Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pistons Experiencing Growing Pains

Pistons Experiencing Growing Pains
By Steve St-Pierre | @Steve_Courtside

It’s hard to pinpoint one specific reason for the Pistons’ misfortunes during this condensed 2011-12 NBA season. A glaring cause for concern, though, has been the inconsistent play from the majority of their young players.

Surely, injuries and a general lack of depth have plagued the Pistons early this season. They’ve been without veteran reserves Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum most of the year, and they’ve had to shuffle their backcourt rotation due to various injuries to guards Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey.

The lack of health to the team has caused the Pistons to rely heavily on rookie Brandon Knight, who has been thrust into the starting point guard position after beginning the season as a backup to Gordon and Stuckey. Additionally, the team – along with the rest of the league – must endure the responsibility of playing a compressed schedule.

“I’m fine,” Knight says. “Just trying to make sure I rest myself, get a lot of sleep and just working with Arnie (Kander, Pistons Strength and Conditioning Coach) and our strength staff.”

“You just focus it one game at a time, and it’s a mental-toughness test,” adds Lawrence Frank, Pistons Head Coach. “A lot of games, short amount of time. The NBA is a no-sympathy league. You line ‘em up, and you’ve better come out and give your best effort and compete.”

Even with the low expectations they had coming into the season, the Pistons have disappointed fans by not only losing but being blown out most nights by their opponents.

“Losing sucks,” Frank says. “It’s misery. To me, it’s how you win and how you lose.”

“We just can’t afford to pick our spots,” adds Gordon. “We’re just not that good of a team yet. I think we’ve just got to do a better job of playing a complete game with the same intensity level. We know we’re gonna make mistakes, but the key thing is playing with a maximum-level of effort and energy at all times.”

“We have to continue to put more into the game in order to have a chance to win,” Frank says. “Look, the other team, they want to win too.”

The Pistons, as a result of their struggles, have yet to commit to a set rotation. It remains to be seen who will start in the backcourt once Knight, Gordon and Stuckey are all healthy. Lately, it’s been Knight and Stuckey starting with Gordon out with two shoulder injuries.

“It’s kind of nagging, so I’m just trying to find a way to help the team and play through it…” Gordon says. “…We need as much help as we can get.”

Frank has also failed to pick a consistent starter at power forward. Jonas Jerebko began the season as the starter, but he struggled early on with foul trouble. Detroit has since been opening games with veteran Ben Wallace in the starting lineup, though he is no longer capable of handling significant minutes during games. It’s possible reserve Jason Maxiell could wind up challenging for more playing time, and Villanueva could even earn the starting spot whenever he returns from a sore ankle.

The bright side to a season like this is that it allows a team like the Pistons to give its young players plenty of minutes on the floor. While center Greg Monroe has emerged as the team’s best and most consistent player, Jerebko and forward Austin Daye have both battled through stretches of inconsistent play. Even Knight, as a rookie point guard, is experiencing the ups and downs of running an NBA franchise.

“It’s still a very big learning process as to when to attack and when not to, how to position yourself when you’re driving,” Knight says. “As a rookie, it’s tough to get calls at certain times of the games. You’ve got to get completely killed to get a call sometimes. I’m just trying to be aggressive and stay positive no matter what the situation is – continue to attack, continue to try to lift your teammates, continue to provide intensity, provide positive spirit for everybody.”

“He’s learning,” adds Frank. “This is a process. The step for most players, when they come from college to the NBA, is how to play pick-and-roll basketball. At Kentucky, they ran some pick and roll, but it was more dribble handoffs. Now you’re going against the best.”

The Pistons aren’t kidding themselves. They know they aren’t going to be a playoff team this year. They also know that nobody feels sorry for an organization that was once an annual staple atop the Eastern Conference elite.

“We are what we are right now,” Gordon says. “We can’t just change our record because we think we’re better than we are.”

“We can tell that we’ve been getting better,” Knight optimistically adds. “We’ve been competing a lot more. We’ve been trying to put it out on the court a lot more, but it’s just a matter of us doing it for an entire game versus just stretches.”

Many believe the Pistons’ best bet is to continue losing games in order to increase their chances of landing a top selection in the upcoming NBA Draft. The players on this team, however, are only concerned right now with improving and turning the season around.

“Until we prove otherwise, we just need to continue each and every night to try to find a way to muster the effort that it takes to win an NBA game,” Gordon says. “We haven’t been doing that.”

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