About seven minutes was enough to flip one of my long-held opinions around: Jonas Jerebko makes more sense as the team’s starting power forward than anyone else on the roster. Unfortunately, those seven minutes were apparently enough for Jerebko to injure both his Achilles and elbow on the same play and leave the game.
This isn’t a knock on Charlie Villanueva (more on him below), but the Pistons only real good stretch of basketball came in the opening seven minutes, when the starters played the Heat pretty tough, and the reason was the Jerebko/Tayshaun Prince combination gives Detroit a lot of versatility defensively. Obviously, both of those guys are not the most filled out bodies in the NBA, but they combine to do one thing exceedingly well: bother the hell out of the pick and roll that most every NBA team lives and dies with. They are quick, long-armed and versatile, and Jerebko even appears to be stronger, as Chris Bosh had a hard time backing him down in the post. There are certainly stronger PFs out there than Bosh, but getting backed down was a hole in Jerebko’s game last year, so if he can just battle a little more this year, he’ll become even more valuable.
I have to be honest: there was not much good to take away from this game. But I don’t want to overreact either. If the Pistons had opened the preseason against the Warriors or something and looked lackadaisical, it would’ve been no big deal because not many people would be watching. They just so happened to open against the greatest team in the history of paper champions, so there’s bound to be people who will fly off the deep end about what was basically a very typical preseason performance. Early season NBA basketball is really sloppy folks. Don’t worry too much yet.
But bad basketball doesn’t prevent me from doing some notes, so here you go:
Rodney Stuckey is not a playmaker: No one looked more unsure of himself than Rodney Stuckey, who was 0-for-5 and again looked tentative running the offense. His time on the court basically consisted of him walking the ball up, passing to a wing and disappearing from the offense. He did have five assists and just two turnovers, and I’ll admit, he made a few nice passes, but the more I watch Stuckey, the more I question his role on this team. He needs the ball to work for his own shot, but the problem is, Ben Gordon, Prince and Rip Hamilton all come up with better shots in iso situations than Stuckey does. I believe Will Bynum should win the starting point guard job, and if there is truly “open competition” at all spots this preseason, Stuckey really needs to elevate his game to keep that position. But hey, the halftime feature on his family was great.
The potential of the second unit: They didn’t play well, but I found myself thinking, “Man … this group could be fun to watch.”
Maybe that was a bit too optimistic, but the group of Gordon, Bynum, Tracy McGrady, Villanueva and Greg Monroe is at least intriguing. Offensively, between Bynum, McGrady and Monroe, they have a full point guard skillset, something the first unit can’t boast. They also have three guys (in theory … McGrady’s health isn’t a given) who can get their own shot, three guys who have range out to the three point line, five guys who are reasonably athletic and can move up and down the floor and five guys who all love to play offense. The Pistons first unit is definitely a halfcourt group, and this second unit can potentially (if unleashed by Kuester) be a change-of-pace run-and-gun group that can get points in a hurry and then turn the game back offer to the better defensive players in the starting lineup.
The Amir Johnson award goes to … Greg Monroe: I liked that Monroe was the first big off the bench and looks (for now) to be entrenched ahead of Jason Maxiell in the big man rotation. I didn’t like that he picked up two fouls within seconds of entering the game. Big men always foul too much, and Monroe at least closed the game reasonably well, but he did look a bit shocked by the speed of Heat big men Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony as well as the strength of Udonis Haslem. Monroe is going to help the Pistons this year, but hopefully fans don’t lose sight of the fact that it generally takes big men longer to adapt to the NBA game than it does young guards.
So … Austin Daye?: As was so often the case last season, Daye was kind of the forgotten man. And when he was finally put into the game in the second half, he did what he usually did last season: shoot the ball well and score points. There’s just no way he’s going to get minutes if everyone is healthy, but he is ready to be a NBA-level contributor. Is he too soft to play the kind of defense John Kuester wants? Perhaps. But there’s a simple way to fix that: stop drafting finesse players to fit into a defense-first system.
Villanueva the stopper: I’m going to pay close attention to Villanueva’s defense this preseason, as I did last season. Some people who lack brains use the lazy excuse that Villanueva simply doesn’t try on defense. That was not the case last season, and it wasn’t the case against the Heat. He’s not a good defender, but I would argue he almost puts in too much effort on defense — he often appears to be over-thinking everything rather than just reacting. There’s a meme out there that playing good defense is simply about effort. I disagree wholeheartedly. Defense is about intelligence, ability and instincts just as much as offense is. Yes, effort is needed because there’s a perception that guys don’t get as excited about playing it, but if it were only about effort, Villanueva would be on the all-defense team. His problems are he tends to react late and get caught in no-man’s land — perfect example against the Heat: he couldn’t decide whether to switch on a penetrating guard (I believe Arroyo) or stay with his man, Haslem. He kind of got caught in between and Arroyo kicked to Haslem who nailed a 12-foot jumper. Villanueva could’ve been in better position for sure, but it’s not like he wasn’t trying. He was trying to help a teammate who appeared to be beat.
He also made a nice play, stepping in front of a stampeding LeBron James and drawing what should’ve been a charge but was called a block because it’s LeBron James and he always gets that call. Villanueva is a work in progress. I don’t know if he’ll become serviceable on the defensive end, but anyone who watches closely can certainly see that he is trying very hard to be better at that end.
Terrico White has broken foot: That’s the word on the street. White wasn’t gonna play much this season, but still … a team with last season’s injury problems lost White and Jerebko in this game. And actually, Prince left the game for a bit too after getting elbowed in the head.