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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pistons mid-season grades

No one expected the Pistons to be NBA title contenders this season, but no one predicted they would be this bad in the first half of the season either. The Pistons are just a half game out of being in last place in the Central Division and are tied with Sacramento for the sixth-worst record in the league.

Detroit was expected to be a high scoring team, but is currently 29th in the league in scoring, ahead of just the dreadful Nets. The Pistons went 30 days without a win, losing 13 straight, one-game shy of tying the franchise record for consecutive losses. Detroit also had a seven-game losing streak in November.

Injuries have certainly been a factor, as the Pistons are quickly approaching 100 games missed due to injury and will likely hit that number before the end of January. To put that number in perspective, consider Detroit had 102 games missed to injury in the past two seasons combined.

The Pistons appear destined for the draft lottery, but still have a glimmer of playoff hope because of how bad the Eastern Conference is. Detroit was just 5.5 games out of the eighth seed, but time is running out with the season already past the halfway point.

The Pistons will need to start cramming some victories in the win column if they hope to make the playoffs and improve their midseason grades, which are below:

Chucky Atkins — Nobody expected much out of Atkins when he signed with the Pistons in the offseason. He had been plagued by injuries for two seasons. But Atkins has provided solid minutes with the Pistons battling injuries and has even started 11 games. Atkins is in the twilight of his career, but has shown he still has some game left and has provided solid leadership for a young Pistons squad. Grade: B

Kwame Brown — Brown began the season in the rotation, but has since fallen off the radar. He has played just 29 games. When given minutes, his production has been limited, especially offensively. The former No. 1 overall pick is in the final year of his deal, and it appears his days as a Piston are numbered. Grade: D-

Will Bynum — Bynum appeared to be in line for a breakout season until two ankle sprains sidelined him. Bynum is an explosive guard, who has shown he can change the tempo of a game when healthy. He’s in a contract year and will be eager to pick up where he left off once he returns, but needs to show he can stay healthy for an extended period. Grade: C+

Austin Daye — The No. 15 overall pick has had his share of ups and downs in the first half of his rookie season. Daye has made two starts and shown his versatility by playing shooting guard, but at 6-foot-11, he needs to add strength and show he can play down low when needed. Daye’s outside shot has been solid, but improvement can help make him more valuable. Grade: B-

Ben Gordon — Through the first 15 games, Gordon played like the player the Pistons hoped for when they signed him to a 5-year, $55 million deal in the offseason. An ankle injury slowed him down and returning too early caused the injury to linger. Gordon appeared on his way back to 100 percent before suffering a groin injury that currently has him out of the lineup. Gordon is a deadly outside shooter and a proven scorer in the NBA, but the Pistons need him to get healthy and stay healthy. Grade: C+

Richard Hamilton — The Pistons’ leading scorer the past seven seasons has already missed more games this season than he has in any other season in his career and it’s just past the halfway point. Hamilton suffered a severe ankle sprain in the first game of the season and missed 21 games with it. He returned only to injure his hamstring in his second game back. He missed five more games, but struggled to find his shot. He has since turned it on and the Pistons will need his offense if they hope to make a push for the playoffs. Grade: B-

Jonas Jerebko — The rookie from Sweden has been a pleasant surprise for the Pistons this season. He was inserted into the starting lineup after Tayshaun Prince injured his back and quickly showed what he is made of. Jerebko’s tough defense, hustle plays and energy have made him a favorite of coach John Kuester and Pistons fans. Jerebko has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and has 95 offensive rebounds this season. His only major flaw has been his outside shot, he is shooting just 25 percent on his 3-point attempts. Grade: A-

Jason Maxiell — Maxiell has found himself in and out of the starting lineup and the rotation at times. At this point in his career, it’s clear Maxiell is an energy player that can provide interior defense, rebounding and some scoring. He still struggles to provide consistent minutes and his four-year, $20 million contract could be the worst on the team. Grade: C-

Tayshaun Prince — Injuries have caught up to the former Iron Man of the Pistons. Just three games into the season, a ruptured disc in his back snapped his 496 consecutive games-played streak and caused him to miss 26 games. He played just six games before a sore left knee put him back on the shelf for six games. He returned Friday only to get into a shouting match with coach Kuester during a timeout. His 8.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game are all the lowest he’s averaged since his rookie season. Grade: D+

Rodney Stuckey — The third-year guard has likely been the Pistons’ MVP so far this season and has had to shoulder a large part of the scoring load with all the injuries to the Pistons’ perimeter players. Stuckey is averaging a career-high 18.3 points and a career-high 4.3 rebounds to go with 4.4 assists per game. Stuckey has been at his best when he’s been aggressive and attacking the rim. He needs to stay aggressive once the team is back at full health, but also find a way to get his teammates involved as the starting point guard. All the injuries have made it difficult for Stuckey to find a consistent rhythm and grow as a point guard and is the main reason he doesn’t get an A. Grade: B+

DaJuan Summers — The second-round pick out of Georgetown has played sparingly despite all the Pistons’ injuries. The 6-8 Summers has drawn praise from Kuester for his hard work in practice, but it has not translated into the games much this season. Summers has shown small flashes when given playing time, but has often been buried on the bench or inactive. Grade: C-

Charlie Villanueva — When Villanueva is on, he’s been great, and when he’s been off, he’s been awful. The Pistons need Villanueva to be more consistent, because when his shot is falling, the Pistons become a more balanced team. He leads the team in 3-pointers with 52. The 6-11 stretch forward started the first 16 games of the season, but has since came off the bench. Villanueva continues to play starter minutes, while Kuester enjoys the luxury of having his offense off the bench. Villanueva has not publicly lobbied to start, but in the long run, Detroit may be better off with him as a starter. Grade: B-

Ben Wallace — Wallace’s fountain of youth appears to be a Pistons uniform. The former Defensive Player of the Year is having his most productive year since the 2006-07 season, his first in Chicago after leaving Detroit. After battling injuries the last few seasons, Wallace has started every game this season and leads the Pistons in rebounds and blocks, and is second in steals. At 35 years old, Wallace has been Detroit’s most consistent big man and best interior defender. Grade: A

Chris Wilcox — Wilcox racked up 14 DNP coach’s decisions in the first 27 games of the season. He has since found his way into the rotation and has started the last eight games. Despite being in the stating lineup, Wilcox’s minutes have been limited. He has shown some expressiveness around the rim on offense, but needs to improve his defense and rebounding if he hopes to get more playing time. Grade: C-

Coach John Kuester — The rookie head coach has certainly had his share of problems to deal with. Kuester had the team off to an 11-12 start, despite injuries to key players, before a 13-game losing streak sent the Pistons into the cellar of the Eastern Conference. Kuester has tried several lineup tweaks to try and spark the team with varying degrees of success. It’s difficult to grade a coach who has no head coaching track record and has not had his full arsenal of players, but it’s clear the team is struggling to find chemistry. Kuester came to the Pistons with the reputation as an offensive guru, but has made defense a priority with his players. It will be interesting to see how the second half of plays out, but through it all, Kuester has remained positive and upbeat. Grade: B-

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