Explaining what defines a contender, Joe Dumars once listed guard play first.
Unfortunately, the Pistons’ guard play Saturday showed how far the team remains from contending – even for the lowest position a team can contend for in the NBA, a playoff berth.
Detroit’s starting backcourt – Brandon Knight and Ben Gordon – was erratic, reckless and sloppy in a 103-80 loss to the Knicks. Their off-target shots and poor ball control hampered the Pistons’ offense, which shot 38 percent on 2-pointers, and enabled the Knicks’ offense, which scored torched Detroit via the fastbreak.
For Knight, it’s understandable. For Gordon, unbearable.
Although it concerns me Knight (7-of-19, boosted by a couple garbage-time baskets, and three turnovers) hasn’t played highly efficiently either at Kentucky or with the Pistons, I’m not freaking out about it. It would be reassuring if he played with a bit more savvy, but I get it. He’s a 20-year-old rookie.
Gordon, though, is in his eighth year. He has nights like this – 5-of-12 with nine(!) turnovers – far too often.
Neither Knight’s nor Gordon’s numbers look especially terrible, aside from Gordon’s nine(!) turnovers. But they rarely attacked or pressured the defense, often spotting up around the perimeter.* In the limited times they looked to make a play, they usually failed.
*58 percent of their shots were 3-pointers. They had seven assists in 72 minutes, well below the league average for guards of 10 assists per 72 minutes.
Rodney Stuckey returning from his groin injury would help. For all his faults, he doesn’t turn the ball over much, and he doesn’t force a lot of bad shots. (He just misses a lot of layups.) Stuckey still probably wouldn’t help this team make the playoffs, but he could help Knight’s development.
Knight probably learned something tonight. I just don’t know what. The game was so out of control and so out of doubt for so long, it wasn’t conducive to growth.
I’m not sure I want to trust Knight’s development to playing many more minutes with Gordon. He would benefit more from playing in the backcourt with Stuckey, Will Bynum (who handles the ball much better than Gordon) and Austin Daye (who wouldn’t be asked to do as much as Gordon).
For both the long term and short term, the minute allocation of the guards should be done with Knight’s partner in mind. As we saw tonight, Knight and Gordon is an odd pairing that will result in more harm than good.
Tayshaun Prince needs rest
Damien Wilkins (seven points on 3-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, three assists, a steal and three turnovers in 25 minutes) filled the Tayshaun Prince role about as well as Tayshaun Prince (four points on 1-of-6 shooting with two rebounds, two assists, a block and no turnovers in 23 minutes). Wilkins’ defense on Carmelo Anthony was a little better, and Prince’s help defense was a little better. Prince forced less offensively, and Wilkins converted more.
Overall, they were about equally productive. That’s both a compliment to Wilkins and a knock on Prince, which isn’t necessarily Prince’s fault.
Prince has been bothered by a knee injury, and I’ll join Patrick in calling for Prince to rest (unless this is the type of injury that would worsen with rest, which I doubt). Wilkins can fill in capably enough, and with three years left on his contract, there’s no point of Prince risking significant damage to his knee right now.
Jonas Jerebko, small forward
And now to disagree with Patrick, I would like to see more Jonas Jerebko at small forward. Amar’e Stoudemire (22 points on 8-of-15 shooting with eight rebounds) gave him trouble, though Jerebko held his own for his size. But why do the Pistons keep asking Jerebko to hold his own? He’s such a great athlete, he could could be a difference maker at small forward.
Against many matchups, the distinction doesn’t matter. Jerebko can play either position. But I’d like to see him get more time at small forward than power forward when it makes a difference.
Jason Maxiell, free-throw ace
Aside from Jason Maxiell, the Pistons shot 6-of-15 from the free-throw line. Maxiell – a career 56 percent free-throw shooter – went 7-for-7. I won’t try to explain that, because just thinking about it might cause my head to explode.