Detroit Pistons show reproducible signs of progress in win over Hawks


The Pistons deserved this celebration, the extra few moments to take credit.

The streamers fell from The Palace rafters 0.2 seconds too soon, but a review and cleanup just gave the Pistons more time to hang out in front of their bench and bask in easily their best and most complete victory of the season.

They didn’t have to play the role of Josh Smith, pleading to just end the game already. Rather, they high-fived and chatted. Cool and confident is not a role the Pistons have played often this season, but they played it well late tonight.

With a 103-80 victory over the Hawks, the Pistons leave the Wizards and Kings as the only teams that haven’t beaten an opponent with a winning record.

Best of all, the Pistons showed plenty of positives they can sustain throughout the season.

Before we get carried away, the Pistons can’t always play this well. But they beat a good team by 23. Not everything has to be this perfect every night.

They can get by without Tracy McGrady making four 3-pointers.* They’ll survive not making 19-of-21 free throws. They won’t be done in by Chris Wilcox not playing the type of post defense that helped him finish plus-20.

*Boy, his lift on those shots looked impressive.

But a lot of things that went right could continue to go right, even if on a slightly smaller scale.

Richard Hamilton’s shooting

Richard Hamilton’s field-goal percentage has dropped, in large part, because he’s taking fewer good shots. He’s not necessarily missing the shots that used to be his specialty. He’s shooting more 3-pointers and jumpers he has to create for himself off the dribble. Those aren’t his game.

Tonight, Hamilton worked harder before getting the ball than he did afterward. He continuously put himself in position to score when receiving the pass, and that’s why he scored an efficient 24 points.

The implicit benefits of Hamilton’s performance tonight could be important, too. To get his best shots, the type of shots he got tonight, Hamilton has to trust his teammates. He needs them to set good screens and deliver him the ball when he’s open.

Both clicked tonight, and maybe that will lead to more camaraderie between Hamilton and his teammates.

Charlie Villanueva’s activeness

Charlie Villanueva’s stat lines don’t always tell the whole story, but his numbers tonight are as impressive as they look.

He scored 23 points because he worked his way inside and picked his spots outside. He grabbed 11 rebounds because he battled in traffic. He had three steals and a block because he gave his all on defense.

Villanueva has provided effort most of this season. Tonight was an extreme case of everything going right for him, but when plays this hard, that’s bound to happen sometimes. And when the breaks don’t fall his way, as long as Villanueva plays this hard, those results won’t be bad, either.

Pistons’ rebounding

The Pistons, 28th in rebounding, outrebounded the Hawks, 17th – by an impressive 43-31 margin – largely due to John Kuester’s lineup changes.

Greg Monroe, in his first start next to team-leading-rebounder Ben Wallace, played a large majority of his minutes with the first unit. The way Monroe rebounds – with excellent positioning and strong, soft hands – he can excel on the glass against anyone. So, the Pistons essentially gave a larger rebounding role to Monroe (14.8 rebounding percentage) at the expense of Jason Maxiell (9.4 rebounding percentage).

On the backend, Chris Wilcox – whose 14.3 career rebounding percentage trails only Wallace and Monroe among current Pistons – joined the rotation in place of Maxiell. He grabbed just three rebounds in 20 minutes, but he figures to help on the glass if he keeps playing.

Rodney Stuckey’s aggressiveness

Rodney Stuckey has become more aggressive, bordering on reckless, the last three games. It’s not the most efficient way to play, but for Stuckey, it might be a worthwhile compromise.

On the bright side, he’s averaging 19.3 points (8-of-8.6 from the free-throw line) and 9.3 assists per game. Defenses can’t stay in front of him when he plays at this tempo. But he can’t always play within himself at this speed, and that’s why he’s averaging 3.0 turnovers per game in the last three games.

Stuckey’s attacking style has also carried to defense, where he’s averaging 1.7 steals in the last three games. He’s really pressuring his opponent more.

When Stuckey plays like this and things don’t go right, he looks like he has no clue what he’s doing. But I think it’s worth the higher upside.

Tayshaun Prince’s focus

Aside from a brief moment in the third quarter when Tayshaun Prince lifted his arm in disbelief at a referee rather than getting back on defense, Prince was engaged in this game.

There’s no reason he can’t play like this – 10 rebounds, five rebounds, four assists and committed defense, including a chase-from-behind block on a fastbreak – most nights.

Really, there’s no reason the Pistons can’t reproduce most of what they did tonight. Sometimes, their opponent will play better than the Hawks, and Detroit will lose anyway. But the effort, focus and gameplan should come together like this much more often that it has so far this season.