featured-image

Pistons Digest: Pistons offense surges with influx of veteran 3-point shooters - and more

The Pistons still have a journey ahead of them to become the defense-first brand that Troy Weaver and Monty Williams are determined to craft, but their offensive surge since the calendar flipped to 2024 has transformed them into a tough out for almost every team they’ve encountered of late.

Through the 28-game losing streak as the Pistons battled a wave of injuries and assorted other adversities, they ranked 28th in scoring (109.7), 28th in 3-point percentage (.334) and 29th in offensive efficiency (107.9). But since beating Toronto on Dec. 30, the Pistons improved those rankings to 12th (118.7), fourth (.398) and 14th (123.5) going into Sunday’s matinee with Orlando.

The Pistons haven’t had Mike Muscala and Danilo Gallinari for all of that time – they arrived in trade from Washington in mid-January – but their impact as sweet-shooting big men is part of the story. So is the return to form of veteran Alec Burks, getting Bojan Bogdanovic humming after he missed the season’s first 19 games, the strides Jaden Ivey took once Cade Cunningham missed eight games in early January, the way Jalen Duren has handled an expanded role, the punch rookie Marcus Sasser supplies and the long-awaited debut of Monte Morris after missing the season’s first 43 games.

“I think guys are getting used to the system,” Monty Williams said prior to Sunday’s loss to Orlando, a game in which the Pistons took a step back offensively in large measure because some of their best 3-point shooters struggled on a day the Pistons hit just 26 percent from the arc and scored only 99 points. “Guys have shot the ball a lot better and we’ve added big men that shoot the ball, so that spaces the floor more. There’s always a number of reasons. Just off the top of my head and what I’ve seen of the analytics from a bullet-point perspective, those things stick out.”

PISTONS TRIVIA

Which fourth-round pick of the Pistons in the 1985 NBA draft would go on to win the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk contest?

A: Joe Dumars

B: Arvydas Sabonis

C: Spud Webb

D: John Battle

DID YOU SEE THIS?

Jalen Duren played in his 100th game on Friday and grabbed 13 rebounds, just another night for the 20-year-old in his second season. That ran Duren’s career total to 985, which puts him third in Pistons history for rebounds in his first 100 games. Ben Wallace is first on the list with 1,269 rebounds and Bill Laimbeer second at 1,189. Both players were considerably farther along in their careers than Duren when they achieved those numbers. Wallace was 27 and in his sixth NBA season when he played his 100th game for the Pistons in the 2001-02 season. Laimbeer was 25 and in his third NBA season – after playing in Italy professionally in 1979-80 following his Notre Dame career – when he played his 100th game for the Pistons in the 1982-83 season. No. 4 on the list is a more apt measuring stick for Duren. That would be Andre Drummond, who like Duren came to the Pistons after his freshman season and was 20 in his second NBA season when he played his 100th game. Drummond was 21 rebounds short of Duren’s total at 964. He went on to lead the NBA in rebounding in four of five seasons starting with the 2015-16 season, his fourth in the NBA. Drummond wound up No. 2 on the Pistons career rebounding list, behind Laimbeer, and is first in franchise career offensive rebounding with 2,834. Duren added only five rebounds to the total after running into foul trouble on Sunday, leaving him 10 short of 1,000 rebounds.

THIS WEEK IN PISTONS HISTORY

On Feb. 9, 1986, Isiah Thomas scored 30 points, dished out 10 assists and amassed five steals to lead the East to a 139-132 win over the West in the All-Star game played at Reunion Arena in Dallas. Thomas started for the East alongside Milwaukee’s Sidney Moncrief, an injury replacement for Michael Jordan, in the backcourt with Philadelphia 76ers teammates Moses Malone  and Julius Erving next to Boston’s Larry Bird up front – five future Hall of Famers. The West team was also stacked with Lakers teammates Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plus Houston’s Ralph Sampson and San Antonio’s Alvin Robertson. Texas’ own Willie Nelson sang the national anthem. Thomas played a game-high 36 minutes as East coach K.C. Jones of Boston rode his starters much harder than Lakers coach Pat Riley did. Only Abdul-Jabbar among West starters played more than 30 minutes. The East trailed by two entering the fourth quarter, but outscored the West 39-32 to nail down the win. Bird chipped in 23 points, eight rebounds, five assists and seven steals for the winning side. Abdul-Jabbar had 21 and Worthy 20 for the West, while Johnson racked up 15 assists. It was the second All-Star MVP award won by Thomas, who also won it in 1984.

