If pressed to define last year’s Detroit Pistons in one word, I think ‘soft’ would (rightly) be a popular choice. The Pistons, aside from Ben Wallace, Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko, didn’t really seem to like contact. They were a team full of finesse players. And for three-and-a-half quarters in tonight’s Summer League-opening win over the Los Angeles Lakers, it didn’t appear as if much had changed.
Austin Daye was getting abused by Lakers rookie Devin Ebanks. Jerebko was stuck, looking a bit too slow to consistently stay in front of guys on the perimeter and not quite strong enough to keep the Lakers’ bigs from establishing position on the block. DaJuan Summers would make a decent play then disappear for the next three minutes or so.
But, unlike last year, the team toughened up as the game went on, and by the last four minutes, had the appearance of a tough, aggressive defensive unit and made some opportunistic plays at the offensive end, finishing the game on a 14-0 run and erasing what was a double digit lead for from about the mid-second quarter on.
Here’s a quick take on each player’s highs and lows from the game:
Austin Daye was arguably the best player on the court for either team. He had 22 points, hitting 7-of-12 from the field. My main beef with Daye offensively last year was the fact that there were many times when he just didn’t look for his shot when he was on the floor. Tonight, he had no such issue. He hit from three (and other than maybe Ben Gordon, Daye has the most perfect stroke of anyone on the team), he got to the line and, most important to his game, he used his go-to move extensively. Daye is not a great ball-handler, but he does have a really good first step. He doesn’t handle well enough to use that first-step to get all the way to the rim, but his one-dribble/floater move that he used a few times last season looked like a real weapon in this game. He’s long enough to get that shot off over virtually any SG/SF who will guard him during the season.
Strength is still an issue for him. Ebanks, who had 21, got off early with Daye guarding him. But Daye didn’t lose confidence like he did last season. He used his body as well as he could, and maybe it was the fact that he gets to wear a t-shirt under his jersey in the Summer League, but he really did look like he added a little bit of muscle to his frame since the season ended.
While live-chatting during the NBA Draft, a handful, uh, misguided commenters at MLive were pretty insistent on comparing Greg Monroe to David Robinson. I hope those people watch Monroe as soon as possible. They’re both left-handed centers. And that’s it.
Monroe didn’t have a great game against the Lakers, shooting 4-of-13 with 5 rebounds in 32 minutes. He only has average athleticism, and while he did a nice job keeping guys who were trying to back him down from establishing position, he will struggle defensively against athletic bigs capable of putting the ball on the floor.
Offensively, he’s very crafty and very skilled. We all knew about his passing — well, I should say everyone but Ted Kulfan did. (Seriously Ted? You didn’t read this or this or this or this or any of these?).
He’s drawn Brad Miller comparisons for the passing skills, but a dimension he has that Miller doesn’t is his ability to handle the ball. Inexplicably, both because he’s a big man and because he’s not particularly quick in other facets, Monroe appears to be really comfortable handling the ball in the open court. Twice against the Lakers, he grabbed rebounds and immediately turned up-court to initiate the break. Both times, he hit the correct person with passes and the Pistons eventually scored on both possessions.
While his numbers weren’t great, Monroe’s abilities look like he’ll fit quite nicely in the grind-it-out halfcourt offense John Kuester seemed to prefer last season.
I think I’m one of only a few Pistons fans who is excited about the Terrico White pick, and his first Summer League game reinforced my belief that he’ll be a very solid NBA player.
White looked comfortable as a point guard. He didn’t force things, he only had one turnover in 28 minutes and he was 6-of-8 shooting. He showed good elusiveness and, although Dan Feldman pointed out that he didn’t get to the line much for a slasher in college, he shot six free throws against LA, which is decent for a guy who didn’t look for his own shot that often. He also showed that he can be a strong finisher — three times he got inside and drew significant contact, but still manged to get shot attempts up after double clutching. None went in, but they were all legitimate enough attempts to suggest that he’s strong enough to do that consistently.
But why I’m most excited about White is his defensive potential. Rodney Stuckey is already on his way to becoming a good defensive guard who can lock up two positions. White is in that mold, and because he’s even more athletic than Stuckey, he could potentially be an even better defender if he works at it. Twice against the Lakers, White blocked jumpers taken by taller players (one was called a foul, but replays clearly showed White had only ball and made no body contact with the shooter). With the players in front of him, there probably aren’t many minutes for White, especially if Will Bynum comes back. But he absolutely has the ability to become a helpful rotation player.
It’s hard to evaluate Jonas Jerebko. On the one hand, he has awkward footwork on offense, he’s kind of a tweener defensively (as I mentioned above), he doesn’t have a consistent shot from the perimeter and he’s so aggressive that he pretty regularly makes poor decisions. On the other, Jerebko’s energy, hustle and aggressiveness on defense was the main reason the Pistons locked down late in the game and put the Lakers on their heels.
Jerebko, as we saw last year, was all over the court. It’s going to be important for him to become a better three-point shooter, but he’s still going to fill up the stat sheet by simply beating people to spots, throwing his body around and he just finds the basketball around the offensive glass.
DaJuan Summers was a major disappointment last season. He had a NBA-ready build and athleticism, moreso than Jerebko or Daye, and yet seemed to lack motivation.
Early on against the Lakers, he made a few good plays, particularly finding Monroe on a quick touch pass in the lane for a dunk. But then, as he often did the few times he got minutes in games early last season, he just kind of disappeared. Fortunately, though, it was short-lived. He had a great second half and his strength and quickness on the perimeter helped with the great defensive fourth quarter the Pistons had.
The knock on Summers, dating back to Georgetown, has been a lack of consistent effort. He has great tools — including a jumper that’s more reliable than Jerebko — and could very easily be in a NBA rotation, but it’s unclear if that rotation will be the Pistons’.
The non-roster guys
Of all the non-roster guys, only guard Marquez Haynes got significant minutes, playing 17. He was very quick, pushing the pace and scoring nine points on 3-of-4 shooting when he was in the game. He’s a major longshot to make the roster, but he had a couple flashy plays.
The only others to play were A.J. Slaughter and Patrick Christopher, who didn’t do much, and Mac Koshwal, who was pushed around big time by Derrick Caracter when he was in the game.
Of the others, I’m interested to see center Jared Reiner. He was very good in the D-League last year and has NBA experience. If the Pistons don’t find a mid-level worthy big in free agency, Reiner could be a cheap alternative.