Pistons guards or instructions for their big men.
Posted Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The latest impediment to the Pistons building even the modicum of momentum necessary to make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference: the one in a thousand odds of an NBA postponement.
Throw in the likelihood of a Southern snow and ice storm of the sort that gripped Georgia just in time to postpone Wednesday’s Pistons-Hawks game and you get the sort of luck that’s dogged the Pistons since Rodney Stuckey slammed his thumb in a car door to get training camp off on the wrong foot. Or hand, as it were.
When you’re winning, you want games, not postponements and practices. The Pistons are now off until Saturday, when they host Philadelphia. The Pistons (18-27) are tied with New York for ninth in the East, but tied in the loss column with Charlotte (19-27). Recent surges by Washington, Chicago and Brooklyn have given them some separation from the field and increased the sense of urgency for the Pistons to pick up the pace.
As Mo Cheeks said when asked before Tuesday’s game with Orlando if the Pistons still believed they were a playoff team, “You’ve got to believe.”
So the Pistons will look at the glass as half full coming out of their convincing win over the Magic.
Posted Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Andre Drummond began Tuesday’s game the way Usain Bolt begins the 100-meter dash: at a full sprint. He was already well on his way to his season’s 33rd double-double with eight points and four rebounds midway through the first quarter.
But when he stayed under the basket after tipping in Greg Monroe’s miss as play went the other way, his left shoe ripped off and his face twisted in agony, a season in danger of slipping away from the Pistons flashed before all of their eyes.
After a minute that felt like an hour, Drummond sat up and tugged his shoe back on, then walked to the bench under his own power. When play resumed after a timeout, he was back on the court, smiling and dominating.
Posted Monday, January 27, 2014
Mo Cheeks has thought out loud for the past week, admitting that lineup changes are possible. When losses mount – the Pistons have dropped four straight and 11 of 14 since Christmas – Cheeks says the stronger the case becomes to tinker.
He’d probably have done so already but for one critical factor: There’s no obvious change to make.
Check that. The obvious change – the one that Cheeks hinted at broadly last week – is Rodney Stuckey in and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out. Stuckey, at least until knocked back by knee and shoulder injuries, has been the team’s most consistent offensive force; Caldwell-Pope, a rookie who wasn’t counted on for the type of role he’s assumed, figures to have less trouble accepting a move to the bench than more established teammates.
Posted Sunday, January 26, 2014
DALLAS – The Pistons did a lot right. They forced 17 Dallas turnovers and converted them into 23 points, winning that game within the game by 11 points. They hit the offensive glass 17 times and dominated second-chance points, 19-1.
But what the Pistons did wrong, they did very wrong. And they did it against the wrong team.
Dallas might have the most expansive playbook in the league and Rick Carlisle can afford the complexity because of the offensive IQ of his basketball team, starting with but hardly limited to the singularly gifted Dirk Nowtizki.
Posted Saturday, January 25, 2014
There’s a reason Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis are two of just three 20-year-olds to be part of USA Basketball’s most wanted list that goes beyond the genetics which blessed them with a rare combination of size and agility. Let their coaches explain.
“He’s a delightful kid to coach,” Maurice Cheeks said of Drummond a few weeks ago. “He gets better every game. He’s like a sponge. He likes guys to tell him certain things and he goes out and tries to do it. When you get a guy like that – with his size and ability and agility, the way he’s capable of playing – he’s just a joy to coach.”
“The best thing about Anthony is he accepts coaching and most young guys don’t,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams told me before Friday’s matchup of the two wunderkinds to emerge from the 2012 draft. “I think that’s a problem in our league is the ability to accept coaching.”
The most coveted commodity in the NBA, even with the game evolving to place greater emphasis on shooting, remains the athletic young 7-footer who can dominate the boards and protect the rim. Throw in a thirst for greatness and you have the stuff that launches championship eras.
Posted Friday, January 24, 2014
New Orleans won the lottery and took Anthony Davis No. 1 in 2012, then missed by one lousy pick of landing Andre Drummond nine spots later. The Pistons were all that stood between the Pelicans and a draft haul for the ages.
Both 20-year-old franchise cornerstones earned invitations from USA Basketball this week to be among the 28-player pool from which the rosters for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic national teams will be chosen. Both showed why those invitations were fully merited Friday night at The Palace.
Drummond won the battle, but Davis won the war.
Drummond was a dynamo, recording his first career 20 and 20 game – 21 points, 20 rebounds, two blocked shots – but Davis’ Pelicans finished the game on a 14-5 run, he in the thick of it, to erase a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes and win 103-101.
