AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -Most youth hoops stars dream of an NBA career.
Not so for Jason Maxiell of the Detroit Pistons.
He wanted to be a police officer like his hero, his grandfather. And still does.
But Maxiell's law enforcement aspirations have been put on hold as he flourishes in his new role as the sixth man for the Central Division-leading Pistons (32-13).
On a team with stars like Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace, Maxiell is fitting in nicely with a veteran group making yet another run at a championship.
His playing time and scoring have tripled since his rookie year, helping the Pistons not miss a beat despite the recent departures of frontcourt players such as Chris Webber and Ben Wallace.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Maxiell is the team's leading scorer off the bench. He has played in all 45 of Detroit's games this season, averaging 8.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
``He's one of the most improved players in the NBA,'' said Orlando Magic guard Carlos Arroyo, who played with Maxiell from 2005-2006 in Detroit. ``He's appreciating the time and taking advantage of it. He understood that his time was going to come.''
Maxiell, a self-professed comedian, puts the jokes on hold when he's on the court, where his ferocious style makes up for being shorter and lighter than many of the power forwards and centers he goes against.
``He just gives us that good energy,'' Pistons coach Flip Saunders said.
It was what Joe Dumars expected from Maxiell when he selected him with the 26th overall pick in the 2005 draft out of Cincinnati. The Pistons' president of basketball operations has been pleased with Maxiell's performance so far this season.
``Pleased means you're doing OK, but I'm still pushing,'' Dumars said. ``In this particular business here, you have to continue to get better. You cannot be content with anything you do. Every year, every team, every player is coming after you.''
Playing about 23 minutes a game after averaging just six minutes as a rookie and 14 last season has been an adjustment for Maxiell.
``I hit a wall for a minute, but now I'm bringing energy and everything's good now,'' said Maxiell, who turns 25 on Feb. 18.
His teammates have taken notice of his increased presence on the floor, and they welcome it. Billups says Maxiell's contribution is desperately needed.
``He's coming into his own. He's not just a bench player. He plays like a starter,'' Billups said. ``When he plays out there, he's very aggressive, very athletic.''
``He blocks shots, he's a scoring presence,'' Billups said.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy says Maxiell is one of the best reserve forwards in the league.
``He has shot the ball better and will do about anything that they need him to do. There aren't that many quality big guy backups in the league that do what he does,'' Van Gundy said before a recent loss to the Pistons.
Maxiell says he'll continue to work on improving his defensive skills.
He also has a series of off-the-court goals, including marrying his fiancee and eventually becoming a father, before he turns 30.
And he hasn't forgotten about following in his grandfather's footsteps on to the police force. Maxiell says that will come after his NBA career.
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