Low Times: Detroit Pistons are Struggling, But Can They Bounce Back?

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2010

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 02:  Head coach John Kuester of the Detroit Pistons watches as his team takes on the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on December 2, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

To quote the Shirelles, "mama said there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this my mama said."

Nobody understands these lyrics better than the Detroit Pistons.

However, in Detroit's case "days" should be subbed out for "weeks."

Since slugging their way to an impressive five game winning streak that saw their record come within one game of .500, the Pistons have dropped their last nine games.

With their next two games coming on the road against San Antonio and Dallas, it seems likely that they will head back to the Palace of Auburn Hills on January 9th with an ignominious 11-game losing streak.

So how has this happened?

There are plenty of reasons, such as tough opponents, injuries, and a team chemistry that has yet to materialize amid lineup changes.

However, these have been issues all season, and yet Detroit was able to put together a five-game winning streak amidst these conditions.

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So what has been the main reasons that this team has had such a drastic turnaround over the last three plus weeks?

In order to find out what is going wrong, it is first important to take a look at what went right during the winning streak.

In a previous article (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/307826-detroit-pistons-streaking-but-is-it-built-to-last), I broke down the keys to Detroit's winning streak. For this article, I will re-visit those keys to make sense of this current skid.

Assists

Detroit began to distribute the ball a lot better during their win streak, as they had around 20 assists per game.

During this losing streak, that number has dropped to just over 16 per game, with point guard Rodney Stuckey reverting back to his scoring first mindset and only topping six assists in one of those games.

Granted, Detroit has arguably only one pass-first point guard on the roster in Will Bynum, but during their winning streak everyone got into the action by passing the ball.

During this losing streak, the lack of ball movement has looked eerily similar to last year's collapse in which each offensive possession boiled down to a one-on-one game that often led to low percentage shots and turnovers.

The most glaring evidence that the lack of ball movement is hurting this team is reflected in two numbers—field goal percentage and points scored.

During the five game winning streak, Detroit averaged 99.6 points per game and shot 48.7 percent from the field.

During this nine game losing streak, they are averaging 85.7 points per game and shooting 40.4 percent from the field.

You cannot win games in this league, no matter who you play, if you put up those types of putrid numbers.

Rebounding

One of the best things about this Pistons team, and a surprising trait to say the least, has been their rebounding.

During their winning streak, the Pistons out rebounded all but one of their opponents, and grabbed 13 or more boards against Golden State, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee.

During this losing streak, opponents have grabbed the same amount or more rebounds than Detroit five times, including lopsided margins against terrible teams from New York and Chicago.

Given the fact that Detroit is shooting so poorly, you would think that they would have higher rebounding numbers, but it appears that only Jonas Jerebko and Ben Wallace are consistently grabbing offensive boards, while the rest of the team watches on.

In order for Detroit to get back on the winning track, they will need to dominate the boards as a team, with each and every player being committed to the fundamentals of boxing out and gaining position before the ball hits the rim.

Bench Play

During the Pistons winning streak, bench players like Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum provided instant offense and immediately put opposing second units on their heels.

However, due to injuries to both of these players, their numbers have taken a significant hit.

Villanueva averaged around 18 points per game during their winning streak, but during this losing streak he has only reached that number once, and has failed to reach double-digits in five of his last six games.

For Bynum, his injuries have knocked him out of three of the nine games during the losing streak and he has failed to top 12 points in any of those games.

Obviously, the bench has been decimated by injuries. On the other hand,  Ben Gordon has looked good over the past few games, averaging 17 points per game over his last three outings. But the Pistons are going to need a whole lot more than just Gordon.

Kwame Brown, Chris Wilcox, and Jason Maxiell are going to have to step up quite a bit while Villanueva recovers from his foot injuries, but the bottom line is that none of them alone can make up for the loss of the versatile Villanueva.

Against big teams like Dallas and San Antonio, the limitations of this unit will become glaring.

Youngsters Getting Schooled

During the Pistons winning streak, rookies Jerebko and Austin Daye played significant roles and seemed to infuse new life for the team.

However, during the losing streak, while Jerebko has played strongly, he has not played nearly as well as he did during the five games winning streak.

During the winning streak, the long Swede was averaging over eight boards per game and he failed to reach double-digits in points in only one of the five games.

While the team has been skidding, Jerebko has missed out on scoring ten or more points nearly half the time and has failed to top eight rebounds in eight of the nine games.

Daye has suffered the most from the return of Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton, seeing his minutes dwindling down to less than 10 per game over the last three contests.

While Jerebko seems suited to playing alongside the vets, Daye may become just a situational player in his rookie year, much like the role that Prince occupied as a rookie in 2003.

Stuckey is a Mixed Bag

The growing pains of Stuckey have continued during the losing streak, with both good and bad results coming from the third year guard.

During the five game winning streak, Stuckey took more of the scoring load on his shoulders, averaging 25 points per contest while keeping his assist numbers near a respectable six per game.

During the losing streak, Stuckey has been up and down, averaging just under 19 points and a dismal 3.7 assists per game.

These numbers can be explained a little by the fact that Stuckey is battling a couple of sore ankles.

It is his shooting percentage in particular shows the story. During the winning streak, he shot over 50 percent in every game, but during the losing skid he has failed to reach that level in all but one game, with low water marks of 23 percent and 29 percent coming in that span.

Stuckey depends on his driving ability to set up easy shots for himself and his teammates, but defenders have wised up to this and are beginning to challenge Stuckey to shoot from the perimeter, a part of his game that is inconsistent at best.

In order for Stuckey to improve his scoring numbers, he is going to need his teammates to step up from the three-point line and knock down some jumpers. During the losing skid, teams have crowded the lane and taken away the dribble penetration. If Gordon, Prince, and Hamilton are able to stretch the defense, Stuckey will be able to get to the hoop again.

Moving Forward

Not a whole lot has gone right for Detroit during their nine game losing streak, essentially culminating in a perfect storm of disaster for the Pistons.

In the short term, these problems will likely continue. Obviously team chemistry will be aided by Prince, Hamilton, and Gordon getting comfortable with one another and gaining more playing time.

However, the problems that faced this team before the season began still exist. This is still a guard-heavy team that will typically have to out gun their opponents to win ball games.

I have been saying this for a while now, but I really believe this month will be the most significant month for the future of this franchise going forward.

Why this month in particular?

Because the trade deadline is approaching at the beginning of February, and depending on how this team plays between now and then, Pistons president Joe Dumars may make a significant move (or two).

Coach John Kuester will be given a chance to show whether or not he can win with this bunch once everyone is healthy, and that time is going to have to be now.

Everyone is playing for their jobs right now, not the least of whom being Prince, Hamilton, Maxiell, and even Stuckey.

If Detroit begins to gel and pulls out a few impressive wins this month, Dumars may hold off until the offseason to make some moves.

Personally, I think that Dumars is going to use this last month to allow Prince, Hamilton, and Maxiell to showcase their skills for potential suitors.

The bottom line is that this team is not winning, and as currently contructed, it doesn't appear they will win any time soon.