Thursday November 19th, 2009

He had missed 14 of 15 shots and all four from beyond the arc, and yet the Detroit Pistons designed a play for Ben Gordon to attempt a game-tying three-pointer against the visiting Mavericks last Sunday.

"Are you kidding me?" Detroit coach John Kuester said after Gordon missed in the final second of a 95-90 loss. "I wanted him to have the last shot."

Gordon has earned that confidence in the hardest of ways: Few players prepare themselves more thoroughly to beat the buzzer.

"Those shots that people see him making, I've seen him practice them every morning," Pistons president Joe Dumars said. "Every morning he's in the practice facility and he goes through this extensive workout for two hours before we start practice. Between 8 and 8:30 he's on the floor every single day, to the point where I told him I wanted to talk to him about learning how to manage your energy over the course of 82 games, because I don't want him to wear himself down. But I also don't want to stop him from doing what's made him successful."

When the 6-foot-3 Gordon launches a deep fallaway three over a crowding defender, as he appeared to do every few minutes last spring to help force a Game 7 in the Bulls' opening-round playoff against the Celtics, the triumphant outcome has little to do with luck and more to do with a practice regimen that makes outrageous shots feel routine.

"When I'm playing one-on-one or working out against other guys, that's something you practice by limiting the amount of dribbles that you have," he said. "So you might say, OK, you have two or three dribbles, or you can only shoot from this one area, and the guy who's defending you knows that so it's a lot easier for him to defend it. And then you have to get your shot off in that space, so it definitely helps in real-game situations where you have to get a quick shot off and you have to try to make it a high-percentage shot.

"I'll play against a friend who's taller or someone who's quicker just to try to give myself some difficult challenges. There are certain moves I can do where I know they'll never get to my shot, like a step back, or I use a shot fake or hesitation to get them off balance so I can get that shot off and make them react. Because most times guys who are guarding me are bigger and they're going to be able to get to my shot, so you've got to be a little deceptive and crafty."

Among his foils has been fellow Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva, who was an AAU teammate of Gordon's more than a decade before they were reunited as free-agent recruits by Dumars last summer.

"Ben can shoot a half-court shot like a regular jump shot, and that, to me, is impressive," Villanueva said. "It's funny because when Ben and I signed, we were going to Joe Dumars' house and he had a basketball court in his house, and Ben and I were in there trying those crazy shots."

Said Dumars: "All of the shots you see in the games, I just stand and look out my window at practice in the morning and I watch him go through them. He has a guy who will work out with him, and the guy holds up sticks so it's like shooting over a 7-footer, and he shoots over them. He practices all of those things."

That's one reason why an undersized shooting guard helped lead the Pistons to a surprising 5-4 start despite injuries to Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. The Pistons have since lost three straight midway through a four-game Western trip that ends with a weekend back-to-back at Utah and Phoenix. Gordon has been indispensable nonetheless, emerging as Detroit's leading scorer with 21.1 points.

Gordon and Hamilton have insisted there will be no friction when Hamilton returns from a badly sprained ankle. Gordon will be willing to come off the bench, which was something his predecessor, Allen Iverson, wasn't willing to do for Detroit last year.

"It's about winning," said Gordon, who was a sixth man in half of his games with Chicago over his five years there. "At the end of the day I know Rip is a winner, and you're not able to say that about a lot of other guys. I don't think he sees me as a threat; I think he sees me as someone to help win games."

At the same time, Gordon's job, as he sees it, is to continue to push Hamilton for the starting position.

"It's always positive to have some competition out there, and have somebody who, if you're not performing well, they can come in and challenge you," he said. "Even though we have an understanding that we want to win, we're also going to challenge each other and that's going to make both of us better."

Dumars used the same perspective to recruit Gordon with a five-year, $50 million contract over the summer.

"I told him that we have a long list of guys who have come here and elevated their careers on and off the court and reached their potential," Dumars said. "And I said, 'I feel like you're one of those guys who can come here and become more than just a gunslinger.' I said to him, 'Right now you're just a gunslinger. I assume you want to be more than just a gunslinger, that you want to be a complete basketball player.' "

Gordon agreed that he wanted to become more than a shooter.

"I said, 'So that means you'll have to defend, you'll have to pass and you'll have to win -- you'll have to win big,' " Dumars recalled.

The defense and the playmaking will need time to develop. During a recent 106-93 loss at the Lakers, Kobe Bryant scored 40 points while routinely exploiting the shorter Gordon and other defenders in the post.

Dumars had the luxury to accept Gordon's size because point guard Rodney Stuckey is 6-5 and can defend the bigger scorers, allowing Gordon to cross-match against the smaller point guards.

"You look at the Pistons in the past and they always had good guard play, dating back to their championship years," Gordon said. "I've got to continue to work and improve at the defensive end so I can reach the stature of those guys. They were always really good defensively."

Dumars promises to be patient. The signings of the 26-year-old Gordon and the 25-year-old Villanueva were the opening moves of an extended plan to rebuild with younger talent. Gordon may have the ball to close out the game, but the transformation doesn't end with him.

"I look at our team now and it reminds me of 2000, 2001 and 2002 -- building get to 2004," Dumars said of Detroit's most recent championship year. "You try to add a couple of pieces every year until you feel like you're there, and so these were the first two pieces. We're not through building our team now. This is not our team for the next five years. We'll add pieces and we'll continue to build."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.