The visiting Milwaukee Bucks hung around, hung around and hung around some more but when the final buzzer sounded, The Detroit Pistons left the court with a 102 - 95 win. The Pistons were in control throughout the game, but never could quite put the struggling Bucks team away. Both Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris scored 23 points while Andre Drummond pitched in with 17 points and collected another 23 rebounds. The win ups the Piston record to 11-9 including 7-2 at home.
After increasing their win total by 24 games from the previous season, the Bucks were pegged by many (including myself) to be involved in the playoff mix this year and even though there's still a ton of time remaining to right the ship, it's been an ugly showing so far. Friday's loss dropped Milwaukee to 7-13 on the season.
They gained Greg Monroe in the off season, a healthy Jabari Parker returned to the team and their only off season loss was Zaza Pachulia, seemingly a losable asset. So what happened?
There are a handful of reasons involving schemes or dysfunctional lineups you could point to in an effort to answer that question but playing with high expectations can change a team's mindset for better or worse. The Bucks being a young team makes them even more vulnerable to fall victim to the lesser mindset.
Playing with expectations is exactly where the Pistons find themselves today. The national media is gushing over Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson is the engine that makes the suddenly relevant Pistons go. It's a completely different animal for both players to tackle and with the upcoming schedule easing up in the Pistons favor for the remainder of December, the question becomes: How do the Pistons respond? After a long time spent as an afterthought to the NBA, and even in Detroit, it's a question Piston fans are giddy to see answered.
As for Friday...
Let the Detroit Bad Boys book of records show my favorite Marcus Morris is a driving-to-the-hoop Marcus Morris. The versatile forward seems to be more comfortable putting the ball on the floor instead of consistently relying on his mid-range game. Morris was too strong for Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo and too quick for a slow footed Jabari Parker. The confident aggression led to nine free throw attempts for Morris alone, which is fantastic to see. When jump shots aren't falling and the offense is stalling -- which does happen -- the ability to get to the stripe becomes priceless. If Morris continues his strong play, I'll continue to overlook the silly technical fouls (his fifth of the season occurred on Friday).
All drives to the hoop are not equal though. Stanley Johnson's penetration continues to shift to tunnel vision and ideally, we'd like to see more play-making intentions when he drives. Even just the threat of passing the ball will become beneficial as defenders will then have to account for other options. Lately, Johnson drives routinely end up as a negative. With that said, I love the thought of Stanley Johnson figuring it out. His catch-and-shoot three is on point, especially below the break and he nailed two more against Milwaukee.
It was obvious early on what the Bucks' game plan was against Detroit's pick and roll -- get the ball out of Reggie Jackson's hands. Milwaukee trapped early and often forcing Jackson to look for outside shooters, particularly Morris and Ersan Ilyasova. To his credit, Jackson didn't force anything and eventually countered the trap with simple patience. The minute Milwaukee failed to send two defenders at Jackson after a pick and roll, he made them pay by driving to the bucket or hitting a patented pull up.
While Jackson's overall play has been fantastic of late, let the Detroit Bad Boys book of records show my favorite part has been the concentrated effort on taking care of the ball. Early in the season, it seemed Jackson was a little too loose handling the rock and it led to unforced and ill-timed turnovers. Over the past six games, however, Jackson has only turned the ball over 11 times -- he'll be glad to know that I can live with that. The Pistons offense is heavily reliant on initiation by the point guard and any player with that much ball responsibility is going to end with a handful of turnovers which is perfectly acceptable. It was the carelessness that that drew the ire of most fans early on and hopefully that trait seems to be in the rearview mirror.
Andre Drummond continued his rebounding tear adding another 23 to his collection. That's the good news and I'm sure Piston fans will gladly take that every night. Putting the ball through the net at an efficient rate, though, continues to be a roller coaster ride. Drummond finished the night 7-18 from the field and 3-10 from the line. After connecting on two HUGE free throws at the end of regulation against Phoenix earlier in the week, we'll let the 3-10 go for tonight.
The Drummond field goal misses usually have one thing in common in that they're almost always rushed and that storyline continued against Milwaukee. If there is one thing Drummond should not be doing, it's rushing. Maybe it's still a lack of real time reps or maybe it's the thought of getting fouled and going to the line that puts AD in a hurried state, but being balanced along with one or two power dribbles will go a long way in fixing this "problem."
Too many times, Drummond will get a tad too fancy with the ball fakes or footwork. Drummond's post game should be built on power and explosion. Save the Olajuwon stuff for later. (For the last time, let the Detroit Bad Boys book of records officially show all critiques of Andre Drummond come from love and not hate. His season thus far has been nothing short of remarkable.)
After avenging their early season loss to Milwaukee, the Pistons get another chance to right a wrong against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday evening.
What are your new expectations?