During the Detroit Pistons three championship runs, there was one consistent key: defense. At one point during the 2004 championship season, the Pistons held five straight opponents below 70 points per game, an NBA record. Due to the Pistons' defense, some rule changes came the following season. Not long after, the 'D' left Detroit. Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes are helping put the 'D' back in Detroit Basketball.
Four days into training camp, Andre Drummond is impressed with the defensive intensity of the practices.
"We’re a tough team, man. We’ve got a lot of physical guys out there. The harder we play, the more energy everybody brings, it makes it fun to play. Everybody’s not being soft. Everybody’s really attacking and not avoiding contact, so for me it’s fun. Instead of being the only guy that’s physical, I’ve got a whole team that wants to bang with me."
Let's hope that this is a sign that Drummond is also picking up his defense as it has not been where it should be for someone with his size and athleticism. But it's great to hear that we have picked up players that are not afraid to play tough defense. Drummond has even given Morris a nickname.
"I call him Deebo. He’s a bully," Drummond grinned. "He’s a great guy off the court. Nobody wants to be a nice guy on the floor. He does a great job and I love playing with him."
But it doesn't stop with Morris. Baynes has even left an impression on Drummond.
"Aron Baynes is a part of that, too. He’s definitely an interesting guy to play against," he said. "He’s just a strong dude, man. He’s always talking, just always moving around. Sparkplug."
Baynes played in Gregg Popovich's system for three years and defense is key there. If he can rub any of that off on the other players, that is great. Baynes will not only be Drummond's backup, but will also play alongside him at times when teams use two traditional big men, such as the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls.
Stan Van Gundy has been known to transform the teams he has inherited into eventual top 10 defensive teams. Last year was not one of those years when the Pistons were 21st in Defensive Rating. Mind you, that is an improvement from being 25th the year before.
The toughest part of the day for the players is the morning practice. They’ll get to the gym around 9 a.m. and do some individual drill work with their assigned assistant coach in advance of the 10 a.m. start of formal practice. The morning practice will contain some portion of full-court, five-on-five scrimmaging. On Wednesday, it was three successive 12-minute quarters. On Thursday, it was about 20 to 25 minutes, the bulk of practice prior to that devoted to defensive execution.
There is a difference between playing defense and playing smart defense. Playing defense always runs the risk of drawing a foul. And as we've seen with many players, players do not always think they are fouls, will act out or say words they shouldn't be saying, and end up with a technical foul. Rasheed Wallace was well known to draw his fair share of technical fouls. So is one of his protégés, Morris.
"He told me today he's going to pay for my techs, so that's a plus," Morris said after the Pistons' Wednesday morning practice, the second day of training camp.
Did he really? I mean, he did just sign that 5-year/$80 million dollar contract, so $19,000 should not hurt him much. Well, Jackson didn't say yes and didn't say no.
"We aren't going to go on public record saying that, necessarily, but we've got to be a team," Jackson said. "I wouldn't tell y'all if I do that but I've got to take care of my team. I wouldn't tell y'all. It may happen, may not happen. But when guys take care of you, sometimes you've got to take care of guys."
You have to take care of your team, or are you making sure you have a bodyguard?
"You definitely need that, especially me attacking the rim," Jackson said. "They're just going to whoop my ass all game. So I need guys like that to back me. If we get into a physical altercation, it is what it is on the court. It happens. It's all about the five guys on the court at the time, and the other 10 on the team, as well."
Fair enough. Either way, it's a nice thing Jackson is doing. He's allowing Morris to play his style of ball. Obviously, technical fouls also come with a free throw (or two) for the other team, so we do not want him getting them all the time, but it's nice that he doesn't have to worry about them. He did take a smaller deal simply to play with his brother, then got betrayed by that same team. He's got a new, metaphorical family now:
"We're trying to make this a family atmosphere. Techs sometimes happen. He's going to be probably our vocal leader defensively, in terms of jaw jacking and getting into it, a confrontational guy sometimes. But we've got his back. We're going to play hard and that's going to be my guy."
I like the sound of that. You are not going to bully the Detroit Pistons. Whoever the final 15 players are going to be, they'll have each other's back. Oh, and don't forget the team bonding experience they had going to the UFC camp together for a week.
Do you think you can handle the Pistons, NBA?