There’s no question the Pistons’ starters aren’t as good as they were in the past six years.
But Detroit’s bench should take some of the blame. The unit is no longer good enough to consistently push the starters with a threat of losing minutes.
Last night’s 102-96 loos to the Heat shows the Pistons bench isn’t good enough.
Detroit played hard, as bench players often do, but they just looked bad.
Detroit shot 40 percent in regulation. In games the Pistons didn’t shoot better than 40 percent this year (ones they didn’t have the benefit of going against an opponent’s bench), Detroit was 1-11.
The Pistons no longer have the solid bench players they did during their run of six straight Eastern Conference finals — guys like Rodney Stuckey, Antonio McDyess, Flip Murray Corliss Williamson, Mehmet Okur, Mike James, Chucky Atkins and Jon Barry.
Stuckey and McDyess moved into the starting lineup. No quality bench players replaced them, unless you count Allen Iverson. But calling him a bench player or quality are both stretches.
In a way Detroit is a victim of its own success. The Pistons finished every year with a good record and didn’t have a high enough draft pick to land a good bench player. And their starters were so good, there wasn’t money left in free agency to sign high-end reserves.
This has played a part in Detroit deterioration, but more than just in a loss of bench production. The starters are too comfortable in their roles. There’s no sense of urgency, no fear of losing their job.
The Pistons’ starters are coasting like they have the last couple of years. But with the talent level down (considering the Billups trade, Ben Wallace leaving as a free agent, Rasheed Wallace’s aging and Tayshaun Prince losing his ability to lockdown an opponent), Detroit’s record has plummeted.
We should have seen this coming.
How did this happen?
The Pistons drafted Jason Maxiell with the 26th pick in the 2005 draft. A player picked there is mostly likely to be a role player, according to 82games.com. But that pick seems to be an outlier. The 25th and 27th picks are most likely to be deep bench players.
And Arron Afflalo (27th in 2007) and and Amir Johnson (56th in 2005) were drafted even lower.
Kwame Brown was the first pick in 2001, but 82 games lists him as the third-worst value pick since 1989 — ahead of Darko Milicic.
Will Bynum spent the last three years out of the NBA.
And Walter Herrmann had played the fourth-fewest minutes for an 8-12 Bobcat team when Detroit traded for him.
It’s no wonder the production isn’t there.
And as Chris McCosky of the Detroit News pointed out, Maxiell and Johnson, the two who seem most likely to reach the next level, haven’t really developed. As he says, it’s not over for them. But every that goes by that they aren’t playing better is discouraging.
What Detroit has off the bench
We didn’t learn much about these players last night that we didn’t already know.
Bynum can get to the rim and his all-around game has developed (16 points, six rebounds, one turnover).
Brown is a good rebounder and defender (17 points, 13 rebounds, three steals).
Maxiell thrives on putbacks , but struggles with free throws (16 points, seven offensive rebounds and 4-of-7 from the line, including missing a pair with 15 seconds left in regulation).
Afflalo plays pretty tight defense (Miami’s guards combined to shoot 5-of-17 and had four turnovers).
Johnson uses his length to play good defense, but he gets lost in the Pistons’ halfcourt offense (three blocks, four points).
Walter Herrmann can score when he takes a lot of shots (10 points on 13 attempts).
So, the Pistons will open the playoffs in Cleveland on Saturday. Even if they bench is more productive than it has been all year, it’s too late. The starters are already too complacent.
One last gripe
This game was way too dull (sorry for the pun). In a game that didn’t make any difference in the standings, why couldn’t we see Detroit’s only rookie, Walter Sharpe.
Just because I wanted to see him play, here are highlights from his UAB days: