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Detroit Pistons so impressive in victory, Sacramento Kings coach Paul Westphal says Detroit’s a playoff team, but lineup questions linger


After maybe the best two-game stretch of his career, Austin Daye lost his spot in the rotation.

Nobody seemed too happy with John Kuester’s decision before the game, but his team did the best thing possible to take the heat off – win. The Pistons beat the Kings, 100-94, for their second straight win and fourth in five games.

The win was so impressive, Kings coach Paul Westphal said in his postgame press conference, “I think they’re a playoff team in the East. I don’t think there’s much doubt about it." (Detroit is only half a game out.)

But the lineup questions aren’t going away just yet.

Jason Maxiell, who made his first start of the season, deserves a spot in the rotation because he’s been very good defensively this year. He can also score a bit inside and rebounds reasonably well.

That said, he shouldn’t be starting. He’s at his best against backup centers, and he should stick to that role.

In his postgame press conference, Kuester indicated Daye sat because of a poor matchup with Carl Landry. When the Pistons play the Warriors tomorrow, we’ll learn if that’s accurate. Golden State certainly doesn’t present similar challenges inside.

If the Pistons really wanted a more physical preference starting, it should have been Greg Monroe. He’s rebounded like crazy (better than Maxiell) and defended pretty well.

Really, Kuester doesn’t get enough credit for benching Monroe in his first two games. That motivational technique worked like a charm. The knock on Monroe had been a low motor, but that hasn’t been the case so far this season.

But apparently, Kuester still doesn’t trust Monroe as much Maxiell.

I’m still not convinced Kuester gave the true reason for the switch. The Trail Blazers offered a similarly difficult matchup for Daye, and he still started. If there were other reasons to remove Daye, Charlie Villanueva, who has been active on both ends of the court, should have received starting consideration.

Of course, this leaves Daye out of the entire conversation. He’s been alright this season, doesn’t he deserve to at least play?

Well, maybe. First we have to set the terms of the argument.

The Pistons primary goal is making the playoffs. Joe Dumars has said that often, so you can’t blame Kuester for any decisions with short-term benefits. I think that’s a sound goal, anyway. Winning will help locker room problems, foster an environment where players don’t complain about minutes and increase Detroit’s chances of hosting playoff games ($).

So, whether Daye deserves to play comes down to whether than he’s better than the worst player in the Pistons’ 10-man rotation

That’s probably Tracy McGrady, who conveniently plays the same position as Daye.

There’s no question Daye is better equipped to handle a heavy load, but since we’re only talking about the 13 minutes behind Tayshaun Prince, it’s not so cut and dry.

I would lean toward Daye, but you can easily make the case McGrady is better right now. McGrady’s quick hands on defense have started fastbreaks, and Daye often looks lost on that end (to be fair, not nearly as often as last year). Plus, McGrady’s passing and smarts makes him capable of initiating the offense, and that’s particularly relevant with Will Bynum’s recent struggles. Either way, I won’t blame Kuester for his choice.

Whew, that was complicated, and the Pistons only moved one player out of the lineup.

This team has so many players capable of playing multiple positions, any switch has ramifications up and down the roster. Someone will be left out.

So, it goes back to what I said above – just win. It’s the easiest way to sort all this out.

Scoring star

Ben Gordon deserves more minutes.

He’s shooting amazingly and defending, passing and rebounding well enough. The 27.3 minutes per game he’s getting when Richard Hamilton is healthy aren’t enough.

Tonight, he scored 16 points on six shots, including a huge 3-pointer with with 23 seconds left. For the season, he’s averaging 16 points per game on 54.7 shooting. But he’s only taking 10.6 shots per game.

Some players shoot well on limited shots, because they only take the shots they can make. Behind Gordon, Ben Wallace has the team’s second-highest field-goal percentage. But Wallace can only score on the putbacks and bunnies he’s taking right now. He already takes every makeable shot available to him. He can’t take anymore.

Gordon’s shooting percentage will likely come down, only because as the sample size increases, it will revert to the mean. (Gordon’s career shooting percentage is .436, but I still think he’ll come out way ahead of it this season.) But Gordon could take more of the same types of shots he’s taking now and shoot at a similar clip.

The problem is Hamilton. Because of locker-room politics, there’s almost* no conceivable way to bring him off the bench. You can cry about how Gordon is better, younger and and a better fit next to Rodney Stuckey. It doesn’t matter. It’s also not fair, but most of all, it doesn’t matter.

