Not many people would blame you if you turned off Saturday’s Pistons-Kings game at halftime. It was unwatchable in most every way.
The Kings scored 70 points on 70 percent shooting. Jason Thompson scored 20 first half points and didn’t miss a shot in the process. Tyreke Evans, who isn’t even Sacramento’s point guard, had nine assists. The Pistons didn’t get so much as a hand up on most of the defensive possessions, and to make matters worse, Tracy McGrady injured his calf early in the game and didn’t return.
If you did decide to flip the game off, you missed a second straight great defensive effort in the second half by the Pistons, the resurgence of Will Bynum, the continued progression of Greg Monroe and the rebirth of Rodney Stuckey as a relentless attacker of the basket from the wings and as a lockdown defender. I hope you can live with yourself for missing all those things in Detroit’s 110-106 win.
Bynum was the best of all those positive things tonight, however, since this game has been a long time coming for him. His Pistons career has been full of ups and downs. Two years ago, he out-played virtually everyone in front of him, but because the Pistons had Stuckey and Allen Iverson, Bynum never found his way into the rotation regularly despite the fact that he was very productive any time he received minutes. Then, last season, he got off to a terrific start before injuries robbed him of his quickness and made him much less effective after he got back on the court.
This season, the explosiveness that made him a fan favorite seemed to be lost. He was eventually yanked from the rotation after a series of poor performances and many who watch the team became skeptical of his ability to be a key player for this team.
Despite all of those things, Bynum hasn’t complained, he hasn’t played with poor effort when he does get minutes, and after a solid showing backing up McGrady against Toronto, Bynum came in in the second half and ran the offense with a precision and a tempo we haven’t seen often this season. The ball moved. People moved. People sprinted up-court. Bynum had 17 points, 7 assists and 2 turnovers. And although he’s certainly never going to be confused with a lockdown defensive player, he did pressure the ball, picking up two steals, and, of all people, he had the game-sealing defensive play tonight, coming from the weakside on a Tyreke Evans layup attempt and blocking his shot at the rim. Will Bynum! Blocking shots from the weakside!
I don’t use the exclamation point that often. It’s kind of lame. But Bynum’s performance in the second half was was worthy of breaking it out. First of all, he’s a legitimately good guy to root for. He’s always positive. He’s undersized. He bounced around before making the NBA. Secondly, he always has people doubting his abilities, including Ben Gordon-loving Pistons beat writers (That tweet was early in the third quarter. Good call on that.). Bynum is an exciting player who gives maximum effort even if it does sometimes result in a bad play or two. I think Pistons coaches will live with that.
The Pistons had a glaring reminder tonight that, even though McGrady is clearly their best playmaker, they have to be careful with him. He came into this game logging season-highs of 36 minutes in back-to-back games, including last night’s game. That’s probably too much. Bynum’s performance gives some hope that the team can lighten McGrady’s workload and still receive effective point guard play when he’s not on the court.
The reinvention of Rodney Stuckey
One thing I hope we can move on from after a nauseating three years debating it: the whole “is Stuckey a point guard or shooting guard?”
Stuckey is a basketball player, one who can be a dangerous weapon if used correctly. He’s not a halfcourt point guard. We’ve learned that. But the last two games, the Pistons have used him in a way that accentuate all of the things he does do well.
Allowing him to set up on the wings makes him un-guardable when he attacks the basket. When he runs off a screen and catches, he’s been so efficient with his dribble, getting to the basket in one or two quick, powerful moves. At the top of the key when he tries to attack, he often over-dribbles.
Setting up on the wings also makes it easier for him to draw contact. Trying to get to the basket from the top of the key, you’re facing a defense that has more guys who can help, more guys who see the play as it develops. From the wings, Stuckey is moving downhill and defenders often don’t have enough time to catch up to him. Against Sacramento, Kings defenders were invariably late in getting to him.
Stuckey’s impact on the game was even more noticeable defensively. In the first half, Tyreke Evans killed the Pistons because, well, Ben Gordon spent a lot of time guarding him. And bless his heart, Gordon’s defensive style of biting hard on every jab step just wasn’t that effective. In the second half, with Stuckey taking over the primary defense on Evans, ‘Reke Havoc was barely noticeable on the court.
Stuckey’s potential defensively has long been talked about, and him actually delivering on that promise has been inconsistent at best. But he has all of the tools to be among the best defensive guards in the league, and he showed that potential in the second half on Evans.
Monroe’s underrated defense
I read a commenter the other day (my apologies … can’t remember who said it) who was critical of Monroe’s defense while at the same time praising the fact that he has improved immensely as the season’s progressed.
I’m not so convinced he’s a bad defender. He’s not a traditional low post defender because I don’t think he’ll ever be a shot-blocking presence. But he moves his feet well on defense, but even better than his feet are his hands. For the second straight game, he had another steal late in the fourth quarter that led to a basket and helped put the game away. Monroe just got a hand in and knocked the ball away from Cousins from behind, which led to a breakaway layup for Bynum.
He also frustrated Cousins, holding him to 14 points and helping force him into four turnovers (it actually should’ve been five as Cousins got away with the most blatant chicken wing hook move on offense I’ve ever seen, shoving Monroe out of the way on his way to the basket).
The art of fouling out
I fully realize that Chris Wilcox has been an underachiever his entire NBA career. Still though, he’s one player who I’ve inexplicably always liked watching.
One of those reasons why happened against Sacramento. With eight minutes to go, and the Pistons trying to give Monroe, who played 38 minutes for the second straight night, some much-needed rest, Bynum found a cutting Wilcox wide open. Wilcox wound up and attempted his patented tomahawk dunk where he extends the ball far behind his head. It’s a pretty dunk when he executes it. He did not execute it this time.
He short-armed the funk, smashing it into the front of the rim. Then, as he recovered and chased the Kings downcourt, he crashed into Cousins and fouled out on the play, so Monroe had to come back in earlier than anticipated. Wilcox became the first Piston to foul out in back-to-back games since Jonas Jerebko last year (hat-tip to Dan Feldman for the info). At least he did it spectacularly though.
It also gave him a chance to walk back to the bench and immediately get clowned for that miss. It was the first time Rip Hamilton‘s smiled in weeks.