For whatever reason, practically all of my favorite players are long, skinny, mobile defenders with good hands who can score efficiently in many different ways when their team needs it -- but don't get all huffy if that doesn't happen.
Tayshaun Prince, Josh Howard (Thabo Sefolosha, and Corey Brewer, I have my eye on you two) ... guys like you win games.
Let's take a moment, though, to consider Tayshaun Prince.
A friend of mine sat courtside at a Pistons game earlier this season and told me that he was horribly disappointed in the Pistons. He called them a bunch of names ranging from "punks" to "babies," saying they whined and complained to the point of distraction, all game long.
It was a lack of poise, he said, that almost made you think this was could not possibly be a championship level team.
The "almost" was 100% about Tayshaun Prince, who, my friend said, clearly took it upon himself to talk his teammates off the ledge. At one point, when things were getting kind of wild and the referees were about to put a stop to the madness, Prince, I'm told, yelled at the referee "I got this!" and ran to calm everyone down.
He's the rare guy who has the credibility to make sense, in the heat of the battle, to the crankiest of NBA players and referees. Not a lot of those around, and for that Prince, and likely whoever taught him to be classy like that, should be applauded.
Here are three reasons why you might consider making Tayshaun Prince your favorite player:
Alpha Dog, but Subtle
Tayshaun Prince is, on a typical night, a "complementary" offensive player. Meaning that most of the time, if the play goes as planned, Rasheed Wallace will shoot it. Or Richard Hamilton. Or Chauncey Billups. But if the defense is sound on the main option, everyone knows it's not the worst thing in the world to toss it out to Tayshaun Prince, who just might nail the three, or swoop into the lane for a bucket.
But don't forget how this man first made his mark in the league.
As a rookie, he played a measly 400 or so minutes combined in all 82 regular season games. Then he emerged as then-coach Rick Carlisle's secret weapon. He nearly matched his 82-game minute total in just 15 playoff games. And the main thing they asked him to do? Down the stretch of crucial playoff games, Prince was the go-to guy in the post, and he produced.
Last night, when Chicago was full of fury, striking match after match trying to light that comeback fire, Tayshaun said "I got this." He backed down into the post, dribbling, feeling, patient ... and then turned over right shoulder and shot the left-handed mini-hook that probably sealed the game. It splashed through with 2:19 left, and put Detroit up 85-73. (Chicago finished with 85 points.)
For emphasis, moments later he took the ball back into the same spot on the post. Were they going to let him do that to them again, to end Chicago's season? He worked the shot clock closer to zero, and his butt closer to the basket. Then he pivoted over that right shoulder again, and this time defenders, desperate to save their season, collapsed from everywhere.
Prince fired a perfect pass to wide open Rasheed Wallace (who missed the three-pointer, but you get my point).
In French, they call that savoir-faire.
Detroit's defense is their calling card, and it used to be all about the wall of Rasheed and Ben Wallace who would frighten and punish anyone, big or small, who tried to score in the lane. But the league, the roster, and the approach have changed. Now, Rasheed Wallace still often functions as the goal-line stopper, but more than anything their current defense emphasizes Prince.
They're fancy zone essentially calls on him to be longer, stickier, faster, and smarter than whoever on the other team might be trying to move the ball through, or shoot the ball from, the area at the top of the key. It has proven highly effective.
And other times? When Detroit plays man-to-man? Prince makes things very tough on great scorers. For instance, I was making the case to ESPN's David Thorpe the other day, about how LeBron James hasn't really gotten all that hot yet in these playoffs. And if or when he does, Cleveland could conceivably beat any team, including the Pistons in their possible Eastern Conference Finals matchup.
Thorpe agreed it was possible in theory. But with Prince on the floor, he pointed out, it was not at all probable that James would get particularly hot in that series.
I have already talked about this a little, but just one more story, this time from Mitch Albom in today's Detroit Free Press:
[Rasheed Wallace] really was everywhere. Shooting. Rebounding. Defending. He simply imposed himself on the game. He hit the opening shot of the half, a three-pointer. Then he hit a turnaround jumper and got fouled. Then he hit a 16-footer. Then he blocked Brown, who seemed to remember what the word "journeyman" meant. He chased down rebounds. He blocked a Ben Gordon drive and caught the ball mid-air.
True, Rasheed's head almost exploded over foul calls. He had more face contortions than a mime at Fisherman's Wharf. A kick call. An out-of-bounds call. The inevitable technical. No referee whistle was beyond his disbelief. But that is how Wallace behaves when he is totally into a game, and, in that second half, he was totally into the game. And when he got T'd up, the entire team rose to keep him in check.
"I told him it's not the time," Prince said.
And when Prince is talking, even Rasheed listens.
Two points about that:
There are people who can calm down Rasheed Wallace? Do you realize how powerful that is? If Portland had one of those back in the day, the 2000 Blazers would have almost certainly been champions.
How do you quantify the value of what Prince did in this story? If 'Sheed gets booted, nothing is guaranteed for Detroit. What if Tayshaun Prince had not done all the good teammate things through the years that made Wallace respect him? Would that make the Pistons five points worse? Ten? For the record, Wallace was the most effective Piston yesterday in terms of plus/minus. The Pistons were +12 when 'Sheed was on the floor.
(Photgraphy: Getty Images)