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Rip Out of Rhythm

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A Daily Babble Production

Amidst several enjoyable storylines from the green side of a 98-80 Celtics rout over the Pistons last night, it seems worth noting one big-time negative in particular on the Detroit end: Rip Hamilton's poor play.

Looking at the box score after the game, it was surprising to see that the league's best at moving without the ball shot as well as 4-for-9 from the field, because he looked much worse than that.  And 4-for-9 is nothing to write home about.  So far, this appears to be the story of Hamilton's young season.

We talked a week ago about how well the Pistons executed down the stretch to beat the Warriors by getting Hamilton the ball on cuts off of perfectly timed screens and letting him make the right decisions with the rock.  Unlike in past seasons, it seems like that sort of night has been the exception rather than the rule for Rip.

The off-guard is off to a rough start shooting the ball, putting up a lower percentage from the field (40.1) than at any other time in his career and putting up his worst true shooting percentage (51.0) since his second year in the league.  Last night against the Celtics, Hamilton simply looked like he never got comfortable on the floor.  His shots were rushed, and the normally smooth mechanics on his jumper seemed to be all over the place.

Part of this is no doubt a credit to the Celtics' defense, but another factor seems to be the issue of how and where Hamilton got the ball with Allen Iverson and Tayshaun Prince running the offense.  In days past when Chauncey Billups was on this team, the Pistons consistently down-screened for Hamilton and looked to get him the ball as he curled off those screens.  This is a guy who once praised Flip Saunders' flex offense for the fact that it means he didn't have to do much dribbling, that he felt he was usually catching the basketball in a spot to take a good shot or get a teammate a good look right away.

That was definitively not the case last night.  It seemed that a lower percentage of Hamilton's touches came thanks to catches off screens at his sweet spots.  When he did get the ball in his hands - which was less often than normal - he was getting it further from the basket than he prefers (often outside the three-point line) and with a white-shirt defender right there to contest him.  This put Hamilton in a situation where he needed to put the ball on the floor and look to create his own shot, and that isn't a good thing for the Pistons' offense.

Rip Hamilton is a very good offensive player, and he is capable of scoring without help in offensive sets.  But it isn't his strong suit.  This is a guy who thrives off of catching the ball in the right spots, ready to shoot right away or ball-fake and go to the rim.  He simply isn't as strong a threat if he has to play isolation basketball and beat his man one-on-one.  It isn't Hamilton's game, and that has been reflected in his shooting figures for the year, particularly since Allen Iverson came to town.

In fairness to Joe Dumars and Iverson, it bears note that Hamilton was off to a slow start even in the three games for which Billups was still around, shooting 23-of-52 (44.2 percent).  But with Iverson in the lineup, Rip has shot just 39-for-102 (38.2) over eight games, and it seems fair to assess the trade as a major factor there.  The Pistons' backcourt effectively features two off-guards, and Iverson (far from a pure point) and Tayshaun Prince (huh?) have done a fair amount of ball-handling so far.  Whereas Billups looked to get Hamilton and each of his teammates the ball in the right spot for each player, Iverson tends to hold the ball longer in the interest of looking for his own shot, and he is also still getting acclimated to playing with his new teammates.

A key result of that latter part is that the timing and the cuts for this team are still out of sync.  In a game so often decided by minutiae, this is crucial.  I'm not sure I watched Hamilton away from the ball quite enough during Thursday's game to know whether he was getting his usual screens and simply not receiving the ball off cuts or if the screening and cutting wasn't there in the first place.  As The Guru pointed out, in our customary postgame chat there isn't a spot in the box score for the number of times a player loses his man but doesn't get the ball.  But the fact is that when Hamilton did get the ball, it wasn't in the right situations for him.

The guess here remains that this particular shooting slump of Richard Hamilton's is a small part his own shooting troubles and largely related simply to the need for time for two new backcourt mates to jell.  Once Hamilton and Allen Iverson have worked together for a few more weeks, it will be reasonable to expect Hamilton to have the ball more with the types of looks he needs and that his efficiency will rise as a result.  But how significantly it does so could indeed be based in large on just how much Allen Iverson buys into the team concepts of the Pistons' offense.