By acquiring Allen Iverson, Joe Dumars is throwing caution to the wind and declaring that Detroit needs an electric scorer to be a difference maker and a true championship contender. After early struggles with Iverson, Detroit seems to have found its groove with three west-coast victories—the most recent one, a 106-95 victory over the previously unblemished Lakers easily the most impressive.
Lets use Detroit’s impressive L.A. victory to see what fans can expect from Detroit down the road, and whether or not they have the goods to go all the way.
With Chauncey Billups out and Iverson in, the Pistons offense was fundamentally different than their pre-Iverson offense. Gone were the Billups isos, middle pick-and-rolls, and post-ups. The number of staggered screens run for Rip Hamilton was greatly reduced. Posting up Rasheed Wallace was hardly an option. Middle of the paint curls for Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince were also extinct from the playbook.
Instead, Detroit’s offense is now almost completely reliant on ball-penetration and baseline cuts and jumpers.
With Iverson much too quick for Derek Fisher to stay in front of, and able to split the Lakers big men trying to hedge screen/rolls, Iverson was always one step ahead of the Lakers defense.
His mid-range offense was lethal, as he connected on six of his seven mid-range jumpers. He was also able to snake into the paint, draw a Lakers defender, and find appropriate cutters with open lanes to the hoop.
Iverson looked to push the ball every chance he had, and made excellent decisions on the break.
Give Iverson a gold star for his quickness, his unselfishness, his clutch free throw shooting in the fourth, and his jump shooting within the boundaries.
However, despite his solid numbers and overall floor game (7-12 FG, 0-1 3FG, 11-12 FT, 4 REB, 4 AST, 4 STL, 3 TO, 25 PTS), Iverson’s presence also cast some potentially ominous shadows.
For one, the only time a Lakers defender closed out on an Iverson jumper, Iverson missed the jumper badly. Iverson also missed the majority of his layup attempts (three of four), as has been his career-long tendency.
Two of Iverson’s turnovers were disturbing ones. A careless cross-court pass late in the fourth, and a lazy dribble were both turned into Kobe Bryant dunks. Also, Iverson had trouble breaking away from Derek Fisher and sealing position to receive inbounds passes against the Lakers press. That was one reason why Los Angeles’ press was so effective in turning the Pistons over late in the fourth, or at least making them labor to get the ball across the timeline.
With Detroit’s offense run through Iverson high screen/rolls, Rip Hamilton (3-10 FG, 5 REB, 4 AST, 5 TO, 12 PTS) was very ineffective. Sure, Kobe’s ability to hang with Rip through screens also played a major part in Hamilton’s struggles, but there were a handful of split seconds when Hamilton had popped free, and Iverson couldn’t get him the ball on time.
Furthermore, Iverson’s passes didn’t have the least bit of zip on them. Crisper passes to Hamilton (or whomever) would have led to a crisper offense.
Iverson tended to over-handle, his four rebounds were right at him, and only when he was driving to the hoop did he understand where open men were and how he could deliver them the ball in positions where they could score.
So while Iverson’s contribution looks great in the short term, an athletic, alert, and physical defense with talented guards could give Iverson problems. And even if Iverson is too talented for teams with lesser players to deal with, will the Pistons be able to diagram a complex offense, or will they be forced to live and die with Iverson’s decision making in crunch time?
Without much continuity to the offense, Tayshaun Prince was asked to fill more than his usual share. Prince was Detroit’s most effective player bringing the ball up, but looked uncomfortable having to do so much dribbling. Prince’s ability to make plays (6 AST, 1 TO), and put the ball in the basket (7-15 FG, 2-3 3FG, 18 PTS) didn’t suffer against the Lakers, but he’s a player who performs the best when he isn’t asked to be a major scorer and playmaker.
Rasheed Wallace was fools gold. His fingertips were hot early, causing him to go bombs away until the final buzzer. Sure, his three-point shooting was accurate (4-9 3FG), and yes, it was an important factor in Detroit winning the game, but it also meant that Rasheed wasn’t giving the Pistons the dominant low post threat they desperately need in order to capture a title.
In fact, aside from a couple of astute Kwame Brown flashes to the post when seeing the Lakers overloading their strong-side zone with only Kobe defending the hoop, the Pistons didn’t tally a single point off a post up. That inability for Detroit to dump the ball down low and force an automatic double team will hurt them as the season advances.
Kwame Brown moved well without the ball, Arron Afflalo hit a couple of jumpers, Jason Maxiell hustled and bustled, and Rodney Stuckey was reckless throughout the game.
Credit Iverson’s athleticism, Wallace’s three-point shooting, Prince’s creativity, Detroit’s offensive aggressiveness, and Los Angeles’ poor back line defense for the Pistons’ offensive success. Without Wallace demanding double teams in the post, though, Detroit’s offense might grow stale with their much simpler gameplan.
Detoit’s back line defenders were the story of the game. Kwame Brown’s post defense on Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol was exceptional, and Rasheed Wallace was everywhere with his help defense.
Aside from a few lapses when the Pistons allowed Hamilton to defend Kobe in the mid-post without sending any help, the Pistons defense on Bryant was marvelous. Prince successfully forced Kobe into a number of difficult jumpers one-on-one, and the Pistons were able to successfully hedge screen/rolls forcing Kobe to take wide angles to go around, allowing Prince, Hamilton, and Afflalo time needed to catch up.
When Kobe did try to breach the Pistons’ basket, Detroit was able to send a big man to help, leaving the guards able to stay at home with perimeter shooters.
Still, Detroit wasn’t perfect.
While Iverson was able to successfully flash into the passing lane and intercept two passes, he was repeatedly burned both on-ball and off-ball by Derek Fisher. Had Fisher’s jump shot not needed a GPS system to find the basket, his point total would have been much higher, as nearly all his looks were uncontested.
Even when Iverson did stay in front of Fisher, it was a coin flip whether or not Iverson would throw his hand up to contest Fisher’s shot.
What Iverson did do well was after Kobe would try to execute some kind of fancy spin move, Iverson would rip him with his quick hands and spark a fast break.
The hope for Detroit is that they have the back line defenders to compensate for Iverson’s gambles. They also hope Iverson’s Eastern Conference counterparts will lack the touch on their jumpers (Rajon Rondo) to attack Iverson’s porous defense, and that Iverson can wreak havoc in the passing lanes of teams with simplistic offensive gameplans (Cleveland Cavaliers). Either option is a case of Detroit looking to mask a flaw rather than assertively shut an opposing point guard down.
Since Detroit had to compensate for helping Hamilton defend Kobe, the Lakers had tremendous success crashing their offensive glass, corralling sixteen offensive rebounds for the game, ten for the first half. When Prince was on Kobe, Detroit didn’t have to sell out their help defense, allowing Wallace and Brown to be in better position to rebound.
Jason Maxiell was too short to stop Pau Gasol from stepping around and shooting over him for a layup. Maxiell tries hard, but he’s way too small to stop long, lengthy, opponents. Resigning Antonio McDyess should be a major priority for Detroit’s front office.
Overall, the Pistons defense was long, strong, and effective. Wallace remains one of the best help defenders in the league, Brown is an excellent post defender, and Prince’s length and versatility is as good as its always been. But is Detroit’s defense good enough to work overtime to make up for Iverson? And if McDyess isn’t resigned, where do the Pistons go for a backup center?
It looks like the more the Pistons change, the more they stay the same. They’re still physically tough and talented, but they still look prone to bouts of stale play which will derail them in their quest to get out of the Conference Finals.
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