Championship caliber teams not only feature star players, but the kind of depth that makes them dangerous from the first to the last man in the rotation. After four games, the Detroit Pistons have shown they have the starters to be a dangerous team and the bench equivalent of the Washington Generals.
Just how bad have the reserves been? They are last in the league in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free-throw attempts, steals per game, personal fouls drawn, points per game, offensive rating and net rating. They are second to last in defensive rebounds per game, free-throw percentage, blocks per game, and pace. They rank 25th in defensive rating.
Keep in mind, some of those stats are weighted because the Pistons bench also plays the fewest minutes per game at 13.8. With more play, they may turn the ball over more and get more steals. But they have been playing so little because of a shooting line of .261/.182/.438. Let this sink in: Josh Smith is a better shooter than our collective bench at this moment.
As a matter of fact, Seth Partnow said on Dunc'd On Basketball Podcast said that our bench issue is in some way related to Josh Smith. Essentially, if we weren't paying dead money to Josh Smith, we could have another wing or two.
If they had just one or two more competent NBA perimeter players, they're a team that's intriguing.
Meh, I wouldn't go that far. But why has the bench been as bad as they have been? They simply do not know each other.
Stanley Johnson is a rookie. He is going to have to learn the NBA game. Summer League and the preseason are not games that count and he did not play against normal rotations. Reggie Bullock, Steve Blake and Aron Baynes were all brought in this offseason. Blake and Baynes missed time this preseason due to injury. The only players on the bench that have any playing time together are Spencer Dinwiddie, Joel Anthony and Anthony Tolliver.
Jodie Meeks and Blake did play some together with the Los Angeles Lakers a few years ago. However, this year they have played a total of 15 minutes together. Meeks only got off five shots in two games, making one. But he will be out 12 to 16 weeks, so there's nothing he can do at this time.
Tolliver is having the worst shooting season of his life. He is shooting 28.6 percent but is 41.4 percent for his career. He is shooting 27.3 percent from long distance this year but is a career 35.6 percent 3-point shooter. Of his 14 shots, only three have been inside the arc and two had a defender within four feet. His shots just have not been falling. I would expect those numbers to return to normal.
Baynes is also shooting the worst of his career. A 52.1 percent career shooter, he has only shot 42.9 percent this year. He has only taken 14 shots, and 12 of those are in the paint where he's made five. Four of those makes were dunks, one was a hook. He has missed two layups, two jump shots, and three hooks.
Bullock is a player who was almost out of the league, until his amazing preseason. In the preseason he had a shooting line of .625/.520/1.000. Wow. So far in three games? He is 0-for-4. Bullock looked like an elite shooter in high school and college but has struggled with his shot in the NBA. Him returning to career norms would be an improvement from where he's been in three games, but we would love to have Bullock from the preseason.
Dinwiddie has only had the chance to play in one game, and he was the only bench player to score in that game. He did miss two foul shots but was a 91.2 percent free-throw shooter last year. More concerning from him were his three personal fouls and two turnovers in seven minutes of play. The ball seemed to stick with him and there was no penetration, ergo, no playmaking.
The reason Dinwiddie was able to play seven minutes against the Indiana Pacers was due to the early season ineptitude of Blake. Granted, Blake has 17 assists. That is more than half of the 32 baskets that have been made when Blake is on the floor. That is also opposite only seven turnovers. But O.M.G. that shooting. Blake has never been known as a great shooter, but prior to joining the Pistons, he had a shooting line of .401/.385/.778. So far this year he is 2-for-17 for 11.8 percent overall, and 1-for-11 from 3 for 9.1 percent. He has yet to get to the free-throw line.
Due to the horrid play of the bench, the starting lineup is playing A LOT of minutes. Andre Drummond is averaging 38.9 minutes per game. Chicken or egg, that has helped or been why he's been a beast this season. Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are both averaging 38.3 minutes per game. KCP lead the team in minutes last year, Morris has never averaged more than 25.2 minutes per game prior to joining Detroit. Reggie Jackson is averaging 33.7 minutes per game, the most of his career also. The only starter not averaging 30 or more minutes is Ersan Ilyasova, and that is because Stan Van Gundy is monitoring his minutes.
Now, the starting lineup is young. Drummond and KCP are 22, Jackson is 25, Morris is 26 and Ilyasova is 28, so right now a lot of minutes may be OK. However, I think of what Gregg Popovich has done with Tim Duncan and I get a little concerned.
Duncan entered the league at the age of 22 and averaged right around 39 minutes per game for six years. Whereas Drummond had one year of college play, Duncan had four. Drummond is 20 pounds heavier than Duncan. After those first six seasons, Popovich started shrinking Duncan's minutes to where for the last six season he has averaged right around 30 minutes per game. Duncan is currently 39 years old, but has averaged over 30 minutes per game in the postseason every year of his career. This is thanks to Popovich limiting his minutes.
Popovich could do that because he had a competent bench to go to. Van Gundy has not had that in the first four games of this season. Again, it may be ok for the starting unit to play a lot of minutes now, but needs to get in check soon for the Pistons to have sustained success and to move forward in years to come.
If you look at the Golden State Warriors, their starters do not have to play a lot of minutes. Part of that is because they have been blowing teams out of the water. but another part is because of a competent bench. Stephen Curry is averaging 31.9 minutes per game and Draymond Green is averaging 32.8. No other player is averaging more than 30 minutes per game on the team.
It should be expected that the bench shall regress towards their career norms and become more effective in the weeks to come. When Meeks and Brandon Jennings come back, that will add another punch for the bench. But until those things happen, it will be on the starting unit to establish leads that the bench cannot squander, and for Van Gundy to interweave the bench with the starting unit in such a way to make that happen. With a six-game west coast trip starting Friday, including games against the Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, don't read too much into the numbers just yet.