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Prince Struggles to Adjust to Curry, Iverson

Dec 2, 2008 – 4:00 AM
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Matt Watson

Matt Watson %BloggerTitle%

Tayshaun PrinceIf he didn't know it before, Michael Curry is learning that being an NBA coach is as much about massaging egos as it is drawing up X's and O's. In his comments following Detroit's loss to the Trail Blazers on Sunday, Curry was blunt with his criticism about Tayshaun Prince: "Tay didn't play well tonight."

Prince, who's rarely one to give a juicy post-game quote, was clearly surprised by Curry's assessment. From Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:
"Huh? Wow. I thought I was playing pretty good, if you ask me. ... I was upset I came out in the first quarter, because I thought I started off the game well, trying to get guys into the flow. It's always tough for me because I'm in a position where I'm put at the point guard position and I'm trying to make plays for (teammates). Sometimes I'm going to have a good night and sometimes it's going to take me out of my rhythm.

"I don't know what's going on. Hopefully, (coaches) could have said something after the game and let us know what was going on. They didn't do it, so I don't know."
To be fair, Curry wasn't completely imagining things: all of Detroit's starters were outplayed by the Trail Blazers, especially in the first quarter when they let the visitor's open up a 25-11 lead before the second unit came into the game and closed the gap. But singling out Prince seems a little odd, especially considering he shot well (4-8 from the field for 10 points in 22 minutes) and didn't play a single minute during Detroit's fourth-quarter collapse.

While the entire team has been forced to adjust to Allen Iverson's arrival, perhaps no one has been asked to change his game as much as Prince. It's clear that Curry doesn't trust Iverson to run the offense, and to compensate he's frequently relied on a three-guard lineup, which bumps Prince to the four, or a traditional two-guard lineup with Prince running the show as a point forward.

Either way, Prince is playing out of position. While he may be averaging a career-high with 15.3 points and 6.5 rebounds, those numbers are skewed by a handful of games early on. In his last seven games, he's averaged just 11.1 points and 3.7 boards, and even though he's played a lot at the one, he's tallied more than three assists in a game just three times all year.

Curry tried to clarify on Monday that he didn't mean to single out Prince and was instead disappointed by all of his starters. If that's the case, why not change the starting lineup? Iverson is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and one of the biggest superstars in any sport that Detroit has ever seen ... but that doesn't mean he can't be a sixth-man.

I made the same suggestion last week, not only reacting to AI's decision to skip practice on Thanksgiving but also in response to Rip Hamilton's struggles to adjust playing without a true point guard. In hindsight, seeing Prince's declining numbers justifies the move even more.

Besides, it was Joe Dumars' confidence in Rodney Stuckey that convinced him to move Chauncey Billups in the first place. Stuckey was extremely inconsistent early this season but seems to have turned the corner, averaging 13.3 points and 7.0 assists in 24.6 minutes over the last three games. He sometimes gets tunnel vision trying to drive the paint when anchoring the second unit but is more focused on distributing the ball when playing with the starters. Allowing him to play the bulk of his minutes alongside Hamilton and Prince would expedite his development while returning the veterans to their former roles.

The only downside? Iverson's ego may not allow him to take such a "demotion" in stride. He's already unhappy about his playing time despite averaging more minutes (36.1) than anyone else on the team. But if he embraced the role and moved to the second unit, he'd be able to dominate the ball as much as he wanted without bruising anyone else's ego and could easily lead the team in scoring, much like Manu Ginobili and Ben Gordon have done in recent years.

Do I expect Curry will make such a drastic move this early in the season? Not at all. But considering the Pistons are just 6-6 since AI joined the team, it's something worth thinking about, especially if the rest of the lineup continues to struggle adjusting to AI's presence.
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