UPDATE: Kuester has responded to the thinly veiled criticisms directed at him by the players. Both the News and Freep have the details. Nothing too revelatory in either story, but I do firmly support Kuester in this situation. The Pistons’ players simply do not play smart enough or hard enough for their second guessing of strategy to be taken seriously.
Here are their comments, via Vince Ellis.
After Monday’s loss at Charlotte, when the Pistons almost overcame a 23-point first-half deficit, Charlie Villanueva basically said it was foolhardy to keep trying the same thing when it’s not working. He was talking about the second quarter, when the Bobcats had their own personal dunk contest.
Ben Gordon, repeating similar themes from earlier this season, said pretty much the same thing following Friday night’s 92-75 loss to the Suns.
“I think we played right into their hands,” said Gordon, who scored 19 points. “I think they hustled and stuck to their game plan, but we didn’t make the proper adjustments to beat what they were doing.
“And when you play the same way the entire game, anybody can cover that. … We just made a run, but continued to make some mistakes we’d made throughout the game, and it’s tough to win when you’re not making adjustments.”
At this point, I’m certainly not able to make a spirited defense of the overall job John Kuester has done coaching the Pistons. The only result that matters is that Kuester has won less than a third of his games coaching the team the past season and a half, and on several occasions, the team just looks flat-out unprepared.
But it’s pretty plain to see that Kuester is going to become the scapegoat for the team as it routinely underperforms, and that’s unfair. Here was Ellis’ conclusion in his column:
Gordon has a point. It was apparent early Friday that Suns coach Alvin Gentry was going to go small with 6-foot-6, 215-pound Mickael Pietrus at power forward and 6-11 Channing Frye off the bench.
Despite the size mismatch, the Pistons rarely went into the post to attack. Villanueva could have exploited the matchup and 6-8 Tracy McGrady and 6-9 Tayshaun Prince also can make plays in the post.
I agree that the Pistons failed to take advantage of that small lineup the Suns put on the court, it was the main thing I wrote about in the recap. That’s certainly the responsibility of the coaches, but aren’t the players responsible for not recognizing that too? I mean, Villanueva posted up Pietrus on the first play of that game, got a bucket, and then didn’t set up down low again or demand the ball for the rest of that quarter. Should a coach have to explain to a player like Villanueva, allegedly a power forward, to head to the post and call for the ball when he has a shooting guard on him? Because I feel like that is something Villanueva should instinctively do, whether it was part of the initial gameplan or not. What would Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett do if an opposing team was going to guard them with a shooting guard the whole game? First of all, they’d be personally insulted. Second of all, they’d scream at any teammate who attempted a shot without first going through them in the post.
Villanueva certainly isn’t Duncan or Garnett, but he’s still a big man. He still has a post-up game when he wants to use it. He’s still one of the top scorers on this team. Even if the coaches were explicitly telling them to not pound it into the post, which I doubt, why not just do it anyway? NBA players frequently break off the offense and exploit mismatches on their own without direction from the coach. This was an opportunity for Villanueva to do that, and he didn’t assert himself.
Players make their own adjustments all the time. A big switches out on a guard, so the rest of the players automatically know to clear out and allow the guard to try and beat the big off the dribble. Guard switches onto big on defense, his teammates routinely know to get him the ball. These are basic things that the Pistons, other than maybe Prince and Ben Wallace, routinely do not do.
Against Phoenix, McGrady was getting trapped at halfcourt on every possession as he tried to dribble the ball up, yet no teammates were coming out past the 3-point line to help him or create an easier pass. Consequently, McGrady threw some passes into really tight spots and that led to turnovers. Sure, the coaching staff is partially culpable for that, but aren’t players taught at very low levels of basketball to come out and help a teammate who is getting pinched by two or three guys as he advances the ball? Should Kuester really have to tell veteran players that maybe if their man leaves to go double, get your ass out past the 3-point line and help get the ball up. Players should know that automatically.
The Pistons’ third quarter woes are certainly attributable to a lack of adjustments at halftime (or maybe Kuester is just the world’s worst motivational speaker, so the team always comes out sluggish), and that is surely a coaching issue. Clearly, some information about what the opposing team had success with or struggled with in the first half is consistently not getting conveyed clearly to the players, and that’s a problem that has led to some brutal third quarter performances this season and last. But it’s silly for Villanueva and Gordon to point a finger at no adjustments being made when they’re culprits as well.
Kuester might be doing a poor job as a strategist as coach of the Pistons, but with only a couple exceptions, the Pistons are not a smart basketball team and even the best X’s and O’s coach can’t have success with players who seemingly need to be told to do every little thing before they execute it.