Apologies for getting this posted late. Had internet issues last night.
Only once this season have Pistons starters Rip Hamilton, Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince each shot over 50 percent in a game and each scored in double figures. And although the trio was good in that game, a 103-89 win over Milwaukee in November, their production was nothing like it was in Sunday’s 102-92 win over Cleveland Sunday.
Plenty of times, two of those three have had a good game while the third struggled. And a few times, all three of them played terribly in the same game. That, along with the whole “veterans vs. upstarts” alleged rivalries that have been alluded to at times this season, has led to a popular conclusion: Stuckey, Hamilton and Prince just plain don’t compliment each other well as individual talents.
What they proved on Sunday is that there’s absolutely no reason they can’t play well together, share the offensive responsibilities and, most importantly, help the Pistons win games. First, check out the statlines:
- Stuckey: 24 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 turnovers, 8-of-14 shooting
- Hamilton: 27 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 10-of-16 shooting
- Prince: 20 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 7-of-14 shooting
The production was certainly important. The Pistons are dependent (Dependent, that is, if you’re actually watching the games hoping the team wins. I get that some fans are already playing “how can we get Kyrie Irving/Jared Sullenger?” game) on those three to be productive players if they are going to have any shot at competing on a nightly basis.
It started with Stuckey. One of the criticisms of his game that pops up pretty frequently is that many people don’t feel he’s a playmaker. I don’t think anyone could’ve watched this game and come away thinking that Stuckey was anything but a playmaker. He constantly attacked the basket. He looked to exploit his size advantage against the Cavs’ small point guards. He pushed the ball after misses. He pushed the ball after makes. With only one or two exceptions, he made really good decisions as far as whether to pull the ball back out if nothing was there or to get all the way to the basket. And most importantly, he found guys all over the court. He found Charlie Villanueva and Hamilton for open threes on strong cross-court passes. He found Ben Wallace cutting to the basket. He got the line. And as the guy primarily defending Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson, he held them to a combined 9-of-27 shooting. Games like this where Stuckey tantalizingly shows off all of the things he’s able to do on the court make it really hard to make a case that the Pistons are wrong to give him such an extended chance to succeed. He’s putting together easily the best season of his career. The team needs him to be a nightly threat to be this kind of terror. That’s the last step for him. Do these things on a nightly basis. And this season, he’s given more indication that he’s close to being able to do that then any other point in his career.
And as for Hamilton and Prince? If you allow yourself to think back for a moment to the heights of the Pistons success, Hamilton and Prince did all of the things that made them such key players for those teams. Hamilton was a bundle of energy. He didn’t force too many shots off the dribble, which has been a problem for him the last few seasons. He got to the spots on the floor where he’s most comfortable, and he knocked down shots.
Prince was a stabilizing influence. It’s obvious Prince is more comfortable in a halfcourt offense. We know Stuckey is desperate to have the Pistons play at a faster pace. What we saw for the first time this season was some real effort at compromise on this front. Prince ran with Stuckey. He allowed Stuckey to push the ball, he maintained great spacing all night, giving Stuckey more room to find passing lanes. And when it was time to slow things down, Prince was always right there, steadying things almost anonymously, getting big baskets and just simply doing what Prince has always done in his career.
I don’t know that this win is very significant. After all, Cleveland is not a good team. But I think if I get to the point writing these recaps where I have to say, “OK … they won, but the Cavs are bad, so the win was insignificant and what if it costs them lottery balls and blah blah blah,” it will really quickly take all enjoyment out of doing this. The Pistons won. They played beautiful basketball all night. They all actually looked like they got along and like each other. If you’re at the point where you’re so frustrated with the season that you want to check out and pray for the lottery, I ain’t mad at cha. But personally, I just want to watch good basketball, and the Pistons were very good Sunday.
Give John Kuester some credit
Teams lose games. Coaches get blamed. It happens. John Kuester is nothing special in that regard. If the Pistons continue to lose and look really out of sorts in the process, he’s ultimately going to receive even more criticism.
But credit where it’s due: he’s having a pretty good week. First, after a really bad loss to Miami, he alluded to some sweeping changes on the way. Then, I assume after cooling down, his actual changes to the rotation were pretty minor. Some would even say boring.
