New Pistons coach John Kuester was the Cavaliers’ offensive coordinator last season.
But make no mistake. He’s a defensive-minded coach.
“Day one, we’re going to have preach what it’s going to take to be a great defensive team,” Kuester said yesterday. “That’s going to be our main goal right from the get-go.”
Prior to last year, he had never worked with just the offense. His mentors are Larry Brown and Mike Brown. Of course, Kuester’s bread and butter is defense.
He’s very similar to Rick Carlisle, who was the Pacers’ offensive coordinator before the Pistons hired him. Carlisle had also been a defense-first guy, and once he became a head coach, that focus returned.
Establishing the priority
Kuester faces a challenge in that the Pistons’ two biggest offseason acquisitions – Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva – aren’t exactly known as quality defenders.
So, Kuester will look to a few players who were around in 2004, when Kuester was an assistant on the Pistons’ championship team, to instill a defensive mindset in their teammates. Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince played quality defense then, and they realize how important that is.
But it’s not like Gordon and Villanueva don’t understand the importance of defense.
Gordon has shown no hesitation in saying the focus has to be on the defensive end.
And Villanueva comes to Detroit from Milwaukee, where tough-minded Scott Skiles also emphasizes defense.
“If you don’t play defense, you’re not playing,” Villanueva said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Actually doing it
The bigger issue is whether Gordon and Villanueva can execute it. There are reasons for their defensive reputations.
And even if they can do it, how long will it take to get there?
Prince said it’s most important that all five players are on the same page – even more so than their individual defensive talents. That process begins today in training camp. But it could easily last well into the regular season.
“It’s going to take time,” Prince said.
New expectations for a new era
I think Gordon and Villanueva want to play strong defense. But their definition of strong might be a rude wakeup call compared to what the Pistons are used to.
When the Pistons put their best five players on the court, Villanueva will play center. He played that position with the Bucks at times, and his toughest defensive assignment was the Magic’s Dwight Howard.
The Pistons have guarded Howard better than nearly any team in the league – and that’s without double-teaming him. By having just one player slow him, Detroit prevented Orlando’s outside shooters from getting open looks.
Villanueva needed plenty of help against Howard.
“Team defense is the way you’re going to defend a player like that,” Villanueva said.
That wasn’t the only way for the Pistons. But it probably will be now.