Stan Van Gundy has run some of the best offenses and defenses in the NBA during his time as head coach. He is known as intense and meticulous. With that said, he also has a way of keeping things remarkably simple, and I think that goes a long way in getting his players to buy in and execute.
During Pistons media day, when Van Gundy was asked about his goals for the the team he kept it simple -- he just wanted them to run back on defense. Van Gundy and the Pistons have a lot to accomplish in the next month, starting with tonight's first pre-season game against the Chicago Bulls. A starting lineup must be determined, a rotation fleshed out and an offensive and defensive system installed.
The preseason is less about wins and losses and more about preparing your team for the regular season. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to consider Van Gundy's offensive and defensive priorities. They're no secrets -- they are emblazoned on giant signs at the Pistons' practice facility at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
|Offensive Musts||Defensive Musts|
|Take Care of the Ball||Get Back|
|Push the Pace||Protect the Paint|
|Attack from the Inside-Out||Close & Contest|
|Play Unselfishly||Pressure the Ball|
|Make Quick Decisions||Defend Without Fouling|
|Take Good Shots||Block Out & Rebound|
It's harder to quantify how last year's Pistons team did in some of those areas than others, but you couldn't watch the Pistons last year and not understand quickly that Van Gundy has a lot of work to do.
It's easy to see how well the Pistons took care of the ball -- they ranked ninth in turnover percentage. Not a bad start! Good job, last year's horrible team. Push the pace. Well the Pistons ranked 11th in pace and fifth in fast break points. Attack from the inside out. Well, the Pistons got the inside part right -- No. 1 in points in the paint per game. But little of their penetration came by the way of the guards and via the pick and roll. Also, the out of inside out left a lot to be desired. The team ranked 29th in 3-point percentage and 22nd in attempts per game. Obviously, this is a huge point of emphasis and was an offseason priority for Van Gundy that was addressed via free agency.
Play Unselfishly. Just about everyone on the team was guilty of playing selfishly last year whether it was Josh Smith hoisting 3-pointers, Brandon Jennings trying to take over fourth quarters with his own offense or Greg Monroe trying to force things inside. The Pistons ranked 28th in passes per game and that plays into their general selfish brand of basketball and their inability to make quick decisions.
Finally, the nail in the coffin is take good shots. The Pistons ranked 29th in shooting efficiency, 29th in 3-point field-goal percentage and 24th in effective field goal percentage. And there are no bigger culprits in bad shooting than the duo of Smith and Jennings. Of the 74 players who attempted at least 250 3-pointers last season, Smith and Jennings finished 74th and 65th, respectively.
While getting back on defense involves much more than fast break points, it's the easiest to measure and the Pistons ranked 23rd in opponent's fast-break points per game. Not good. The Pistons also failed to protect the paint, ranking 22nd in opponent's points in the paint per game and 25th in field-goal percentage at the rim. Detroit also did not close and did not contest, ranking 29th in opponent's two-point field-goal percentage, 21st in 3-point percentage and 29th in effective field-goal percentage.
The Pistons were able to pressure the ball, generating the 13th-highest turnover percentage in the league and were decidedly mediocre at defending without fouling, ranking 16th in opponent's free-throw attempts per game. Blocking out and rebounding is a major area of need for the Pistons as Detroit ranked just 23rd in defensive rebounding percentage (while ranking first in offensive rebound percentage). This stat seems to be cited by Van Gundy more than any other so far in training camp.
So if you're lucky enough to have NBATV, watch the game with these six offensive and defensive priorities in mind. Think about how last year's team played (if you haven't mentally blocked it out yet) and think about how this year's team is different. And know that the kind of sea change we're hoping to see is going to take time. Oh, and above all, enjoy Andre Drummond!