Pistons lineup changes would be easier to advocate if young players were out-playing veterans

Pistons fans desperately want to see Andre Drummond and, to a lesser extent, the team’s collection of young forwards, in more prominent roles in the lineup. Lawrence Frank was asked about whether he’d make those types of changes after Friday’s loss to Phoenix and, my guess is, his answer won’t win him many new fans among the ‘PLAY DRUMMOND!’ crowd. Via David Mayo of MLive:

Head coach Lawrence Frank seemed a little taken aback to be asked about potential lineup changes after two games, particularly with the winless and angry Los Angeles Lakers up Sunday in the second game of a six-game road trip.

“I’m not willing to make any kind of moves,” Frank said.  “At the same time, I understand the question, in that we’ll continue to assess and see.”

It’s easy to advocate giving young players minutes at the expense of more limited veterans who probably don’t figure into the team’s long-term plans. But through two games, Mayo points out a slight problem with that stance:

The problem for the Pistons isn’t just that their starters haven’t played a cohesive game yet but that the ones expected to contribute most have been so inconsistent.  Monroe and Stuckey have been troublesome surprises through two games.  Brandon Knight bounced back after a poor opener and played better, but the Pistons need consistency from all three of those players.

Mayo’s point is right. Tayshaun Prince and Jason Maxiell have been the team’s two most consistent players so far. They are often the two players most often implicated when people are making cases for more minutes for Drummond, Jonas Jerebko, Kyle Singler, Kim English and Khris Middleton. In reality, though, if you’re using a strictly merit-based system to determine who plays, Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey have been bad in two games. Brandon Knight was bad in one and not great in the first half against Phoenix before getting it going in the second half and finishing with a pretty good game.

That’s why taking strong, ‘scrap the rotation and start from scratch,’ approach right now makes little sense. If you’re going to do something drastic like that, you either have to sit struggling guys who are part of your group of young players you’re investing in like Monroe and Stuckey, which isn’t in the team’s best interest, or you have to demote players who are doing what is asked of them and playing pretty well in Prince and Maxiell, which also isn’t the greatest message to send.

Frank is essentially right. I don’t agree with his decision to open the season with Maxiell as the starter, but that’s the decision he made. Drummond had one poor game and one solid one. Let him hopefully build on that solid performance Sunday and on the rest of this trip, let Monroe and Stuckey (hopefully) shake out of their slumps, let the second unit, which has been good, continue making its case for more minutes and then re-evaluate when you have more than two games worth of body of work to base decisions on. It’s going to be impossible to keep Drummond, and maybe Jerebko and Singler if they keep playing well, from demanding more minutes as this season progresses. But sending a panicked message right now after just two games isn’t necessarily the best move either. Frank showed last season that he can coach a team that improves significantly as the season progresses. I don’t know whether he’ll show that again this season, but he deserves more than two games before whatever identity he wants this team to create for itself is called a failure too. If these problems continue to persist, then by all means, call it what it is. But plenty of teams haven’t looked good to start the season, plenty will be much different teams by season’s end than they are now. There’s no reason to believe the Pistons can’t be in that group.

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Tags: Andre Drummond Brandon Knight Greg Monroe Jason Maxiell Jonas Jerebko Khris Middleton Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince

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