Detroit Pistons: 3 Troubling Signs, 3 Encouraging Signs

Marshall ZweigContributor IINovember 10, 2012

Detroit Pistons: 3 Troubling Signs, 3 Encouraging Signs

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    The Detroit Pistons are 0-8.  Feel free to choose from the following gloomy cliches: 

    • the bottom has fallen out
    • the end is near
    • the sky is falling
    • in space, no one can hear you scream (or is that Auburn Hills?)
    • anybody have a white flag I can borrow?

    But hey, before you swandive from that Renaissance Center ledge or the main tower of the Ambassador Bridge (take THAT, Matty Moroun!), let's look at things more closely. We'll evaluate the games not purely from an emotional standpoint, but from a practical one as well.

    And good news: You'll see there are several encouraging signs as well.

    Don't get me wrong. The Pistons would desperately like to have a better record through six games. But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once observed, "Only in the darkness can you see the stars."

    So what darkness—and what stars—have we seen among our boys in red, white and blue over the first seven games?

Encouraging Sign I: The Monroe-Drummond Show Has Begun

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    The news every Pistons fan has been waiting for since draft day finally arrived on Friday night.  That's right: Coach Lawrence Frank finally paired Greg Monroe with first-round draft pick and athletic center Andre Drummond. 

    The result?  For the first time this season, the Pistons were able to out-rebound an opponent.

    Not only that, but the pairing also instantly ignited a 9-0 run which swung momentum back the Pistons' way just as the Thunder were threatening to pull away.  Two Drummond baskets came off assists from Monroe.

    For the game, Drummond notched eight rebounds and a blocked shot, as well as raining 22 points on the Thunder.  His shooting percentage is an astounding .700.  And Coach Frank says Drummond "is an extremely hard worker, very, very focused, is prepared every day and wants to get better."

    Monroe, who had 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots for the night, said, "I think we did a good job for the time we were together...it worked."

    Even Brandon Knight was invigorated by Drummond's presence: He dished out four of his six assists during the six minutes the three draft picks shared the floor, and seemed to relish the open floor the lineup created.

    So if nothing else, the Pistons' frontcourt is going to put on quite a show this year.

Encouraging Sign II: Monroe and Stuckey Got Unstuck

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    Before the season, much was expected of these two.  Greg Monroe was the surefire future MVP candidate.  And Rodney Stuckey had become the skillful veteran with something to prove.

    Yet, after four games, Greg Monroe was averaging 10.7 points per game, and Stuckey—a starter—was netting a measly 3.3 PPG.

    Both got untracked at Denver, with Stuckey sticking 17 on the Nuggets.  He laid an egg with five against Sacramento, but dropped 15 on OKC during their first encounter. He regressing against the Rockets with 8 points on 4 of 12 shooting, but led the Pistons Monday night with 19 points on 7 for 13 shooting.  Stuckey's shooting percentage is still appalling—a mere .236—but he seems to be attacking the basket more, and seeming like he's starting to come alive.

    Monroe, meanwhile, netted 27 against Denver.  He followed it up with his first career triple—points, 12 rebounds and a career-high 11 assists—against Sacramento, and kept things going with 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists Friday against Oklahoma City, 12 points / 11 rebounds against the Rockets, and 17 points / 6 boards in the rematch against OKC.

    Monroe's triple-double was not only the NBA's first this season, but the first by a Pistons player since 2004, when Mr. Big Shot himself, Chauncey Billups, accomplished the feat.  CBS Sports called Monroe "maybe the best-kept center secret in the league."  And now the opposition has to account for Monroe at power forward.

    If Monroe keeps this hot streak going—and his skill level says he will—and Stuckey can remember to slash rather than shooting threes, the Pistons will restart their engines in short order.  And they need to: They've got a lot of ground to make up now.

Encouraging Sign III: The Bench Is Wooden (As in John)

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    We'd rather have six wins but, ladies and gentlemen, we can and will go six deep on the Pistons bench this season.  Right now, five subs are making their presence felt.

    Kyle Singler has become the de facto sixth man for the team; he's managed to score in double figures three times out of the Pistons' six games and has become their sharpshooter with a .462 three-point percentage.  Sure, Corey Maggette will get some of those minutes when he returns from his injury.  But for now, Singler is making the most of his time.

    And if Singler is the sixth man, Jerebko is the second unit's leader: the poster child for the hustle, energy and togetherness that the second unit exhibits on a fairly regular basis.

    Will Bynum has been reliable this season, netting 14 points against the Kings and ringing up eight assists against the Nuggets. 

    Kim English, as expected, has provided solid defense and is a deadeye from three-point range as well.

