Pistons Recap – Ups & Downs

After last night’s 85-80 win over the Orlando Magic, the Detroit Pistons sit at 2-2, half a game behind the Cleveland LeBrons Cavaliers for the Central Division lead. It’s a little early to be talking about their position in the standings, especially since Cleveland has gotten off to a slow start. However, the Pistons’ .500 record after 4 games is nothing to panic about. The new-look Pistons have been inconsistent at times, but have also shown us that there is something to be excited about with this team as well.

One of the biggest positives so far for the Pistons has been the play of free-agent-signee Ben Gordon. BG has been everything one could expect from a $10 million per-year salary so far. He’s shooting at a 50% clip from the field (41% from 3), averaging 24 points per game. He was expected to come off the bench this year, but an early injury to Rip Hamilton has forced him into a starter’s role, and he has performed admirably. Detractors have complained that he hasn’t been much of a playmaker thus far, but it’s not his role. Joe D brought him in as a scorer, someone who can come in cold off the bench and light it up in a hurry. He has been able to stretch defenses, allowing for more holes for both Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum to get to the basket. Last night’s game was proof of that. BG didn’t hit any 3s (no Piston did), but Stuckey and Bynum were able to get to the basket all night long and draw key fouls on the Orlando bigs.

On the other hand, Charlie Villanueva has been an early-season disappointment. To his defense, he’s had to deal with an injury throughout the entire preseason. This has limited his playing time with his new teammates. There’s definitely some chemistry issues thus far, but nothing fans should be worried about. Also, I think CV31 is pressing a bit. From reading his Twitter page all summer, you know he wants to play well in Detroit. The D is famous for treating their heroes like royalty, and I think Villanueva wants to be a part of that. Give him time Pistons fans, he’s going to be ok.

Both Bynum and Stuckey have been inconsistent to start the year, but last night’s strong performances by both were nice to see. From what I saw, Stuckey was especially authoritative when taking the ball to the bucket. During the first half it almost seemed like he had a vendetta against Jameer Nelson and wanted to not just beat him, but embarrass him as well. Bynum obviously had a bone to pick with Nelson later in the game, and seemed to take it to him just as convincingly. Third Quarter Collapse called out Nelson’s performance as one of the reasons why Orlando lost.

As the only star on the floor in crunch time…and as a team co-captain, [Nelson] needed to demonstrate more poise down the stretch. Poor shot selection and consecutive turnovers effectively ended the Magic’s comeback bid. The loss isn’t squarely on his shoulders, as nobody really played well for the Magic. But he did not acquit himself with his 7-point, 6-assist, 5-turnover outing.

I’ve seen Orlando fans also using Rashard Lewis’ absence and Vince Carter’s ankle as excuses for the L, but keep in mind the Pistons won this game without Rip and Tayshaun Prince.

Speaking of Rip, I’m surprised to see how much of an effect he has on the Pistons’ offense. I’ve often criticized him for not being able to create his own shot, but teammates say he’s been very effective in creating shots for others. Detroit’s blogosphere has been going nuts as well, pointing to Hamilton’s absence as the reason the offense is stagnant.

The stats showed it, as they had 20 assists in the win over Memphis and just 29 combined in the next two games, which also just so happened to be without Rip Hamilton.

It makes a lot of sense that all the screens he runs through not only will free Rip up for a jumper, but also the screener who can roll to the basket or pop to the high post. We saw during the Memphis opener how well Rip and BG’s offensive talents complement one another. Hopefully Hamilton can get healthy sooner rather than later and get the O back on track.

Another big positive for the Pistons has been the resurgence of Ben Wallace. Many criticized the signing, chalking it up as nothing more but a “victory lap” for the big man. Big Ben has proven everyone wrong so far (video won’t embed), looking like the four-time defensive player of the year that roamed the Palace paint years ago, sans ‘fro.

Ben Wallace

It’s tough to say how good or bad this team will be. They have lost to two up-and-coming teams thus far in the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Milwaukee Bucks, and beaten a doormat in Memphis and a legitimate Finals contender in the Magic. They have won with both offense (Memphis) and defense (Orlando) so far, and seem like they will go as far as their guards will carry them. Are they going to be in the thick of the NBA’s ping-pong ball sweepstakes? There’s no reason to think so. For those writing the Pistons off in the first two weeks of the season, shame on you. For those claiming last night’s win vaults them into the elite of the Eastern Conference, hold your horses. The Pistons will be in the thick of the playoff race in what has become a much deeper Eastern conference than in years past. If the Pistons don’t make it to the postseason, it will likely go down to the final week or two of the season. Either way, it looks like it’s going to be a fun ride all season long.

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