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Ball movement goes missing in Pistons' opening-night loss to Nuggets

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And a lot of that had to do with Josh Smith.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

There wasn't much to be excited about in the Pistons' debut under new head coach Stan Van Gundy. His Detroit team fell to the Nuggets 89-79 largely behind the same cast that disappointed last year.

Andre Drummond was too easily shoved out of position down low, fouled too often and didn't box out his man on numerous occasions. Brandon Jennings was largely invisible on both ends of the floor and the sweet-shooting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the preseason morphed back into the poor-shooting KCP of last year's regular season.

But the biggest disappointment of the night was probably the lack of passing and offensive balance that led to the Pistons looking disorganized, with long stretches of seemingly free-style play and many scoring droughts.

And while it might be unfair to pin that on the game's highest scorer, that's exactly where the blame belongs. On Josh Smith. It's not all Smith, of course. KCP suffered through one of the worst shooting displays you'll see and he never decided to reel in his quick trigger, and being without two of the team's primary offensive weapons -- Greg Monroe and Jodie Meeks -- left the team without much of an offensive identity or game plan.

And that void was eagerly filled by Smith, who shot early and often, and even made six of his first 10. But he finished just 9 of 22 on the night. And it was the entire defensive game plan of the Denver Nuggets. Check out what Kenneth Faried had to say after his team's win.

"He shot them out of the game." Let the fact that another NBA player openly said that about one of your favorite team's player sink in for a moment.

Extremely accurate. But even worse, because Smith became the center of the offensive universe that everyone had to revolve around it gave precious few opportunities for other players to get involved in the offensive game plan, including starter Brandon Jennings.

Jennings played just 20 minutes and saw only 55 touches on the night. Smith, meanwhile, had 86 touches. And the team as a whole did not move the ball on offense. It was on the minds of all the players post-game, which means it was probably something coach SVG harped on at halftime and in the locker room after the loss.

From Kyle Singler:

"“We just couldn’'t get the ball from one side to the other,"” Singler said. "“For whatever reason, we just couldn'’t get into our offense. But that’'s something we can easily correct. We just need to watch a little film and just know that there are certain times in the game where we just can’t take the first shot that looks good. Sometimes, we just need to move it around so guys can get involved."

Brandon Jennings:

"“We really weren'’t moving the ball enough,"” he said. "“It was always like one pass, one shot. I felt like we needed to move the ball from side to side and it was a game like I felt they were trying to give us. They shot 35 percent and we shot (37), so we were right there."

And that lack of ball movement was noticeable. The Pistons don't have players that can break you down off the dribble. Instead they have a series of shooters and cutters, so quality ball movement is critical to their success. Unfortunately, the Pistons managed just 287 passes Wednesday night. Compare that to the Spurs, who managed 357 passes in their season-opening win against the Mavericks. The Pistons also had just 15 assists on the night, lower than all but one team so far this young season.

And, again, that lack of ball movement has a lot to do with Smith. In a terrific breakdown of the Pistons' offense, our own Jason Brunskowski charted Smith's shot attempts as follows:

  1. 1 pass - 15 on the clock (open for a reason) - MAKE
  2. 1 pass - 16 on the clock (open for a reason) - miss
  3. 3 pass - 7 on the clock (open for a reason) - miss
  4. 1 pass - 12 on the clock (good spin move layup) - MAKE
  5. 2 pass - 7 on the clock (open for a reason) - MAKE
  6. 2 pass - 13 on the clock (open for a reason) - MAKE
  7. 5 pass - 11 on the clock (open for a reason) - miss
  8. 1 pass - 9 on the clock (dribble drive hook) - miss
  9. Offensive rebound putback layup - MAKE
  10. 6 pass - 9 on the clock (open for a reason) - MAKE
  11. 1 pass - 6 on the clock (dribble drive hook) - miss
  12. 1 pass - 14 on the clock (open for a reason) - miss
  13. 1 pass - 12 on the clock (dribble drive hook) - miss
  14. 2 pass - 18 on the clock (open for a reason) - miss
  15. 2 pass - 10 on the clock (post up hook) - MAKE
  16. ? pass - shot clock violation (video didn't show shot) - miss
  17. 2 pass - 9 on the clock (dribble drive layup) - MAKE
  18. 3 pass - 8 on the clock (dribble drive layup) - miss
  19. 3 pass - 11 on the clock (open for a reason) - miss
  20. 3 pass - 14 on the clock (dribble drive spinning hook) - MAKE
  21. 2 pass - 13 on the clock (open for a reason) - miss
  22. 1 pass - 15 on the clock (open for a reason) - miss
That's an average of less than two passes per shot attempt for Smith with an average of 11.5 seconds left on the shot clock. Smith also shot the majority of his attempts from 15-24 feet from the basket. This does not play to his strengths, and it does not help the team.

The best you can say is that when Monroe comes back it will be easier to build an offense around his back-to-the-basket skills and will be that much less pressure Smith needs to take on as a shot-taker. And if Van Gundy wanted a learning opportunity to go into what to do and what not to do, there was a lot to choose from in this game.

We'll see how game two goes tonight in Minnesota. Could it possibly be worse? Wait, don't answer that.