While talking with some of the veterans in the Detroit Pistons locker room on Friday it became painfully clear that when Allen Iverson returns to the court he’ll need to do so as the teams sixth man.
The team is now an impressive 6-2 in Iverson’s absence and the team has started to gel. Not only that, but the players feel like they’ve gotten back to the style of play which saw the team win the Central Division the previous four seasons.
One of the recurring themes both Richard Hamilton and Antonio McDyess talked about following their win on Friday is the need for the team to remember why they had success in the past in order to have success going forward this season. In their minds, this means sharing the ball and trusting everyone on the court to take and make open looks.
This isn’t a knock on Iverson per se, more of a case of the Pistons enjoying success in the past because they worked like a well-oiled machine. For that to happen once again, players need to work as one unit, not a collection of talented players battling opponents as well as their own egos.
“When you are playing you always feel as though guys have deficiencies, but I’m a strong believer that when you’re open you get the ball,” Hamilton explained to the media. “Regardless of if you’re a rookie, second or third year player, you just have to trust your teammates. I thought tonight we really did that.”
Hamilton was the perfect player to voice this as he backed this statement up with a game-high 16 assists. Throw in the fact that Detroit had 27 assists on 42 field goals and it’s clear a big part of the teams success tonight was sharing the ball.
For this to continue to happen it can’t just be a case of prominent players getting open looks, everyone on the court needs to be ready for a pass and needs to be willing to shoot when they are open. This means players need to put aside their own egos and swing the ball until they find an open teammate.
Tonight Jason Maxiell was the beneficiary of this concept as he scored eight points in the first quarter before finishing with 16 points. This scoring display was done while going a sizzling 8-for-9 from the field.
“I’m giving it to him,” Hamilton told Hoops Addict. “I don’t care if he’s hot or not. If he’s wide open then I’m passing him the ball. That’s what I tell him all the time because the last game we lost the game because they were just looking for me. I kept telling him he needs to post up and look for the ball because in order for me to be good he has to be good. I think they did a good job of that tonight.”
This begs the question which must strike fear into the hearts of Pistons fans: Hasn’t the necessary level of trust been there all season?
According to Hamilton the answer is a resounding no. When asked directly if there’s been a level of trust on the court this season Hamilton quickly explained how a lack of trust has been a huge reason for the teams struggles this season.
“The past seven years our success has been built upon trust – knowing where guys are at, knowing who is going to make plays and stuff like that. When guys would be open we’d give them the ball and I think we kind of lost that this season.”
To be fair, a big part of this is due to the team losing it’s floor general in Chauncey Billups. Anytime a team loses its starting point guard there is bound to be some hiccups; when you take away the MVP of a team like Billups those changes are bound to be even more pronounced.
The teams struggles aren’t solely a reflection on Iverson or his style of play, it’s a case of a team losing it’s identity when one of it’s leaders was dealt away.
“It’s tough,” a somber Hamilton admitted to the media when asked about the changes the team has gone through this season. “We always were a team that you knew which five guys would be on the court every single night for the last seven years. When Ben (Wallace) left it was an adjustment and when Chauncey (Billups) left we knew it was going to be an adjustment. New guys were going to have to play and we were going to need to get familiar with each other. It’s all part of a learning adjustment.”
So, after a few months of having Iverson in the mix and adjusting to some new teammates are things finally back to the way they used to be?
“I think so,” Hamilton told the media while icing his hip. “I think we’re getting better and that’s the key thing about it. Even when we lost games it’s not a game where you say, ‘Oh man, they don’t even look like the Pistons.’ I think we’re fighting, playing hard and getting wins.”
It’s one thing to find an identity with Iverson and Rasheed Wallace out of action, the true test will be if the team can continue their groove with both veterans back.
According to McDyess, this won’t be a problem.
“I think we’re going to keep what we have right now the same,” McDyess admitted to the media. “It can only help us when Allen (Iverson) comes back. We don’t know what his role is going to be in this (season), but he can only help us due to the type of player he is. He can score, leak off the break or play with the ball in his hands. So we can only go forward from here.”
This raises the next big question: Will Iverson come off the bench or start?
When pressed about this topic Hamilton refused to take the bait from the media and say outright he feels Iverson should come off the bench. Instead, he dropped his head and mumbled, “That’s not my decision.”
McDyess, however, didn’t even attempt to bite his tongue and was more than willing to speak his mind on this topic.
“We’ve got to keep it the way it is,” McDyess told the media. “We’ve only lost (two) games with him (Hamilton) in the lineup. He’s been sharing the ball like a point guard, which is not his strength, and really scoring. With the energy he brings, it’s like we have more confidence in ourselves now.”
While it’s clear Iverson will be coming off the bench due to the style of play the Pistons have had success playing, the only thing remaining to be seen is how the former league MVP will react to this adjustment.
Can Iverson’s ego handle coming off the bench? If not, it might just derail a Pistons season when it’s on the verge of finally showing some promise.