’Zoo Crew’ Unleashed in Las Vegas
Posted Jul 14 2008 1:44AM
LAS VEGAS--Early in the third quarter of the Detroit Pistons' 75-66 win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday at the Cox Pavilion, L.A. guard Mike Taylor forced an entry pass to DeAndre Jordan, who wasn't looking back at the ball. Detroit guard Arron Afflalo picked up the loose ball, pounded his dribble into the floor and fed a cutting Amir Johnson for two.
Starting with defense, showcasing hustle and ending with an emphatic flush, that was a play typical of the Pistons' "Zoo Crew." Afflalo and Johnson are but two members of Joe Dumars' squadron of supporting talent, joining Jason Maxiell and Rodney Stuckey. While Afflalo and Johnson earned a solid 12 minutes per during the 2007-08 campaign, Maxiell and Stuckey were the team's top reserves, playing roughly 20 minutes per and keeping Detroit's stellar starting five fresh throughout the season.
"Stuckey played last year, and had a really good playoffs," said Pistons head coach Michael Curry. "But I think we have to remember he missed about 35 games last year with a broken hand, so he doesn't even have a full season under his belt yet. He's shown promise, but he's got to get his court time in so he can maximize his ability as a player."
Stuckey, who sat out most of the second half with an undisclosed injury, has been one of the best players in Las Vegas. He dropped 21 points, five rebounds and four assists in the first game and had totaled eight points and four boards in 19 minutes before coming out of the second. Bullying his way to the rim much as he did throughout the 2008 playoffs, Stuckey frustrated defenders in both contests.
But even before Stuckey left the game against the Clippers, he wasn't the Zoo Crew member leaving the strongest impression. Afflalo was nearly unstoppable, scoring 25 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor, going 9-for-9 at the line and nailing a deep two at the 24-second buzzer with 1.2 seconds left in the third. Also, his long jumper with 43 seconds remaining capped the victory. The prolific shooting was a previously unseen element yet to be seen on the NBA level from Detroit's projected backup at the two.
"This is a league filled with different opportunities, and sometimes scoring is not everything," Afflalo said. "Sometimes you've got to do those little things to make your presence felt. Scoring gets the most notoriety, but if you can go out there, give effort, play defense, do the little things and score, then you're only going to help your team."
Afflalo built on a solid first game, in which he scored 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting, while Johnson has proved consistent across the two contests, logging nine points, five rebounds and two steals against Los Angeles after posting 12, five and two in the first. The Pistons' coaches are working hard to ensure steady performances from the trio, a key for the upcoming season, when their minutes are expected to increase.
As second-year players, they've been offering advice to the younger players where they can. Stuckey cited his role as point guard and floor leader, while Afflalo has made sure to remind the newcomers to stay focused in the face of fresh challenges because mental toughness is the key to playing in "a league of men."
Well ... that and practice:
"It's not work to me," Afflalo said. "I love the game of basketball with all my heart. I could stay in here all day. It's fun, and there's nothing I'd rather be doing. Although it's just one Summer League game, it's big for me because it lets me know this will pay off at some point, and I'm going to push even harder now."
With an offseason of preparation behind them, Stuckey tersely summed up what to expect from the trio in the coming year:
"We're still going to be doing the same things we did this past year, just playing good team defense and getting easy baskets."
The proof is in the play-by-play. But don't think the hardwood is the only place these precocious players connect.
"We hang out all the time," Afflalo acknowledged. "We're part of the young crew, and we're going to try to grow together if possible, on and off the floor."