NBA Preview: Detroit Pistons

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Last season: They are a rebuilding team, so you don’t expect them to be good and the 25-41 record reflected that. But they flew under a lot of people’s radar because they are just not that interesting to watch. They are not good on offense, not good on defense, they have a couple nice players but not the kind of explosive, dynamic players that make you stop flipping channels. If Piston fans want to know why Greg Monroe goes unnoticed it is that – the team is uninteresting to watch.

Key Departures: Finally, slowly, GM Joe Dumars seems to be starting to do away with the veterans on the roster and commit fully to the rebuild. At least let’s hope so. Ben Gordon was sent packing for the expiring contract and big arms of Corey Maggette. Ben Wallace also seems about to retire. We think. But you never know.

Key Additions: They picked up the big risk/big reward player of this last draft in Andre Drummond, the big man out of Connecticut. I like the pick, it was a good risk for them. He’s young, his effort is immature (meaning inconsistent) and his offensive game is immature as well. If he puts in the work and grows up, in four years he could be the second best player in this draft and a steal. Or, he could be a bust.

Also added are Corey Maggette and rookies Kim English, Khris Middleton and Kyle Singler.

Three keys to the Pistons season:

1) Will Greg Monroe keep improving, and will anyone notice? It’s not just fans and media that underrate and overlook Monroe — he did not get a USA Select Team invite this summer when he should have. Last season he put up much better numbers than Roy Hibbert — Monroe had more points, more rebounds, shot a higher percentage and Monroe had a PER of 22, Hibbert 16.8 — but everyone raves about Hibbert because we see the Pacers. We see him.

Monroe also is not flashy — he scores on little jump hooks and clever moves around the rim, not thundering dunks. He’s not a highlight machine. What he is maybe the second best center in the East (behind Andrew Bynum) and he is just entering his third season. If he keeps improving people will not be able to ignore him anymore — and there is no reason to think he will not get better. He needs to improve most on the defensive end, he needs to get stronger. He needs to be a force on both ends of the floor. He is not yet complete. But he shouldn’t be overlooked.

2) How will Lawrence Frank fit together a roster with redundant parts? Monroe may be spending more time at the four this season because the Pistons need to let Andre Drummond learn on the job. That gives the Pistons maybe the biggest front line outside of Los Angeles but it means coach Frank needs to get similar players to work well together.

It’s the same thing in the backcourt — the Pistons finally moved Rodney Stuckey from the point to the two-guard spot last season so Brandon Knight could step in. And Knight gave them 12.8 points a game but shot just 41.8 percent and still didn’t dish a higher percentage of assists to teammates than Stuckey. Knight shows some talent but he looked every part the rookie at times last season and needs to mature his game, get teammates involved more and become more efficient. Some Pistons fans are sold on him, I’m not yet.

3) Will Joe Dumars finally trade Tayshawn Prince and stop keeping veterans around? For the past couple years, the Pistons have lived in the kind of ugly middle ground of the NBA — trying to rebuild while keeping veterans on the roster so they are not too bad. That is a terrible way to rebuild. If you are going to rebuild through the draft, do what the Rockets and Magic have done and get bad so you can get picks and free up cap room. The Pistons need to go all in and get over their mistakes from the 2009 free agency period — get rid of Tayshawn Prince, Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell, anyone who is not part of the rebuilding process. Go all in. (That said, with Monroe and this roster they will not be as bad as some.)

What Pistons fans should fear: Life in the middle. The worst thing to be in the NBA is a team stuck in the middle — getting between 35 and 42 wins a season, hoping to get an eighth playoff seed and get routed in the first round, never being bad enough to get a really high draft pick. You can’t improve that way. Detroit has a couple potential stars on this team, particularly along the front line, but they have to be smart and build on this now, not just live in the middle of the NBA.

How it likely works out: Another pretty middle of the road season. Monroe is going to play well whether he plays the four or the five. He should be at an All-Star level. Knight will improve, although how much remains to be seen. It may be a couple years before we know how good Drummond can be — or how good he is willing to work to be — and there are other potential guys like Singler that could be interesting. But mostly the Pistons are just not going to be very good, and not likely a playoff team.

