A case study in what happens when your young players play smarter than your veterans


Late in the first half of Saturday’s loss to the Sixers, after he’d been thoroughly frustrated by how physical Philadelphia’s frontline had defended him, Greg Monroe absorbed a blow from Elton Brand (no call) and converted the layup while screaming something at the referee under the basket.

Monroe picked up a technical foul, one that I didn’t have a problem with, considering the pounding he was taking under the basket. Monroe is too good offensively and too active to not get more calls than he was. And Monroe was angry. He promptly went down on defense and stole the ball from Brand. My immediate thought was the Pistons would invoke the Rasheed Wallace rule and immediately go to Monroe in the post after picking up that technical and displaying so much anger.

Now, because Wallace was some kind of folk hero, the meme was always that he magically played so much better and more aggressive after picking up a tech. I don’t know if that was more legend than reality, but I love the idea of going immediately to any post player who picks up a tech after getting mauled inside. I don’t think Monroe would’ve magically started finishing better around the basket, but I do think there was a chance he would’ve got a call on at least one of those final two possessions of the half. If Monroe caught it, made an aggressive move and drew contact, I would bet he would’ve got that call at that point even if he hadn’t been earlier in the game. That’s just how referees are sometimes. They don’t like it when you berate them, but if it comes to that, they generally start paying a little more attention as long as you aren’t constantly trying to show them up, and Monroe doesn’t qualify as that type of guy.

Instead, the team went two straight possessions without Monroe so much as touching it, let alone catching it in a position to do anything with the ball. The player I expected to recognize that situation was Tayshaun Prince. He didn’t. Rodney Stuckey didn’t either.

In fact, both veteran players had several what you would call “youthful mistakes” in the game.

Stuckey spent much of the game matched up with Jodie Meeks. Meeks does one thing on offense: shoots threes. I lost count of how often Stuckey completely lost track of where Meeks was on defense. It was four times in the first half and one time early in the third quarter before I gave up on it. Meeks converted on 3 of 5 threes and passed up several more good looks. He was seriously open all night.

Prince’s performance was more troubling. His numbers weren’t good, but that’s somewhat forgivable since it was his first game back after a couple off and Andre Iguodala is a great defensive player.

The Pistons had two of their best performances of the season with Prince out of the lineup. The team’s official twitter feed was spouting off about Prince’s “veteran cool-headedness” being a missing ingredient in those games. He returned, the offense stagnated and they had one of their worst performances of the season in Friday’s loss. Making things worse, George Blaha said in the intro before the game that the Pistons had missed Prince because he was playing the best of anyone on the team before he had to miss two games. I get that the announcers have to put a positive spin on things, but that’s just blatantly false. In three games before Prince missed the last two, he shot 3-for-9, 6-for-14 and 5-for-13. Yes, he had that nice three-game stretch before that, but those games so far are an anomaly in what is turning into a very poor season for him shooting the ball.

Against Philly, he shot below 40 percent again, and many of his looks were clean ones. Against Philly, Stuckey played really lazy defense.

My issue is those two factors — missing badly on open shots and playing lazy defense — are things that got Austin Daye removed from the rotation. How Lawrence Frank responds when veteran players are guilty of the same things that young players do wrong will be interesting.

I don’t discount Joe Dumars’ reasons for re-signing Prince. I disagree with the price and length of the contract, but in general, I do agree that it’s a bad idea to throw a team full of young players together with no veteran presence in the locker room (see: Washington for examples of what could happen minus vets). I also have a lot of respect for Prince’s intelligence and knowledge of the game. I do, however, still have serious questions about how he fits in on this team. He’s happiest when he’s playing a lot. So far this season, he hasn’t played well. He’s also had injury issues, but because he likes to play a lot, he hasn’t missed much time or played fewer minutes as a result. Daye had his third straight decent game against Philly. What happens if Daye’s play demands that he gets more minutes and those minutes come at the expense of Prince? What happens if the Pistons continue to play their best when Prince is the least involved in their offense? Will Prince still be OK with his role, still be happy and engaged, if his minutes and role diminish?

Daye was the first reserve off the bench tonight and Damien Wilkins didn’t play until the game was far out of hand, so it looks like Daye has already earned back his rotation spot. Based on how poorly Prince has played overall this season, and how well Daye is now shooting it, if it keeps up, it won’t be long until Daye proves to be the better option over Prince at least offensively as well. I hope it happens simply because the Pistons have more to gain by Daye’s improvement than Prince getting 30+ minutes per game.

How Frank and Prince handle it will be very interesting.

Knight struggles with physical play

In two games this season against Philadelphia, Brandon Knight has shot 9-for-32 and has seven assists and six turnovers. It’s no secret how Philly defends him — they beat him up. Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams attack him on the perimeter, knowing that if Knight gets in the lane, they have shot blockers who can bother him. On those occasions when Knight did get inside, he ended up on the ground pretty frequently. Knight has exceeded expectations this season so far, but how he plays against more physical players is probably something he’s not going to be able to fix until he can get stronger in the offseason.

The Jason Maxiell is still alive tour continues

The Pistons have no shortage of highly paid players who have failed to meet expectations over the last few seasons. But while Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva have had their share of defenders with theories as to how it was the offense/minutes/situations they were being used in that was hurting their games, Jason Maxiell had no such luxury.

An undersized, athletic hustle player who has never relied on plays being run for him, Maxiell has been a useful rotation player in the past as a result of his ability to out-run and out-jump people. Then he got a bit heavier, and he wasn’t so fast and he wasn’t jumping so high anymore. Predictably, his production dove over the last three seasons, and he looked like the player on the roster with the least hope of ever rebounding from that downward trend. Instead, he’s quietly putting together a really nice season. He shot 4-for-7 against Philly and grabbed seven rebounds. He’s played himself into shape after a poor start to the season and although he still does have the ability to make the athletic play, his jump shot from 10-feet and in has really improved as a weapon for him. If he keeps this up, there isn’t a contending team in the NBA who wouldn’t love to have a player like him on its roster.

It would be nice to see Vernon Macklin earlier than garbage time

Vernon Macklin isn’t exactly a “prospect” considering his draft position, age for a rookie and limited skillset. But in the few garbage time minutes he’s received this season, he’s hustled, ran the floor and has a pulse. With Maxiell playing well and Jonas Jerebko in need of minutes, it’s hard to justify getting Macklin into a game when it’s not out of reach at the moment, but the Pistons have a tough stretch coming up over the next few weeks, including their first back-to-back-to-back of the season, so perhaps Macklin can spell Ben Wallace for a few minutes coming up?

When Doug Collins coached the Pistons in the 1990s, he used to start Don Reid, who was terrible, at center. But Reid played hard, gave the Pistons a few minutes early, and then was never seen again most games. With Wallace surely in need of a night off at some point over this stretch, maybe Frank can employ a similar strategy with Macklin, just to see whether he’s completely over-matched by starting caliber players or whether he shows any kind of ability. The odds against Macklin becoming a legit NBA player are slim, but the Pistons don’t have anything to lose by figuring out if he can beat those odds.

Just because not everything is so negative …

This was pretty funny, via Vincent Goodwill:

The kiss-cam: Stuckey sees him and Monroe on it, playfully kisses Greg on the head…

Tags: Austin Daye Brandon Knight Jason Maxiell Lawrence Frank Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince Vernon Macklin Walker Russell