After months of hopeful speculation, Pistons fans were finally treated to a glimpse into the workings of Stan Van Gundy's newest team. The 5-2 Detroit Pistons knocked off the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday to enter the regular season with a new-found momentum. Some things changed, some things remained the same, but there is a sense that optimism has the advantage in Detroit. I took away 5 things from watching the 2014 NBA Preseason, and these story lines are likely to continue deep into the regular season.
1) The Offense was Vintage Van Gundy, Especially the Shot Distribution
In Stan Van Gundy's last year in Orlando, his starters averaged 13, 12, 11, 10 and 10 shot attempts among them. It's a common characteristic in most of Van Gundy's Orlando Magic teams-- the shot distribution is split almost evenly in his primary offensive rotation. In 7 preseason games, Van Gundy's primary lineup attempted 12, 12, 11, 10 and 10 shot attempts.
It's not as even as it looks at first glance, however. In Orlando, Dwight Howard attempted 11 shots at the free throw line, consuming more offensive possessions than his shot totals would point to. In Detroit, Van Gundy's centers combined for 11 free throw attempts between them -- 6 to Drummond, 5 to Monroe. After Howard in Orlando and Drummond/Monroe in Detroit, the rest of the team contributed a handful of free throws each. When you look at shot distribution and free throw attempts up front, it's almost as if Van Gundy just picked up where he left off in Orlando in 2011-12.
Another Vintage Van Gundy trait is ball movement and shared distribution points. Van Gundy's game isn't point heavy, as creating is typically a two-man job and everyone else plays a part in passing. It's a trait that goes back to Miami for Stan Van Gundy, starting with Wade/Odom, then Nelson/Turkoglu in Orlando, and now PG/PF in Detroit. Van Gundy relied heavily on Josh Smith's passing in the preseason, as distribution was split between the point and the power forward for much of each game.
Will this trend continue? Is the split shot distribution caused by Van Gundy testing out his players before the season, or is it a sign of things to come?
2) The New Josh Smith is as Bad as the Old Josh Smith
Fewer threes, more long twos. More passes, more turnovers. In total, Smith was the most damaging offensive player on Detroit's preseason roster. Just like the 2013-14 regular season. Let's take a closer look.
Over the last three seasons, Josh Smith has attempted at least 41% of his shots from 16-feet out, both long two and three combined. No matter how many threes he shoots, a lot or a little, that number holds true. The same was the case in the 2014 preseason. Smith reduced his three point attempts dramatically, but just as dramatically increased the amount of long twos he attempted. Don't just take my word for it, enjoy this magnificent visual from DBB reader ghost of Dumars.
According to TS%, Josh Smith managed to shoot worse in the 2014 preseason than he did in 2013-14. He recorded a 0.457 TS% this month compared to a 0.463 TS% last season.
Who cares, right? It's just the preseason.
The problem is that instead of seeing a shred of evidence that Smith's poor shooting can be contained or improved, it was effectively worse. Instead of encouragement, this preseason only showed an unfortunate step backwards.
But those assists! Smith's passing made a huge difference in the preseason.
Only it didn't. Smith's combined missed shots and turnovers negated any positive contribution from his passes. Here's the rub. Thanks in part to those passes, Smith was once again the highest usage player in the rotation. And he was the most damaging offensive force when on court. Smith sported a team-worst offensive rating of 89.3. Compare that to the team's other power forward, Greg Monroe, whose offensive rating was a blinding 24 points higher. That brings me to my next takeaway.
3) Greg Monroe's Offensive Contributions Are Essential to This Frontcourt
We saw what happened when Stan Van Gundy tried to feature Andre Drummond as a scorer up front. We also saw what happened when Josh Smith, well, touched the ball at all. For these players to be most effective, their involvement in the offense needs to be strictly limited. Despite their varied reputations, Drummond and Smith are very similar players. High flying athletic monsters who are built for the highlight reel. The whole problem with Smith has been his overuse on offense, and I hope Van Gundy takes that to heart as he develops Andre Drummond.
Meanwhile, Greg Monroe is once again a no-nonsense, productive and versatile offensive playmaker. He's there ready to produce at two positions, and his offensive production is clearly scalable.
