51Q: How much will a roster that fits Stan Van Gundy boost the Pistons?

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Greg Monroe was the No. 7 pick. He has averaged 14.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in his career. When he became a free agent this summer, he signed a max contract with the Bucks – and his agent claims multiple teams offered a max deal.

Anthony Tolliver went undrafted. He has averaged 6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in his career. When he became a free agent the previous summer, he signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Suns – and they wanted to dump him a few months later.

Monroe is better than Tolliver.

Nearly nobody would dispute that.

But when Pistons franchise player Andre Drummond played with Tolliver at power forward as opposed to Monroe, Detroit fared much better. Here are the ratings (offensive/defensive/net) for each combination:

  • Monroe-Drummond: 102.7/104.4/-1.7
  • Tolliver-Drummond: 110.3/105.3/+5.0

Essentially, the Pistons went from a middling offense to better than the league-best Clippers. That was more than enough to offset a slight defensive dip and make Detroit look more like a high-50-win team than the 32-win outfit they were.

This season, the Pistons – despite losing Monroe – have a chance to overcome that talent downgrade with a better-fitting roster.

President/coach Stan Van Gundy was brought in to maximize Drummond the same way he helped develop Dwight Howard with the Magic. In Orlando, that meant spreading the floor around Howard – especially playing Rashard Lewis at power forward.

But spacing didn’t come so easy in Van Gundy’s first year in Detroit. He jammed Drummond, Monroe and Josh Smith into the starting front court before waiving Smith in December. Even then, Van Gundy had a difficult time using Monroe and Drummond together. It’s not the most natural pairing, but the talented players could have performed better together.

Now, that discussion is left to the past. Van Gundy has his players, including Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova, absorbed into cap space with the Pistons knowing Monroe would leave, is a legitimate NBA starting power forward with range outside the arc. No longer must Detroit rely on Tolliver when it wants to go small.

Tolliver will still play off the bench, and Marcus Morris – also acquired in a salary dump – could also see minutes as a stretch four. But Morris’ primary role will be starting at small forward, where he replaces stop gaps Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince. The Pistons practically punted the position once they traded Kyle Singler at midseason. So, Morris is a fairly big upgrade.

Van Gundy also has Stanley Johnson, the No. 8 pick who has drawn rave reviews from his new coach. It seems inevitable he’ll overtake Morris for the starting job at some point.

And then there’s Reggie Jackson, hand-picked by Van Gundy as Detroit’s starting point guard. The Pistons rewarded Jackson this summer with the richest contract in team history.

They’re trying to find the right players around Drummond, and Van Gundy clearly thinks the formula starts with Jackson and a stretch four. Ilyasova is an upgrade at power forward, and Morris, Johnson Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks are good enough on the wing for now. Johnson will improve, and the Pistons will try again in free agency next summer after striking out this year and having to resort to salary dumps.

Other teams are more talented, but Van Gundy should know how to coach this one. Given his track record of success, that might be enough to push the Pistons into the playoffs.

Rui Hachimura scores 27, Bradley Beal adds 26, Wizards upset 76ers 119-113

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WASHINGTON — As well as the Philadelphia 76ers have been playing at home lately, they just can’t consistently get their act together on the road, and a combined 15 turnovers by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons contributed to a 119-113 loss at the Washington Wizards on Thursday night.

The Sixers dropped to 5-7 away from Philadelphia – where they are 10-0 this season – despite 33 points from Tobias Harris, 26 points and a season-best 21 rebounds from Embiid, and 17 points and 10 assists from Simmons.

Facing one of the most lax defenses in the NBA, Embiid had eight turnovers and Simmons seven. The 76ers ended up with 21 in all, leading to 30 points for the Wizards, who had lost five of their past six games entering the night.

Bradley Beal had 26 points and 10 rebounds for Washington.

Rookie Rui Hachimura scored 27, while Davis Bertans scored 19 of his season-high 25 points in the second quarter.

The 76ers have lost 10 games in a row at Washington; their last victory in the nation’s capital came on Nov. 1, 2013.

Still, the Wizards started this one about as poorly as possible at the offensive end, missing their first five shots and turning the ball over twice before finally making a basket after nearly 4 minutes.

Raul Neto hit 3s on consecutive trips down the court to put the Sixers ahead 33-22 late in the first quarter. Bertans took over in the second, though, scoring 12 points in a row for Washington in one stretch and sparking a 16-2 run.

In the first half, Bertans shot 8 for 8 overall, 6 for 6 on 3s, and totaled 22 points.

