Antonio McDyess looks around at the guys he's played with for years and feels like a stranger. Don't misunderstand that. There's no rift.
It's still the same Chauncey Billups, still the same silly, emotional Rasheed Wallace. Tayshaun Prince, albeit more assertive these days, is still the same guy. Richard Hamilton is back after missing two games to witness the birth of his first son, a new little Rip currently keeping him up. When he returned last Sunday, he still put on that same protective mask he always wears and showed off that same silky jumper.
It's McDyess who doesn't feel the same. He's still not used to starting alongside those guys.
|Antonio McDyess is averaging 6.7 points, but that won't be for long. (Getty Images)|
McDyess shot only twice in Detroit's win over Atlanta on Sunday night and is averaging 6.7 points through three games, which would be the lowest scoring output of his career if this continues the entire season.
It won't. Consider this a case of learning a new role, which becomes much easier to do when you're winning.
"I'm feeling things out. In the preseason you can kind of feel things out, but it's not the real deal," said McDyess. "You get thrown into lineups with all kinds of different players, but in the regular season, like now, it's basically, feeling everything out for real.
"Now, I just go out there, play off Chauncey and collect those stand-still jumpers. I have to be more assertive, though. Honestly, I have to be more assertive. Even though I am on the starting team and am pretty much the fifth option, I still have to look more for my offense. When I get the ball, I'm not looking to go toward the basket, not even posting up. I'm just out there shooting the ball, and I get caught watching those guys."
McDyess sounded like his harshest critic, but he has been around the block enough times to know this is all just about getting the kinks out. When he reported for work this preseason, Pistons president Joe Dumars and coach Flip Saunders had already decided to move Wallace to center and pull McDyess into the starting five.
"It was time," said Dumars. "The last three years we've asked Dice to come off the bench and be an energy guy. Dice is 33 now. It's not fair to ask a 33-year-old guy to be your high-energy guy every night. We have Jason Maxiell, we have Amir Johnson. Hey guys, that's your role now. Dice, settle down, get in the starting lineup, play with Chauncey, Rip, Tay and Sheed and feed off them."
Those were McDyess' marching orders, so he has had to change his wiring. He says that he used to come into games with the mindset of playing the way Wallace played, being aggressive and taking advantage of whatever was there. Now, he's out there with Wallace, so it leaves him wondering a bit. He's on the bench watching human pogo stick Maxiell changing shots with his athleticism and controlling the boards and it reminds him of how different things are now. It's certainly not a bad different, but it sure is a major change from where he was a decade ago, about the same place in his career as Maxiell is in his.
McDyess looked like he was the one with springs in his shoes. He was one of the only reasons to watch an awful Denver Nuggets team, if only to see him posterize somebody or swat a shot down an opponent's throat. When the Suns looted Denver in 1997 to acquire him to play with Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson and Steve Nash, then a third-string point guard, it resulted in a 56-win season. McDyess returned to Denver via free agency the next year and continued his ascent toward an All-Star berth. In 2000-01, he averaged 20.8 points and 12.1 rebounds and was considered among the NBA's elite big men. Fate then intervened.
He injured his knee during the 2001 preseason and made it through just 10 games before having season-ending knee surgery to repair a partial tear in the patella tendon of his left knee; he also underwent arthroscopic surgery on the right. He sat out the season, came back the next year and fractured that left patella in the third game of the preseason. Most wrote him off as done, a sad story of what might have been.