Normally, I try to keep my amateur basketball "analysis" to what actually happens on the basketball court.
I'm not in the locker room. I don't know any of these players or coaches personally. And unless I have some kind of great reason to think otherwise, I assume if you're a professional basketball player, you are confident, hard-working and competitive, and don't cause problems with other players. I also assume that if you're a good player and help a team win, you are a good leader that other players will want to play with.
But this is different.
Following one of their worst losses of the year against the New Orleans Pelicans Thursday, coach Stan Van Gundy had some choice words about his team's effort, and Brandon Jennings said straight-up that the team was lacking in locker room leadership.
I hadn't really considered that the Pistons could have leadership issues, since they were having a good season, so what could a lack of leadership even be an issue? That's why these words surprised me. It must be pretty bad if it's being mentioned right out in the open, right? It's not like these are the 2013-14 Pistons.
It's just two games, but it seems like Jennings' words rang true in the Pistons' thrilling 104-101 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.
The Pistons looked on their way to a comfortable win, but a terrible third quarter and some inconsistent play down the stretch doomed them.
Jennings stepped up to knock a 10-point Denver lead going into the fourth quarter down to zilch with outstanding play on both ends, including this dish to Stanley Johnson.
Brandon leading us back https://t.co/s4wAXKANAk— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) January 24, 2016
The Pistons gave up a season-high 39 points in the third quarter. Danilo Gallinari was unstoppable, pouring in 30 points, including a miracle baseline jumper as time expired that put Denver up 102-101.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a monstrous block off Emmanuel Mudiay's ensuing steal to give the Pistons one more chance, but Reggie Jackson was unable to draw a foul on their final possession.
Marcus Morris led the Pistons with 20 points and Caldwell-Pope added 16. Jackson and Andre Drummond combined to shoot just 6-of-20 from the field and scored just 15 points. Drummond played just 18 minutes and was an unsurprising 0-for-4 from the line.
This game calls for special treatment.
I'll call out every Detroit player in some way. And not just basketball stuff. Their characters. Their SOULS. We'll see how this goes. This is getting personal.
Reggie Jackson: Be the leader Detroit needs.
The Pistons believe in Jackson, The 5 year/$80 million dollar contract he signed this offseason was scoffed at around the league, but he's made complaints about the contract a distant memory with his play, which has most Pistons fans clamoring for him to get in the All-Star game. He has the ball in his hands the most out of any Piston by a large margin, so the team will, in large part, sink or swim with his play. So if Jennings' comments are true and Jackson isn't setting the tone off the court as well, that could be a problem. Additionally, Jackson's defensive lapses are pretty inexcusable given the fact that KCP will almost always take the tougher defensive assignment of the two.
It's hard to evaluate leadership, but Jackson looked flat against Denver, which was disappointing to me considering their point guards are Emmanuel Mudiay, Jameer Nelson and sometimes Randy Foye.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Finish.
I like this mantra for KCP better than "be more consistent." He's going to have days where his shot doesn't fall, he's going to have days where he's tired when he's comfortable in the league's top-five in minutes.
His defense has more or less proven to be legit this year after being an eye-test favorite in years past, but as far as I'm concerned a guard averaging 37 minutes a game and 1.9 assists per game is a tough sell offensively no matter the system. If he's in a bad position, he's gotta give the ball up. If he's got an opportunity to attack, he's gotta take it. If you're gonna have the ball, do something immediately, whether it's pass, shoot or drive. Finish. Don't muck up a play with too much aimless dribbling or standing around.
Marcus Morris: Be a tone-setter.
I'd love to say something about his shot selection, but this is a hot take column. I'm calling people out here. Ok. Marcus, you're the toughest guy on the team. Your willingness to go toe-to-toe with the best wing scorers in the league is definitely something I'd like to play with if I was good at basketball. How bout you don't let Danilo Gallinari drive right past you at will? Can you just pretend he's Paul George? Can you bring that burning hatred you have for Indiana to every team?
Ersan Ilyasova: Quit trying to draw charges and just play defense.
What is the point of trying to take a charge from Gallinari when he's driving on KCP in a horrible position with a second and a half left on the shot clock? He makes that shot maybe 1 time out of 50 if you just contest without contact. You get called for the block at least half the time.
It's cute that Ilyasova leads the league in charges taken, but I'm really skeptical it's a better defensive strategy than just contesting the shot, especially as a big. I think he's hurting the defense more than he's helping by constantly looking to draw charges. If the offensive player is out of control and just looking for the foul, don't reward that.
Andre Drummond: Be a defensive anchor. Play like you value your presence in the game.
No, this doesn't say "make your free throws." As far as I'm concerned, Drummond is basically the same guy he was his rookie year offensively, and that guy is still a beast. This is a whole long separate piece, but I think simply expecting Drummond to become a 60% free-throw shooter is unrealistic. Defensively, however, Drummond has for the first time in his career shown he can anchor a borderline top-10 defense, and that has been instrumental to the PIstons' success more than anything he's developed on offense.
An effort like Saturday's is just unacceptable for Drummond. The Pistons need him, and he was playing like they didn't. It's a long season and you're gonna have some bad games, but at least looking like you want to be out there is a good start.
Brandon Jennings: Why not you?
I understand Jennings isn't the most important player on the team necessarily, but his decision to call out the team's leadership is strange to me given that he's just as qualified to step up in that way as anyone, especially considering the potential rejuvenation of the team based on his presence on the court. Jennings has at least been the focal point of a playoff team before, something none of the other Pistons can say, and he's one of the most experienced players in the rotation.
Jennings sparked the Pistons and was awesome on Saturday, but I'd rather see him assume a large amount of that leadership position himself then call the rest of the team out.
Aron Baynes: Nothing.
Aron Baynes is the greatest basketball player of all time.
BAYNES on both ends! pic.twitter.com/7Z38EcJNse— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) January 24, 2016
Stanley Johnson: You're a rookie.
You had a good game against the Nuggets, I'll give you that. You're also a rookie who's shooting 37% from the field. We're not playing all bench units anymore. We're not as desperate as we used to be. You don't have to take contested long twos with 15 seconds left on the shot clock anymore. You really don't. This is so important I worded this section like I'm addressing a child. Sorry about that.
Anthony Tolliver: Do something more worthy of calling out so this theme makes more sense.
Seriously, how would you ever call out Anthony Tolliver? "Make more threes?" "Be more athletic?" May have to defer to the comment section here. I'm scratching my metaphorically bald head.
Everybody else: Stay on the bench
The Pistons' next game is on the road Monday against the Utah Jazz.