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12-10-2003, 01:11 PM
Pistons searching for answers

On Tuesday night, the Detroit Pistons lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, who were without Allen Iverson, Glenn Robinson and Marc Jackson.

In other words, they were outscored at home by a team missing three of its four leading scorers, a team that didn't like them very much in the first place after coach Larry Brown left Philadelphia for Detroit in the offseason, and a team that had already beaten them once on Nov. 26.

In other words, they lost their second game in a row to fall to 14-8 after starting last year 15-7, which turned into 18-7 with a win over two-time NBA finalist New Jersey. But this year's team has a 2-4 record against opponents with a winning record. In fact, prior to losing the last two games, the Pistons' four-game win streak came against teams with a combined record of 25-59.

In other words, things aren't exactly how many thought they'd be in Detroit.

"I don't know what the problem is," said guard Richard Hamilton in the Detroit News. "We have to keep working. We were always able to feed off each other last year. We knew where to get the ball and where the shots were coming from. We don't have that yet this year. There's a lot of things we still have to figure out."

Remember, this was a team won 50 games in 2002 as its then head coach Rick Carlisle was named the league's Coach of the Year. The following season, the Pistons won 50 games again with the best record in the entire Eastern Conference. So here they are, two-time 50-game winners with the No. 2 pick in the draft and a new head coach in Brown who many consider the best in the NBA.

And what happens?

"Right now, every possession is tough," said Hamilton in the Detroit Free Press, "and when every possession is tough and you don't get easy looks, that's when you shoot the way we did tonight."

Of course, it wasn't supposed to be easy with a new coach and all, especially one who was going to turn the defensive-orientated team into a fast-moving offensive unit. Admit it. You hated those low-scoring Detroit games. You hated those defensive struggles.

But you liked all those wins, didn't you.

So guess what . . .

"The more I watch this team play, I'm convinced that we have to run a play almost every time," Brown said. "I have to do a better job of understanding that and accepting that because we don't get much out of our break."

Ben Wallace

2003-2004 SEASON STATS
21 9.1 12.7 1.7 .385 .562

Brown was equally convinced that he had to turn Ben Wallace into more of an offensive player. After winning two rebounding titles in a row and two Defensive Player of the Year awards, the Pistons wanted him to score, also.

But, instead, the five-point per game player shooting 50 percent on his career turned into a nine-point per game player shooting 38 percent from the field. And it's getting worse. In his first two games of the year in October, Wallace averaged 11 points per game on 39 percent shooting. In November, he was down to 9.3 points per game on 39 percent shooting. Four games into December, he's at 7.3 points per game at 33 percent shooting.

What's worse is that while he has maintained his shots blocked average from last season, his rebounding is down from a league-leading 15.4 last year to 12.7 this year.

To be fair, the Pistons, as a team, are much better rebounders than they were last year. But the funny thing is that while they've tried to become more offensive oriented, only their defensive numbers have improved.

Last year, they held opponents to 91.4 points per game on 43.8 percent shooting. This year, they're holding opponents to 90.6 points per game on 42 percent shooting. And offensively, they're actually scoring 0.8 points less per game and their shooting has gone from 43 percent last year to 42 percent this year.

Chauncey Billups

2003-2004 SEASON STATS
22 20.3 3.7 5.4 .389 .893

But that isn't all. Chauncey Billups, the team's leading scorer, is shooting 38.9 percent from the field after shooting 42 percent last year. He's taking fewer 3-pointers per game even though that's the strong suit of his game. Former Sixthman of the Year Corliss Williamson is putting up the worse stats since his rookie season. And Darko Milicic, the heralded No. 2 draft pick, has played a total of 17minutes this season, tallying six fouls, three turnovers and zero points on 0-for-3 shooting.

"It ain't about execution or calling plays," Wallace said. "It's about digging down and fighting. I don't know what it is, but we have to look in the mirror and find a way because what we are doing now ain't working. We have to find a way to be more focused and start beating teams up. We are allowing teams to walk all over us. They didn't have all their guns and we laid down. I guess we expected them to lay down, but they stood up and fought."

Remember, it wasn't too long ago that the last team you thought that would be talking about shooting percentages and fast breaks was the Detroit Pistons. For the past two years, they, instead, liked to talk about bumps and bruises and winning ugly just so long as they won.