*I say almost, because if the Pistons win enough, they can make any personnel decision. But it would take a heck of a lot more wins to bring Hamilton off the bench than it would to justify not playing Daye at all.

So, here’s Gordon, showing why he’s the can’t-pass-up type of player Joe Dumars clearly thought he was signing, doing as well as possible, and he can’t get enough minutes.

I wish there was a good, but I don’t see one anytime soon.

New problems on the defensive glass

Once again, the Pistons struggled to get defensive rebounds.

They were allowing their opponents to collect 29.1 percent of available offensive rebounds (23rd in the NBA) and the Kings were nabbing 30.2 percent of available offensive rebounds (sixth) entering the game.

Sacramento grabbed 39.1 percent tonight.

But unlike against the Trail Blazers, boxing out wasn’t the problem (at least for the most part).

The Pistons don’t have someone who’s active when going for rebounds.

The players they depended on most for rebounds tonight, Ben Wallace and Jason Maxiell, have the same style. They position themselves well for where they think the miss will go (Wallace more so) and box out. They’re not the most nimble, so they’re susceptible to high-motor opponents.*

*Austin Daye uses this same style, so he wasn’t going to help today.

Nether Wallace or Maxiell is very tall, either, so longer opponents can cause them trouble on the glass, too.*

*Daye is tall, but not strong enough to make a difference today.

So, the active Carl Landry (five offensive rebounds), the long Samuel Dalembert (five) and Jason Thompson, who’s a little bit of both, dominated the offensive glass.

The problem with those types of rebounders, especially against Detroit’s type of rebounders, is they can get easy putbacks. Landry grabbed rebounds and re-elevated before the less-bouncy Wallace and Maxiell could do anything. Dalembert wasn’t bother by his shorter opponents on tips, and Thompson did both. The Kings had offensive rebounds on 16 of their possessions, and their big men made putbacks on 11 of those.

The Pistons need someone to matchup with those types of players

Jonas Jerebko would probably be that guy, but he’s injured.

Greg Monroe might be that guy, but he mostly matched up with DeMarcus Cousins, who wasn’t the serious offensive-rebounding threat. (Hence, why I said Monroe should start.)

I’m not sure why Charlie Villanueva, especially with his improved physique, isn’t that guy. He had his worst rebounding percentage of his career last year, and I chalked that up to injuries. He’s rebounding even worse this year.

I bet this problem gets sorted out before the end of the season. I hope it’s before Jerebko returns.

A Prince fit for the Kings

Patrick called this in the game preview, but Tayshaun Prince owns the Kings. He made 7-of-10 shots tonight.

McGrady jumpers

Tracy McGrady made 4-of-5 jump shots tonight, and he looked good doing it. More of a sign that he’s on his way back.

A sign that he’s not is how slowly he still moves on the court. His hands move faster, though. It’s to the point I expect him to make at least one steal every game, even in limited minutes.

Stuckey solid

Rodney Stuckey played pretty well, posting 17 points, seven assists and three rebounds. He also had four turnovers, but I’m not sure all four are on him. The entire team was sloppy passing and receiving the ball today.

Stuckey also played solid defense on Tyreke Evans, who shot just 9-for-21.

Really, it’s a credit to Stuckey that he can play this well and not get mentioned higher in the recap. Expectations have definitely risen for him.

Mental state of the team

Detroit played reasonably hard today, but the Kings aren’t a very good team, either.

The Pistons showed no effort against their best two opponents – the Celtics and the Trail Blazers. They play harder against middle- and lower-tier teams, but they aren’t good enough to win all of those.

Is that enough to make the playoffs in the East? Maybe.

I just want to see Detroit play hard against a good team. That will give me some hope this team isn’t as mentally weak as it looks.

Unfortunately, there are few reasons to expect that. heWizard sat in the third row of the Clippers game and wrote analysis for Detroit Bad Boys. It’s a good read but this passage particularly impacted me:

"The thing that struck me most being just feet away from the players and coaching staff was something that I sort of expected, but was surprised to see so pervasively: this is not a happy team. There was little warmth between players, zero warmth between players and coaches, very little fanfare from the bench even after big shots and next to zero excitement after a tightly-contested overtime victory.However, the players did not seem fragmented. They fought as a team and talked to one another on the bench. But my assessment is that their unity is one not necessarily for one another so much as against Kuester. Nearly every player (CV was the notable exception) shook his head and grumbled to his teammates when benched."