Gigi was done for the night, and Italy eventually finished off Jerebko’s Sweden (82-79), but the competition between these two is just beginning.
Because the Pistons have so many players who play multiple positions, the ripple effects of any lineup adjustment can be felt everywhere in the rotation. That’s why a combo forward like Jerebko and a small forward like Datome are competing for minutes, even if Jerebko is more likely to play power forward on this Detroit team.
Today, Jerebko outdid Datome, notching 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists to Datome’s seven points in 13 minutes. But Sweden needed Jerebko more than Italy needed Datome, whose outside shooting might make him a better fit in a Pistons lineup that will heavily feature Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.
As I argued last year, Jerebko’s inclusion into the rotation is dependent on his willingness to accepter a lesser role. Lawrence Frank got a hard time for benching Jerebko early, but Frank was justified based on Jerebko deciding to shoot a lot (without making many baskets) and not do much else. Hopefully, Jerebko has accepted his NBA niche as a hustle player with a better-than-average jumper for that role. If he hasn’t, hopefully Maurice Cheeks can work with Jerebko on his outlook rather than banish him to the end of the bench like Frank did.
When Jerebko stepped to the free-throw line today, he was drenched in sweat, his face red and his hair disheveled. He clearly hasn’t stopped playing hard. In this setting, it’s as co-top player with Jeffery Taylor. In Detroit, Jerebko must play hard differently, working to get loose balls rather than jump shots.
For Datome, the path to at least cracking the Pistons’ rotation is simpler: make shots. After scoring 25 points and making 3-of-4 3-pointers against Russia in Italy’s EuroBasket opener, he’s shot just 4-of-16 from beyond the arc, including 1-of-3 today. He might have to prove himself a better shooter from distance, but then again, the Pistons might be so starved for floor spacing that he plays regularly anyway.
Jerebko and Datome are both in the thick of the Pistons’ position battles, and both had a chance to make an impression today. Whose performance rates higher is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholders who matter most, Joe Dumars and George David, are in Slovenia watching.