“It doesn’t even matter,” about his 20-20 and string of seven straight double-doubles a clearly downcast Drummond said after the game. “We’ve lost quite a few games, so it doesn’t feel quite as satisfying. I don’t even pay attention most of the time. I’d rather win.”
Posted Thursday, January 23, 2014
Andre Drummond’s ability to maintain his levels of productivity despite a drastically increased workload over his rookie season might have happened without the benefit of his week at the USA Basketball minicamp last July.
But one rather important opinion on the matter wonders.
“I really got to see how hard guys played to play for our country,” Drummond said Thursday. “I’ve seen guys do things I’ve never seen before just to put ‘USA’ on your chest. For me, it was a learning experience. To see guys really take this seriously to represent our country was really a big deal.”
Drummond is guaranteed a similar experience this July as one of 28 NBA players named by USA Basketball as part of the player pool for the next three years, which encompasses the World Cup this summer in Spain and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. The roster Team USA will take to the World Cup will be determined after the team’s July minicamp in Las Vegas.
Posted Wednesday, January 22, 2014
MILWAUKEE – Knees made Rodney Stuckey and Caron Butler virtual non-factors the last time the Pistons visited Milwaukee, Stuckey limited by tendinitis to one basket and Butler out altogether.
Maybe the Pistons should have offered to hold Stuckey out of Wednesday’s rematch if the Bucks would’ve kept Butler in street clothes again.
And Stuckey was very good, scoring 23 points in 33 minutes as the bulwark of Mo Cheeks’ shortened bench. But Butler was even better, dropping 30 points on the Pistons, including two momentum-swinging 3-pointers late in the third quarter to turn a 10-point Pistons lead into a mere four-point edge that put the game squarely in Milwaukee’s sights.
“He made some big shots,” said Brandon Jennings, who matched Butler’s 30 in his return to the place he spent his first four NBA seasons. “He was definitely carrying the team.”
Posted Tuesday, January 21, 2014
The Pistons head to Milwaukee amid questions about the compatibility and balance of their starting frontcourt, which counts as ironic because the last time they were in Milwaukee they appeared close to putting that issue to bed.
Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond combined for 59 points and 42 rebounds when the Pistons coasted to a 105-98 win in early December. Smith had 19 shots, Monroe 15 and Drummond 13. Monroe and Smith both picked up three assists. The frontcourt combined for eight blocked shots.
It was a thoroughly dominant performance, and even if came at the expense of the lottery-bound Bucks, it also came 24 hours after a win at Miami and a flight diverted to Chicago by fog and a bus ride that delivered the Pistons to their Milwaukee hotel about 12 hours before the same bus would bring them to the Bradley Center for that night’s tipoff.
Posted Monday, January 20, 2014
We can talk about spacing issues and the fit of Detroit’s jumbo frontcourt and yada yada yada, but at halftime of their Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee the Pistons were shooting 50 percent, had put up 53 points and should have been more than halfway to a victory.
Instead, they trailed by 11. And lost by nine. Despite scoring 103 points on a day they got a combined six from Greg Monroe and Brandon Jennings yet still shot 51 percent.
Defense remains Detroit’s vexing issue. The Pistons came into Monday 26th in defensive field-goal percentage, 24th in scoring defense and 21st in defensive efficiency, a hat trick that makes a pretty compelling case that they own one of the league’s 10 worst defenses. And it’s tough to win in the NBA with a bottom-third defense unless your offense is elite.
The Clippers have an elite offense. Even without Chris Paul – who missed his eighth straight game with a shoulder injury – the Clippers continue to rack up points. They’re now 6-2 since Paul left the lineup in early January and they’d averaged 114.6 in the five previous wins with the only losses coming at San Antonio and Indiana, a combined 38-7 on their courts.
Posted Saturday, January 18, 2014
When the Pistons visited Washington three weeks ago, Josh Smith had a first half so nightmarish he never got off the bench in the second. Mo Cheeks is happy he didn’t go back to that playbook the second time around.
And if the Pistons can execute a second-half-of-the-season turnaround of the sort that Smith pulled off Saturday night at Washington, they can start printing playoff tickets now out at 6 Championship Drive.
“We made plays down the stretch,” Cheeks said as the Pistons outscored Washington 58-44 in the second half, rallying from 10 down early in the third quarter to win 104-98 over one of the East’s rising teams. “I talked to our group about just continuing to play hard. Last night was not one of our better games, but I thought the effort we put in tonight was better.”
The Pistons came off a five-day break to lose big at home to Utah on Friday, then headed to Washington where the Wizards had won three straight to reach .500.
