Position of Strength
Over the past four games – or just two games after Austin Daye replaced Corey Maggette at small forward in a bench unit that also includes Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva, Andre Drummond and Will Bynum – Lawrence Frank’s backups have averaged 62.2 points, outscoring the starters decisively in the last three games.
Even without Stuckey available for Friday’s stirring 109-99 win over defending champion Miami before a sold-out Palace crowd, the parts still meshed with such absolute precision that the bench erased a 15-point deficit in just minutes during a 41-point second-quarter outburst that was an ode to teamwork.
But because the second unit continued its eye-popping efficiency even without Stuckey – who was moved to the bench on the belief that he could be its scoring anchor – might Lawrence Frank now consider moving him back to the starting lineup to separate Stuckey and Bynum, the team’s two most effective operators out of the pick and roll, and at the same time stabilize the scoring of the starting five?
The subject arose after Saturday’s practice, and while Frank made it clear it’s not a move that’s imminent, he didn’t reject it out of hand, either.
“You always have to be open to everything,” he said. “I can’t say that it will never happen. You have to balance the chemistry of that second unit. Can they sustain it? That may impact your decision.”
The second unit’s dominance against Miami suggests its chemistry isn’t so delicate it couldn’t withstand some tinkering. It was Singler who stood in for Stuckey for all 12 minutes of the second quarter, just as it was Singler who took Stuckey’s place in the starting lineup after the 0-8 start on the night in Philadelphia when Stuckey took ill and the Pistons won by 18.
So just as the logic of the current second unit adds up – Drummond working with Bynum and Stuckey in pick-and-roll situations on offense, with Daye and Villanueva’s unique skill sets for players of their size spreading the floor, and Drummond protecting the rim on defense with players not heretofore known as plus defenders – so does the logic of splitting Stuckey and Bynum, perhaps.
At a time when the starting unit has struggled for consistent offense – in the last three first quarters, the Pistons haven’t averaged 15.7 points – maybe Stuckey operating the pick and roll with the starters would create the same type of floor-spacing opportunities for Brandon Knight, the team’s most prolific 3-point shooter.
“I would like to see Rodney starting at the point and Kyle coming off in the unit with us,” Bynum said. “Two different looks, and it would be hard to deal with from other teams. And then BK can just score.”
With Singler in for Stuckey, the Pistons drained eight 3-point baskets and shot 72.7 percent during the quarter on both sides of the arc. They scored nine assisted baskets in the quarter and committed just three turnovers, but what made the 41-20 quarter advantage possible was the defense and rebounding of the unit overall.
And that includes Daye and Villanueva doing their parts in both departments, the very aspects that have held back their Pistons careers. The Pistons outrebounded Miami 12-5 in the quarter and allowed only one Heat offensive rebound while forcing four turnovers and limited Miami to 7 of 19 shooting and 1 of 6 from distance. It doesn’t hurt having Drummond in the middle, either.
“It helps everybody,” Bynum said. “He’s down there anchoring the defense. That would help any team out. We haven’t had that here in a long time. For me, it’s great. I can pressure up on guards and if I get beat, I know Dre’s got my back.”
Stuckey remains questionable for Sunday’s game with Milwaukee as he recovers from the ankle sprain suffered in Wednesday’s double-overtime loss at Atlanta. The win over Miami in his absence did nothing to diminish the second unit’s firepower. There was at least one person not surprised by this.
“We’re deep,” Bynum said. “We’re probably one of the deepest teams in the league. When Rodney comes back, he can only add to that.”
If it’s a change of Stuckey’s status to the starting lineup that Lawrence Frank eventually ponders, at least it’s one he can make from a position of strength this time.