"We are a different team than the one Rick (Carlisle) had," Brown said. "There are a lot of new guys here, and they feel the same way. It's going to take some time. I still don't know what I have here."

In other words, the Pistons may very well go on to win 50 games this year. With 60 games to play, they are only three games back of leading the Eastern Conference in wins for the second year in a row.

In other words, the biggest thing that has changed is the fact that we thought of these Pistons as overachievers. We saw Wallace go undrafted and then become an All-NBA player. We saw Billups go from his fifth team in six years upon arriving in Detroit to team up with Hamilton as perhaps the best backcourt in the East. We saw Chucky Atkins become part of a sign-and-trade salvage job in which franchise player Grant Hill departed to Orlando supposedly leaving this franchise in ruins.

Then we saw them win.

And now, with their new head coach and new lottery pick, we expected them to win even more.

"Once everything jells and comes together, it'll be great for us," Atkins said.

But, in other words, on their way to becoming the new and improved team, we finally realized how much we missed the old, ugly version.

Sonics reside beyond the arc

The fact that Peja Stojakovic is shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range while attempting more than five a game would be the most important part of this sentence if it weren't for the ending part about the Kings, as a team, shooting 42.3 percent from long range while attempting almost 16 a game.

Make no mistake about it. The Kings, also the highest-scoring team in the league at 104.8 per game, shoot their fair share of 3-pointers. What makes them different is that they make more than their fair share of 3-pointers.

In fact, the next best team in the league is the Seattle Sonics at 38.4 percent shooting from long range.

But the biggest difference there is that the Sonics only want to shoot the 3. In fact, the Sonics attempt a triple every 3.5 shots while the Kings attempt the same every 5.3 shots, which made us wonder which teams in the league depended most upon the 3 in their offensive schemes.

You know, live by the 3, die by the 3.

That is, of course, not counting the Kings, who have taken 286 3-point attempts of their 1,515 total field goal attempts. That's about 18.8 percent of their shots. Considering their past reputation as a finesse team, their 3-point accuracy might be the most important part of this paragraph if it weren't for the ending part about them shooting 47.4 percent from the field to also lead the entire league.

Top 5

1. Seattle SuperSonics
Numbers: 28.1% (380 3PA of 1,352 FGA)

Forget, for a moment, that four of their five starters have shot 73 or more triples in 16 games or that their best player, Ray Allen, shot 533 triples last year but has yet to play a single game yet or that their rookie point guard Luke Ridnour has taken 24 3-pointers in 17 games despite playing on 16 per as a point guard, as a rookie. All you need to know about the Sonics is summed up in one position. Power forward Vladimir Radmanovic is averaging 6.2 triples per game to his 6.6 rebounds per game. In all, he has taken 105 3-pointers to his 35 free-throw attempts. He is 6-foot-10 and has made 36 triples to his 30 offensive boards.

2. New Orleans Hornets
Numbers: 27.5% (478 3PA of 1,735 FGA)
David Wesley has already taken 105 3-pointers this season and he isn't even the leader. Sixthman Darrell Armstrong has taken 113 3-pointers this season and he isn't even the leader. But point guard Baron Davis has taken 208 3-pointers and that, ladies and gentleman, not only makes him the leader on this team but 85 ahead of anyone else in the entire league. You read right. The next highest in the NBA is Miami's Eddie Jones at 123. The next two combined are at 230 and Baron should be catching both of them in, say, a game or two at this pace. He's literally taken more 3-pointers than the entire Cavs, Pistons and Jazz rosters. But who's going to complain when he's also third in scoring, second in assists, second in steals and first in the hearts of his teammates.

3. Houston Rockets
Numbers: 23.6% (318 3PA of 1,346 FGA)
Jeff Van Gundy's push for an inside-outside game hasn't left much room for the middle. Yao Ming has gone from 9.8 shots per game last year to 11.2 this year while Maurice Taylor has gone from 7.9 last year to 9.6 this year and the two of them have combined for one long-range attempt. There's your inside. On the outside, Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, the two leading scorers on this team since 2000, have gone from averaging a combined 7.2 3-point attempts last year to 8.6 attempts this year despite the fact that Ming is about to pass both of them in the scoring column. They're getting fewer shots but still shooting more 3s while Van Gundy has them on pace to win eight more games than they did last year.