Posted Friday, January 17, 2014
Teams have limited control of the NBA scheduling process, providing the league availability and preferred dates for their arenas and letting the process unfold from there. The Pistons next season ought to limit their requests to one: no more five-day breaks.
They came out of their first one of the season on wobbly legs – getting outscored by an average of 16 points in third quarters of the first three games – before recovering to win back-to-back games heading into their second five-day break.
Vacation ended Friday and reality hit them as rudely as a polar vortex. The Utah Jazz, who carried a 13-27 record into The Palace, went on a 20-3 run that bridged halftime and romped to a 110-89 win on a Friday night when The Palace was filled with plenty of Trey Burke fans sporting University of Michigan maize and blue.
“We just couldn’t come out and compete,” said Rodney Stuckey, perhaps the lone bright spot for the Pistons with 21 points and a return to his pre-injury form. “I don’t know. I don’t get it. We had four days of good practice this week and we came out and laid a goose egg. That’s on us tonight.”
Posted Thursday, January 16, 2014
Mo Cheeks has been around the NBA for 36 years. It’s possible his memory needs a little jogging, but when he says he’s “never seen anything like it” – the two five-day gaps in the schedule the Pistons have endured over the past 18 days – his point is clear. This is weird.
But he feels a little better about the Pistons coming out of this five-day break than the one that carried them into 2014, when they entered it having lost three straight games and by an average of 16 points.
“I feel a little bit better,” Cheeks said after a fourth consecutive practice day on Thursday. “We got a lot accomplished out of these days, some things we needed to work on.”
“The coaches have been on us,” Rodney Stuckey said. “We’ve been practicing hard. Guys have been getting here early, an hour before practice.”
Stuckey, it turns out, is one of the reasons Cheeks feels a little better. When he’s been healthy this season, Stuckey’s been superb, the de facto go-to guy for the season’s first month. But health has proven elusive for Stuckey, who missed training camp with a broken thumb, two games with left knee tendinitis and five more with a painful right shoulder.
Posted Wednesday, January 15, 2014
The Pistons have played 38 games, three shy of the halfway mark. Toss in their eight preseason games, and they’re one past the mid-point of a 90-game preseason plus regular-season commitment. And for the 6½ months from the early October start of training camp until the mid-April regular-season finale, the mid-point came a week ago.
Throw in the five-day break between last weekend’s back-to-back wins over Philadelphia and Phoenix and Friday’s visit from Utah and you have the appropriate time to evaluate where the Pistons have been and where they’re headed.
Their 16-22 record qualifies as disappointing, but it’s so easy to pick out a half-dozen games that could have turned it into the 22-16 record that wouldn’t have been far off anyone’s estimate to offer legitimate optimistism about what their season promises.
Here’s a quick look at what the Pistons can bank on as their bedrock strengths over the season’s final 44 games and what they’ve spent their five-day hiatus working to improve.
Posted Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Joe Dumars pulled no punches about the state of his roster on draft night last June after spending the eighth pick on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“We are basically desolate at the wing positions,” he said. “It was such a major focus of ours going into this draft. We had to upgrade the wing, athletic, shooting – just don’t have enough wing, long athletes.”
The Pistons knew there were more finished products available to them, but they loved the Georgia native’s high motor, his size at his position, the way he embraced defense, his passion for the game and the potential of his feathery jump shot.
Posted Monday, January 13, 2014
The Pistons picked up two much-needed wins over the weekend, then reported back to work on Monday and picked up two players.
Rookies Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell were back for a 2½-hour practice on Monday, the first of four consecutive practice days before the Pistons play again on Friday night, after a two-week stint in the D-League.
Aside from minor injuries both players incurred that diminished their production, both came back lauding their Fort Wayne experience.
“I think I got a lot of experience,” Siva said. “I had a main focus of just being aggressive down there, going out to play and really working on my guard skills. The first couple of games, I think I did a really good job of showcasing that. Unfortunately, I fell and sprained both of my wrists, then just tried to play through it. At least we got some wins down there.”
In four games, Siva averaged 12 points, 5.8 assists and two steals. But he had a 27-point, 10-assist, eight-steal game while going up against Chicago Bulls point guard and 2012 No. 1 pick Marquis Teague and another game with 24 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals before the wrist injuries caught up to him.
Posted Saturday, January 11, 2014
Josh Smith played a game on Friday that only Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon ever matched: 22 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, five blocked shots, four steals.
He was better on Saturday.
Oh, the numbers weren’t quite as gaudy, though they were still the stuff of superstars: 25 points, requiring just 16 shots, 11 rebounds, five assists.