    And whether Andre Drummond moves into the starters' spot or Jason Maxiell retains it, either's stats indicate that they would be a big-time contributor off the planks.

    Not only that, but Corey Maggette is inching ever closer to a return.  So if the starters can get things ironed out, they can rely on the second unit's depth, talent and fire backing them up.

    So what is it the starters need to iron out?

Troubling Sign I: Defense Down Low and Outside Is MIA

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    Over the first six games, the Pistons defense was the league's third worst, allowing a tubesocks-worthy 104 PPG.  Their opponents' shooting percentage is the league's fourth-best...or worst, if you're looking at it as a Pistons fan.

    What's the problem exactly? 

    What's not?

    For starters, their perimeter and interior defense could make Swiss cheese look solid.  Against Denver, as a random example, the Nuggets shot 56 percent in the first half, and 35 percent were in the paint, while 15 were from downtown.  The Pistons have the league's worst point differential, while teams are putting up the third-most points per game and shooting the fourth-best percentage.

    If we don't contest shots inside and out, every game will continue to be a no-contest.

    Now, before you get too down, know this: I said before the season that the Pistons' schedule was brutal coming out of the gate.  Many of the teams we've been playing against are some of the league's toughest to guard.  So I believe at least a portion of the defensive struggling will end simply when we return home and the opposition gets easier.  But the team certainly can't count on that.

    Which is why it's comforting that Lawrence Frank ranks improving the defense as his No. 1 priority.

    “Until we have a defensive mindset the road is going to be very hard for us to win,” Frank said. “We have to commit: Every single guy that steps on the floor has to defend.  Defend.  Rebound.  No turnovers.  Simple formula, hard to do, but we’ll get it.  In order for us to win the game we have to put defense first. That’s it."

    Let's hope that's, indeed, it—for letting the other guys set up a general supply store in the paint, and go Harlem Globetrotters on us from behind the arc.  Geez.

Troubling Sign II: Offense and Rebounding Are Not Much Better Than Defense

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    Here's another way the Pistons could improve defensively: give up fewer second-chance points.  But to do that, they'll have to improve their defensive rebounding.  After six games, the Pistons are dead last in defensive rebounds per game.  They're also dead last in total rebounds.

    Can they make it up by outscoring teams?  Afraid not.  After six games, the offense is the seventh worst in the league.

    But here's the good news: The Pistons staged an inspired comeback against the Kings that fell just short. They kept it close until midway through the third against the Rockets. And they played their two best games of the season against the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder.

    As mentioned previously, the Monroe-Drummond pairing will help rebounding considerably.  Monroe's offense has improved of late, too.

    Rodney Stuckey still seems too tentative and too prone to looking for the three-point shot, and Brandon Knight still seems turnover-happy.  The Pistons would do well to focus on those two getting their games all the way right.

    What they could really use is the cavalry riding in.  And I know just the guy...unfortunately, he's Arnie Kander's best friend right now.  Click ahead and see who might be just the jumper cable these Pistons need...

Troubling Sign III: When Will Corey Ma-Gette Healthy?

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    Before you deluge me with derisive comments: I know, I know, it's mah-GET-e, not mah-GET.  I didn't just fall off the turnip truck.  But since this start makes me feel like I did, pardon me for trying to bring a little levity to the winlessness.

    Maggette's timetable is uncertain.  Now he's looking at a return next week as the earliest possibility.

    With Stuckey's penetration game not penetrating consistently this season (again), Maggette would be just the spark.  He is a proven slasher and would bring reliable scoring to the team, and his veteran presence might just be the calming influence his young teammates need. 

    The question is, once he's back on the hardwood, how long till Corey gets his groove back?  The Pistons needed his shot to start falling, like, a week ago.  But he's only just started running on his calf, and Arnie Kander insists that his reclamation projects relearn how to do everything physical, including walking and running on-court.

    Let's hope that Maggette comes back with more Slash in him than an '80s-era Guns 'N Roses concert.  Because without that slash, the Pistons might just continue their crash.

The Bottom Line

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    As I mentioned, this is a brutal opening schedule.  The best the Pistons could have hoped for was 3-4 to start the season, which I optimistically predicted.  But the three games that gave the Pistons the best chances to win—Houston at home, and Phoenix and the Kings on the road—have come and gone.

    However, there's good news and better news.

    The good news: In the Pistons' last few games, a new team is starting to emerge.  Offense more on track, rebounding lineup shuffled to maximum effect.  The defense is still very suspect, but with offense and rebounding improved, this team could right the ship. 

    The better news: Orlando is coming up next. 

    Just what the mechanic ordered.