4. Boston Celtics
Numbers: 22.5% (355 3PA of 1,574 FGA)

It certainly must be the water because it just isn't Antoine Walker. While the league's most prolific long-range bomber, never to be confused with the league's most accurate shooter, has taken his never-ending search for a four-point line to Dallas, the Celtics are still hoisting up more than 18 3-pointers a game (compared to 26 a game with Walker last year). Heck, every player on this team save bruising Mark Blount has taken at least one 3-pointer, including traditional centers Tony Battie and Vin Baker. The bad news is that Walker's absence has placed a tremendous burden on Paul Pierce to put up a lot of points. The good news is that over Pierce's career, he's averaged 4.8 triples a game after averaging 4.9 last year but is only averaging 4.3 this year. His rebounds are up. His long-range shooting percentage is up. And, well, his ire for a little help is also up. But most people will tell you that a tired Pierce is still better than a rested Walker.

5. Memphis Grizzlies
Numbers: 21.3% (341 3PA of 1,596 FGA)
The important thing here isn't the fact that the Grizzlies are shooting 17.9 3-pointers a game this year after shooting only 15.5 last year but that in the games that they have won this year, they've shot 35 percent from long range while in the games that they have lost, they've shot only 27 percent. This is especially true of Shane Battier. While the forward is shooting a career-high 43 percent from long range, that number is derived from 53 percent shooting in wins and 29 percent shooting in losses. Let's just hope the Grizzlies keep winning. Or, even as the fifth leading scorer on the team, is it the other way around?

Bottom 5

25. New Jersey Nets
Numbers: 14.5% (228 3PA of 1,565 FGA)
This team was built to beat you up and down the court and not by stretching it. You've got Kenyon Martin, the leading scorer on the team who has hit 28 triples in 233 games, on one wing, and Richard Jefferson, third-leading scorer shooting a career 24 percent from distance, on the other. Would you rather they pull up from beyond the arc or go to the rim? Now, if we could only convince Jason Kidd that his stat box really does say 32 percent from 3-point range over nine-plus seasons . . .

26. Minnesota Timberwolves
Numbers: 13.2% (214 3PA of 1,621 FGA)
Last year, Troy Hudson, Wally Szczerbiak and Anthony Peeler combined for 621 of the team's 804 3-point attempts. That's over 77 percent of those shots. This year, the three have a grand total of 0 for the Timberwolves because two of them have been injured all season and the latter now plays for the Kings. It will be interesting to see, though, how Hudson and Szczerbiak divide up the long-range country once they return with the three new shooters. Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell and Fred Hoiberg have combined for 187 of the team's 214 3-point attempts. Look again. That's over 87 percent of those shots.

27. Detroit Pistons
Numbers: 12.5% (196 3PA of 1,562 FGA)

Richard Hamilton is one of the few remaining mid-range artists in the game today, having averaged 17 points per game over five seasons on only 119 3-pointers in 314 games. Heck, center Mehmet Okur has one more long-range attempt than he does this year (13 to 12 in 20 games). But other than Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince, no other Piston has more than those 13 attempts except Lyndsey Hunter and he hasn't played since Nov. 26. In fact, there eight players on their stat sheet that have yet to make a 3-pointer and five of them yet to even shoot one.

28. Cleveland Cavaliers
Numbers: 12.0% (200 3PA of 1,661 FGA)
Until Jason Kapono, 9-for-15 from long range in 145 total minutes this year, is unleashed or Dajuan Wagner, who once took 10 in a single game as a rookie, is uninjured, this team has no one on the roster to put up the quality nor quantity of long-range shots to affect this number. Not a single Cavalier is making more than one a game and, save Kapono, no one is shooting above 35 percent. And, upon second thought, that may be exactly the way head coach Paul Silas gets his sleep at night.

29. Utah Jazz
Numbers: 11.3% (166 3PA of 1,467 FGA)
The Jazz are fourth in the entire NBA at 44.7 percent shooting from the field but dead last in 3-point accuracy at 29.9 percent. And we hate to point fingers but the 6-foot-7 forward from Georgia Tech, first name starting with M, last name starting with H, is mostly at fault with his 15 percent from long range after shooting 41 percent last year. But all things considered, what do you think Jerry Sloan would want them to do? And what Jazz player in his right mind would go against his wishes? And what person would disagree with either party?