But the Pistons might have won at Philadelphia without his heroics. Against Phoenix on Saturday at The Palace, with a five-game home losing streak and the weight of second-half failures bearing down on the Pistons’ collective shoulders, Smith stacked one big play atop another down the stretch to deny a Suns comeback that appeared almost inevitable.
Smith hit a triple with the shot-block buzzer about to blare with 27 seconds remaining to break a 105-all tie, then after his brush foul with four seconds left allowed Gerald Green to tie the game with three free throws, Smith bulled his way through traffic to score on a tough layup.
“Tough shot, but that’s what big-time players do,” Will Bynum said. “And that’s what he did tonight.”
Posted Friday, January 10, 2014
New strategy. The Pistons might not have figured out a way to put a 48-minute game together yet, but Friday night they got their worst basketball out of them early and then knew exactly what they were looking at. Down 16 points after a thoroughly dysfunctional opening six minutes – outscored by an average of 15 points in the first three third quarters of the new year – the Pistons used a most unlikely formula to snap a six-game losing streak and win their first game of 2014.
“We don’t want to be in that predicament, but we stuck in there, kept fighting and – opposite of how we’ve been losing – we actually won a game like that,” Greg Monroe said after the 114-104 win at Philadelphia. “Took control in the third quarter and kind of kept control in the second half.”
The 76ers made their first seven shots and nine of their first 10, including four 3-pointers, and they scored a staggering 38 first-half points in the paint, a testament to how porous the Pistons’ perimeter defense was in the early going.
Mo Cheeks called his first timeout barely two minutes into the game, by which time Philly already led by double digits. Two minutes later, he was already going to his bench for answers. He found two in Kyle Singler and Will Bynum, both of whom came up two rebounds shy of a double-double.
Posted Thursday, January 9, 2014
PHILADELPHIA – The Pistons still rank last in the NBA in 3-point percentage, but you don’t have to dig very far beneath the surface to see evidence of progress. Since November turned into December, the Pistons essentially have been an average 3-point shooting team.
They were, at least, until the calendar flipped to 2014 and a new issue reared its head: third-quarter collapses. The Pistons have been outscored 94-48 in the three third quarters of the new year, the overriding reason why they’re still looking for their first 2014 win.
One contributing factor: The Pistons are shooting 21 percent from the 3-point arc in 2014. They hope it’s just a blip on the radar, and they can point to December as evidence. Because in 17 December games, the Pistons drained 35 percent of their 3-point attempts, just a shade below the NBA average of .357.
The turnaround can be largely credited to two young players: Kyle Singler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Posted Wednesday, January 8, 2014
TORONTO – We’ll wait another decade or more to close the book on the 2012 NBA draft, when Toronto took Terrence Ross with the eighth pick to set off a wild celebration a few hundred miles to the west around an Auburn Hills conference table tucked in the woods behind The Palace.
The choice of Ross left Andre Drummond for the Pistons, a player around whom Joe Dumars now plots the construction of the franchise.
There will be plenty of time for Toronto – which might not have been in the hunt for a new general manager last spring if Bryan Colangelo had selected Drummond, instead – to rue that night.
But Wednesday wasn’t it.
Ross hit a triple 13 seconds into the second half and then another 59 seconds later to fuel a quick 8-0 Toronto run to open the third quarter, and if you’ve heard that one before, well, don’t congratulate yourself on a remarkable memory. You’ve heard it three times in the last four days if you’ve been paying attention to the Pistons.
Posted Tuesday, January 7, 2014
NEW YORK – Another comeback for the ages came up about seven seconds and 2 feet short. It wouldn’t have been quite as dramatic as climbing out of a 21-point hole at Boston last month, but coming back from 17 down late in the third quarter at New York would’ve been a bigger salve to a more desperate team.
As it is, the Pistons will have to take whatever solace and confidence boosting they can find from their near-miss at New York, from the resolve they showed this time when things turned against them.
“We had a very good effort,” Mo Cheeks said after Josh Smith missed a 17-foot jump shot from the right wing that didn’t come close to grazing the rim, a shot that would have given the Pistons a one point lead inside of 10 seconds. “Got down 17, able to fight back and just didn’t make any shots toward the end to help us get over the hump. But we played hard.”
That stook in stark contrast to the taste in their mouths following Sunday’s loss to Memphis, when they could muster little resistance in getting outscored by 33 points in the second half to wipe out a five-point halftime lead.
Posted Monday, January 6, 2014
There is vague talk in NBA circles, fueled in part by comments from incoming commissioner Adam Silver, about shortening NBA games to 40 from 48 minutes. If it comes to a vote, they likely can count on a “yes” from the Pistons, whose 14-20 record might be reversed had that rule been on the books in time for this season.
