Whipping the Wizards
Nobody had any bigger impact on the Pistons’ 100-68 rout than the three lottery picks. Monroe had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes; Knight scored 11 first-quarter points to kick-start the demolition en route to 15 points and four assists in 30 minutes; and Drummond set season highs for rebounds and blocks in a dominant 21-minute run.
“We can’t get too high right now,” Monroe said, well aware Washington gets its shot at turning the tables on Saturday at the Verizon Center, where he played his college games at Georgetown. “We have to figure out what we have to clean up. We’re expecting some different people to play tomorrow for them.”
You’d forgive the Wizards if they wished three of those different people in Washington uniforms were named Monroe, Knight and Drummond.
Eight teams passed on Drummond in last June’s draft. Aside from New Orleans and Portland, thrilled to have Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard in their uniforms, it’s fair to say a half-dozen of them have at least taken notice of the numbers Drummond is putting up for the Pistons.
No team will be more acutely scrutinized for bypassing Drummond than Washington, which had the No. 3 pick and chose Bradley Beal instead. Beal, shooting 35 percent overall and 30 percent from the 3-point line, missed Friday’s game with a sore back. Drummond grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked five shots while scoring 11 points.
“He played with such great energy and effort,” Lawrence Frank said on a night the Pistons’ other athletic 7-footer, Slava Kravtsov, made his NBA debut in unusual fashion – more on that in a minute. “His size and athleticism can make up for some of the mistakes he makes. You can’t teach what he has. As he puts it together, with the learning curve of most young players, we feel he has a chance to be very, very special.”
“He’s done a great job of coming in, bringing a lot of energy, doing what the coach asks him to do – control the boards, control the paint,” Monroe said of the 19-year-old expected to be his frontcourt partner for the generation ahead. “He’s only going to get better. I’m not surprised with anything right now. He’s doing his job.”
Drummond scored three quick baskets at the rim, all off pretty feeds from Rodney Stuckey, with whom he’s developed a strong on-court rapport.
“That’s something we’ve worked on in practice,” he said. “I’m a freelancer, so I wander on the baseline and he knows exactly where I’m going to be at and he dishes the ball off to me when I’m open.”
Stuckey probably wishes he’d have dished off early in the fourth quarter, when he attacked the basket and was attacked back by Kevin Seraphin’s elbow to the mouth. Stuckey had some teeth pushed back, but not out, yet the Pistons expected he would be with them in Washington on Saturday.
When Stuckey was unable to stay in the game to shoot his free throws – automatically disqualifying him from returning to the game – the Wizards got to pick the player from Detroit’s bench to shoot for him. They chose Kravtsov, who made 1 of 2 free throws and later scored his first basket on a rim-rattling dunk.
“First time I step on the court, was not our coach’s decision,” Kravtsov smiled broadly in the locker room. “But after that, it finally happened and I played some minutes. If I will get more chances, I will play much better.”
Kravtsov’s path to playing time is currently blocked, but things can change quickly. Long term, the Pistons envision Monroe playing at power forward while Drummond and Kravtsov play center. Monroe, coming off a career-best 35 points at Toronto in which he showed the offensive versatility that would lend itself well to the position switch, followed up with another strong game.
Monroe went six spots behind John Wall when Washington won the 2010 lottery. Wall almost certainly would have been a unanimous No. 1 pick that year, but the vote today would be interesting between Wall and Monroe among the NBA’s 30 general managers. Though Wall has been productive, he’s also been injury prone – he could miss the entire season with a knee injury.
“Greg is such a skilled guy that he’s able not just to score, but he’s able to find open teammates, plus put the ball on the floor and create some advantage situations,” Frank said. “He was good.”
Knight went two spots after Washington grabbed Jan Vesely, an athletic big man who hasn’t yet come close to seeing that athleticism translate into productivity. He’s averaging 11 minutes, 1.9 points and 2.1 rebounds a game. He’s 3 of 17 at the foul line, an indication of his lack of shooting touch. After enduring a rare poor shooting night in Wednesday’s loss at Toronto, Monroe was happy to see Knight bounce back strong.
“In Toronto, he just missed shots,” he said. “Those are all shots he takes all the time, he makes all the time. I wasn’t panicking off of that. Everybody has those nights. It’s good to see him come back and knock some shots down, though.”
It was the first time the Pistons have held an opponent under 70 points since March 27, 2008 when they beat Miami 85-69. The Pistons were in the midst of their string of six straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals at that time. They think they’ve put together the building blocks to someday be similarly positioned. The Wizards aren’t nearly as certain what their future holds.