On the Pistons first offensive possession against Phoenix Friday, they dumped the ball into the post to Charlie Villanueva, who was being guarded by Mickael Pietrus, a shooting guard who the Suns started at power forward. Villanueva easily backed down Pietrus and converted a hook shot inside.
Then the Pistons continuously settled for quick jumpers, most of which missed their mark, as the team shot just 40 percent and lost to the Suns 92-75.
Following comments from Pistons fans on Twitter throughout the game, one common theme kept coming up: how can the Pistons continuously follow good wins, like Wednesday’s over Boston, with pitiful showings against mediocre or bad teams? It’s a maddening trend, I’ll admit, but the loss to Phoenix is not a totally unexplainable thing. In reality, it’s pretty simple why they lost: they needed Rodney Stuckey.
This might seem a little bi-polar of me considering I’ve called for Tracy McGrady to take minutes from Stuckey at the point guard spot for going on three weeks or so now. But the Pistons had two major issues against the Suns: they didn’t have a reliable second ball-handler to put in the game when the Suns started aggressively trapping McGrady with long, quick players and when the Pistons’ jumpers were failing them, they had no player who could get shots in the paint.
There are a lot of things that Stuckey doesn’t do well enough on the court to justify the minutes and investment the team has made in him. But make no mistake, the Pistons as presently constructed still need him. McGrady turned it over five times because Phoenix was trapping him near halfcourt on virtually ever possession. McGrady is big enough to sometimes see over those traps and make the correct passes, but if there is no passing angle (and his teammates were consistently in the wrong spots all night to provide sufficient help), he just doesn’t have the explosion or ball-handling ability to break those traps on his own. Stuckey is quick enough, strong enough and handles the ball well enough to beat those traps most of the time.
And with that lone little post play for Villanueva to open the game, the Pistons virtually abandoned any attempts to bully a smaller Phoenix starting lineup. McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon settled for jumpers because, let’s face it, those guys are strictly jump-shooters. Villanueva didn’t consistently drag himself down on the block to try and establish position against Pietrus or Grant Hill. And Ben Wallace, bless his heart, is not going to provide any kind of offensive presence in the post.
Stuckey, on the other hand, gets a majority of his points inside. The threat of him penetrating would’ve at least made it harder for Phoenix to trap the ball with multiple defenders so far away from the basket.
So once again, with the opportunity to build some momentum against a reeling team after a good win, the Pistons not only didn’t do it, they had a miserable performance. It’s natural to get excited about beating teams like Boston, even if the Celtics weren’t at full strength. But the Pistons are not turning any corners. 2011 brings little promise — the trade deadline is around the corner and one of my favorite activities is talking about the NBA Draft, but other than those things, expect the Pistons to continue their trend of often uninspired play with the occasional fun performance sprinkled in. No one wants to watch a losing team, but as long as everyone is realistic about what they are capable of, the season will become much more bearable.
No credit for the bench here
It has been somewhat annoying how the performance of the Pistons’ bench this season has been overly praised.
Well, against Phoenix, no one is going to give that unit much credit. Two guys came off the bench and weren’t completely hopeless: Austin Daye made shots and had eight rebounds and Chris Wilcox played with energy, made a couple of great passes and had a nice hustle play that resulted in a dunk.
But even those performances came with negatives. Daye bit hard on pump fakes by virtually every player he defended. He had to come out in the first half after picking up three fouls in only a few minutes because he couldn’t stay on his feet defensively. And Wilcox didn’t even get a chance to build on his first half minutes after injuring his groin and missing the second half.
As for the rest? Hamilton shot the ball as poorly as I’ve ever seen him. He’s probably finished with worse lines than 2-for-9, but it was as much about how he was missing as how many he missed. He had three shots that barely grazed iron and he constantly forced up contested shots.
Will Bynum was abused by Goran Dragic. Dragic beat him off the dribble all night, and it was his performance alone in the second quarter that ignited the Suns and helped them stretch an 10-point lead to 18 in that quarter.
Greg Monroe shot 2-for-6 from the free throw line and blew an open layup on his only field goal attempt. DaJuan Summers also blew an uncontested layup and he picked up a charge against Grant Hill where Hill was planted in front of him a good three seconds with Summers still deciding to barrel right into him.
Guys like Summers, Monroe and Bynum who have seen their rotation spots and minutes fluctuate wildly need to perform well in games like this, when they could potentially earn more playing time. It was disappointing that none of them seemed up to the task, not that the starters were much better either.
Happy New Year!
Hopefully everyone in the PistonPowered audience has a great 2011, even if seeing a playoff-caliber basketball team probably won’t be in the cards.
This site continues to grow, and more and more people show up in the comments every day to contribute. One of my favorite parts of my day is interacting with people on this site, even if it’s with people who I disagree with and start arguments with. This is a great site and community to be a part of and I look forward to all of your crazy trade suggestions that are sure to get even crazier in the next few weeks!