Detroit Pistons, Greg Monroe reach new levels of Sustained Success

For the first time this season, I’m ready to use these two words together when describing the Pistons:

Sustained Success.

Detroit has reached its pinnacle of Sustained Success, winning three straight games for the first time this season. And the third victory in that streak – a 103-80 win over the Dallas Mavericks today – displayed the Pistons’ highest in-game level Sustained Success in more than a full season.

The Pistons outscored Dallas in each quarter – the first time they’ve beaten an opponent in each period since last season’s opener against the Memphis Grizzlies. Since then, the Pistons’ opponent has outscored them in all four quarters 11 times .

The Pistons beat the Grizzlies in 2009 because Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon each scored 20 points.* The formula has certainly change now. Hamilton is gone from the rotation, and maybe the team soon, too. Gordon has become a backup, not only in name, but in role.

*Hamilton and Gordon each scored 20 points for the Pistons one other time, a win over the Spurs on Feb. 21, 2010.

Since Pistons coach John Kuester has limited those two highly paid shooting guards – who have been one-dimensional way too often and no-dimensional even more than that – Detroit’s offensive execution and defensive effort have reached their peaks of Sustained Success this season.

No player embodies the Pistons’ Sustained Success on both ends of the court better than Greg Monroe, who has emerged as one of the team’s top players. We don’t need a double-double streak to know it anymore, either. Monroe has played better in the last two games than he did during parts of his four-game streak.

With 16 points and nine rebounds today, Monroe barely missed another double-double, but he didn’t miss a chance to impress.

His four steals stand out – and they should. Monroe’s quick hands are a real asset that will frustrate opponents for years to come. But Monroe also deserves credit for his tight man-to-man defense.

Dirk Nowitzki scored nine points on 3-for-5 shooting with Chris Wilcox guarding him in the first 7:32 of the first quarter. But with Monroe covering Nowitzki while Wilcox rested early in the second quarter, the Mavericks forward missed his only shot. Those few minutes were enough to take Nowitzki out of his rhythm, and he went from the focal point of Dallas’ offense to taking only one shot the rest of the second quarter.

That allowed the Pistons to give themselves some breathing room, which they never relinquished.

Let’s hope they don’t relinquish this run of Sustained Success anytime soon, either.

Rodney Stuckey takes point-guard skills to shooting guard

Rodney Stuckey’s transition to shooting guard continues to yield positive results.

With a team-best 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting today, Stuckey is averaging 18.3 points per game on 51.1 percent shooting since he began starting at shooting guard next to Tracy McGrady in the backcourt four games ago.

In his 33 games at point guard this year, Stuckey was averaging 15.3 points per game on 43.1 percent shooting.

Patrick covered most of the explanation in his review of the Kings game:

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 took that to a new level today. His first step was so explosive, Dallas defenders often fouled him far the basket, before he entered the interior of the Mavericks’ zone defense. Stuckey made 8-of-9 free throws, and that played a large part in his and the Pistons’ prosperity today.

Stuckey also led the Pistons with six assists. At this point, his future will more likely than not come at shooting guard. But that future will be brighter because he spent time at point guard.

Stuckey’s potential is still highest at point guard. That position just impacts the game more than shooting guard. For that reason alone, the Pistons initially making Stuckey a point guard was a wise choice.

But games like this show another benefit of trying Stuckey at point guard. If he had stayed at shooting guard out of Eastern Washington, he’d be just another dime-a-dozen scoring wing. With his point guard experience, he has potential to become one of the league’s best-passing scoring wings.

That’s valuable.

Tracy McGrady gets by with favorable matchup

Tracy McGrady played fine offensively today, scoring eight points (4-of-6 shooting) and dishing three assists in 26 minutes. But he’s clearly not totally ready for his increased minutes.

Active offensive players have given trouble to McGrady, who’s injury-plagued legs can’t stay in front of many dribble drivers. Thankfully, he didn’t have to guard one today. All seven of Jason Kidd’s shots were missed 3-pointers.

If the Mavericks had a decent penetrating point guard, McGrady’s offense probably wouldn’t have outweighed how slow he looked defensively.

New expectations for Chris Wilcox

Chris Wilcox scored eight points, grabbed six rebounds and played decent defense when asked to do something other than cover Dirk Nowitzki (i.e., guard someone else, play help defense, grab defensive rebounds). Wilcox’s defensive awareness isn’t terrible, but when guarding Nowitzki, losing him for a second, especially with Jason Kidd on the court, means allowing points.

Since entering the rotation seven games ago, Wilcox has averaged 8.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and his defense has been at about the same level he showed today. So, I initially didn’t think much of his game.

But then I realized, before these last eight games, Wilcox hadn’t scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds in a game since a Jan. 23, 2010 loss to the Trail Blazers. Between then and this stretch, he scored eight points or grabbed six rebounds only once.

Wilcox deserves credit for raising his own bar to the point his performance today doesn’t satisfy.

Tayshaun Prince picks good time to play well

The Mavericks reportedly have interest in Tayshaun Prince, and as I wrote before the game, his performance today might prove more influential than it should. If that’s the case, Prince’s value should be high with Dallas.

He looked like a perfect complimentary player, scoring 19 points (9-of-12 shooting) and adding five rebounds and five assists. He also played solid defense on Shawn Marion, who shot just 2-of-8.

Charlie Villanueva scores, but he could do more

For anyone who believes Charlie Villanueva’s future is a scoring spark off the bench, he did that today. He scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-5 on 3-pointers, in 20 minutes.

Villanueva has scored 47 points in the last three games – his best three-game scoring stretch off the bench since he launched himself into the starting lineup after scoring 18 points against the Clippers, 23 points against the Hawks and 17 points against the Raptors.

But don’t expect Villanueva to earn a starting position this time. Firstly, Chris Wilcox is playing well. Secondly, Villanueva isn’t rebounding well. Including three today, he has five rebounds in his last two games. In his two games before earning a starting position, he had 20 rebounds.

If Villanueva is satisfied with his current role, he’s filling it well. But I don’t think he is. To put himself in position to start if – more likely, when – Wilcox falls off, Villanueva must start rebounding better.

Tags: Ben Gordon Charlie Villanueva Chris Wilcox Greg Monroe Richard Hamilton Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince Tracy McGrady