Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thursday Thoughts


- Pistons and youngsters just don't go together do they? In recent times, our coaches have been reluctant to play the newbies. Granted, we've have a terrific veteran starting five, but eventually those guys are going to decline or move on. It seems Joe Dumars finally realized this and gave an edict to Flip Saunders to play the young players this season. Rodney Stuckey, Jason Maxiell, Arron Afflalo, and Amir Johnson all played major minutes off the bench in 2008. While Saunders has slashed the rotation in the playoffs, Stuckey and Maxiell have still been playing in crucial situations. I've seen the evolution of Maxiell long enough to expect solid play from him. But, even I couldn't foresee the excellent play of Stuckey in this postseason. Not since Tayshaun Prince's coming out party in 2003 has a Piston rookie contributed like this. Back then, Prince was inserted into the lineup in the Orlando series over Michael Curry after barely playing in the regular season. He helped shut down Tracy McGrady and bring the Pistons back from a 3-1 deficit. Then, he made the game-winning spinning hook shot against Philadelphia (which I heard about from a teacher as it was during our senior formal). 

Now we have Rodney Stuckey picking up the slack from a hobbled Chauncey Billups. I've never been more excited about the future of the Pistons than when I watch Stuckey drive fearlessly to the hole and draw a foul. His strength and quickness combination is uncanny. For a guy who played just two years at Eastern Washington and missed 25 games this year, I can't believe he's already playing fourth-quarter playoff minutes against the Boston Celtics.

Depending on the health of Rip Hamilton's elbow, we may see Stuckey starting on Friday night. He certainly has the height (6'5") to play the 2-guard. And, our offense doesn't miss much when Billups is coming off screens instead of handling the ball.

- Regarding the Hamilton injury, I hope this doesn't have the same effect it had on Miami in 2005. That season, Wade got hurt just as Miami was going up 3-2 in the E.C. Finals. Detroit proceeded to take the final 2 games with Wade less than 100%. Now, Detroit is facing elimination with its leading scorer disabled. Now, I'm positive Stuckey offers more production than Damon Jones or Keyon Dooling did. We've seen what Stuckey and Hunter are capable of. But, if Hamilton does have to sit out, will Saunders go to Jarvis Hayes, Arron Afflalo, or Juan Dixon. Hayes was a great shooter for us in the reg. season, but he has seen his minutes dwindle in the playoffs. Afflalo and Dixon might as well of stayed at home once April ended. Something tells me Saunders would go to Hayes. Dixon has been with the team for only a few months and I don't see Saunders trusting him now. As for Afflalo, it's more a case of not wanting too many rookies on the court. Having him and Hunter on the floor might work as a defensive unit for short bursts actually. I can see that being reminiscent of the Mike James/Hunter combo in 2004. However, we would need a solid offensive frontcourt in place for that rotation. Hayes, however, offers offense and big enough body to play defense for a spell. He won't remind anyone of Prince, or even Hamilton, but I think he has the talent to play more than he is now. You know what, let's just hope Hamilton plays and this scenario never happens.

- Boston has wilted in the 4th quarter in the last two games. They collapsed down the stretch in Game 4, allowing Detroit to pull away. In Game 5, they had a large enough lead that their collapse didn't prevent a win. Still, that type of play at home has to say something about Detroit's chances to come back. For all the Pistons fans who have watched this team since 2003, you know Detroit will come out with a renewed passion in Game 6 and win going away. The question is what happens in Game 7. Can Boston really win 3 Game 7's in a row? If Ray Allen continues to play like he should, then Detroit is in for a tough battle. We weren't exactly running roughshod over the Celtics when he was struggling. Now that his shot is back, our defensive assignment just got that much tougher. I'd love to see what Afflalo can do for a few minutes, but like I said earlier, I don't think Saunders is confident playing yet another rookie. Really, though, Afflalo played in two consecutive Final Fours at UCLA. It's not like he's never seen a pressure-packed situation before.

- On to the Tigers. Gary Sheffield has made his long-awaited trip to the DL and it should be a while before he returns. Detroit called up 25-year-old lefty slugger Jeff Larish from AAA to replace him. Larish was hitting .277/.372/.592 at Toledo. He'll likely play DH against righties and may play some 1B if Leyland gives Cabrera a rest. Larish has done nothing but rake since being drafted out of Arizona St. I expect a little more out of him than Matt Joyce who was more of a late bloomer. Joyce had a terrific start to 2008 at AAA after inconsistency throughout the minors. Larish's track record suggests a better player and one that should contribute immediately.

- Larish, Joyce, Armando Galarraga, Clete Thomas, Freddy Dolsi. Who among us expected these names to dot the 2008 Tigers roster before the September 1st callups? This story has beaten like a dead horse already, but one thing bears mentioning. Detroit traded away its top prospects, save Rick Porcello, for a run at the Series this year. Now, that injuries and ineffectiveness have hit, we've had to turn to our second-tier prospects. This is obviously the worst-case scenario, but let's look at the positives. It hasn't been the fault of the youngsters. Galarraga has been our most consistent starter. Dolsi has made the jump from Single-A and only allowed 2 runs in 9.2 innings. Thomas showed little power in his first go-round with Detroit but he made contact and got on-base at a reasonable clip. Joyce was sent down this morning after striking out in 6 of his last 10 ABs. There was no question that the kid could smash a fastball. But teams soon figured out his weakness for the breaking ball and crushed his spirits. Nevertheless, I think Detroit has found an above-average corner outfielder for 2009. 

Photo Credit:Photo by D. Lippitt/Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

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