So far this exhibition season, Detroit Pistons fans have been treated to some rough basketball. Of course this is not the type of rough basketball they are accustomed to, with hard elbows, tough blocks and clutch rebounds.
This type of basketball is rough on the eyes.
It is not as though Detroit has not been competitive this preseason. They have, losing the last three games by an average of six points.
What is tough for Pistons fans is how they have been playing, more importantly the style in which they are competing.
Their most recent loss against Charlotte was a reminder of how far they have strayed from prototypical "Pistons basketball". The most striking aspect was the fact that the coach on the other side of the court was none other than "play the right way" Larry Brown.
The Pistons right now are not playing Larry Brown basketball.
Brown became a Hall of Fame caliber coach by stressing ball control with minimal mental errors on offense, even fewer three pointers, and strong, hard-nosed defense.
The Pistons are playing essentially the exact opposite way, launching three pointers at will and doing their best to outscore rather than out defend their opponents.
This reminds me of something in my own life. The year after I graduated from college, I had an opportunity to coach girl's basketball in my home town. The high school coach had asked me to take over at the middle school since I had had some experience coaching at that level. When we first got together to discuss coaching philosophy, he told me he believed in two shots: the layup and the three.
Needless to say, I turned down the job.
For a Pistons fan, we know first hand that this style of basketball does not lead to long term success. However, when I watched this coach's teams that year, I realized that his roster was such that this would be the only way he could field a competitive team.
John Kuester is in a similar situation. He is a disciple of Brown and he knows about playing the right way. But he has been saddled with a roster that will not allow this style of basketball, so his only hope to keep Detroit out of the lottery is to run and gun.
And while the preseason has been ripe with terrible play and sloppy ball handling, the one player that has stood out is Austin Daye.
The second year player out of Gonzaga looked primed to break out during the Summer League, showcasing a (slightly) bigger body, and a new trick: a post game.
Personally, I thought Daye looked like a stud and I was curious to see what kind of impact he would make for the big club during the season. It appeared that Pistons president Joe Dumars had the same thing in mind, basically running the offense directly through Daye on every possession.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a breakout sophomore season: Dumars signed Tracy McGrady.
While this signing was a head-scratcher for a number of reasons, the biggest seemed to me the fact that McGrady's minutes were almost sure to come directly at Daye's expense.
So why do you force feed Daye during the summer if you are only going to take away his minutes for T-Mac?
Let's compare the two. McGrady is an over-the-hill, ex-superstar that hasn't played defense in nearly a decade. Daye is just a shade over 22 and has a very bright future ahead of him.
McGrady has had his career derailed by injuries, robbing him of anything resembling quickness. This has left him stuck on the perimeter exclusively.
Daye, on the other hand, can shoot with anyone in his face due to his long arms, he has the quickness to get past defenders, and he now has a back-to-the-basket game.
This should be a no-brainer.
Just take a look at this preseason. In the first exhibition game against Miami, McGrady saw his first and likely last look during the preseason. He played eight minutes and looked terrible.
By comparison, this was the only game this preseason in which Daye played fewer than 20 minutes. He still managed to put in 12 points in only 17 minutes.
The real story has been what Daye has done during the rest of the exhibition season. He has easily been the MVP of the exhibition for Detroit, averaging 16 points and six boards per game.
Coach Kuester has been trying his hardest to find a winning combination amongst his guard and forward heavy roster. As a result, Daye has lined up all over the court, even starting at power forward.
The Pistons have a ton of holes and hopefully once the ownership situation gets resolved Dumars will be able to pull the trigger on some deals and clear up this roster mess.
But in the mean time, Kuester is going to have to find a way to get Daye meaningful minutes. If that means sitting McGrady every game and only putting him in when the game is a blowout (a la Darko Milicic), so be it.
Detroit has to make the full transition from winning now to building for the future. There is no greater example of this than the situation with Daye and McGrady.
Daye is the future, and McGrady is the past.
The fans will be patient if they see reason for optimism on the roster. What they will not tolerate is a slapped together, rag tag bunch of past their prime vets trying to squeeze their way into the playoffs. We have been there before and nobody likes that.
The key to the future is finding out which of the young players will be big time contributors to a future winner, and that starts with Austin Daye.
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