This is what effort looks like.
This is also what the difference between playing a top defense and a young team that struggles at defense looks like.
The payoff is somewhere in between these two realities.
Yes, the Detroit Pistons are a bad team and it’s preseason. These are all things to take into account until November 2nd gets here and we get to duel at 10 paces with the Sacramento Kings. But we should still love the effort we saw from a Love-less basketball team.
This is the difference between this team without Nikola Pekovic and this team with Pek on the court. Everything changes for the defense, especially when that defense isn’t the Chicago Bulls. Pekovic is a legit scorer and that’s something people will have to get used to this season.
I’m pretty sure defenses already know it, but now they’re going to have to prepare for it by throwing double teams at him constantly. You saw what happened when he had Greg Monroe or Jason Maxiell or Andre Drummond on him in single coverage. He punished them. He threw post moves and shoulders at them. He got to where he wanted to be and got his shot off.
The most incredible thing about all of this happening with New Pek is his footwork. It’s seemingly improved from last season, and it probably has everything to do with the weight he shed this offseason. And I have a new theory about how he shed the weight.
I know Pek “had ankle surgery” and then “changed his diet” but you don’t have surgery that causes you to rest that much and somehow get much fitter than you were before. That’s just not how the body works. He’d need constant conditioning, along with the changed diet, to get this transformation.
So I pose this question to you: did anybody see him during his rehab? Rubio’s rehab is well documented, as it should be, but nobody really saw Pek this summer. I’m starting to think when Pek “had surgery” and “changed his diet” that he really went to the part of the world where dragons still exist and decided to slay them all.
There are countless studies out there that slaying dragons is really the best weight-loss program. There’s the added heat from their fire breath, which helps you sweat everything out, and the exercise and cardio can’t be better than when you’re dodging flying dinosaurs.
I’m fully prepared to buy the story that Pek found the last dragons and decided to take care of them, all while putting together an alibi for his disappearance with the ankle surgery story. PROVE THAT THIS ISN’T TRUE!
Back to the game, Pek’s presence inside opens everything up for the rest of the team, which is not something I would have imagined two years ago. Because his footwork is so crisp and his strength is so moving to defenders trying to be a roadblock, it allows everybody else to move without the ball and have easier passing lanes.
One person it created space for was Derrick Williams. Derrick started out the game exactly how he ended the Bulls game — he was horrible. He settled for bad shots, he hesitated on his jumper, and he looked like he had absolutely zero confidence in himself. Jason Maxiell and Greg Monroe were just too long and physical for him to really do anything and Tayshaun Prince was too quick for him.
But after a horrific few minutes to start the game, something changed with Williams. I tried to pinpoint what it was that got Williams going, but he simply just made a good midrange jump shot in rhythm and carried that momentum forward with good decisions. Not only did he straighten out his offense and end the quarter with 12 points, but also his effort on defense was really good.
We saw that if he’s getting better shots closer to the rim and getting to the free throw line, it allows him to be in a better rhythm shooting from outside. Perhaps he’s the kind of player that needs to be playing well on both ends. Each hand washes the other and such.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the next few paragraphs beaming over Dante Cunningham.
He’s my favorite bench player on this team. He really is. It’s players like him and Andrei Kirilenko who really are able to set the tone for an entire unit with their energy alone. It leads to making plays and activity throughout everybody on the floor.
It’s one of those contagious things for everybody too — not just the players on the floor but also the people watching at home. If you take the time to not watch the ball when he’s on the floor and just follow his pathways and where he starts moving, you get excited to see where he’s headed. It’s like he sees things developing as if he were a point guard leading the break.
Not only that but he’s had me taking better routes to various parts of my apartment. I got to the sink a lot quicker because I saw the routes he takes to rebounds. I managed to fake inside on the dinner table and then curl around the kitchen island before dunking my hands under the water to wash them. Contagious, I tell you.
There were a couple of possessions in which he took a jumper and it looked really bad, but for the most part his help defense and his insatiable hunger on the boards overshadowed that and then some. His play was so emphatic and energetic; it gave me the vapors at one point.
Outside of the effort and results we saw, I just have a few more notes I’ll drop from this game:
- Chase Budinger is fun to watch. It’s weird though. Compared to last season, I don’t understand what’s happening when he’s far away from the basket and he throws the ball at the rim, only to see it go into the rim. He also has been doing this unconventional thing of slapping the ball into the ground when he’s running into the lane. What are these unusual movements he’s doing? I don’t remember seeing wing players do that.
- Andre Drummond looked great this offseason until he ran into Pekovic. We saw UCONN Drummond back on the court for the first time in a long time, which hopefully won’t be a recurring role in Detroit this season. Drummond looked listless out there, not being physical and unable to use his athleticism to dominate more earthly-bound beings.
- This is what $48 million looks like:
- I thought this was one of the best games I’ve seen from JJ Barea as a TWolf. He only scored two points and was 1-for-5 from the field, but his passing was really on point. He moved the ball crisply and quickly, rarely dribbling the life out of the ball. There are going to be nights in which the Wolves need him to get 15-20 points, but for the most part, seeing him move the ball like he did against Detroit was very encouraging.
- Andrei Kirilenko can fill up a stat sheet or not fill up a stat sheet and still you come away thinking he had a great game. He’s just everywhere.
- This game was a good example of the entire team — now with competent role players — can make up for the loss of Kevin Love against weaker opponents. The key was rebounding. Wolves dominated the Pistons on the boards. And while the Pistons are not a good team, they have a lot of big guys that can get after it on the boards. Wolves were +17 on the boards and +8 on the offensive boards. That comes from Pek moving guys out of the way to grab the ball, Cunningham flying in all over the place, and Kirilenko being opportunistic on the boards. This is exactly how the Wolves can get through the first month of the season until our bald-headed friend returns.
- I’m just going to leave this here and end the post: