Tag Archives: Maurice Cheeks

The Detroit Pistons: on the Cusp

Hope again (The Associated Press)

Hope again (The Associated Press)

Summer League brings with it a new sense of hope. It alleviates the summer doldrums that occur after the Finals have ended, the NBA Draft, and the start of training camps. This renewed feeling of enthusiasm is especially true for teams that have been mediocre or worse for a number of years. Perhaps the sense of renewal will never completely pan out in the long-term. However, for a time, it allows for a glimmer of what might be, new heights, and a new beginning.

The Detroit Pistons have not had a winning record since the 2007-08 season. Detroit’s fall from grace mirrored the fall of the city’s overall economic collapse, though basketball had nothing to do with the underlying issues that the city succumbed to. Nonetheless, as often is the case, sports teams are symbols of a city or region. They serve as an escape from the realities of everyday life. For Detroit, though, the Pistons are not an escape. The team and city have been through so much since the Pistons won the NBA Championship in 2004 that it is a distant memory. With Summer League in full swing now, the Pistons, and their fans, may actually have something to look forward to.

With the eighth pick in this summer’s Draft, the Pistons selected Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a guard out of Georgia. Caldwell-Pope’s best asset is his ability to pull up and make pump shots. With the frontcourt duo of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe clogging the middle and drawing double-teams, Caldwell-Pope’s opportunities, should he be on the court with one or the other, to get open looks should be frequent.

In the second round, Detroit selected North Texas’ Tony Mitchell. If ever there was a pure athlete, Mitchell is it. (I wrote about him in detail here.) What he brings to the table is an NBA body combined with phenomenal leaping ability. He is also adept at finishing at, but more than likely above, the rim as well as blocking shots.

The Piston’s also selected point guard Peyton Siva, from Louisville, in the second round. Silva is more of a defender than offensive threat, however he manages the pick-and-roll well. This skill will come in handy with the aforementioned frontcourt players as well as Mitchell. Of course, as with all rookies, his skills will only be in service if he sees playing time. Nonetheless, the Pistons hauled a promising young group of players in this year’s Draft.

Perhaps, though, the biggest addition to the Detroit roster is the free agent signing of Josh Smith. Smith has proven time and again that he has the capability of playing at an extremely high level and was one of the most coveted free agents this summer. The Pistons now have a star to build around and many pieces are already in place. However, Smith is not the most refined player. He is prone to taking jumpshots all to often, as shown here. Where Smith is most efficient and effective is within nine feet of the basket. Therefore, his role in Detroit is a tricky one to figure out.

With Monroe likely remaining as the starting power forward, Smith will move into the small forward spot. Drummond and Monroe do much of the heavy lifting inside. With his propensity to take so many ill-advised and low percentage jumpers, Smith could once again drift from the paint with it occupied. If this happens, it could turn out poorly for the Pistons. It will take a degree of ingenuity on the part of new Head Coach Maurice Cheeks to open up lanes and allow Smith to get his shots on the inside.

A solid model to study would be that of last year’s Denver Nuggets. That team took the vast majority of their shots, 55.74 percent, within eight feet of the basket. With so many big men, Mitchell included, who can score well inside, it would behoove Detroit to attempt something similar.

There are still a lot of uncertainties with the Pistons. It is a new new for all respects. Yet, there is reason to believe that this could be the start of Detroit’s turnaround. They had a solid draft and brought in a big-name All Star. Not only that, but a member of Detroit’s last championship team, the beloved Rasheed Wallace, has joined Cheeks’ coaching staff as an assistant. That in and of itself should be reason to take interest in this year’s team.

Summer League has a funny way of leading to the “what-ifs” of the season to come. Detroit’s team has shown promise, especially the play of Drummond. While nothing may pan out, we can all  hope for the best. Right now, that is all Detroit has but at least  the pieces are there to make things interesting until opening day. And that is the joy of Summer League.

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Thunder Escape

Still besties?

The Oklahoma City Thunder may have won their triple overtime game against the Memphis Grizzlies last night 133-123, but there was no need for the game to drag on as long as it did. Oklahoma City could have won the game in regulation but did not execute well enough offensively to secure a victory until very late in the evening. This lack of execution is centered around the team’s seeming disinterest in off the ball movement, lack of execution, and what appeared to be a lack of trust/communication between the team’s two best players.

Kevin Durant was openly frustrated during the game. Shane Battier was draped all over him. That in itself is frustrating for Durant. Yet, it is not the only reason that Durant was frustrated. He was particularly upset with his lack of participation in the game. For a stretch of nine minutes in the fourth quarter and into overtime Durant did not even have an opportunity to shoot the ball. “Why didn’t he give me the fucking ball,” Durant said to assistant coach Maurice Cheeks after Westbrook again did not look to give up the ball. This is not entirely on his teammates, however. Durant is also to blame for not seeing the ball come his way.

Durant became a spectator at times, standing around the arc on offense and simply watching the ball. Watching the ball is fine for someone to do at home that does not want to have a greater understanding of the game, but for a player it is a mortal sin which helps the other team to load up against the ball handler. That is exactly what Memphis did when Durant began to loiter.

Oklahoma City’s offense was stagnant at best throughout the game. They totaled only 16 assists in a triple overtime game. Westbrook had to score, or at least he thought he did, based on the situation the team found itself in being down 18 points early in the game.

Much of the offensive stagnation falls on Scott Brooks’ back. When a head coach sees that his star player is standing idly around the three-point line without making a concerted effort to get open or move to the ball it is up to them to go to a play in which the star, in this case Durant, can get open. Also, it appeared as if, too often, the Thunder did not come out of a timeout with any particular set in mind offensively. Their ball screens around the perimeter broke down easily as the shot clock wound down. These situations forced Westbrook to drive or take low percentage mid range jump shot. Westbrook shot just 33.3 percent from 10 to 23 feet.

Should Westbrook have looked to involve his teammates more in the game? Probably, but the Thunder likely do not win the game without Westbrook in hero mode. Westbrook had 1.02 points per possession, which is a solid number, during the game, the same number as Durant, however, Westbrook’s usage was 42.5 percent compared to Durant’s 31.6 percent of possessions. That belies an inefficient evening and his 15 made field goals on 33 attempts supports that. Westbrook’s 11 free throw attempts are what really help to alleviate his hero mode tendencies in the game but they cannot wash them clean completely.

In fact, it was the ability of Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden to get to the line that saved the Thunder. Combined they took 39 free throws and made 36 of them. The Grizzlies, as a team, only had 40 free throw attempts.

Yes, the Thunder won the game. It was an ugly affair that had no business keeping everyone up as late as it did. Yet, maybe this is the type of game that the team can use to learn from going forward. Oklahoma City played terrible, relied too heavily on one player, and suffered emotional breaks. All of these should be points of emphasis where they can improve. If they do not focus and learn from their mistakes, this will be an even longer series than it already has been.

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