Detroit Pistons chaos watch falls from high to sort of high

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After last night’s pathetic display on the court and in front of the tape recorders, the Pistons responded well early in a pivotal game against the Hawks tonight.

They played hard and even led for a lengthy stretch. There were plenty of positive signs, and it looked like they were moving past last night’s drama. Even if they didn’t hold on for the win, the night looked encouraging just because the Pistons weren’t folding like they did last year.

Then Rodney Stuckey had an issue with John Kuester.

Stuckey sat the final 13:25 of the first half, which isn’t that unusual considering the Pistons clicked with him out. But when Kuester pulled Stuckey 2:42 into the second half, that raised some eyebrows.

Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News provided details:

#Pistons Kuester calls Stuckey, Stuckey doesn’t respond…Kuester calls DaJuan Summers to replace him…what is going on here

Stuckey didn’t return the rest of the game, and the players Kuester trusted to stay on the court ran out of gas.

Maybe this was a misunderstanding, but if Stuckey was pouting, he needs to take a lesson from Tayshaun Prince. You think anyone will take Stuckey’s side after the Pistons reasonably played well without him?

That’s the position Prince was in last night. After a lousy game by the entire team, including himself, he criticized Kuester afterward. He wasn’t in position, at least publicly, to hold the higher ground.

Prince played well tonight, and he played harder. If he wants to pick a fight with Kuester now, he might win the people’s support.

After to back-to-back poor games, Stuckey doesn’t have that advantage. But something has to give. This didn’t come out of nowhere. Lost in all the issues last night was the beginning of the Stuckey-Kuester feud. From Chris Iott of MLive:

Detroit coach John Kuester and point guard Rodney Stuckey had a brief but terse exchange.

I’m not sure who’s in the right, but neither Stuckey nor Kuester has done enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Why the Pistons nearly won

They moved the ball.

As much heat as Rodney Stuckey takes for not being a true point guard, the ball moves much better with him on the court. The Pistons also have better ball movement with Will Bynum, but while he’s been injured, they’ve really struggled when Stuckey sits.

The Pistons average 16.9 assists per 48 minutes when Stuckey plays, and before tonight, that number was 10.4 without him the previous three games.*

*Detroit had 23.2 assists per 48 minutes with Bynum in against the Nets in the season opener.

But without Stuckey tonight, the Pistons produced 19.5 assists per 48 minutes. That was easily their best non-Stuckey rate.

Assists per 48 minutes Click for full size

Ben Gordon (four), Tracy McGrady (three), Greg Monroe (three) and Charlie Villanueva (three) had all their assists with Stuckey on the bench. Interestingly, Tayshaun Prince, who played point guard for long stretches, didn’t have any assists.

Those four deserve a lot of credit for keeping Detroit’s offense rolling from sinking in a difficult situation.

Why the Pistons lost

Their big men ran out of gas.

Charlie Villanueva played 36 minutes, and Greg Monroe played 27 minutes – both season highs. On top of that, Villanueva played the final 16:50, and Monroe played the final 14:31.

By the end of the game, they were getting pushed around. The Hawks force-fed Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford and Josh Smith inside down the stretch.

I’m not sure why Jason Maxiell didn’t make an appearance (more on that later), but I’m not ready to heap blame on John Kuester for overplaying Villanueva and Monroe. Ben Wallace wasn’t as effective as usual, and on the second night of a back to back, it’s perfectly understandable to limit his minutes. Plus, Rodney Stuckey’s unexpected benching threw a kink into the rotation.

That said, if you want to criticize Kuester for this, I won’t be offended.

Monroe passes Maxiell

The biggest loser in Greg Monroe’s heavy load was Jason Maxiell, who didn’t play at all.

Yesterday, I recommended Monroe see more minutes at the expense of Tracy McGrady, not Maxiell. That still might happen. With Stuckey out, McGrady’s passing and ball-handling ability were needed.

McGrady took advantage, playing his best game as a Piston, notching nine points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals. He didn’t quite look active and physical, but he was much more active and physical than he had been.

There are a lot of moving parts – what happens when Will Bynum comes back? – but for now, Monroe is in, and Maxiell is out.

More chaos ahead?

As I wrote above, the Pistons playing hard is the biggest piece of evidence about the team’s mental state. The Stuckey-Kuester rift is a negative, but enough players, including Prince, seem willing to play hard.

Still, I’m not totally convinced the Pistons are progressing productively. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press prior to tonight’s game:

“So you can now add players-coach drama to a locker room where there’s an obvious division between the old guard (Prince and Rip Hamilton) and the new guard (Stuckey, Gordon, etc.).”

If Prince and Hamilton really are on opposite sides of a locker-room divide, and they’re uniting over a dislike for Kuester, that doesn’t bode well. A common way to fix these types of problems is a closed-door team meeting. But the Pistons already did that Wednesday morning, according to Ellis.

So for a team off to its worst start in 30 years, what now?

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Tags: John Kuester Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince

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