Charlie Villanueva is a go-to player and Rip Hamilton has a vintage performance as the Pistons overcome big nights from Gilbert Arenas and JaVale McGee

Last season, if Charlie Villanueva had a poor shooting night, it was usually a sign that he would follow it up with at least one more before he re-found his touch.

After shooting 2-for-11 against the Lakers on Wednesday, I expressed my desire to see him bounce back and have a respectable night against Washington. A couple commenters took me to task, saying Villanueva’s off night against L.A. wasn’t a big deal. And if it were any other player who had an off night, I’d agree. But for all of the criticisms people have had of Villanueva during his career, my main gripe with him has always been madding inconsistency. The talent was always there, the desire to be a good player was always there, the ability to take over a game with his offense was always there. The ability to quickly put a bad game behind him, however, has been a recurring issue.

So Villanueva’s great performance, 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting in Sunday’s 115-110 overtime win over Washington, was another great step in what is becoming a great bounce-back season for him. But more impressive than the scoring were the rebounds. Villanueva finished with 11. That’s only the fourth time as a Piston Villanueva has registered double-digit rebounds in a game.

Villanueva’s evolution so far has been remarkable. Not only is he becoming a reliable, game-in, game-out, option on offense, he’s playing very well at crunch time, scoring seven points in the final five minutes to help Detroit tie it. He’s easily been the most impressive Piston based on his collective body of work this season, he’s one of the few guys on the team who really displays a positive attitude all the time and he took another step towards turning around that “bad signing” label he may have been given a bit prematurely after last season.

At the end of the day, what the Pistons come away with is another hard-fought win over a not-very-good team that was missing its best player, John Wall, due to injury. The Pistons needed a late comeback and overtime, similar to their win over the Clippers, just to get that. But with all the drama, with all of the criticisms, they’re still 5-8, a half game out of eighth in the East, and every bit as much a contender for a playoff spot as those other flawed but lovable scamps in the 6th-15th range.

Rip Hamilton once again takes over game late

Pistons fans probably just shouldn’t bother watching Rip Hamilton until late in games. After the first quarter against Washington, when Hamilton shot just 2-for-6, I thought to myself, “man … he’s taking a lot of not-Rip Hamilton shots.” Hamilton made his career as an 18ish per game scorer and 46ish percent shooter with a very specific type of shot: off the catch.

His struggles the last few seasons have been well-documented. His shooting percentage, once very respectable for a guard, has plummeted to Iverson-like depths. And many have written the Hamilton-as-good-player obit in their heads a dozen times or more.

I’m beginning to think he’s not as finished as his numbers indicate, however. He’s just not taking good shots consistently. Against Washington, he forced two 3-pointers in that first quarter that were forced, off the dribble and not necessary to beat the shot clock or anything like that. It was just Hamilton improvising, trying to create on his own and taking shots that he doesn’t have the ability to make consistently. And if you think back to several Hamilton games since the Chauncey Billups trade, they fit that description. Essentially, Hamilton trying to do too much is a recurring thing.

Now, late against Washington, he took over and played really well, like he’s done late in games all season. But check out how he did it against the Wizards in overtime:

  • Hamilton 9-footer off a feed from Tayshaun Prince
  • Hamilton makes 18-footer with shot clock winding down
  • Hamilton 16-footer off a pass from Rodney Stuckey
  • Hamilton 17-footer off a pass from Stuckey
  • Hamilton 20-footer off a pass from Prince

Five shots in overtime for Hamilton. Five makes. Four of them off of assists.

There’s really no secret here. Hamilton is much better when he’s moving and catching the ball off of screens. The key is him moving it back if he doesn’t have a shot right away. He has problems when he tries to dribble his way to a better shot. Hamilton is a quick-decision player, and too often he’s trying to be a more deliberate type of scorer. That rarely pays off for the Pistons or for Hamilton.

Villanueva keeps Daye on the bench

Another trend started in this game: if Austin Daye doesn’t start because John Kuester feels Jason Maxiell has a better matchup, don’t expect Daye to play at all. Now, to be fair, this time around Maxiell had a really good game, scoring a season-high 14 points, and Villanueva, as mentioned above, had a great game off the bench. Kuester was right to stick with those guys since they had it going. Against Sacramento, the first time Daye sat, Villanueva and Maxiell didn’t do anything particularly special.

Two games is a small amount of time to glean any kind of meaning from this, but I have to say, it seems strange. Daye has sat due to unfavorable matchups against the Wizards JaVale McGee/Andray Blatche frontline and the Kings’ Carl Landry/Sam Dalembert combo. Now, no offense to those tandems. They’re certainly solid. But check out some of the apparently more favorable matchups where Daye has started and played: Kevin Garnett/Shaquille O’Neal; Al Horford/Josh Smith; Pau Gasol/Lamar Odom; Marcus Camby/LaMarcus Aldridge.

Does this seem kind of random to anyone else? How are matchups like the one tonight deemed “unfavorable” yet when the Pistons have played against some elite, All-Star caliber frontlines, Daye is right in there? This is quickly becoming one of the most confusing storylines of the year with the Pistons.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Daye is overmatched as a starting four every night. But if he’s not overmatched against Odom/Gasol, he certainly isn’t against McGee/Blatche.

Signs of life from Bynum

There’s no Piston I want to see get it together more than Will Bynum, strictly from a personal, “I just love to watch him,” perspective. He’s been really bad so far this season as he tries to battle back from a myriad of injuries. He wasn’t fantastic against Washington, but he did solid backup PG work, scoring nine points, shooting 3-for-5 and picking up three assists with no turnovers in about 17 minutes. My days of arguing the merits of Bynum as a starter are over, as Stuckey has obviously out-played him to this point, but the Pistons need competent minutes at that spot so that Stuckey doesn’t have to play 40 or more minutes a game just to keep the team competitive. Bynum is their best bet to fill those minutes if he can build on tonight’s performance.

The disappearing Ben Gordon

Ben Gordon is almost a rallying cry among Pistons fans at this point. He’s young and a prolific scorer who has shot the ball really well this season, basically an exciting potential bridge to a better team. Hamilton, on the other hand, is older and since he’s been around forever, his popularity among fans anxious for a new look is declining. So every time Gordon doesn’t get enough shots or minutes, it certainly riles people up.

Gordon scored 10 points, shot 4-of-6 and only played 20 minutes. I fully expect a couple “Gordon should’ve played more” comments to pop up. But I actually think, despite his offense, it was hard to keep him on the floor tonight. He had two really bad defensive plays against Nick Young in the first half, and when the Pistons bench came into the game in the second quarter, Washington erased a seven-point lead within a couple minutes.

Gordon has to get his turn and get on the court more, no doubt. But Hamilton was just better offensively and defensively tonight.

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Tags: Austin Daye Ben Gordon Charlie Villanueva John Kuester Richard Hamilton Rodney Stuckey Will Bynum

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