Well, it was bound to happen sometime. Time ran out. The clock struck midnight. The Fat Lady sang.
Everything ended. The runs to the conference finals. The streak of 50-win seasons. Chauncey Billups.
Ironically, none if this is what I was originally talking about. I’m talking about the Pistons’ supernatural run of good health! How many lengthy injuries did our stars suffer in these last six years? None! And we got used to this. Now, we have injuries threatening to torpedo our season. This is the story through the first 20 games of the Pistons’ season.
I don’t know about you, but as a Pistons fan I was ready for a fresh start. Our core had become so tiresome that I had no motivation to watch any of the games, which, if you know me, is an incredible admission. So after we got slaughtered by the Lebrons in the first round, I was happy. Joe Dumars had to change things up, right? Yup. Out: Michael Curry, Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, and Amir Johnson. In: John Kuester, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Wallace, Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko.
In one offseason, we went from being one of the oldest teams in the league to one of the youngest. Kuester is a Larry Brown disciple who helped the Cavaliers lead the league in offensive efficiency last season. League-wide expectations for the team went way down, leading to the chip being placed back on the shoulder. Things were looking up.
Dumars has been criticized for being so unsatisfied with coaches, but in this case, it was justified. Curry looked lost out there. I went to two games last season during the Allen Iverson/Smallball era, and I can tell you that Curry had absolutely no idea what to do with the team. No adjustments were ever made during the games; he would just stare blankly as Tayshaun Prince got several years taken off his career trying to guard another team’s power forward.
Getting rid of Iverson was obvious. For me, he’s no longer The Answer, he’s The Cancer. Thank goodness Memphis got rid of him before they succumbed. Now Philly gets to experience washed-up Iverson thinking he’s still Alpha Dog Iverson. How long until they turn on him? Well, probably not until Louis Williams comes back, anyway, which is a couple months away.
Rasheed had worn out his welcome in a big way. We unloaded him, and he went to the Celtics and his boy KG, where he quickly continued being Rasheed via jacking up 106 threes in 20 games and making just 30% of them. I believe he also leads the league in technicals again. I’m glad he’s gone.
I’m upset that we lost Amir and Antonio, two of my favorite Pistons. Amir is now in Toronto, playing for the NBA’s worst defensive team in history (true statement, not hyperbole). Antonio went to the classiest organization in the league, the Spurs, where he and Tim Duncan can chase championships every year. I will always love Antonio for coming back to us after the Billups trade. I wish him the best, and I sincerely hope he gets his ring.
The Pistons have started the season 8-12, despite the aforementioned end of the run of good health. Richard Hamilton went down in the first game with a high ankle sprain, and he’s still out. Tayshaun saw his consecutive games streak end when he found out he had a disc problem in his back. He is also still out. Villanueva and Gordon have also missed games, leading to some interesting lineups and lots of playing time for the young guys. What can we expect from the team going forward? Well, with a healthy lineup, we shellacked Memphis 96-74 in Memphis, and Memphis actually has some talent. I don’t think we can expect that level of play, but it’s not unreasonable to think we could scare some teams in the playoffs, if we get healthy enough to get there.
Here’s a Player-by-Player look at the season so far, and what we can expect for the last 3/4 of the year:
Rodney Stuckey: With Hamilton and Prince out, he has stepped up his scoring, but it was only in these last few games that he has stepped up in his leadership ability. His assists are up, and in watching the games, you can tell the team runs more smoothly with him in the game. Is he a point guard? Not yet, but he’s coming closer than I thought he would. Don’t expect him to yield to the veterans when they get back. This has become his team now, and he finally knows it.
Chucky Atkins: Signed to be the fifth guard in a four-guard rotation, injuries have forced Atkins into the starting lineup, where he has actually played pretty well. He and Ben Wallace have combined to give Pistons fans flashbacks to the 02-03 season. Once Hamilton comes back, expect Chucky to be in a suit again.
Kwame Brown: Well, he’s better than Chris Wilcox, at least. To be fair, if he’s your backup center, you could do worse. He’s big and active defensively and on the glass. He’ll be our energy big man for the rest of his contract.
