Point of Emphasis
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Michael Curry’s message to anyone who’s asked him what his offense will look like has been consistent from the day he was announced as Flip Saunders’ successor last June. Curry wants the Pistons to score in the paint, whether that’s by dribble penetration, second-chance rebound baskets or throwing the ball into the post.
And that’s where Rasheed Wallace enters the equation.
The Pistons are one of the NBA’s top perimeter shooting teams, dangerous from all five spots on the floor with most lineup combinations. But the one accomplished post-up scorer on the roster is Wallace. Getting him to consistently take on that punishing role, however, has been a challenge – and Saunders ultimately chose not to force the issue.
That’s likely to change under Curry.
“You emphasize it,” Pistons vice president Scott Perry said. “You make it a point of emphasis, and if you make something a point of emphasis with a player consistently enough and long enough, you can get results from it. Rasheed is a very smart basketball player. It’s Mike’s job to hold everybody accountable to do what they need to get done to win. And Rasheed has always been about winning. It starts there – the consistent stressing of it.
“That doesn’t mean he won’t take any more perimeter jump shots, because that’s a weapon and a strength of his, as well. But I think Rasheed himself would be the first to agree with you – hey, whatever it’s going to take to win. If you stress it and it makes sense to players, there’s a tendency for them to follow along.”
Wallace is the headliner in a deep and talented Pistons frontcourt that also includes veteran Antonio McDyess who, like Wallace, turns 34 in the weeks heading into training camp; fourth-year forwards Amir Johnson and Jason Maxiell, each of whom are expected to take further steps after cracking the rotation to varying degrees for the first time a season ago; and Kwame Brown, signed as a free agent to give the Pistons another big body up front. Go six deep and you come to Cheikh Samb, an intriguing prospect who is again ticketed for split duty between the Pistons and the NBA D-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
The five bigs who’ll factor into the rotation are all capable of playing both power forward and center. Even Maxiell, despite being generously listed at 6-foot-7, showed in the playoffs that he could effectively guard massive Orlando big man Dwight Howard. Wallace and McDyess, last year’s frontcourt starters, alternated guarding the opposition’s No. 1 post presence based on their foul situations and preferences a season ago.
The Pistons view Wallace as more of a power forward than a center because of his extreme versatility. While Curry probably won’t quibble with Wallace’s 2007-08 average of four 3-point attempts per game – he connected at a 36 percent clip – he’ll expect Wallace to stay inside often enough to increase his free-throw attempts. Last season, Wallace shot just 150 foul shots – less than two per game.
Curry confirmed last week that McDyess will return to the bench this season, opening the chance for Johnson, Maxiell or Brown to step into the starting lineup. Johnson is perhaps the most intriguing of the three, a 21-year-old with top-end athleticism and the ability to be a game-changing defensive force with his ability to smother screen and rolls and block shots with either hand. Johnson had an impressive run midway through last season when Saunders introduced him to the rotation, but his playing time grew sporadic again after Theo Ratliff was signed.
“Amir hasn’t had the opportunity to play consistent minutes for 82 games,” Perry said. “Spot here, spot there and he’s shown very good potential. This year he gets the opportunity to play. If he’s playing every night for 82 games, what you look for is to play to his strengths. He’s extremely athletic, runs the floor, blocks shots, can rebound – do the things that make him look good but, more importantly, help our team win.
“All that other stuff – developing his shot and those things – come later. The big thing for him this year is being consistent, night in and night out. It will be his first opportunity to play the fourth game on the fifth night after having played the first three. Learning to do that, at a level that is expected of him, that’s what this year is about for him.”
That’s what last year was about for Maxiell, who averaged 7.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in 21 minutes a game. Early in the season, he began honing an interior move or two, then later began flashing increasing range and consistency on his jump shot. And he improved as a foul shooter, too, going from 53 percent the previous season to 63 percent last year.
“Maxy just continues to get a little better,” Perry said. “He’s developing that shot. I still think he’s got to become even better as a defensive rebounder. He’s very good going to the offensive glass, but one area we look for him to continue to grow is as a defensive rebounder and to continue to improve his free-throw shooting. He’s reckless in there and goes so hard, people have to foul him. He did get better last year, but there’s still room for improvement.”