No neutral observer was more interested in Wednesday’s Pistons-Grizzlies opener than Calhoun, who had six of his former Huskies playing in that game: Hamilton, Gordon and Charlie Villanueva for the Pistons; Rudy Gay, Hasheem Thabeet and Marcus Williams for the Grizzlies.
I talked with Calhoun before the season started about Hamilton, Gordon and Villanueva and, of course, took the opportunity to ask about pairing Hamilton with Gordon.
“They won’t have any problems,” Calhoun said before the question was fully formed. “I really like Allen” – Iverson, against whom Calhoun coached many times in the Big East when Iverson played under John Thompson at Georgetown – “but he has to have the ball to be successful. Rip doesn’t have to have the ball. And Ben can play with anybody.”
They put up a combined 47 points in their first game together that counts, 25 for Hamilton and 22 for Gordon, doing it with a modest number of shots (31 combined) and minutes (36 for Hamilton, 26 for Gordon).
Hamilton – right ankle plunged into a bucket of ice and an electrical stimulation device attached – flashed his “why is anybody surprised” look when the questions about his compatibility with Gordon kept coming on Thursday.
“Y’all make it out crazier than what it is,” he said. “Connecticut, man. Calhoun. We’re built for stuff like this. He did an excellent job of teaching us how to play the game the right way. We go out there and have fun and feed off of each other.”
Gordon’s conviction that the pairing would work was best evidenced by his free-agent experience – all 12 hours of it. He obviously knew Hamilton played for the Pistons and was the incumbent shooting guard – and he clearly followed the drama last season with the Hamilton-Iverson experiment – yet the only option he explored was Detroit, and by the time the sun went down on the first day of free agency, he’d agreed to become a Piston.
Sounding much like Calhoun, Gordon said, “The thing about Rip’s game and my game is we really don’t need the basketball to be effective. We don’t dominate the basketball. We come off screens a lot. We catch and shoot. We finish off plays that are run for us. When you’ve got two guys who can come off screens like that, it’s tough for opposing defenses to pick out who they want to pay more attention to.”
The only dark cloud hovering over Auburn Hills on Thursday was Hamilton’s status for Friday’s home opener. Officially, he’s questionable. But it’s probably leaning more toward Hamilton missing at least the weekend set with Oklahoma City at home and Milwaukee on the road Saturday.
“Hurting,” Hamilton said when asked how he felt. “It hurts a little worse than yesterday when it actually happened, but I’ve got Arnie (Kander, strength coach), so hopefully it will get better soon.”
Kander had Hamilton keep the tape from Wednesday’s game on overnight and he still had it wrapped around a visibly swollen ankle to attempt to reduce swelling.
He said walking was “tough. When I put pressure on it … I feel it.”
John Kuester said he wasn’t sure who would start if Hamilton isn’t ready to go. Ben Gordon would be the logical candidate, but Kuester might prefer to keep Gordon coming off the bench unless he thinks Hamilton’s injury could keep him out for an extended period.
“We’re going to discuss that today,” he said. “We’ve got a number of options.”
The individual matchup I’ll find most intriguing: Westbrook vs. Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey got snubbed by USA Basketball over the summer when it extended invitations to the Select Team’s workouts to several guards, Westbrook among them, coming off their rookie seasons.
Daye could be an option to give Kuester some minutes at shooting guard, as well. OKC’s starter is Thabo Sefalosha, more of a defensive-minded player who is the fifth option in the Thuder’s offense – not the type likely to hurt the Pistons by playing Daye out of position.