Despite an unfortunate summer, Monroe came in and did his job in an admirable fashion, anchoring the offense while being productive on the defensive end. I don't feel that this sample is adequate to point to a marked improvement in Monroe's cross-court play, but it is certainly worth looking at. Even a less efficient, less defensive Greg Monroe would be essential to this team.
In the preseason, Monroe led all qualified players in TS%, shooting 0.654. If the preseason shows us anything, it's that Monroe was reliable at both positions, as a starter or a bench player, and he produced just about every time his number was called. Meanwhile, Andre Drummond was overfed and his efficiency suffered. Smith was still the offensive centerpiece despite the demotion in shot attempts-- and he floundered predictably. The other frontcourt options, from Jerebko to Anthony and even Kyle Singler, all do their work off the pass or the glass. There's just one guy up front who can hold the ball and score efficiently. And while this preseason was a pronounced caricature for how well Greg Monroe can produce, it was keen evidence for just how important he is to this offense.
If you give any merit to advanced stats, Greg Monroe was our best offensive player and our best defender for 6 games this preseason. It's not substantial enough to call it a trend, but it is evidence that Greg Monroe can buy in and flourish in Stan Van Gundy's system.
4) Who Won the Point Guard Battle?
If you remove the names and just glance at what each player produced, it's an open and shut case. DJ Augustin was Detroit's most productive, most qualified point guard in the preseason. While Spencer Dinwiddie deserves plenty of respect for his game 7 showing, his 15 minutes of play don't rate compared to the full sample provided by Jennings and Augustin.
The difference in assist and turnover rates between Jennings and Augustin is minimal. Both rates are indicative of capable, productive point leadership. If they were equivalent shooters, Jennings would get the nod here. But they're far from equivalent.
DJ Augustin produced a rounded 11 points per game on 8 shot attempts, while Jennings produced 9 points per game on 10 shot attempts. That's all you really need to know. Augustin just beat Jennings in the point guard battle hands down. Unequivocally. No question. Nothing ambiguous about it.
DJ Augustin has taken some criticism for not appearing to be a natural floor leader. The numbers that track precisely this show very little difference between Jennings and Augustin throughout their careers. But what's most important to consider is the new environment under Stan Van Gundy. Remember above where I pointed out the split distribution, everybody-passes game that SVG runs? A guard like Augustin is perfect for this scenario. If Jennings does in fact have a slightly better passing game, it's a moot point. What Stan Van Gundy is going to expect out of his point guard is what separates DJ Augustin from Brandon Jennigns-- efficient perimeter scoring.
Boom. Done. Give that man his medal.
5) Preseason-Earned Starting Five
If we ignore everything else and only looked at preseason production, who would be Detroit's starting five for the regular season? Ladies and gents, your All-Preseason Team:
Center: Andre Drummond - I was a hair away from bumping Drummond from this pretend starting lineup in the first place. He was a letdown this preseason, as he shot poorly in increased usage and was pretty poor on the defensive end. Dre, you made it in by a hair, my friend. Amazingly, you were only a hair more productive on offense than Josh Smith was in terms of offensive rating. I am disappoint.
Power Forward: Greg Monroe - A perfect preseason. Starter, bench, center, power forward, it doesn't matter. You did every job you were asked to do on both ends of the court. You were Detroit's best player in the preseason hands down.
Small Forward: Cartier Martin - You were hot from deep, and that's precisely what this team needed to see from you. Small forward was a clear point of weakness in the preseason, but you did admirably. Caron Butler approached your heels by the end of the preseason, but your involvement on defense gives you the slight edge.
Shooting Guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - Despite missing much of the preseason, when you were on court, you were a hair behind Greg Monroe in productivity. You shot a blinding 0.642 TS% and stepped up your game from three-point range. I'd love to see the stat-stuffing game you played in college, but that still hasn't come close to materializing in the NBA yet. In the mean time, however, I'll applaud such efficiency 7 days a week.
Point Guard: DJ Augustin - I explained this case above, but you won the preseason my good man.
BONUS: Sixth Man - Spencer "The Mayor" Dinwiddie - consider yourself elected.
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What are your take-aways from the Detroit Pistons preseason showing? Dig in below.