The Gigi Twist

Cheeks puts Datome at power forward to punch up Pistons shooting

Gigi Datome
Maurice Cheeks will look to add sharpshooter Gigi Datome to the Pistons' lineup.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Maurice Cheeks faced a quandary. He needed more shooting in his lineup, he knew that much, and he was pretty sure that nobody offered more of it than Gigi Datome. But how to find minutes for him?

Josh Smith was the prize of Pistons free agency over a transformational summer and his ability to affect games across the spectrum – scoring, playmaking, defending, rebounding – puts him in line for major minutes. Kyle Singler endeared himself to Cheeks from the first day of training camp with his sheer hustle, basketball IQ, size at his position and defensive temperament.

That didn’t leave many minutes – or any, really – for Datome, who came to the Pistons from Italy pigeon-holed as a small forward.

So it was more than a little noteworthy when Cheeks summoned Datome late in the first quarter of Tuesday’s loss to Indiana and sent him back out to start the second along with Singler and Andre Drummond up front. Even though Singler played shooting guard as a rookie until the trade of Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons drafted him viewing him as a small forward who could swing to power forward in the right matchups.

But it was Datome who played power forward, matched up against Indiana’s Luis Scola. And while Scola might not be quite the paint banger that Pacers starting power forward David West is, he’s a long way from the prototypical stretch four, either. If Cheeks was willing to employ Datome against Scola, it figures he won’t hesitate to use him against the vast majority of backup power forwards, stretch fours or otherwise.

Datome didn’t offer any immediate remedy to Cheeks’ concerns about the Pistons’ lack of perimeter punch, missing all four of his 3-point attempts. But given the circumstances – after missing all of the preseason, it was Datome’s first meaningful basketball since playing for Italy in September’s EuroBasket competition, and his first NBA action outside the 19 seconds of garbage time in the opener – the Datome-as-power-forward trial is likely to continue.

“I think he did (hold his own defensively),” Cheeks said. “And he guarded West a little bit, too. I don’t think he was outmatched by any stretch.”

“Coach Mo knows me and put me on Scola,” Datome said. “I will try to do everything the coach will ask me. I like to play physical, to fight. Scola is bigger than me, but for sure I have the advantage on the other side of the basketball. I would say I’m sure that I will suffer (in) something, but I can also take advantage of something at that position.”

Datome said Monday’s practice was his first hint that Cheeks was considering him for power forward. Cheeks said – just as he has maintained all along that the rotation could vary from game to game – that because Datome played backup forward against Indiana doesn’t necessarily indicate he’ll occupy that spot Friday against Oklahoma City or beyond.

But it is an intriguing option to give the Pistons more shooting, one whose success will depend on how Datome can battle defensively. Nobody who’s seen him in limited practice time is concerned that his 3-point shot will suffer for long.

“He had wide-open shots,” Cheeks said. “They didn’t go down and that’s how it goes sometimes. We’re very confident in his shooting. Unfortunately, he didn’t make ’em.”

Given Cheeks’ current starting lineup and what appears his preferred rotation pattern, it’s possible that at some point of the second quarter Datome could be on the floor with Singler at small forward and Chauncey Billups, once he re-enters the game after leaving about eight minutes into it, at shooting guard. With Andre Drummond at center dragging the weakside defensive big man into the paint to prevent offensive rebounds or lob dunks, Datome figures to present defenses with a quandary of their own.

“I would pay to have, every night, that kind of shot,” Datome said of his looks against Indiana. “I would say I’m not worried. I’m a shooter. That’s why I’m here. My teammates have always looked to me from the beginning and I try to do what the team and the particular moment of the game will need from me. So I have to understand very quickly how I can contribute to the team.”