John Niyo and Rod Beard discuss the state of the Pistons after the trade deadline and what fans can expect without Andre Drummond in the lineup. The Detroit News
Detroit — If a duo is good enough, it gets a nickname. For the Pistons’ big-man tandem of Christian Wood and Thon Maker, it’s a humorous but fitting moniker: the Thin Towers.
The nickname was synthesized on Twitter and is starting to stick as an apt description of the Pistons’ frontcourt combo, with Wood at 6-foot-10, 215 pounds and Maker 7-foot-1, 221 pounds. It’s where the Pistons have landed after Blake Griffin had knee surgery last month that likely will end his season and Andre Drummond was traded last week. Rookie Sekou Doumbouya was moved to the bench and Markieff Morris has been injured, opening more opportunities and playing time for the new pair.
The new starting duo has not disappointed, with Wood averaging 22 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists and going 6-of-13 on 3-pointers, as an added benefit. Maker has been just as good, with 13 points and five rebounds in the past two games, including a season-high 19 points at Oklahoma City on Friday.
There’s a renewed energy and improved passing, but with Drummond’s departure, there’s also something missing with the new lineup — most notably, the dependable rebounding
“We're doing a lot of good things as far as our passing, our pocket-pass kick-outs. We knew without Andre we do lose out on rebounding, but you get something, you give up something and that's something we do give up as is rebounding,” coach Dwane Casey said. “With that said, we can do a better job individually and collectively, of boxing out. There were so many instances the other night (against the Knicks) where we just got manhandled and pushed under the rim instead of turning and hitting first.
“It doesn't matter how thin you are or how skinny how are — you still can go and hit first, get leverage and then the guards have to come back in and sandwich you down, help them on the boards and pin the guy when we can't get the rebound, where we're standing and spectating.”
Maker had gotten some big minutes with the Milwaukee Bucks before coming to the Pistons, but Wood is getting his first significant stretch as a starter and contributor in the rotation. The indications are good for him, but whether it can last for the long term still remains a question.
Both worked in the offseason to get stronger but physiologically, there’s only so much size that they can add. It’s more about aggressiveness and using their physical traits, such as speed and quickness, to their advantage.
That improves with experience and age, but for now, it’s a piece they can build on.
“They need to get thicker. Christian is a talented young man; he's a growing kid. He's young in age, Thon is still young also, so they'll continue to get stronger — not necessarily bigger — as they get older,” Casey said. “So that's some of the problems you have with playing young players, is the fact that there are going to be deficiencies.”
Buzzing the basket
Both teams had losing records this season but head-to-head, the Hornets had the advantage, sweeping the first three games. That toughness in the middle has been the differentiator, as they’ve been able to score inside and get some easy baskets.
“We’ve won the paint and have been a more physical team inside. Obviously, this team looks a little bit different right now (without Drummond),” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “I think we’ve been an aggressive team overall and we’ve found ways to close out in the fourth quarter. We’ve made big shots; we’ve made big plays. We did that last time we were here and it’s going to take the same thing to get this done.”
The Pistons got some help with Morris coming back into the lineup after missing the previous five games. Brandon Knight, who was acquired in the trade with the Cavaliers, also made his Pistons debut this season on Monday night against the Hornets.
The Pistons still estimate that Luke Kennard will return after the All-Star break.