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Role reversal: Pistons tops in offense, Suns rule on defense

The Pistons may rank just 9th in the league by scoring 99.3 points per game, but according to basketball-stat guru John Hollinger's latest article for ESPN Insider (subscription-only, unfortunately), they actually feature the best offense in the game. Come again? Hollinger isn't referring to the highest-scoring offense -- that would be the Phoenix Suns, who average 104.0 ppg. Instead, he's referring to the most efficient offense.

The Pistons average only 88.6 possessions per game, second-fewest in the league. The Suns, on the other hand, average 98.2 possessions per game. The disparity is largely by design, as the Suns prefer a run-and-gun offense while the Pistons -- despite some changes under Flip Saunders -- often rely on deliberate halfcourt sets. But when teams are ranked on number of points scored per 100 possessions, the Pistons lead the league by a wide margin with 110.1 points. Phoenix, incidentally, ranks seventh with 104.6. Kind of surprising, eh?

But while Detroit ranks first in offense, their defensive efficiency ranking pegs them at just 15th, allowing 101.8 points per 100 possessions -- far below the league-leading Spurs, who give up just 95.5 per 100 possessions, and the second-place Suns, who give up 96.3.

Is this cause for alarm? I don't think so. For one, I still trust Detroit's ability to flip a switch and buckle down on defense when they need to, much like how they held the Spurs to just 70 points on Christmas Day. And when you rank the teams based on the difference between their offensive and defensive efficiency rankings, the Pistons are tied for second by averaging 8.3 more points than they allow.

Hollinger isn't the only one who's discovered just how efficient the Pistons offense has been. 82games tracks the league's most productive two-player tandems, and Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince have been atop the list for most (if not all) of the season with a +/- rating of 291.

Second on that list is Boris Diaw and Shawn Marion, with a +222, but that's only because the list only ranks the top tandems per team. If that list included more than one two-player combination per team, the Pistons would dominate the list, as they have more than 10 other tandems with a +/- ranking better than 222.

I'm hardly a statistician, but I certainly understand enough to look at all these numbers and realize "it's a good thing," as long as I'm correct in my assumption that this team can "flip a switch" when needed. And, not to overlook tonight's match against the Hornets, we'll find out on Thursday when the Pistons face the Spurs in San Antonio.

New stats show Suns excel on D, Pistons on offense [ESPN Insider]
Hollinger Team Statistics [ESPN Insider]
Detroit Pistons tandem rankings [82games]