Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pistons’ Backcourt Developing Cohesion

Pistons’ Backcourt Developing Cohesion
By Steve St-Pierre | @Steve_Courtside

Now passed the halfway mark of the 2011-12 NBA season, the Pistons’ chemistry is growing amongst their building blocks for the future, particularly the backcourt of veteran Rodney Stuckey and rookie Brandon Knight.

Until this season, Detroit had always hoped Stuckey would establish himself as the team’s starting point guard. He spent his rookie season learning under the guidance of former Pistons guard Chauncey Billups. Once Billups was traded, Stuckey was given the responsibility of running the team’s offense.

Whether he was playing alongside former teammate Rip Hamilton or current Piston Ben Gordon, Stuckey never appeared comfortable being a point guard. Last summer, the Pistons had been targeting a big man in the 2011 NBA Draft before Knight surprisingly slipped to them at No. 8. Detroit couldn’t pass on the opportunity to acquire a more-complete point guard that high in the draft.

Stuckey was a restricted free agent coming into this season, but the Pistons convinced him to return. At first, it appeared Lawrence Frank, Pistons Head Coach, was going to keep Stuckey at point guard and bring Knight off the bench. However, early-season injuries to both Stuckey and Gordon allowed Knight to solidify the starting point guard position.

For the last several weeks, Knight and Stuckey have been starting together in the backcourt, with Stuckey at shooting guard. Gordon has been coming off the bench in a reserve role, allowing the Pistons to utilize a three-guard rotation. This has allowed each guard to get comfortable in their spots, which in turn has allowed center Greg Monroe to emerge as one of the NBA’s top players at his position.

“When Brandon is playing north-to-south and attacking the rim, it is vital for us,” Frank says. “When he and Rodney are both doing that, it means Greg is going to get rebounds and he’s going to get some easy shots.”

“We’re a different team when (Stuckey’s) attacking – that’s point blank,” adds Monroe. “When he’s attacking the goal with that intensity and that consistently throughout the game, we’re a different team. That’s something we have to ask him to do every night and just impose his will over the whole game.”

Of course, having such a young and inexperienced backcourt has periodically led the Pistons to more turnovers and less assists. The team knows that its rookie point guard will struggle at times with ball-handling but anticipates improvement in that department.

“It’s one thing to get in the lane; it’s another to find solutions,” Frank says. “It will be an ongoing thing. Brandon is a very, very quick study.”

“There’s no excuse to just throw the ball away and be as careless as we are at times,” adds Gordon. “I don’t think it’s an offensive thing. I think it’s just a matter of us focusing and concentrating better.”

The Pistons anticipated growing pains with this type of roster, which is why they decided to re-sign veteran Tayshaun Prince. Detroit’s starting small forward, Prince has tried to help Knight and Stuckey with moving the ball on offense and showing them the ropes.

“It’s meant a lot just to know that (Prince has) been in a place where I’m trying to get as far as the type of player that he is,” Knight says. “He wants the best for the team. Just to have your veterans talk to you and try to lead you in the right direction shows that our team is trying to get better.”

Though they aren’t likely to make the playoffs this season, the Pistons are hoping to improve during the second half of the year and finish on a high note. More importantly, they need to assure themselves they have their backcourt of the future in place so that they can concentrate on adding another big man to place alongside Monroe this summer.

As of now, that plan appears to be coming to fruition.