Chris Wilcox: A poor man’s Stromile Swift. Bring back Rodney White!
Richard Hamilton: At some point, you have to be tough. Ankle sprains are hard to deal with, especially high ones, but missing 19 games when your young teammates need your veteran leadership and end-of-game poise does not speak well for your character. Hamilton obviously expects to get time when he comes back. I hope Kuester has the stones to make him earn it.
Ben Gordon: Brought in to be the sixth man (he was actually okay with this, unlike another guard I could name), Gordon has started and produced in a big way. Coming off his own ankle injury, he’s back to being the sixth man, but he remains highly productive. Expect him to average around 20ppg and be a crunch-time killer the way Chauncey was here for so many years.
Will Bynum: A strong contender for Best Bynum in the NBA. He’s become one of the best sixth men in the NBA. He’s instant offense off the bench, able to create his own shot at will and get his teammates involved. On defense, one can catch glimpses of Lindsey Hunter in “Will the Thrill” (credit George Blaha with that one). He’s mired in a big-time slump, but showed signs of coming out of it last night against Washington. Lots of arguments have arisen making the case that Bynum should be starting and running the point over Stuckey. All you have to do is watch the games to know why this would be a bad idea. Bynum still makes four or five plays that make you say, “What on Earth was he thinking??!!” That’s too many for a starting guard. He’s perfect in his current role.
Ben Wallace: Apparently, he had plenty in the tank. Looks as spry as ever. Still can’t make a free throw, though.
Tayshaun Prince: The longer he stays on the bench, the harder it becomes to keep his job. He’s probably the leading candidate to get traded for a good big man. I won’t miss him, either. His defense slipped noticeably last year, and he was never the best offensive player. He’s also a horrible rebounder. He needs to come back and play well so he can be traded to make more room for the young guns.
Austin Daye: Somebody get this guy a cheeseburger, stat! Seriously, he’s six inches taller than I am, but we weigh the same amount. That’s a problem. Fortunately, he can get stronger, and really, strength is all he needs. I love this kid’s potential. Everyone compared him to Prince because of his similar build, but he reminds me more of Lamar Odom with his ability to handle the ball and shoot it from the outside, except Daye’s even more offensively gifted than Odom is (Daye’s a much better shooter). His ultra-long arms will be an asset defensively for his entire career, as well. I expect him to flourish as the season continues, and I think he’ll be starting next year. He’s too talented offensively to keep on the bench.
Dajuan Summers: Reminds me of Chris Wilcox. Ummmmm…..yeah. Tell me again why we didn’t draft Dejuan Blair?
Charlie Villanueva: Gifted scorer in the post, off the dribble, and from deep. As long as he tries on defense every night, I will love him. He appears to have really bought into the team concept, as he’s currently coming off the bench. He’s playing starter minutes, but still. Coming off the bench can be a problem for some people (*coughAIcough*).
Jason Maxiell: Probably on his way out of Detroit. He still shows flashes of potential, but Pistons fans are no longer blinded. He can be a decent energy player off the bench, but he’ll never be the Ben Wallace 2.0 we all wanted him to be. He’s starting right now, but that will change as soon as Prince comes back.
Jonas Jerebko: I guarantee the average Pistons fan had never heard of him. They know who he is now. The biggest surprise of the season by far, Jerebko has earned a place in the starting lineup even should Prince return this season. He’s been that good. He’s guarded everyone from Steve Nash to LeBron James. He hits the glass hard. He can score in the post and has a pretty three-ball. He makes the right pass. In short, he is the perfect glue guy and is a beautiful second-round find for Dumars. Expect him to be a staple in the lineup for many years to come.
That’s where we stand at the moment. Thanks to the general awfulness of the Eastern Conference, we’re still in line for a playoff berth, and if we get to playing to our potential, we could see the second round. I don’t see us beating Orlando, Cleveland, or Boston this year, but we could give them a good series.
Subsequent posts about the Pistons won’t be as long, I promise. I’ll be back later in the week with some thoughts about the Wolverines and the Spartans.