It’s foolish to watch the Pistons on a game-to-game basis expecting any kind of major improvements. The team is simply one of the least talented teams in the league and we’re approaching half a season of evidence to back that up.
What they can do is set small, realist goals and accomplish those. In a recent string of blowouts, the Pistons have been sloppy with the ball and turnovers have removed any chance of those games being competitive early. Against the Nets, the Pistons took care of the ball and they hung around the entire game.
The improvement started with the point guards. Brandon Knight broke out of his slump. He was aggressive, penetrating inside, looking for teammates and, most importantly, maintaining that aggression while not getting out of control. As expected, Deron Williams mostly had his way with Knight defensively when they were matched up, but Knight had good moments. He took Williams off the dribble and hit a contested jumper over him early in the fourth quarter, then drew an offensive foul on the other end.
Knight shot the ball poorly from 3-point range, but he played well down the stretch. He made a nice drive inside, drawing the defense, and found Jonas Jerebko for a short jumper to cut the Nets lead to two in the final minute. Then, with the Pistons down three on the final possession, Knight caught the ball and, although he didn’t get the shot off before the buzzer (even though his three almost went down), I like that they went to him and I like that he stormed off the court really mad at himself for missing. Knight had four assists and just one turnover in 43 minutes.
The other element of that point guard production came from Walker Russell. I’ve made no secret of my affection for the guy. He’s maybe the most unselfish passing guard the Pistons have had since Chauncey Billups was around (settle down nuetes … I’m not comparing him to Billups). Until tonight, his passing has been the only real contribution he’s made to the team. Tonight, he finally got his shot to fall as well. Russell scored 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting, his best effort as a pro. He also grabbed six rebounds, played pesky defense (he was really annoying Jordan Farmar) and finished with two assists and no turnovers.
As a team, the Pistons turned it over just nine times, tying a season-low. For lottery purposes, it’s for the best that the Pistons didn’t win. But for their young players, who played hard enough and well enough to win tonight, it would be nice if the Pistons could occasionally pull out a game like this to reward that work. For now, the team should be thrilled that they at least temporarily fixed the turnover issue.
Tayshaun Prince plays better
Let’s get the negative out of the way: Prince is still not doing a good job of making entry passes into the post. Not sure if the issue is him not setting up a good enough angle to get it in or Greg Monroe not establishing good enough position. Regardless, there’s an issue there between those two that needs to be fixed still. Also, I was no fan of Prince’s shot with the team down two. After Knight and Russell created shots through penetration all game and Monroe once again proved to be unguardable inside, the best the Pistons did on that possession was an iso for Prince in which he settled for a contested, fadeaway mid-range jumper. And on the defensive end, down two, Prince and Monroe both let Kris Humphries walk right between them and grab an offensive rebound with :20 seconds left. Now, it wasn’t that big a deal since Monroe tied Humphries up and the Pistons won the jump ball, but it was still a horrid breakdown at that point in the game.
But there were far more positives from Prince this game. He gradually became more willing to move the ball. He made much quicker decisions, which was key. Prince is his most effective when he catches the ball and quickly decides whether to shoot or pass. Too often, he holds. Sometimes, he’s able to slowly work himself into a decent shot. More often than not, though, he over-dribbles, the rest of the team stops moving and he either settles for a contested shot or passes to a teammate for an awkward shot as the shot clock is running down. Tonight, he wasn’t as methodical, and that made him infinitely easier to watch. He took 15 shots, but they were mostly good ones, and he made nine of them. He also had six rebounds and his four assists tied a season high.
The Pistons need to continually work on making Prince a part of the offense while also ensuring that he doesn’t assert himself as the only option.
No answer for Monroe
Monroe got more touches tonight. He finished with 21 points on 11 shots and New Jersey really had nothing for him inside.
Turnovers, though, were once again an issue. Monroe turned it over four times tonight after turning it over six times last night. He also didn’t do a good job boxing out on the defensive glass. There was the aforementioned whiff by Monroe and Prince on the Humphries offensive board. Shelden Williams grabbed six offensive rebounds in the first half and seven for the game. Monroe is a solid rebounder. He has the skill to be one of the game’s best. He still loses focus on the defensive glass too often.