Detroit Pistons Report Card: Grades for All Key Players Through First Quarter

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IJanuary 23, 2012

Detroit Pistons Report Card: Grades for All Key Players Through First Quarter

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    The season is now officially a quarter over, and questions still abound.

    In fact, it appears that even the questions that we thought were answered still are there.

    The bottom line is that the Detroit Pistons are still a team that is poorly constructed, and not built to win right now. Until they address their fundamental structural problems, they will not be in a position to move forward.

    The good news for Pistons fans is that they are still in a prime position to win one of the highest picks in this year's draft. They have some young players that could be building blocks, and the coach has yet to become the focus of the local media's ire.

    The bad news? Just about everything else. This is a team that has won only four games and is on pace to just barely crack double-digits in wins.

    Here are my in-depth grades for the Detroit Pistons through the quarter mark of the season.

Greg Monroe, Center

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    Greg Monroe started the season on a tear, but he appears to have cooled a little bit lately.

    He has taken a serious step forward as an offensive option, and his rebounding is quickly becoming elite, especially on the offensive end. The team needs to do a better job of protecting him on the defensive end, and feeding him on the offensive end.

    When the offense flows through Monroe, good things happen.

    Coach Lawrence Frank has never had a dominant center to coach, so he is still learning how to re-focus his offense through the post as opposed to the perimeter. That being said, Monroe still needs to work on his post defense and his aggressiveness on the offensive end.

    He also needs to be more consistent on a game-to-game basis. During his last four games, he is averaging less than 10 points per contest. A team's most important player needs more points than that.

    That being said, the future still appears very bright for Mr. Monroe.

    Grade: B+

Brandon Knight, Guard

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    Brandon Knight has finally become a starter for the Pistons, a position that he likely will occupy for the foreseeable future.

    There have been ups and downs this year. That is surely to be expected. He is a rookie that is still learning how to play point guard in a point-guard-driven league.

    Knight has shown range, although he needs to work on his decision-making. Still, good things happen when Knight takes the ball to the rim, and he needs to continue to attack.

    One promising thing is that he is finally starting to learn the fundamentals of the pick-and-roll on both offense and defense. His overall defensive game is still lacking, but not for effort.

    The most important aspect of Knight's game is his work ethic. He has proven that he has the desire and commitment to become a good player in this league.

    But then again, so did Lindsey Hunter.

    Will Knight develop into a star, or just a good player? Only time will tell, but so far so good for Knight.

    I always grade rookies on a curve, at least in the first half of their season. If Knight were a vet, his grade would be worse. But given how young he is, he deserves some slack.

    Grade: B-

Tayshaun Prince, Forward

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    Tayshaun Prince looked terrible to start the year.

    He looked awkward, tentative and passive.

    But over the last five games, he has figured out that this team needs him to lead on the offensive end in order to have any shot at winning games. Over that span, he is averaging 20 points per game while only committing about 1.5 turnovers.

    He is picking his spots and doing what he does well.

    I still would like to see him do that on a more consistent basis, but at least he is trending in the right direction.

    Grade: C+

Rodney Stuckey, Guard

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    It is no secret that I have been a vocal critic of Rodney Stuckey.

    I was not high on his re-signing, and his attitude and play over the past few seasons has rubbed me the wrong way.

    That being said, he is starting to do the right things this year. He has not bristled at his role as sixth man (even though I really think his role should be as the starting shooting guard), and even though he has been playing injured, he is starting to improve after a disastrous start to the year.

    However, I still have a problem with his shot selection, his decision-making and his inability to finish at the rim.

    His perimeter defense continues to be solid, and he can attack the hoop like few others can. But he is still shooting only 37 percent from the field, although oddly he has drastically improved his three point shooting which is now hovering around 43 percent.

    The key for Stuckey moving forward will be how well he plays alongside Knight.

    The Pistons really need to move him back into the starting lineup opposite Knight, a move that I believe coach Frank is currently mulling over given how well the two matched up against Portland.

    Grade: C+

Jonas Jerebko, Forward

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    Jonas Jerebko's season basically has been the exact opposite of Prince's.

    Jerebko started out playing great but has quickly fallen back into the pack.

    Over his past five games, he is averaging only about seven points and seven boards per game and has largely seen his minutes crumble.

    Jerebko does a lot right. He plays with energy, intensity and a bit of a mean streak. But he lacks the strength to play defensively in the post, meaning his role is more likely that of a small forward, not a power forward.

    Moving forward, Jerebko's role with this team likely is that of a high energy sub, à la Eduardo Najera. That's not a bad thing. Fans need to temper their expectations for Jerebko and accept that he is not this team's best option as a starting power forward.

    Grade: C

Ben Gordon, Guard

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    Ben Gordon is a scorer. He isn't a defender, he isn't a rebounder and he isn't a great dribbler.

    The biggest problem with this Pistons team is their inability to score.

    In the three games that they won in which Gordon played, he is averaging nearly 19 points per game. In the 12 games they have lost that he has suited up for, he is averaging only 13 points.

    By the transitive property, this means that the Pistons are better when Gordon scores more.

