Night at the Improv

Frank rolls the dice with unlikely lineups in a wacky win

Coach Frank mixed and matched rotations in the Pistons' win at Washington on Wednesday night.
Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images
Score another one for the powerful Washington lobbyist industry. Lawrence Frank claims the inspiration for his mad scientist moment in Wednesday’s wacky win over the Wizards came from somebody in the crowd.

“The fan in the back suggested it,” Frank said of the second-quarter lineup he threw together for the Pistons that put Brandon Knight, Jose Calderon and Will Bynum on the floor for the first time together. “He said, ‘Hey, man, put three guys in there your size,’ so that’s what I did.”

Yeah, not really. But it was a seat-of-the-pants inspiration, nothing Frank had ever designed. He saw Brandon Knight with 18 first-half points and Calderon racking up assists at an eye-popping rate and wanted to wring all of their good karma out while also giving Bynum a shot to regain his rhythm after sitting out the previous game to satisfy his one-game NBA suspension.

“In the flow of the game, you’re just constantly adjusting and seeing what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “I wanted to see what the three of them could do. We were able to get into the paint, so we wanted to take advantage of it, plus in terms of wanting to maximize those guys minutes because Brandon and Jose were playing great. And I wanted to see with Will, if we stretched him out a little bit longer, if we could get him back in rhythm. It came down to wanting to get the best players on that night on the floor and just go from there.”

Frank cited Rick Carlisle’s belated insertion of Tayshaun Prince into the starting lineup during the Pistons’ run during Prince’s rookie season to the Eastern Conference finals as an example of the never-ending experimentation a coach does and the constant evolution a team endures during the course of an NBA season.

“You’re always searching,” he said. “It’s always evolving – your game as a team is always evolving and, as individuals, your game is evolving. Some guys at different times are hungrier than others. The season is so long. There’s not anything that’s permanent. You constantly have to tinker. Nothing stays status quo.”

Calderon wound up guarding Trevor Ariza during that stretch. That’s a matchup that invites the opposing coach to exploit Ariza’s size advantage, of course, but if it puts Ariza in situations as a postup player that don’t necessarily play to his strengths, on some level it’s a win for the Pistons.

“You’ve got to figure out, matchup-wise, and get stops,” Frank said. “Jose had to guard Ariza for a bit. (Offensively), you want to get out in transition. It gives you three pick-and-roll players and any guy on the outlet can go and take it and attack and the other guys run wide and run the wings.

“One time it was a mismatch – Jose was guarding Ariza on the switch – so (Jason Maxiell) went to double and it wound up being a turnover. You’ve got to cover up for those things when you do them. Most teams that play small have great shooting, but if you play small and you don’t have great shooting, then you can really get exploited – not just on matchups, but on the boards as well.”

Frank threw one other wrinkle at the Wizards, finding minutes for Kim English in the backcourt even though Knight was back from injury and Bynum from suspension. That decision, he said, came about because of the Verizon Center’s proximity to Baltimore.

“Just kind of a hometown feeling – seriously,” Frank said, a nod to English, he felt, being amped up to play in front of what the Baltimore native said was a group of about 15 family members. “It really was a decision between Kim or Khris. A lot of times, when a guy comes home, the extra excitement (comes) with it, so I figured we’d channel some of that energy and see how it worked out.”

English gave the Pistons a lift, especially in the first half when he scored eight straight Pistons points – a transition layup to end the first quarter and triples on consecutive possessions to open the second. He finished with 10 points in 12 minutes.

The Pistons wound up needing every one of them on a night they got a career-best 32 points from Knight and an eyebrow-raising 18 assists from Calderon, yet still had to hold their breath as Ariza’s potential game-winner missed at the buzzer. Imagine the voodoo possibilities for Frank’s improvisational bent at the next stop on their three-game road trip: New Orleans.