Watching the Detroit Pistons try to score last season had a lot in common with being forced to watch a Whitney marathon. It was long, mildly offensive, and likely done against your better judgment. Finally feeling the effects of some disastrous personnel choices, the Pistons offense plummeted from 15th in 2010 all the way to 29th, only one ahead of the historically inept Charlotte Bobcats. Needless to say, "fun" was not a word used to describe their style of play.
This season has been a different story. Detroit has jumped all the way back up to 18th in offensive efficiency — and mere percentage points away from being firmly in the top half of the league — thanks in large part to the addition of rookie center Andre Drummond. The young big man not only has impressive individual numbers — posting a PER of 23.0 in limited minutes — but the Pistons’ offense as a whole is nearly five points better when Drummond is on the floor. What’s made the raw first-year player so good is the Tyson Chandler–esque role he’s taken on as part of a Detroit bench lineup that has quietly become one of the most entertaining in the NBA.
At the start of the second and fourth quarters, Drummond is often teamed with fellow reserves Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye, Rodney Stuckey, and Will Bynum — a lineup that has completely demolished opposing defenses. In 81 minutes this year (small sample size alert!), that group has produced an astronomical offensive rating of 116.5 — good for the sixth-best mark in the NBA among five-man units that have played at least 80 minutes. Again, the sample size is small, but head coach Lawrence Frank has certainly found a way for his rookie center to thrive while still adjusting to the NBA game.
When the Houston Rockets pried Omer Asik away from the Bulls with an aggressive offer sheet, the most pressing question (after "Who?" and "Him?") was if he could maintain his effectiveness with greater playing time. As a backup center in Chicago, the towering Turk had spent only 15 minutes on the floor per game. But in that limited sample, there were intriguing indicators that he could be a valuable big man. He was an elite rebounder — averaging more than 17 boards per 48 minutes — and his defensive rating was 92, which meant he surrendered fewer points per possession than Dwight Howard's career-best.
Now, Asik is considered a "surprise," despite being a very similar player to the one we saw as a reserve on the Bulls. In truth, he's gotten better. His rebounding rate is slightly up, his free throw shooting has improved, and he's committing fewer fouls (a consequence of needing to stay on the floor, one category in which he's slipped is shot-blocking). Asik has become more comfortable on offense and is now supplementing those wounded-circus-bear reverse layup attempts with new tricks, such as a cutting catch-and-kick to the corner after rolling off a bone-melting pick at the top of the key. In general, he's proved that his success in Chicago could be replicated on a larger scale, even if some of that success was bolstered by playing alongside Joakim Noah and the Bulls' army of smothering wraiths.
Last season JaVale McGee delighted us with his investigative journalism, sense of direction, singing of Adele, and follow-up dunking. We will no doubt continue to cover JaVale's ups and downs, along with the exploits of his onetime partner in crime, Andray Blatche. But just for fun, we thought it would be cool if we tried to find this season's JaVale — the player with the perfect mix of on-the-court follies and social media highlights (or vice versa). Here's who the Grantland staff came up with.
In their eight years of existence, the Charlotte Bobcats have drafted three players from UNC, one from Duke, and one from Boston College, a school that plays up to seven games a year in the state of North Carolina. They have drafted one player from Texas, a Naismith runner-up from Gonzaga, and two UConn greats. Outside of trading for Alexis Ajinca’s draft rights in 2008, the Bobcats have found nearly every undersized or questionably athletic college star in the country. Some, like Jared Dudley, turn out to be valuable players on other teams. Others, like Sean May, quickly confirm that college post moves sometimes don’t translate to the NBA. The Bobcats haven’t fully developed a player since their inception in 2004. They handcuffed Raymond Felton, they didn’t tell the managers of all Charlotte-area Waffle Houses to stop serving May, they turned Gerald Henderson into the worst version of Kobe Bryant in the history of versions of Kobe Bryant.
Bigs tend to be selected based on potential more than any other type of player in the NBA draft. If you have size and athleticism, you are nearly a lock for a lottery selection. Thus, teams make their choices based on projected skill, and scouts must account for many variables.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The New Orleans Saints have named top assistant Joe Vitt interim head coach during Sean Payton's year-long suspension, despite the fact that Vitt will serve a six-game suspension of his own to start the season. During those six games, the Saints will be led by offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who is serving a four-game suspension for watching cable television (Bridezillas, specifically) in the film room. For the first four games, Saints kicking adviser Marcus McCovey will take over, despite his two-game suspension for rhyming Sean Payton with "Sean Satan" in a Skype call with his daughter. The first two Saints games will be coached by New Orleans citizen Ernest Lambreaux, who is serving a one-game suspension for plotting to coach without a proper coaching license. For that first game only, Russian emigre and renowned castrato animal impersonator Gustaf Karpov will head up the Saints, though he's suspended for a quarter because he won't stop calling chocolate doughnuts "meatless pirozhkis" during strategy meetings. In the first quarter of the first game, the Saints plan to just fumble the ball and run into each other until someone dies.
College basketball season finally gets under way soon and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited. Chances are, you aren’t quite as excited as me, and haven’t given college basketball much thought since you’ve had football and the start of the NBA season to keep you occupied, but luckily for you, I’m here to get you up to speed. And by that, I mean that I’m here to give you previews of each of the major college conferences (and one collective mid-major preview), and then spend the next five months of my life reading tweets and e-mails from those of you who feel the need to point out how terrible the predictions in these previews are and how you could’ve done so much better. This will be fun.