Tayshaun Prince’s slump bad enough to suggest big problems

So far this season, Tayshaun Prince is averaging 8.4 points per game on 36.1 percent shooting with 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists 0.5 steals and 0.3 blocks in 30.7 minutes per game.

Those numbers are poor by any standard: Prince’s career, a typical starting small forward,  a typical backup small forward.

Most troubling, 10 games is probably enough to indicate Prince’s struggles are real. Prince has played this poorly or just three other times in his career:

Prince obviously got over his rookie year to have an illustrious career, and he even got past January 2010 to become the Pistons’ best player last season.

I’m not sure what went wrong in January 2004, but Prince was still adjusting in his first year starting and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn about an off-court issue, too. Given what Prince accomplished the next several years, January 2004 was clearly an anomaly.

And that’s what worries me. With once exception, Prince has never played so poorly without an obvious explanation (youth, injury) that would likely get better.

Maybe Prince is injured, though he says otherwise. But you can’t count on a 31-year-old with heavy mileage’s knee to magically heal quickly, if ever.

Maybe Prince doesn’t fit with the Pistons’ offense, as he told Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press:

Prince doesn’t sound angry at his teammates or coach, or bitter about any of it. He is like a math prodigy who is waiting for the rest of the class to catch up.

"Right now, since we’re confused on both ends, we’re settling for jump shots," Prince said. "I’m taking shots that haven’t really come in the flow. They’re not rhythm shots."

This is especially frustrating for Prince, because he is a rhythm player. One reason he was so valuable in the Pistons’ contending days is that he fits so well with his teammates.

"I’ve never played like that," he said. "Before, even when I was at Kentucky, even when I first grew up playing basketball, that was never me. I’m good playing through the rhythm of our offense. Hopefully it will come. …

But you can’t count on the Pistons’ offense suddenly blooming.

I think it’s safe to say Prince’s problems are real, not a product of small sample size. He’ll likely improve later in the year. I can’t see him remaining this bad.

But I think there’s evidence his best days are behind him, maybe too far behind him.

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