Peep Show

Indiana Pacers: The NBA is sorry and senior vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson wants to be the first to call to Ron Artest and apologize as well as congratulate him on is improved behavior. The Indianapolis Star is reporting that Jackson has already spoken to team president Larry Bird and noted the officiating error that involved a charging call on Artest followed by two technical fouls and an ejection. "I'm hoping I don't pay for (the second technical)," Artest said. "The technical was a good call, but the ejection was a bad call."

Phoenix Suns: If the Suns think they're hurt now with injuries to Zarko Cabarkapa, Amare Stoudemire and now Leandro Barbosa, just wait until their boss gets a hold of them. "That certainly doesn't excuse guys laying down," Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo said in the Arizona Republic. "Well, we were up 28-19 [against Miami]. I lost count after they had outscored us 67-37 in the next 2 1/2 quarters or whatever it was . . . We suffered significant injuries obviously to Amare and now Leandro. But overall the team seems to compete at times and lay down at times. That's the frustration we've been experiencing for the better part of the season. It's all or nothing, it seems."

Boston Celtics: The Boston Globe is reporting that some of Raef LaFrentz is better than no Raef LaFrentz. "The question we have to ask ourselves [is this]: Him playing 15 to 20 minutes a game, and not practicing, what does that mean to us?" said coach Jim O'Brien. "We think as a coaching staff that it could mean four or five more wins." LaFrentz is battling through painful tendinitis in his right knee and is options range from getting back on the floor to season-ending surgery. "What the situation is, is at some point in time, he is going to need surgery," said O'Brien. "I don't think Raef views it as an option to have surgery [right now] but that doesn't mean that if our organization thought it was in his best interests to do it, [he wouldn't] be open-minded to it. Ultimately, it's Raef's decision. But I think he wants to play basketball."

Los Angeles Lakers: Karl Malone, who can opt out of his contract at the end of this season, is hoping his mail continues to be delivered to an L.A. address at least during the next NBA season. The Orange County Register is reporting that "it'd have to be something pretty drastic, pretty amazing, something awful" for him not to return next season such as, he said laughing, "me and Big Head over there (Shaquille O'Neal) have a big falling out or something awful bad." The future hall of famer is making only $1.5 million this year and won't make much more next year unless the team re-works his contract. "I want them to want me more than I want them," he said. "We have a pretty good line of communication, and they could talk to me. If I'm the designated $1.5 (million) guy to make us better, I'm sure we can talk about it."

Seattle SuperSonics: Jerome James took his lashings by sitting out last game and promises to never let it happen again. "There's no excuse for falling asleep during the team video session," James said in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "I apologize to my teammates, and I will try my best not to let it happen again . . . I'm upset because I put him (McMillan) in the position of having to discipline me at this critical time during the season," James said. "We're struggling to get something going together. It seems like we're struggling to get something going together, and then a silly thing like falling asleep (happens). It was not like I was disrespecting him or anything. I was tired. I dozed off. I shouldn't have dozed off."

Chicago Bulls: After the Bulls fired their coach, made a six-player trade and turned Jamal Crawford into their go-to guy, the point guard believes they've finally got all the right pieces in place. "We are a better team, and we have everything that we need on this team," Crawford said in the Chicago Sun Times. "We've just got to learn how to finish games. We should be 4-0 right now [since the coaching change and trade]. The last three games we've lost, we've had a lead in the fourth quarter." And just so that you know that there's no "I" in team . . . "I don't mind having to score a lot of points for us to win,'' Crawford said. "I'll run with it. But when I'm scoring a lot and we are losing, it doesn't mean much to me. I'd trade my points for the wins."

12-10-2003, 01:19 PM
Boston Celtics: The Boston Globe is reporting that some of Raef LaFrentz is better than no Raef LaFrentz. "The question we have to ask ourselves [is this]: Him playing 15 to 20 minutes a game, and not practicing, what does that mean to us?" said coach Jim O'Brien. "We think as a coaching staff that it could mean four or five more wins." LaFrentz is battling through painful tendinitis in his right knee and is options range from getting back on the floor to season-ending surgery. "What the situation is, is at some point in time, he is going to need surgery," said O'Brien. "I don't think Raef views it as an option to have surgery [right now] but that doesn't mean that if our organization thought it was in his best interests to do it, [he wouldn't] be open-minded to it. Ultimately, it's Raef's decision. But I think he wants to play basketball."

I tend to think that none of Raef is better than any of him!!!

12-10-2003, 05:00 PM
once again too long for me to read...but not too long for me too reply on how it was too long...funny how that works...i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif