Nets-Pistons: Previewing tonight’s opponent

Joe Johnson

Remember this? (AP)

A night after losing a heartbreaker to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Brooklyn Nets go wheels up to Detroit to take on the Detroit Pistons, tonight at 7:30 P.M. EST at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Nets & Pistons went to double-overtime the last time they faced off against each other, and only escaped a third overtime because Joe Johnson is awesome.

(Thanks again to Johnson for providing the muse for Ian Eagle’s “that was real, and that was spectacular” call of the century. On a related note, Eagle was nominated for a New York Emmy today for excellence in on-air broadcasting.)

The Pistons are a brand new team after a recent trade sent away Austin Daye with long-time Pistons veteran & notorious lover of “The Wave” Tayshaun Prince, netting them Raptors point guard Jose Calderon. In one game, Calderon started alongside fellow point guard Brandon Knight, and the two played together for about 24 minutes in a 14-point loss to the New York Knicks. Calderon played well (shooting 7-12 from the field), and Knight didn’t (shooting 2-10).

Though Prince’s tenure in Detroit lasted a full decade, the trade didn’t shake up the Pistons’ hierarchy. The Pistons still run through their center Greg Monroe, a solid finesse big man who sees most of his touches either in the post or rolling to the basket. He’s having a bit of a down year this season after some solid progression in last year’s lockout season, but he’s still averaging a respectable 17.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes of play.

Monroe is their best player, but if things go according to plan, he won’t even be their best big man for long. Hidden on their bench is ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft Andre Drummond, a minimalist who does only what he does well: cut to the basket, grab basketballs thrown above most other’s reaches, and throw them through hoops. He does it really well — with a 22.6 PER, he has a chance to post the best PER of any teenage rookie ever, leaving some guy named LeBron James in the dust. Even so, Drummond has yet to start a game, averaging an even 20 minutes per game in all 49 games. The eminently forgettable Jason Maxiell starts above him.

Besides Calderon and Knight, Lawrence Frank — Pistons coach and former Nets coach — gives heavy minutes to two other point(ish) guards: Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons once coined the term “zero guard” to define Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans, a term that applies to Stuckey and Bynum: they handle the ball, look for their own shot, get to the rim often, and operate best if their teammates spread the floor to watch them. Stuckey and Bynum earned 30 and 21 minutes respectively, even with Calderon in the starting lineup, so I’d anticipate seeing both of them for extended time tonight. (They even played a “three-point” look of Calderon, Knight, and Stuckey for 10 minutes.)

Replacing Tayshaun Prince with Jose Calderon is akin to replacing a creaky bookcase with a rickety stove — good pieces to have, but far from ideal, and neither has anything to do with the other. Because of that, it’s hard to gauge (especially after just one game) what type of team we’ll see in Detroit tonight. But on thing’s for sure: they haven’t upgraded their talent in any considerable measure, they’re 18-31 fresh off a double-digit loss to a team that’s 4 games ahead of Brooklyn in the standings. Even on the road, even after playing Brook Lopez 40 minutes the night before, the Nets should have the upper hand.