Detroit Pistons desperately need to find a backup center


How do the Pistons compete when Ben Wallace is on the bench?

That’s the question they’ll have to answer if they want to snap their 11-game losing steak.

Detroit’s 112-92 loss to the Spurs last night wasn’t nearly as ugly as it seemed. San Antonio ended the game on a 35-15 run, which began with a 16-4 spurt before Ben Wallace entered the game in the fourth quarter.

Wallace played 26:21, and the Pistons outscored th

e Spurs by five in that span. In the other 21:39 of the game, the Spurs outscored the Pistons by 25.

After the game, I looked at the box score expecting to see an impressive line from Wallace. I wasn’t quite expecting the seven points, five rebounds, two assists, a block, a steal, two turnovers and four fouls he actually had.

But traditional stats don’t really show why Wallace has been Detroit’s best player this year. His plus-minus per 48 minutes (-1.3) is best on the team, and he does a lot to deserve that recognition.

  • He makes blocks and steals. But the strength of his defense is his ability to disrupt the opponent’s offense by altering shots, pushing players out of the post and deflecting passes.
  • His gets a lot of assists total for his size. But he also facilitates the offense by setting excellent screens.
  • And he also tips a lot of rebounds to teammates, making his work on the glass more valuable than the numbers show.

Not only has he been the Pistons’ best player, he’s been their most valuable player. By far, center is their weakest position on the bench – especially with Kwame Brown out of the rotation.

The backup big men

That has left the Pistons using a pair of power forwards when Wallace is on the bench. And that just hasn’t worked.

Beside two minutes when the game was already decided, Detroit used two power forward/center combinations with Wallace out last night.

  • Chris Wilcox and Charlie Villanueva were -14 in 15:04.
  • Wilcox and Jason Maxiell were -7 in 4:27.

None of those three can provide much interior defense. They don’t do the little things on offense, either.

Jonas Jerebko has played power forward with Wallace out, too. But Jerebko seems to be a better fit at small forward. His transition defense, once of his biggest strengths, can’t be taken advantage as often when he’s crashing the offensive glass as a power forward.

The Pistons need a different solution to this problem.

Kwame Brown

I’m not really why Brown has fallen so far out of favor.

Remove a Dec. 20 loss to the Lakers when Brown played 21 minutes, and he’s played just 19 minutes in Detroit’s last nine games. He didn’t play at all in five of them.

In limited minutes last year, he defended and rebounded well. He certainly seemed equipped to be a backup center. Before the season, Pistons coach John Kuester even considered starting Brown.

That was probably a little much. But I think it’s time to put him back in the rotation.

Brown is a true center, and Villanueva, Maxiell and Wilcox would all seem to play well with him. With some experimenting, I’m nearly certain Detroit would find at least one of those three would form an excellent combo. Brown would provide the defense, and the other would contribute more on offense.

Using Brown as a backup center would also allow the Pistons to use more creative options at power forward – Tayshaun Prince or Austin Daye. As weak inside defensively as Wilcox, Villanueva and Maxiell are, Prince or Daye combined with one of the three would be insane.

Prince’s and Daye’s shooting ability would make Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon a lot more effective on the pick-and-roll. And if Jonas Jerebko was playing small forward at the same time, he could help when Prince or Daye are matched up with a stronger player.

But it all starts with Brown.

The Pistons have exhausted their other backup center options. It’s time for Kuester to take a long, hard look at why Brown is still glued to the bench.

Maybe there’s a good reason. I sure hope so.