A SHINING LIGHT DIMMED

Amid Sunday’s game at Little Caesars Arena against the Orlando Magic came the sad, stunning and stinging news that Earl Cureton – a native Detroiter who starred at the University of Detroit, played for the Pistons among seven NBA teams and served as a beloved ambassador for the franchise for the past decade – had died suddenly at 66 that morning at his Farmington home. Cureton was a proud representative of the city, his school and the Pistons and went above and beyond to brighten the lives of all he touched in his role as Pistons ambassador. He was a tireless worker in the project Pistons owner Tom Gores funded to refurbish 64 basketball courts across the city and threw every fiber of his being into the annual Toys for Tots event funded by Gores and his wife Holly. “Earl was one of the most generous, positive and caring people I know,” Tom Gores said in a statement Sunday. “He was a loving father and I was honored to be his friend. He was a champion as a player and an important ambassador in our community. We are heartbroken over his loss.” Cureton played at Detroit Finney, had a growth spurt after high school and played first in junior college and Robert Morris before Dick Vitale brought him back to the University of Detroit. Cureton averaged 19.9 points and 9.1 rebounds for U of D in 1979-80 and was a third-round pick of Philadelphia in the 1980 draft. He played in Italy, France, Mexico and Argentina sandwiched between his 12 NBA seasons spent with Philadelphia, the Pistons, Chicago, the Los Angeles Clippers, Charlotte, Houston and Toronto, retiring in 1997 at 39 with NBA championship rings during his time with Philadelphia and Houston. Cureton played 234 of his 674 NBA games in a Pistons uniform over three seasons in the mid-‘80s before being traded to Chicago in August 1986 for Sidney Green. “All of us are hurting with the unexpected loss of Earl Cureton,” Pistons teammate Isiah Thomas said in a statement released by the team. “He was a tremendous teammate, tough competitor, a champion and a great human being. Earl always held the Detroit community close to his heart and worked tirelessly to make a difference for the city he loved. He will be greatly missed.”

THE WEEK AHEAD

  • WEDNESDAY – The Pistons open a five-game road trip, their longest of the season, that takes them into the All-Star break when they visit the Sacramento Kings. The Kings start the week with a 29-19 record that’s good for fifth in the West. Sacramento has won six of seven games, including five of six on a seven-game road trip that ends Monday night at Cleveland. The Kings beat the Pistons 131-110 on Jan. 9 at Little Caesars Arena despite giving up 47 points in the first quarter to the Pistons – their highest-scoring quarter of the season. De’Aaron Fox leads the Kings in scoring at 27.5 points a game.

10 p.m. on BALLY SPORTS DETROIT and 97.1 FM THE TICKET

  • THURSDAY – Game 2 of the five-game road trip sees the Pistons playing a back-to-back up the Pacific coast in Portland, which starts the week in 14th in the West with a 15-35 record. Before losing a pair of games at Denver over the weekend, Portland had put together back-to-back home-court wins over Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Anfernee Simons is Portland’s leading scorer for the season, averaging 23.1 points in 28 games played. Ex-Pistons forward Jerami Grant is close behind at 21.3 points while shooting 40 percent from the 3-point arc. Grant missed both games at Denver with lower-back tightness.

10 p.m. on BALLY SPORTS DETROIT and 97.1 FM THE TICKET

  • SATURDAY – The Pistons continue their road trip with the first of two games at Staples Center, first taking on the Los Angeles Clippers, who after Sunday night’s win at Miami sit in the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference but in a three-way tie with Oklahoma City and Minnesota in the loss column. The Clippers, 33-15 to start the week, have won eight of nine despite being six games into a seven-game road trip that ends tonight in Atlanta. Included in that streak was a 136-125 win over the Pistons last week in which Kawhi Leonard, playing at a level that has him on the periphery of MVP discussion, scored 33 points in 32 minutes and hit 12 of 17 shots (6 of 8 from the 3-point line). Since James Harden got settled in after his October trade from Philadelphia, the Clippers have gone 30-8 after starting the season 3-7.

3:30 p.m. on BALLY SPORTS DETROIT and WWJ-AM 950

TRIVIA ANSWER

Spud Webb won the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk title, beating out the seven others in a field that included his more famous teammate, Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks. Webb never played a game for the Pistons, but he had been their fourth-round pick in 1985 in a year when the draft went seven rounds. Webb, a 5-foot-7 guard out of North Carolina State, would enjoy a 12-year NBA career that took him from Atlanta to Sacramento, back to Atlanta and Minnesota before a final season with Orlando in 1997-98 after one season in Italy. Webb proved much more than a novelty act, starting 429 of 814 career games and averaging in double figures in five of his seasons. The Pistons made Webb the 87th overall pick after his senior year at North Carolina State where he helped the Jim Valvano-coached Wolfpack to a 23-10 record as the team’s second-leading scorer behind Lorenzo Charles, already famous for the put-back basket at the buzzer to win the 1983 NCAA title game in a major upset over Houston. Also on that team was future NBA player and longtime coach Nate McMillan and three other future NBA players – Chris Washburn, Cozell McQueen and Vinny Del Negro. The Pistons waived Webb before the season started on Sept. 24, 1985 and he was signed two days later by Atlanta, where he stayed until being traded on July 1, 1991.

(Eddie Rivero, Pistons basketball information specialist, contributed to this report.)