A day after Brandon Jennings called the Pistons a “first-half team” and Mo Cheeks admitted he was groping for answers to how Memphis managed to outscore his team 61-28 in Sunday’s second half to win going away after trailing by five at halftime, Josh Smith broke it down to very simple terms: communication, selflessness and fun.
This is a team, after all, that within the past month has won games at Miami and Indiana and came out on top after spotting Boston a 21-point lead.
“I just think that we’ve got to start back having fun playing the game,” Smith said after Monday’s practice. “In those wins we came together as a unit, we were very unselfish on both ends of the court. We need to watch and see what we did right in those games to be able to make us be successful. We’ve just got to enjoy playing the game of basketball and not look at it as just coming to work.”
Posted Sunday, January 5, 2014
The Pistons scored 56 points in Sunday’s first half, 28 in the second. It might be grossly simplistic to say twice the points means they were twice as good before halftime as after, but it’s close enough to the truth. And since it continued a recent trend of losing traction after halftime at home – where the Pistons have now lost five straight games and are 6-12 this season – and since it also came on the heels of a five-day break where the focus was on eradicating late-game execution breakdowns, well, that explains why Mo Cheeks was about 15 minutes late to his own postgame press conference.
“When you lose a game like that, you have a little conversation,” Cheeks said after the Pistons were outscored 61-28 in the second half of a 112-84 loss. “It took a little longer than I expected. I was just trying to get a little insight for myself because I didn’t have it. Normally, I do. This time, I didn’t have it.”
Five days between games is so far outside the norm for an NBA team that it wouldn’t have been a stunner if the Pistons had been outscored 61-28 in the first half. But they seemed to survive the break from routine OK, shooting 49 percent and getting the type of ball movement that produced 15 assists on 23 first-half baskets.
Posted Saturday, January 4, 2014
One of the few common elements over the stretch where the Pistons have lost of their last six games: Rodney Stuckey’s shoulder injury.
Stuckey got hurt three weeks ago when the Pistons lost a 13-point lead and then fell in overtime to Portland. They won with a subpar Stuckey the next night at Indiana – one of the highlights of their season to date – and overcame a 21-point deficit to win at Boston two nights later without him.
When they lost a 20-point lead two nights after that, outscored 41-17 in the fourth quarter by Charlotte at home, it began their backslide that carried the Pistons to their current standing of five games below .500, their low-water mark.
Posted Friday, January 3, 2014
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scoring 17 points in a half against Washington gives the Pistons a glimpse of their future. For their present, they’re asking that he emulates Kyle Singler.
“I’m not looking at his scoring, but I look at the way he plays defense, running the floor,” Mo Cheeks said after the Pistons practiced on day four of their rare five-day break between games Friday. “I told him to take a cue out of Kyle’s book. We don’t run a lot of plays for Kyle, either, but he ends up getting a three here, a three there, he gets some open runs to the rim for baskets. Those kind of guys just have to do things like that.”
Caldwell-Pope began the season safely inside the playing rotation because both Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey missed virtually the entire preseason with injuries. Once they returned, Caldwell-Pope was the No. 5 guard in a rotation Cheeks says has room for only four. He didn’t get off the bench in two early November games, but when Chauncey Billups couldn’t go on Nov. 15 in Sacramento with left knee tendinitis that would cost him nearly a month, the 2013 first-rounder went into the starting lineup so Cheeks could continue to bring Rodney Stuckey off the bench as the second unit’s featured scorer.
Posted Thursday, January 2, 2014
The Pistons owned fourth quarters in Chauncey Billups’ first go-around as a Piston and he was at the center of it. Point guards or superstars who have the ball in their hands in all those lonely moments always are. Teammates take their cues from those players. If he projects an aura of confidence and calmness, so do their teams.
“There’s no question about it,” Mr. Big Shot said after Thursday’s practice, one he declared the best one the Pistons have had this season. Of course, the games have come so fast and furious – 33 of them in the first 62 days of the NBA season – that the Pistons simply haven’t had many days available to hold truly meaningful practices.
“At some point, your team is going to take on the personality of your head coach and your point guard. You don’t know what point of the season that is. But I think it’s inevitable that most teams take on that personality.”
While the Pistons can use the virtual minicamp now afford them – they get two more practice days before their next game, a Sunday home matinee against Memphis – to work on fixing issues of execution, perhaps the down time also will help heal their bruised psyches. Over their last five home games, the Pistons have been outscored by 13.8 points a game in the fourth quarters. They’re 1-4 over that span with the only win coming against Brooklyn despite seeing a 20-point lead cut to two.