Prediction: 31-51 but their should be hope for the future based on Monroe, based on what Drummond might be, and with that record on the chance of a good bounce in the lottery to get one more star.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.

Celtics look to push win streak to 16 vs. Mavs

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DALLAS (AP) — The Boston Celtics aren’t yet halfway to the NBA record for consecutive victories, a mark the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold, but at 15 in a row, they are in rare territory.

Since 1946-47, there have only been 35 instances of a 15-game win streak or longer. And of all the legendary Celtics teams, this squad already holds the franchise’s fifth-longest win streak. A victory Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who are an NBA-worst 3-14 overall and 2-8 at American Airlines Center, would tie the 1964-65 Boston team’s 16-game win streak.

If the Celtics (15-2) get the win, they would climb closer to the 1959-60 team’s 18-game win streak, and then comes the club mark of 19 in a row accomplished by the 2008-09 team.

This version of the Celtics has to be considered the most unexpected to string together so many wins. The team has a slew of new players, starting with guard Kyrie Irving, and Boston lost another prized newcomer, forward Gordon Hayward, in the season opener.

After starting 0-2, Boston hasn’t lost. Yet, it’s not exactly as if the Celtics are steamrolling the league. For the Mavericks, who are coming off snapping the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-game win streak Saturday, the fact that Boston has actually had to rally to get a handful of its wins must be seen as an opportunity to steal a decision.

In fact, four of the Celtics’ victories during the streak have come after Boston trailed by 16 points, including a 110-109 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“Most of us have never been on a winning streak like this,” Irving said following the win over Atlanta. “I don’t know if we even know how to pay attention to all the hoopla that goes on in terms of the excitement of it. I just think that every single game we take it as a challenge.”

Irving has been accepting that challenge with tremendous success after asking to be traded away from Cleveland, where he won one title with LeBron James and lost twice in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

He closed out those same Warriors last week, scoring 11 of the last 15 points in the final 4:21. The clutch play has Irving already being talked about as an MVP candidate.

“He’s so good in those moments that you want to give him the appropriate amount of room,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe about Irving. “Maybe it’s finding a matchup. Maybe it’s creating a two-man game with Al (Horford).”

Irving will be a major test for Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has displayed some tremendous flashes while also showing he is a green 19-year-old with one season of college ball under his belt.

Dallas, one of the league’s lowest-scoring offensive teams, is relying heavily on Smith and Harrison Barnes to carry the load. Dirk Nowitzki, 39, has dropped off significantly, averaging just 10.3 points a game, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Unlike the Celtics, Dallas has lost its share of games by being unable to close out games late. On Saturday, the Mavericks won a rare game going away, blitzing the Bucks with a franchise-tying 19 3-pointers. Guard Wesley Matthews said he thinks all the hard work is starting to pay off.

The history-chasing Celtics will put that claim to test.

“We can actually see everything that we’ve been trying to do come together, and hopefully that just carries the momentum into the off day where everybody’s feeling good,” Matthews said after Dallas’ victory. “We’ve got another tough battle Monday against Boston, who is the hottest team in the league right now, but it’s another opportunity for us.”

Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone suspended one game for confronting referee

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Denver coach Mike Malone decided if he was going to get tossed and fined/suspended, he was going to get his money’s worth.

During the second quarter of the Nuggets’ Sunday loss to the Lakers, Malone ran onto the court during play to argue a no-call on a play by Nikola Jokic around the basket. Malone furiously confronted referee Rodney Mott, who swiftly ejected the coach. As he should. Malone was suspended one game for “entering the court, halting play and making contact with a game official,” the league announced. Malone will serve his suspension tonight when the Nuggets face the Kings in Sacramento.

Mott also tossed Jokic when he entered the argument Sunday night, but the NBA rescinded the ejection saying Jokic earned a technical but should not have been thrown out. A lot of good that does the Nuggets now, who had to go more than half the game without their best player and lost (not that he changes the outcome of the game, but a comeback is less likely without him).

 

 

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

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Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.