But let’s be real: the easiest thing to do right now would be to make a drastic change. It would appease fans who certainly want a drastic change just for the sake of change. But after watching the Pistons against Cleveland, here’s how the lineup/rotation tweaks have took shape:
- Will Bynum is not playing. It sucks for Bynum, who is a fun and likable player. But there’s just not enough minutes for everyone and Bynum wasn’t having the impact in the minutes he was getting compared to what he did the previous two seasons. His minutes are going to other backcourt players, who to this point have been more productive than Bynum.
- Greg Monroe and Tracy McGrady are coming into the game earlier. Again, this is subtle. But it’s allowing Monroe to get some minutes next to Wallace, who gets his breather when Villanueva comes in. Monroe then can get in the flow of the game playing against a power forward rather than immediately coming in for Wallace and having to guard the opposing center. As for McGrady, the Pistons just have a nice flow when he’s on the floor. He got a chance to play some extended minutes next to Stuckey Sunday, and the results were good. McGrady had a couple of nice passes to Stuckey (who moves without the ball extremely well, he just has the ball so much we don’t often get a chance to see it), and getting him in the game and loose earlier can’t be a bad thing as he continues to rebuild his confidence and look better on that knee.
Those certainly aren’t sweeping changes that are going to satisfy a crowd demanding a major trade for about three years now. But Kuester is coaching for wins. Fans might want to see more of Monroe or Austin Daye or Bynum or whoever. Kuester wants to have a job. So as a guy probably coaching under some pressure, these were nice subtle changes that have made a positive impact through two games. They aren’t going to suddenly turn the Pistons into a playoff team, but playing Daye more minutes certainly isn’t going to do that either.
But what about in-game adjustments? As the Pistons tendency for poor third quarters suggests, adjustments have been a weakness for the Pistons under Kuester this season. But check out some of the things the Pistons did against Cleveland that worked:
Cleveland was close in the first half because they ran on made and missed shots. Several times, they used their quickness advantage to beat the Pistons down the court and get quick shots or get fouled. Kuester responded at halftime by going small. He started Ben Gordon for Jason Maxiell in the second half. Cleveland went on an early 7-0 run in the third to tie the game, and it looked like another “here we go again” moment. But Detroit responded with an 11-0 run of its own and out-scored the Cavs 27-21 in the quarter. Gordon struggled shooting the ball all night, but he was disruptive defensively, picking up three steals and helping keep Gibson, Williams and Ramon Sessions in check.
Prince guarded J.J. Hickson. After the whole Michael Curry small ball experiments with Prince at the four, I think we all remember that Prince is not exactly comfortable at that position. But against Cleveland, he did a nice job on Hickson, who was a non-factor in his 16 minutes.
Kuester unleashed Stuckey a bit. Kuester, it’s obvious by now, is a half-court coach. He seems much more comfortable with Prince running the offense. Stuckey is an open-court player. He’s spent three years in Detroit stating his preference to play faster and, in general, the few times he’s been given the chance to play faster, he’s had good games. Kuester deserves some credit for not reigning Stuckey in and not giving too much of the offensive responsibilities to Prince even though Prince has excelled in that role the last few games. The Pistons shouldn’t be a running team. But with athletes like Stuckey, they should pick spots to play at a faster tempo. It resulted in Stuckey setting up good shots for many players, particularly Hamilton and Villanueva.
Hopefully, this week is a sign that Kuester is growing more comfortable with this quirky roster and figuring out some ways to take advantage of the matchup problems the Pistons can create.
Ben Wallace was Ben Wallace
I don’t spend much time writing about Wallace anymore because, frankly, he’s just so consistently good that I don’t think it needs pointing out. But he, along with Hamilton and Prince, was part of the “retro” performance I alluded to in the headline. Wallace had 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks and a steal. He was an imposing presence inside and a huge reason Cleveland’s guards shot poorly. They may have been getting penetration, but Wallace blocked or altered several shots in his 24 minutes and he continued to show that he’s a great high-post passer and someone the Pistons can comfortably take advantage of on offense.