Seeing one of the team’s top young players go down with a serious injury minutes into the first preseason game had many people (especially me) in a foul mood the other day. Seeing another of the team’s young players have the best game of his career, preseason or otherwise, tempers the disappointment a little.
Austin Daye unveiled his whole repertoire with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and a block in the team’s overtime win over Milwaukee Friday. With everything that looked so poor from the first game, the Pistons looked like a completely different team. And they kind of were with Jonas Jerebko and Terrico White out with injuries, Tracy McGrady out because the Pistons plan to use him sparingly in the preseason as he works back into basketball shape and Rip Hamilton missed the game for the birth of his second child. But more on the team below. Daye was the story.
At various times last season, Daye showed the ability to shoot, the ability to put it on the floor, the ability to get off a variety of mid-range shots, an ability to rebound pretty well for someone with such a slight frame and an ability to block shots. Rarely did he ever exhibit those skills all at the same time. The tantalizing potential for him to put everything together at once is the reason he was drafted in the middle of the first round, and if he uses this game as a building block, people will forget some of the names (Ty Lawson, Darren Collison) who went after him in that draft. He’s highly skilled fundamentally, he’s athletic and his height allows him to get his shot off against anyone.
When Jerebko went down with his injury, and when McGrady looked pretty forgettable in the first game, it caused a thought to creep up in a lot of readers’ minds: perhaps this will convince the Pistons to play Daye more. And although I certainly like Daye’s skillset and want him to play more, I’m a bit conflicted about simply handing young players minutes. Yes, everyone needs minutes to grow as a player, but it’s also important that those young guys earn their way into the lineup. I didn’t want Daye to just be thrown in because they had an injury or they had a veteran who wasn’t going to be in the longterm plans. I want him to earn his way into the lineup by playing aggressive and not disappearing from games, whether he’s playing 30 minutes or three minutes. Friday’s game showed that Daye is willing to fight his way into the lineup, and that’s the most exciting aspect of his performance no matter what his statline is.
Bynum gets the start: With Hamilton out, I assumed Ben Gordon would start. Not so fast though. John Kuester slid Rodney Stuckey over to the shooting guard spot and started Will Bynum at point guard.
I don’t know if I’d call the combo a success, but it certainly helped the team start the game with great energy. They opened the game on a 19-8 run and Stuckey and Bynum both attacked the basket.
Stuckey, in particular, was a totally different player than the first preseason game. He was aggressive, he wasn’t tentative and he looked for his shot. It’s a common knock on Stuckey — when he’s in the lineup with a veteran guard (think Hamilton or Allen Iverson), he defers so much that you barely notice he’s on the court. When he’s not paired with a scorer in the backcourt, he’s much more aggressive.
That wasn’t always to his advantage against Milwaukee — he did turn it over five times. But the Pistons turned it over 22 times as a team, and Stuckey is not really known for having a huge number of turnovers, so that could just be some preseason sloppiness creeping in.
If the Pistons share the ball and keep it moving on offense, having that elusive “true” point guard is less important. Bynum, Stuckey, Gordon and Tayshaun Prince combined for 22 assists and the team had 28 assists. Bynum’s presence and ability to be the primary ball-handler and get the team into its offense undoubtedly took pressure off of Stuckey, but the Pistons as a team were just much more unselfish than they were in the opening game. They have guys who can all run the offense when needed, it’s just a matter of those players understanding that there are generally at least four guys on the court for the Pistons who can score. There’s no reason to run so many isos with players standing around.
Villanueva is the starting power forward: It was a pretty easy assumption that Charlie Villanueva would get the start at power forward with Jerebko hurt. But he also played fewer minutes than any Piston who saw the court. I think it’s safe to say his hold on that starting spot is tenuous, but the Pistons don’t really have a superior option right now based on this game at least.
Daye and DaJuan Summers both saw time at power forward (I actually really like Summers at that spot against smaller teams) and both played well. Summers shot 6-of-8 and scored 15 points, although he was the only Piston with a negative plus/minus and was on the court during a late fourth quarter run when the Bucks made a run and forced overtime. I like the idea of playing both guys there for stretches, but starting there? The Pistons would give up a huge amount of size if they did that. Daye and Summers at power forward make more sense against the second units of opposing teams so they aren’t facing top big men.
Jason Maxiell had six points, three rebounds and two blocks, but also turned it over three times. Greg Monroe just looks a step slow right now and might be better suited to the bench for the same reason as Daye and Summers — going against second unit bigs would put less pressure on him and allow him to let the game catch up with him.
But, for what it’s worth, Maxiell and Monroe were on the floor when the Pistons erased a deficit and took the lead in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. They played with Gordon, Daye and Bynum and that lineup was a lot of fun to watch.
Will the pace last?: The Pistons scored 100 points in a game only 20 times last season. They scored 115 or more only once. The immediate reaction to the final score is that they must not have defended well, but that’s pretty misleading. The Bucks only shot 43 percent, and other than Brandon Jennings and Chris Douglas-Roberts, who both had good games, the Bucks didn’t have anyone who did much damage (other than Ersan Ilyasova at the free throw line).
I was the guy making fun of commenters who went too overboard on the negative side with the ugly opening loss, so I won’t go too overboard on this win. After all, Milwaukee played without Andrew Bogut, Corey Maggette and John Salmons. But I will say this: don’t give up hope on this season. The Pistons have players who are exciting to watch, they have veterans like Prince and Ben Wallace (and possibly Hamilton, depending on his ability to stay healthy) who are competitive and will push the young guys and what they did show against he Bucks, even with key guys out, is they have the ability to put creative lineups on the floor that can at the very least cause matchup problems for opponents.