Last night, Greg Monroe played sloppy defense. A hard-working veteran behind him on the depth chart just so happened to have another near-vintage game in him, so Monroe sat as penance for a feeble effort in favor of Ben Wallace, playing just 20 minutes despite shooting the ball well.
Knight played matador defense against Atlanta’s Jeff Teague, who got in the lane at will, finishing with 24 points, 11 assists and just two turnovers. Teague is certainly a tough cover due to his quickness. Knight has exhibited a lot of speed when he’s moving up and down the court all season, but he occasionally looks a bit slower when he has to move his feet side to side. Tonight was one of those ‘slow’ nights. A few of Teague’s layups were simply blow-bys, where Knight couldn’t even manage to get some contact on Teague before he was already on his way to the rim. By the midway point of the third quarter, shortly after another Teague layup, Lawrence Frank pulled Knight.
In both last night’s game with Monroe and tonight’s game with Knight, I’m not sure whether Frank subbed them out of those respective games intending to never put them back on the floor. In both cases, he had the option of veterans playing extremely well. Tonight, it was Bynum. He finished with 15 points, four rebounds, an assist and two steals. He was far from a defensive stopper, but he at least put more pressure on the ball against Teague than Knight was able to. He also came away with one of his trademark, jaw-dropping plays, hustling back on defense, going straight up and blocking a close-range shot attempt by Hawks Center Zaza Pachulia, who is at least a foot taller than Bynum.
When I was watching and writing about Wallace’s performance last night, the thought that we really only have a couple weeks left to appreciate what Wallace has meant to this franchise was never far from my mind. Bynum certainly has nowhere near the level of accomplishments Wallace has, but I’m having similar reflective feelings about him. The other day, Ben Gulker of Detroit Bad Boys wrote this:
I want Will Bynum to be MFWB again (that’s Marvelously Fantastic Will Bynum for the uninitiated).
Really, sincerely, I do. But he ain’t. Or at least, he hasn’t been. Yes, there have been some flashes and some nasty highlights. But overall, I can’t shake the feeling his time in Detroit is coming to an end.
Now, from a logical standpoint, I understand this. Bynum has always wanted a bigger role than he was able to play in Detroit. When he’s had consistent minutes, he’s been productive. With Knight and Rodney Stuckey essentially sharing most of the minutes at point guard between them, Bynum will never get the role he covets here. Plus, the skillset he brings to the table is too similar to how Knight and Stuckey already play. The Pistons could really use a backup guard who is a traditional distributor and who can be a spot-up shooter. Both parties would probably be best served by amicably parting ways. I get it.
It’s still a little sad, though, because I’ve become pretty attached to Bynum over the years. We all know the last four seasons of Pistons basketball have been difficult to watch. For me, (other than Monroe, of course) the biggest bright spot and most watchable player of that overall forgettable span has been Bynum. It has been pretty simple why. We’ve seen over those four years quite the collection of selfishness, incompetence and hideously ugly basketball by just about anyone who has anything to do with the on-court product (players, coaches, execs, everyone). Bynum, on the other hand, has not only provided more than his share of dynamic plays, he was always a guy whose passion, whose effort you couldn’t really question. He was always the guy at the short end of the stick when divvying out guard minutes and it was never for legitimate reasons. He out-worked any guard the Pistons had on the roster in front of him, whether it was established stars like Allen Iverson or Rip Hamilton, whether it was a prodigy young player like Stuckey or whether it was a pricey free agent like Ben Gordon. He played the least because the Pistons had the least invested in him. It wasn’t fair to him, but he was as professional as it got. He clearly wanted to play more, he clearly didn’t like sitting on the bench, but he never joined in the public grousing that other players who were unhappy (and less justifiably unhappy, I might add, compared to Bynum’s situation) with their roles partook in.
I don’t know whether Bynum will be a Piston next season again or not, but I was happy to see him get at least one more trademark Bynum performance. It was fitting that it came mostly with Stuckey on the court, too. I remember during the craziness of Iverson’s Pistons season, a few times because of the alternating injuries/pouting of Iverson and Hamilton, Michael Curry was forced to roll with a Bynum-Stuckey backcourt. I remember them being a lot of fun to watch, too. They seemed to have good chemistry with each other and both guys loved to push the ball and attack the basket. Both clearly put a lot of pressure on a defense. But in the John Kuester era, we didn’t see that lineup much simply because the Pistons had too much money invested in shooting guards to get Stuckey many minutes at the SG spot while Bynum played the point. They had a big impact on tonight’s game. When they were on the court together, the Pistons were +17 on Atlanta.
Like last night with Monroe and Wallace, Knight getting benched in favor of Bynum isn’t something I’m hoping becomes the norm as the season winds down, but I’m OK with it as a one-time thing. Knight played poorly on defense and a veteran behind him stepped in and played with the aggression and energy the Pistons want to see in Knight at all times. Hopefully, it just serves as a not so subtle reminder to Knight that minutes aren’t a given. And hopefully, it served as a nice audition for Bynum that helps interest a team in need of a change of pace guard it can give consistent minutes to next season.
Oh, and Stuckey is really good
I owe Stuckey a few thousand words about the immense leap forward he’s taken as a player and a leader this season. Trust me, that will be coming up. But for tonight, he scored 27 points off the bench, once again made putting Gordon on the court unnecessary (we all owe him a thank you for that) and he, Bynum, Damien Wilkins, Wallace and Jonas Jerebko formed a much more active, competitive and entertaining bunch to watch than a first unit that might have been run off the floor tonight if the Pistons didn’t have that lively bench crew stepping in. Oh, and speaking of starters, I know that +/- is not a tell-all stat, but Tayshaun Prince was a -30 tonight. Wow.
Monroe doesn’t respond
You know that part above where I mentioned that I hope Knight takes the hint of getting benched for lousy defense and plays better next time around? Basically, I could’ve just wrote, “Don’t respond how Monroe did tonight.” I didn’t expect Monroe to dominate offensively. The Hawks have a great defensively player/shot blocker in their frontcourt in Josh Smith and Monroe tends to have trouble getting his shots off against players like that. But as was noted a few times by commenters, he had another poor defensive game. He occasionally doesn’t move his feet well defensively facing up against bigs like Smith, he occasionally doesn’t react quickly enough to help on dribble penetration and he occasionally gets bullied into giving up position under the basket to bruising big men. Tonight, all those things happened in the same game. Knight was certainly guilty of not giving enough resistance to Teague, but Monroe was also late getting over to contest on some of Teague’s drives. Smith scored 22 points on 10-for-20 shooting against basically anyone the Pistons through at him and Ivan Johnson came off the bench to smash his way to the basket and shoot 8-for-12. Plenty of defensive blame to go around in this one, it’s not all on Monroe and Knight, but as potential cornerstone players the team is depending on down the road, both guys need to make significant strides on defense in the offseason. This was a bad one to watch.