This came from the Friday edition of the Detroit News, basically talking about a new approach for the Pistons. Interesting that they are going to play more zone defense, which is something I’m advocating the Spurs should do as well. Considering we have a team of older, slower, less athletic players than previous teams, a zone defense makes a lot of sense. Another big plus is less wear and tear on our guards – Tony and Manu in particular take a bad enough beating on the offensive end. I would think they and everybody else would be in much better shape at season’s end if they don’t have to fight through so many screens on the defensive end. The Spurs might do better on the backside of all those B2Bs too. Against good jump shooting teams, maybe the zone won’t be as effective, maybe some improvisations would be needed, or we use the man-to-man. So what if we haven’t been too successful with it in the past; I’m saying we at least commit to adding it to our defensive schemes and make it work. If they can adapt and adjust, so can we.
Tough approach takes center court
Saunders and his staff will be more demanding this season; coach will implement zone defense.
AUBURN HILLS -- It's Thursday, four days before training camp opens. Coach Flip Saunders is relaxed, sitting in his office. A group of players, mostly non-roster guys, are running drills on the court. Saunders is discussing the upcoming season when the subject of the Pistons putting an emphasis on zone defense comes up.
"We are going to play more zone," he said, his tone immediately stern, unwavering. "We have to get out of this mind-set where"
His voice trails off, but you know what he's not saying. The Pistons have to shed that old, macho, man-to-man-or-bust mentality. The way NBA games are officiated now makes it nearly impossible to deploy the physical, straight-up man-to-man defense the Pistons played under Larry Brown in the 2004 championship season[/u][/b]. And the man whose unique abilities allowed that style of defense to flourish -- four-time defensive player of the year, Ben Wallace -- is gone.
"You play what's effective," Saunders said. "I think we can be extremely good playing zone defense. But we have to commit to it. And committing to it will not be up for discussion."
That right there might be one of the primary differences with the post-Ben Wallace Pistons. Not that they will play more zone, but that Saunders and the staff are going to lead with a firmer hand.
"We are going to be more demanding," Saunders said, "and I think the players are going to be more demanding of themselves."
Saunders won't all of a sudden become a my-way-or-the-highway tyrant. You won't see him yank power forward Rasheed Wallace off the floor by the scruff of his jersey or anything like that.
But Saunders isn't going to be as accommodating to the Pistons' old ways as he might have been last season, his first with the team. Taking over a team that had been to the NBA Finals the two previous seasons, he walked a tightrope between implementing his own structure without deconstructing what had been successful.
The tightrope snapped late in the season. Some players got too lax. Some took his kindness for weakness. Some started showing up late for team flights and team busses. There were public criticisms of Saunders voiced by players (Ben Wallace and power forward Antonio McDyess, most notably). It wasn't pretty.
President Joe Dumars addressed the issue with the players first, then he addressed it with Saunders.
"I never like to see things aired out in the media," Dumars said. "I didn't approve of that. But I think those who have been around us know that wasn't the first time that guys complained. We handled it."
Dumars made it clear to the players that the coach was secure, that Saunders had his full support. He made it clear that the busses and airplanes will leave when they are scheduled to leave. If the players are tardy, they will have to make their own arrangements.
"My message to the guys was, don't make any excuses," Dumars said. "We didn't get it done last year, and I wanted everybody to come back this year just ready to get it done."
Dumars told Saunders that he had to strengthen his coaching staff. Dumars told him he wanted to hire a couple of proven coaches, guys, as Dumars put it, "that the (players) would respect the first day they walked in here."
Saunders did that, hiring two former NBA head coaches -- Terry Porter and Dave Cowens. However, Saunders correctly pointed out that the Pistons weren't exactly an undisciplined team last season. They led the league and set a franchise record for fewest turnovers (11.2 per game) and were among the leaders in assists.
Still, Saunders is looking forward to implementing his complete offensive system, something the addition of center Nazr Mohammed will allow him to do. Saunders is looking forward to making full use of the zone defense, something his teams in Minnesota did better than any team in the league. And even though there might be some tighter controls and less debate on styles and tactics this season, Saunders doesn't anticipate any friction.
"I have always adjusted and adapted to situations and players," Saunders said. "Even though we won 64 games last year, there were things I think we could have done better. They (the players) are disappointed that they had the year they had, that they were the best team in the NBA for six months and didn't win the thing. But these guys are hungry. They hear people saying they aren't going to be as good without Ben. They hear people already counting them out. I think these guys are looking forward to this year, a lot."
What jumps out at me from this article is that Nazr doesn't even enter the conversation in terms of being a defensive replacement for Ben Wallace. He gets a little mention at the end for his offense, but overall it comes out like the Pistons are changing their whole defensive scheme because they don't trust their new 5. I'm not suggesting Nazr should expect to be treated as being on Wallace's level defensively, but that's got to sting a little bit.
As for the Spurs switching to zone, I agree that it might have its place against certain teams, but I also thought we were being led to believe that our new 5s (Elson and Butler) are far from being "older, slower, less athletic players".
I don't think the Pistons are thinking about changing their defense just because of Nazr, it's more of a sea change in the direction the NBA is going in terms of officiating.
As far as the Spurs go, it isn't just our new 5s, who I think are not that bad. I'm saying as a team, we are among the oldest and least athletic teams in the league. Others may disagree, certainly I might be wrong here, but when I look at Finley, Bonner, Horry, Barry, etc., I'm not seeing a lot of speed and quickness. I'm thinking our personnel (as is) dictates some modifications to our defense, maybe offense too but that's another post.
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