With Rodney Stuckey injured, Brandon Knight fills bigger role, but can’t match Kyrie Irving; Pistons top Cavs, anyway

Brandon Knight and Kyrie Irving probably have similar ceilings. But Irving is much, much, much, much more polished, and that’s why he went No. 1 in the draft – seven spots ahead of Knight.

The difference between the two was abundantly clear in the Pistons’ 87-75 win over the Cavaliers tonight.

Either by pick-and-rolls or straight drives, Irving (22 points, nine rebounds and six assists) got wherever he wanted while Knight guarded him. Knight never bumped Irving on the perimeter, allowing Irving to get a full head of steam, and that point, Knight didn’t have the lateral quickness to keep Irving out of the lane. Once in the paint, Irving typically made the right decision, shooting or passing.

By comparison, Will Bynum, not exactly the best defender, did a much better job of keeping Irving on the perimeter or forcing him into off-balance drives. Of course, the talented Irving still converted some of those looks.

On the other end, it almost like Knight wanted to prove he could match Irving, which I didn’t necessarily mind for a couple reasons. 1. Rodney Stuckey left the game in the first quarter with a groin injury, leaving a huge playmaking burden on Knight. 2. Knight attempted to duplicate Irving with such vigor, I had to appreciate his effort.

But Knight’s most consistent halfcourt offensive skill is shooting spot-up jumpers, and when he tried to drive, the results were mixed. His drives seemed more strained than Irving’s, and rather than ending with an easy layup or pass, Knight – if he didn’t already have the ball knocked away – had to force something. Knight looked like he took a beating, consistently throwing himself into defenders. That showed great determination, but not necessarily great results.

On one occasion, Irving baited Knight into throwing a pass, swooped into the passing lane and took off for a layup that the Pistons stopped only by fouling.

I like the signs from Knight (16 points, five assists and four rebounds), and I love the grit. But Irving is on a whole other level, and that just shows how far Knight has to go.

Greg Monroe gets force fed with negative result

In his previous four games Greg Monroe has scored just 10, 12, 5 and 13 points. The big reason he was scoring  below his scoring average was because two other stats were below his average:

Field-goal attempts: 4, 10, 5 and 9.

Free-throw attempts: 4, 2, 1 and 2

Monroe often deserves many shots because he establishes good position, uses his hands to securely receive passes and works his feet adeptly to create a good look. A lot typically goes right before he releases the ball.

That wasn’t the case tonight.

The Pistons force fed him the ball, and he seemed intent on shooting more often than not, regardless of how the defense played him. Maybe this was the plan to get him out of his slump. If that was the case, I didn’t like it, and it didn’t work.

Aside from putbacks, Monroe (eight points, 10 rebounds and three turnovers) shot 3-of-12. I don’t see how forcing bad looks – whether his impromptu decisions within the offense or by design – helps get him back on track.

Tayshaun Prince steps up

I’ve spent most of the recap discussing what went wrong, but obviously something went right, because the Pistons won. A lot of what went right was Tayshaun Prince.

Rodney Stuckey left the game in the first quarter, and Ben Gordon was already out, leaving the Pistons desperate for a scorer.

Enter Prince.

He scored 18 of his game-high 29 points in the first half on 6-of-8 shooting  with no turnovers. In that time, his teammates shot 37 percent with eight turnovers.

Prince showed all his scoring skills – making 4-of-4 3-pointers, putting the ball on the floor to get to the rim, finishing in transition and posting up. He delivered exactly what the Pistons needed.

Greg Monroe and Austin Daye defend well

I already praised Will Bynum’s defense, so this post might be unprecedented, because I’m about to praise Greg Monroe’s and Austin Daye’s defense, too.

I don’t know if Monroe (two steals and two blocks) and Daye (two steals and two blocks) made every rotation correctly, but when they were near the player with the ball, they did an excellent job contesting shots. Both weren’t afraid to be a little physical, and both used their length inside.

If they defend like that the rest of the season, I’ll be thrilled.

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Tags: Austin Daye Brandon Knight Greg Monroe Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince Will Bynum

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