Bump in the Road

NBA’s youngest starting 5 means Pistons face inevitable growing pains

Greg Monroe
The loss to Milwuakee was just a bump in the road in George Blaha's eyes.
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
Unlike maybe a lot of people who reacted to the loss to Milwaukee – and, in my opinion, probably overreacted a little bit – as a longtime NBA guy I don’t see that as an earth-shattering loss. It’s pretty typical of a team that’s going through the process of figuring things out just because there are so many newcomers.

Milwaukee has NBA players. There are a lot of guys playing in the D-League and overseas who aren’t in the NBA because those Bucks players are in this league. Caron Butler is a former All-Star who played like one. He made all kinds of shots and if he hadn’t, that’s a ho-hum 10-point Pistons win.

These things happen in the NBA. As long as I’ve been around, it’s not the first time by a long shot that I’ve seen it. Sometimes good teams – even teams who are darkhorse champion candidates – can lose to a team like Milwaukee, especially on their home court.

There are plenty of things we need to talk about with the Pistons, but I’m not sure we need to dwell on that loss.

The first thing you have to remember about this team is the roster has been revamped, there’s a brand new coach and the players are so young.

Just take a look at a couple of guys like Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. They’re only 20 years old! It’s not like they get in the game once in a while. They start and play major minutes. And they have a lot to do with whether the team wins or loses and whether they come through in the clutch. They’re just learning how to make those kinds of plays.

KCP played 44 minutes last night and did a lot of good things and he’ll get better. And Andre Drummond, plagued a little bit by some foul trouble, still had another double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Now add in the fact you have a younger point guard who is still learning this league, Brandon Jennings, who was probably going through a lot last night – playing back in Milwaukee and coming off a curious game in which he was shut out for only the second time in his career.

He was probably going in a million directions mentally, but he still managed to score 30 and maybe he didn’t deliver all those shots he would have liked to deliver down the stretch, but he played as hard and as well as he could.

Yes, it’s taking maybe a little longer than the average fan would like, but you factor in the youth, all of the new faces and a new coaching staff and the ups and downs this team has had were probably pretty predictable.

We’ve heard so many coaches, in every sport, say that you can’t get too high after the great wins and you can’t get too low after the difficult losses. I think young teams probably have problems in both areas. This team, after all, did win at Indiana and won at Miami. I can guarantee you one of those two teams is coming out of the Eastern Conference and playing in the NBA Finals.

They’ve had their moments when they feel like they’ve gotten it together, but then a night or two later they play like the young group that they are. It’s hard to keep your head on straight through all of that.

There’s no substitute for experience and you can’t get experience unless you go through those kinds of games. You can’t do this in 10 games. You can’t get away from the fact that you’ve got to play and learn from these games and get better each month, maybe – while everybody else is getting better, by the way – during this long and arduous NBA season.

When you look at head coach Mo Cheeks, who’s been an All-Star and an NBA champion and one of the best point guards to ever play the game, he can basically say “been there, done that” when you talk about all the growth that has to occur, not only individually but collectively, for a team to get better and get closer to playing to its potential.

One reason Joe Dumars hired Mo was because he had an excellent reputation for working with young players and teaching them the nuances of the league. He’s be the first to tell you there’s a lot of work to be done here, not because there’s not enough talent but because they are so young and for the most part haven’t played enough together yet.

A spot in the playoffs is still a very realistic goal. When you have a young team that wants to get better and still has a reasonable goal of playing in the postseason, you’re not going to see this team go through any extended periods where they’re not playing well at all. They’re going to continue to have their ups and downs – you have to expect that – but they’ve still been fun to watch. And when they play games where they put a full 48 minutes together, they’re already tough to beat for anybody.

The wins against Miami and Indiana proved that. This is no time to panic. This is the youngest starting five in the entire NBA and there are better days ahead, even if they have to experience a few bumps in the road like the one last night in Milwaukee.