The hosts stretched their edge to 75-61 midway through the third quarter and were up 91-81 entering the fourth, despite missing several players.

Washington’s roster has been injury-depleted all season so far, most prominently missing All-Star point guard John Wall. Each day seems to bring more bad news, and Thursday was no different: Point guard Isaiah Thomas was a late scratch, while guard-forward Jordan McRae was ruled out for no less than two weeks.

Others unavailable at the moment include starting center Thomas Bryant and forward C.J Miles.


Brandon Ingram gets stitches near right eye after Dario Saric falls on his head (VIDEO)

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Brandon Ingram has taken a step forward this season in New Orleans, a team that has put the ball in his hands a lot and trusted the forward to make plays. Ingram is averaging 25.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists a game, shooting 41.5 percent from three, and is playing at a level that will get him All-Star consideration. He just happens to be doing all that in a contract year.

Which is why this was a scary moment: Phoenix’s Dario Saric fell on Ingram’s head.

Ingram went back to the locker room but the result was just stitches, according to the team.

It looks like it was not as bad as the video made it appear.


Portland reportedly to guaranteed Carmelo Anthony’s contract for rest of season

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Portland was in desperate need of frontcourt help but, like the rest of the league, it was not sold on Carmelo Anthony as the answer.

The Trail Blazers decided to take a chance on Anthony, but a low-risk one — a non-guaranteed contract.

It’s worked out better than anyone had hoped — Anthony is averaging 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game, and the Blazers have been +14.2 per 100 possessions when he is on the court. Portland is 4-4 since he was signed (although, to be fair, the four wins came after Damian Lillard returned from injury to the lineup).

With that, the Trail Blazers have decided to guarantee Anthony’s contract for the rest of the season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Consider this a reward for Anthony.

The bigger reward is that Anthony is getting to redefine the end of his career. Understandably he did not like the way it ended, with getting played off the floor in the playoffs for Oklahoma City, then only lasting 10 games in Houston. The market had dried up for Anthony until Portland came through with an offer.

Now Anthony will be with the Blazers through the end of the season. At the very least.

Rockets to officially protest loss to Spurs due to disallowed James Harden dunk

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After 48 hours of bluster, the Houston Rockets are going to follow through with actions.

The Rockets are going to officially protest Tuesday night’s loss to the Spurs on the grounds of James Harden‘s missed call, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. A protest requires proof of a  misapplication of a rule that seriously inhibits a team’s chance to win a game, the Rockets believe they have that and the league should allow the teams to replay the final 7:50 of the game (with the Rockets conveniently up by 15 at that point).

The Rockets prepared to file a protest of Tuesday’s loss to the Spurs, a person with knowledge of the team’s plans said, with an argument that will cite the James Harden dunk that did not count as an example of a “misapplication of rules.”

It will also cite subsequent errors in officials’ failing to grant a coaches’ challenge, though the primary argument is with points not being awarded following a made basket.

What’s not in question is that the referees missed the call on James Harden’s fourth-quarter dunk — it should have counted. After the game the officials, after reviewing the video, admitted as much.

In addition to the missed dunk, the Rockets also are arguing that coach Mike D’Antoni should have been allowed to challenge the play (another misapplication of a rule). The officials talked to D’Antoni for a handful of seconds, then moved away to debate the call itself — was it basket interference or something else — before settling on it being a missed shot with the ball out of bounds off Harden. D’Antoni said he was never given the chance to protest the call by the referees, after the game crew chief James Capers said D’Antoni did not protest the game within the required 30 seconds. Privately, some around the league question if D’Antoni actually told the officials he wanted to protest — he says he did, not everyone believes him.

Protests around the NBA are rarely upheld because the bar is incredibly high. A successful protest requires proof of a  misapplication of a rule that seriously inhibited a team’s chance to win a game. The Rockets argue that not giving Harden two points for a made basket qualifies as a misapplication of the rules, but others could argue it was just a missed call. There are a lot of those in every game (Russell Westbrook had a backcourt violation that was not called and became a Tyson Chandler dunk). 

This one play is not why the Rockets lost the game. Houston was up by 20 with 3:23 left in the third and by 10 with 3:53 left in the fourth but, as has followed a pattern with this team, could not hold the lead. Harden and Westbrook combined to shoot 17-of-68 on the night.

Because of that, and because there is 7:50 left in the game, it’s hard to imagine the league ruling to replay the end of the game. The Rockets likely will miss out on this.

But Houston — a team known in the league office for the deluge of referee complaints they file — is going to takes its best shot.