Bench Blues: Reserves Are The Real Reason Pistons Are Struggling
On Sunday night the Detroit Pistons ended another long losing streak, unleashing an offense that has been stagnant at best this season.
While the win was a bit of good news for the Pistons, it highlighted what has been a season-long problem for the team.
The Pistons only go as far as their bench takes them.
Heading into this season, the bench appeared to be one of this team's biggest assets. New acquisitions Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon joined Will Bynum, Jason Maxiell and, hopefully, a productive trio of talented rookies.
As we all know, injuries have absolutely decimated this team. However, the Pistons have been relatively healthy the second half of the season, yet they are losing ground even quicker than before in the Central Division standings.
There are plenty of reasons, but the overriding culprit has been the anemic offense of the second unit. Too often, the starters are leaving close games to a second unit that just can't seem to get their act together.
For instance, take a look at the most reason losing streak:
In each of those six games, the starters accounted for at least 64% of the team's scoring, with a high water mark of 76% in the loss to Golden State.
However, Maxiell has been playing very well, so it is a shame to lump him in with the rest. So let's take an even closer look at the reserves, namely the highest paid ones.
During the Pistons most recent losing streak, Villanueva and Gordon combined to average 15 points per game. Just let that soak in for a moment. 15 POINTS PER GAME...COMBINED!
That means that each of them is averaging essentially 7.5 points per game. Two men that will cost the Detroit Pistons about $17 million this season came to the aid of their mates during their most recent losing streak to the tune of 15 points per game.
Some players bring more to the table than just scoring. But these two do not. They are pure scorers who tend to play matador defense and are weak passers at best.
Throughout the season, fans have all been disappointed by this team, although they have been split about the reason behind the struggles. Mostly, fans have debated Rodney Stuckey and whether or not his development as a point guard has been the true reason behind the losses (I surely am one of those fans).
Obviously we can debate Stuckey until we are blue in the face, but the bottom line is that he is averaging 17 points, five assists and nearly 1.5 steals per game. He might not be a true point guard, but regardless, he is bringing it every night.
If Stuckey misses considerable time due to his apparent dizzy spell in Cleveland, Detroit will be unable to fully replace his production.
The bottom line is that Gordon and Villanueva need to pan out, and they need to do it quickly. So what is the problem with these two?
Villanueva seems to be the easiest of the two to figure out. He has found himself in coach John Kuester's doghouse due to poor defense. At the same time, Maxiell is putting forth tremendous effort, which has cut into Charlie's minutes. To top it off, rookie Jonas Jerebko has been a revelation, averaging 11.6 points and over 10 rebounds per game over his past five contests.
Even more important than the numbers is the body language. Jerebko and Maxiell appear eager, ready and willing, while Villanueva seems distant and lazy. This adds to the fan's displeasure.
Furthermore, Villanueva is starting to remind fans of another perennial underachiever, Rasheed Wallace. While typically a comparison to the Pistons former all-star forward would be a good thing, in this case it is not.
What drove fans crazy about Wallace was the fact that he appeared to have the tools to be great, yet he seemed content to stand out on the perimeter and heave three pointers. This led fans to believe Wallace was lazy.
Towards the end of his time in Detroit that may have been the case, but mainly, Wallace was conserving some of his energy in order to play top-notch defense. Villanueva does not have that luxury, which adds fuel to the fire in the fan's minds.
Villanueva needs to utilize his time on the bench by taking a strong look at Jerebko. Jonas rarely has plays set up for him, yet he manages to score because he out hustles and out works his opponents. He keeps his motor running and is always attacking the hoop. And he doesn't have nearly the amount of athleticism as Villanueva.
Basically, Charlie needs to hustle. He needs to attack the hoop on offense and attack the boards when he doesn't have the ball in his hands. Good things happen when you are near the hoop.
Gordon is a tougher player to figure out. It does not appear that he is giving anything less than maximum effort. However, he just doesn't seem to fit into Kuester's offense. He appears lost and frustrated, leading to silly offensive fouls and turnovers.
It feels like every Pistons game I watch, I see a frustrated Gordon driving to the hoop and picking up a charging foul. Some have speculated that Gordon and guard Rip Hamilton can not co-exist, and the two guards have both shot that thought down.
What Kuester needs to do is find a way to make these two work together in a more productive way. These are two of the most talented off the ball movers in the game. There should be a way for them both to work well together.
The coaching staff, if they are not already doing so, should be running Hamilton and Gordon through the exact same drills, working on spacing and court management and finding ways to stay out of each other's way. Basically, they need to go back to college and learn how to run a motion offense.
The key is not what Kuester appears to be leaning towards, which is turning Gordon into a point guard when Stuckey is not in the game. What he needs to do is help Gordon to realize his potential, which is as a shorter version of Rip but with much longer range.
That way, when the Pistons add their big man (either by draft or trade), they will be able to co-exist. At the very least, it will give both players added value for potential trades.
The bottom line is Gordon, Villanueva and the bench, in general, need to produce much more than they have been this season. And the real responsibility for that falls on Kuester's shoulders.
As a professor once told me in college, "The student never fails; the teacher fails if the student doesn't succeed."
Time to help your students succeed, coach.
Should He Stay or Should He Go?
In continuing my look into who should be wearing Pistons red, white and blue next season, we come to guard Rip Hamilton.
While fans have been mostly split on whether or not Hamilton should be dealt, he has quietly been putting together a nice run of games.
Despite a stretch of three bad games during the most recent losing streak, Hamilton averaged over 20 points per game during the month of February, raising his season average to nearly 19 points per contest.
For those of you playing along at home, that's his highest total since the '06-'07 season.
So why all the clamor for him to move on? Many fans feel that the Pistons need a fresh look, and Hamilton is one of the last links to the glory days and should be dealt while he still has value. At times during this season, I have been one of those calling for a deal as well.
However, Hamilton still serves a purpose and is underappreciated by Pistons fans. Year in and year out, Hamilton has remained a model of consistency for this team, routinely leading the squad in scoring and doing so in a way that helps his teammates.
Additionally, he is a pesky defender that plays very well against small, quick players.
Hamilton has mastered the art of the mid-range jumper, and he can just flat out score. As a result, he seems ideally suited to Kuester's (or any other coach's) offense.
So should he stay? Absolutely. Will he? Probably. But of all the Pistons currently on the roster, he and Tayshaun Prince seem to be the two players most likely to be moved at some point this off-season.
Why? Because they are winners. They each bring tangible ability to the table, but they bring the intangible ability to make big plays in big games. Neither has ever been one to choke, and Hamilton, especially, could be the missing piece that springboards a team like Utah or Denver to a title.
Even though Hamilton has a less than appealing contract, most scouts think he will age like former Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller—meaning that he still has a lot of basketball in him.
Therefore, look for Hamilton to remain a Piston until the trading deadline next year. At that point, some team will see him as the missing piece and will swallow his massive contract.
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