This is J.J. Hickson’s shot chart from tonight:
It’s a little hard to tell because they’re right on top of each other, but that little jumbled area around the basket is where he made eight of his nine shots. He scored 24 points with 15 rebounds on 9-for-13 shooting. Throw in the 5-for-7 shooting of starting frontcourt partner Ryan Hollins and you’ll see why Greg Monroe didn’t play in the fourth quarter of the Pistons’ 97-91 loss. Monroe’s numbers weren’t bad — 11 points and 8 rebounds — but he just couldn’t keep up with Hickson or Hollins when he was in the game. Earlier this week, Dan Feldman linked to a David Thorpe excerpt suggesting Monroe should work on improving the energy/passion level he plays at, trying to become more like Joakim Noah in that regard. Tonight was a good example of why that would benefit Monroe and the Pistons.
Hickson was a terror. He was active. Every time Monroe turned his back, Hickson was cutting. He set hard screens, rolled to the basket on sharp cuts, absorbed contact and finished. He played with activity, but more importantly, with passion that his teammates fed off of, setting the tone for the game and helping Cleveland build a lead.
Monroe also wasn’t a presence on the defensive glass. Seven of his eight rebounds were offensive, which led to Hickson and Luke Harangody (11 offensive rebounds combined) getting on the offensive glass for Cleveland and converting easy putbacks. Now Monroe’s seven offensive boards for the Pistons were certainly a value by giving the team extra possessions, but the difference was Harangody and Hickson were also a presence on the defensive glass, combining for 13 defensive boards to Monroe’s one.
Monroe will get there. He’s a unique talent, and as a rookie, probably not entirely comfortable asserting his voice on a largely veteran team. John Kuester will get plenty of criticism for not playing Monroe down the stretch, but it’s not an unconscionably bad decision. Monroe was part of a lineup that put the Pistons behind, and a small lineup of Will Bynum, Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, Austin Daye and Chris Wilcox in the fourth helped the Pistons play faster and erase an eight-point deficit with a couple of chances to tie or take the lead late. When Monroe started the season out of the rotation, he responded by working hard, earning minutes and becoming arguably the Pistons best player. I don’t think anyone views him as a finished product, including himself, so perhaps having to sit the fourth quarter will help push him to take that next step in his development.
Charlie Villanueva gets the night off
Charlie Villanueva didn’t have the chance to be upset about being removed from the game for poor defensive effort tonight. He was never put in in the first place. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press summed things up best with this tweet:
Sad thing is, Villanueva could’ve actually helped tonight. The Cavs murdered the Pistons on the glass, so having to guard a 3-point shooting threat would’ve pulled at least one big away from the basket defensively. But it’s hard to fault Kuester for taking the stand. Villanueva simply hasn’t earned the right to question his role because he hasn’t played well enough to deserve a primary role in Detroit.
Hoping for a Daye breakthrough
The one Piston I’d love to see close the season strong more than any other is Daye. Whether or not he can develop into a starting caliber player is a huge part of this team’s future. The skill level is certainly there, the consistency is what has been missing. Against Cleveland, he had a solid all-around game, scoring 12 points, shooting the ball well from distance and collecting seven rebounds. To see Daye put up similar numbers in the final 10 games would give huge hope for the team going into the offseason and would hopefully motivate Daye to have a great summer, then come back and win that small forward spot next season.