    The best recipe for this going forward is to make Gordon the sixth man again. Let him come off the bench and just shoot every time he gets the ball. With Gordon coming off the bench, the Pistons would have the option of either keeping Knight in the game to facilitate the offense, or Stuckey. Then Gordon can just fire at will.

    At the very least, this will boost the rebounding numbers of the big men!

    Gordon started out playing very well, but his numbers have stumbled recently. Perhaps it is a nagging shoulder injury that is holding him back. Perhaps it is a byproduct of the offense becoming more and more low post-centric.

    Either way, he needs to consistently get his shots, and he needs to consistently make those shots.

    Grade: C

Ben Wallace, Forward

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    Grading Ben Wallace's performance this season is a tricky matter.

    You can't compare him this year to past years; he isn't that player anymore.

    You also can't really compare him with his peers, since he is no longer asked to do what he used to do, which is dominate a game from the defensive end.

    He still can play very strong interior defense, but he no longer is capable of playing the same way he could five or 10 years ago.

    That being said, he still is perhaps the best interior defender on the roster, and he no doubt is providing strong leadership for Monroe.

    Grade: B-

Jason Maxiell, Forward

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    Maxiell, like Wallace, is a tough guy to grade.

    You can't compare Maxiell with the player that many fans thought he would be when he showed so much promise a few years ago. Fans thought Maxiell would turn into a 15-points, 10-rebounds-per-game guy given increased minutes.

    That, obviously, is not going to ever be Maxiell.

    What he is is a barrel-chested, undersized, reserve power forward.

    He can give you about 15 to 20 minutes of low post defense and some strong screens, but he won't give you much more.

    But if you temper your expectations and ask him only to be a strong post defender and someone that won't hurt you too much on offense, then you will not be disappointed with his play.

    Grade: C

Will Bynum, Guard

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    Will Bynum appears to be a man without a country so to speak on this Pistons team.

    Bynum really doesn't have much of a role with this team. Part of that has to do with his own injuries, but part of that has to do with Brandon Knight's emergence.

    Either way, Bynum will likely see his minutes stay right where they are, if not decrease even further as Stuckey continues to heal.

    Bynum has played well in spurts, scoring 20 points in a blowout against Dallas, but in close games he likely will see more of the pine than the court.

    Grade: C-

Austin Daye, Forward

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    Take a look at the picture above. This sums up Austin Daye this season.

    He is kind of lazily swiping at the ball, feet still on the ground, opposing player not really even paying attention to him.

    Daye, in a lot of ways, is channelling Charlie "Don't call me hustle" Villanueva with his play this season.

    Daye's season has been an unmitigated disaster. He is shooting 25 percent from the field and has missed all 14 of his three-point shots.

    He has never been much of a rebounder, defender, ball-handler or passer.

    So what is left if he can't shoot?

    Daye is failing this season, and could be officially viewed as a bust at this point.

    Grade: F

Damien Wilkins, Forward

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    Fans seem to like Damien Wilkins, and with good reason.

    As opposed to how his uncle, Dominique, captivated fans with his thunderous dunks and massive athleticism, Damien is a hard worker who rarely makes mistakes.

    In fact, if Wilkins had an ounce of Austin Daye's raw talent, he would be a star.

    He gives you hustle, effort and mistake-free basketball.

    But he doesn't really play enough minutes or impact the game enough to receive anything more than a solid grade.

    Grade: C

Charlie Villanueva, Vernon Macklin, Walker Russell Jr.

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    These three players receive incomplete grades. Macklin really only plays a couple of minutes here or there in blowouts.

    Russell just got signed, due in large part to the injuries to Bynum and Stuckey and Gordon.

    Villanueva has only played in two games, due to both injury and his inability to get on the same page as coach Frank.

    Grades: Incomplete

Lawrence Frank

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    So far, Frank has avoided the ire of the fans.

    That is the good news.

    The bad news is that his team stinks.

    The Pistons still are playing hard, and they have wins against good teams. But they lose way more than they win, and at this point might be one of the three worst teams in basketball.

    From and X's and O's perspective, I haven't seen a ton to dislike about Frank's philosophy of basketball. He needs to continue to feed the post and young big man Greg Monroe. He also needs to finally put Stuckey back into the starting lineup as the scoring guard along with Brandon Knight. He should continue to teach his team to defend the pick-and-roll.

    But he has them playing hard despite the fact that they are not built to succeed.

    His grade will continue to be tied to the effort with which his team plays and the development of his young players.

    Grade: C

Joe Dumars

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    Dumars entered this season with a failing grade in my eyes, and he really hasn't done anything at all to change that.

    The only good thing he has done, apparently, is not trade away his best assets.

    But his Stuckey signing, though not as terrible as once thought, really hasn't bore much fruit.

    His Prince signing is finally starting to show some merit, but Dumars' grade is tied more to what he hasn't done than what he has.

    He hasn't put the parts together to make a winner. He hasn't shored up the huge hole they have at power forward he hasn't found any takers for the dead weight that he created on the roster and he has yet to find a consistent scoring team.

    This team is bad, and Dumars built it.

    Grade: F