Brandon Knight does things a competent point guard should do against Milwaukee, but what he follows up with is most important

On cue, after lots of healthy discussion around here today on the merits of Brandon Knight, he delivered his most promising performance in Detroit’s win over Milwaukee Friday.

Knight’s scoring early was impossible to ignore. He hit 3-pointers, attacked the basket, drew fouls and scored 18 first half points (and a career high 26 in the game), helping the Pistons get off to a good start for a change, something they’ve rarely been able to do this season. The scoring was certainly nice, but for the first time this season, Knight made the correct pass and delivered those passes with precision consistently throughout the game.

He finished with seven assists. He was owed a few more — Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko and Tayshaun Prince all missed very make-able shots off of great passes in the first half that should have resulted in assists. But the outcome wasn’t as important as the setup. Knight’s passes were on target. He made amazing passes through traffic for layups. He made basic passes that simply kept the offense flowing. He has done neither of those things particularly well this season. For the first time, Knight’s production matched the rhetoric that he could be the starting point guard of the future.

Another name that came up in discussions of Knight today is Rodney Stuckey, both because Ben Gulker noted that Stuckey’s rookie assist/turnover numbers were far superior to Knight’s and because of my arguments with a couple Stuckey-loving slappies. I’m reminded of something Dan Feldman wrote about Stuckey earlier this season:

Stuckey is – obviously to nearly everybody – not close to Westbrook’s level. Playing through injury during a blowout loss won’t get him there. Playing well consistently will.

Once Stuckey gets healthy, that’s what I hope to see from him – not just sporadic bursts of energy, focus and production when it suits him.

Stuckey deserves credit for playing well enough lately to raise expectations, and I’m hoping this is finally the time he’ll break through. But he must earn it in games that don’t hold extra meaning to him.

Stuckey has undeniable talent and things he does well. But, as Dan noted, he’s spent four plus seasons now trying to turn into a player who can do more than offer tantalizing glimpses at a player capable of being more than simply a serviceable rotation player.

Knight’s performance against Milwaukee was a nice surprise considering his recent struggles and the fact that he arguably his worst pro game against these same Bucks less than a week ago. Knight isn’t the same player as Stuckey, but his challenge is the same: performances like this have to become routine, not pleasant surprises, if he’s going to become the player the Pistons think he is. As Stuckey has show during his career, finding that consistency isn’t so easy.

Greg Monroe does what Greg Monroe does

Nothing to see here, just a young center bullying like he does every night. Monroe had 18 points and 11 rebounds. He still didn’t shoot enough — he finished 7-for-12 with Knight and Prince both taking more shots than him. Nearly every time Monroe catches the ball around the basket, he gets a quality look for himself, even if they don’t all go in (but seriously … a large percentage go in, throw him the ball a lot more!).

He is still having a bit of a turnover issue. He had four more tonight, so that’s 14 in his last three games. But, as commenter David noted the other night, at least Monroe is making up a bit for those turnovers by getting steals at the other end. He had two vs. Milwaukee and now has nine over the last three games.

Jonas Jerebko helps everyone

Jerebko’s stats aren’t going to jump off at anyone — 6 points, 3 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in 22 minutes — but when he’s his active self, as he was tonight, he really helps the Pistons’ offense have some flow to it.

The Pistons don’t have many players who move without the ball. Stuckey, Knight and Prince all like to have the ball in their hands. Monroe doesn’t get it as often as he should, but he’s also a player who can be effective by touching the ball a lot on offense.

But for any of those players to look better when they are dominating the ball, they need movement. When they don’t get it, the offense is arguably the ugliest in the league. I’ve noted a few times that Monroe, in particular, benefits from an active Jerebko in the lineup because, unlike the others mentioned, Monroe is really good at hitting cutters and Jerebko is really good at making cuts.

Well, if Knight’s performance tonight is an indication, he might have the ability to pass on the move to guys who are also moving. Three times in the game, Knight got penetration and found Jerebko for an easy layup, then hit him trailing a play for a dunk and set up a short jumper that Jerebko will normally make, he just didn’t in this case. Jerebko’s minutes are somewhat limited because he’s had foul problems this season and, because of his frenetic style, he gets tired. A tired Jerebko is less effective. But when Lawrence Frank can keep him fresh and when Jerebko can keep himself from picking up cheap fouls, he can potentially help make Knight an even better player by providing a constant target for him.

Passive Austin Daye returns

Daye had a frustrating performance against Milwaukee. When he had a few good games to break out of his bad shooting slump a couple weeks ago, Daye was using his jumper to set up his dribble. The key, obviously, is he had to take his jumper and make it to make the defense understand it’s a threat. Those makes from the perimeter gave him more opportunities to put it on the floor.

Against the Bucks, Daye was hesitant to shoot his jumper again. He passed up good looks. He dribbled into worse shots than the ones he passed up. He missed a jumper in the third quarter and was slow to get back on defense, leading to an uncontested Milwaukee dunk and also leading to Daye taking a seat on the bench for the rest of the evening.

Daye is another lighting rod of debate around here, with a few commenters frequently objecting to Frank’s short leash with him. Tonight, it appeared that Daye’s teammates helped Frank make the decision. Knight and Maxiell were both visibly upset when Daye passed up good looks at shots on offense. Stuckey seemed upset with him on the transition dunk. It’s a recurring theme with Daye. If he doesn’t immediately make shots when he enters the game, his confidence is shot and his passivity afterwards hurts the team. Tonight was one of those nights for him. It became clear that the team couldn’t leave him on the floor. I have no idea how the Pistons solve whatever confidence issues he has.

Maxiell hits the boards

During John Kuester’s first season, he rewarded Jason Maxiell‘s hustle and solid play off the bench by giving him the first prolonged starting stretch of his career. The results weren’t good. Maxiell was over-matched against most starters and it took away one of his clear advantages: he often feasts against slow backup centers off the bench. So when Maxiell entered the starting lineup against New Jersey, I was worried that it might undo some of the production he’d been giving the team in his bench role. He didn’t play well against the Nets, but he had a nice game in his second start tonight against the Bucks, finishing with 8 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks (one on a Brandon Jennings floater ended up in the third row and the other was a traditional Maxiell smash from behind off the backboard). Surprisingly, it was his jumper that made him useful offensively. He looks much more comfortable taking shots in that 10-15 feet range than he ever has before.

Maxiell is not going to be effective every night, but he’s rebounding, blocking shots and playing energetic defense again this season. Plus, he looks like he’s in much better shape than he was last season. He, like many on the roster, still needs a prolonged streak of consistent play to rebuild his value, but at the very least, he’s getting there.

Defending Jennings

Brandon Jennings always has big games against the Pistons, and his improvement this season is a big reason the Bucks are still solid despite being hit with a ton of injuries. Plus, he always plays great against the Pistons. He got off to a good start and the Pistons couldn’t prevent him from pushing the ball up court and couldn’t keep him out of the lane early. But they adjusted, and Knight, Stuckey and Walker Russell all took turns at him, playing effective defense from about the second quarter on. Jennings only finished with one assist (partially a product of horrid shooting by his team) and he only scored four points in the second half.

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Tags: Austin Daye Brandon Knight Greg Monroe Jonas Jerebko Rodney Stuckey

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