Two games into John Kuester’s ‘we ain’t got no starters no mo’ decree, and results are mixed at best.
The good? Young players Austin Daye (39 minutes against Minnesota) and Greg Monroe (35 minutes) seem to be featured prominently in the new-look rotation. Monroe continued to do what he does, getting a double-double against the T-Wolves with 18 points and 11 rebounds while Daye scored 22 points (even if his shot failed him a bit in the second half). Rodney Stuckey who, let’s face it, has very little value if he doesn’t figure out how to play competent point guard minutes, seems to be getting one more crack at the position and against the T-Wolves, he was efficient (10 assists, 2 turnovers) and unselfish, passing on some of the contested shots and wild drives that made his first tenure at the PG spot such a poor fit.
The bad? Tracy McGrady is probably well on his way to replacing Rip Hamilton as the resident disgruntled veteran. After the Milwaukee game, McGrady was mystified by the fact that he didn’t play. After sitting for the second straight game against Minnesota, McGrady isn’t going to get any happier. It’s frankly strange that he’s gone from semi-productive (by this team’s standards) starter to forgotten man, and with his benching and Hamilton returning to the rotation as if everything is good, it seems like there’s more to the story than is being let on. Did McGrady have a bigger role in the so-called boycott than most fans suspected? Did he, like Hamilton earlier this season, have a fight that was unreported in practice with Kuester?
Unlike Hamilton, who is signed beyond this season to a huge contract, thus likely making him someone the Pistons will have to mend fences with in the event they can’t trade him, there is little incentive for the team to make things work with McGrady. Maybe he didn’t deserve to be benched. But if Kuester, who is no doubt coaching for his job over the final 20 games, has the option of upsetting a veteran who is likely part of the team (like it or not) for the foreseeable future vs. one his is likely to leave as a free agent, it makes sense that he’d try and fix whatever is broken with Hamilton rather than continue to give a rental player minutes.
The positive from the Minnesota game, however, is that several Pistons seem to have picked up an important element of McGrady’s game: everyone moved the ball. The team 29 assists and just 10 turnovers. Every guard who played had at least three assists. At times, with six different guys attempting at least nine shots but no one attempting more than 18, the Pistons gave glimpses of what could be a fun offensive unit.
But to be clear, they didn’t give glimpses of a good team. The score was relatively close most of the way, but Minnesota — a 14 win team coming in — got anything it wanted offensively. Johnny Flynn, who the T-Wolves were begging to give away at the trade deadline, had 14 assists off the bench. Luke Ridnour didn’t miss a shot. Kevin Love had another 20-20 game. Anthony Randolph, who couldn’t beat out this guy for minutes in New York, went for 19 and 10 off the bench. Lazar Hayward (who?) had a career-high 16 points in 22 minutes.
Thank God Darko Milicic didn’t play, he would’ve had a field day. The Pistons’ lack of defense was alarming, and watching virtually every minute of Pistons basketball this season, poor defense is the norm. This was beyond poor. No one closed out on shooters. No one fought over screens. No one bumped cutters. The mantra among fans most of the season has been for the team to play the young guys in prominent roles, taking minutes from guys like Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince. For guys like Daye, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, in particular, games like this don’t help their case that they are capable of playing with any toughness whatsoever at the defensive end. I understand why fans want to see more of the young players. Just don’t expect better basketball to result from the fact that they seem to be getting more minutes.