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Pistons ran cold, froze in Toronto

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Pistons sputtered, as the offense clunked to a halt in Canada.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the season opener on Wednesday night, even the most ardent of Pistons fans knew it was going to be a tough way to start the season. Even before factoring in the loss of starting point guard Reggie Jackson to knee and thumb tendinitis, an away trip across the border to the second best team in the Eastern Conference from last season is no easy way to start the season. The Pistons, if they were going to win this game, needed to rely on ball movement and hitting open shots, as well as limiting the damage caused by Toronto’s pseudo big-three of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas.

It’s safe to say it didn’t quite pan out this way.

For a moment, lets ignore the fact that the Pistons, widely considered one of the best, if not the best rebounding team in the league, were out hustled on the glass 51-40 by a Toronto squad lacking a bit of starch inside. Valanciunas is a big body, yet only grabs 8.2 rebounds per game for his career (although it was 11 last season and has been over 9 the last two years).

The Pistons just couldn’t move the ball.

On the surface, the Pistons racked up 17 assists, the same amount as the Raptors, Ish Smith led the way with 7 dimes while Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 3 apiece. However, looking into the numbers, we can see that perhaps these decent assist numbers are actually a mirage covering a deeper problem.

Far too often the team would plod up the court after a made bucket and dribble around for 10-15 seconds before actually looking to initiate any form of offense (for some reason NBA.com’s box score videos aren’t working so you’ll have to take my word for it because I had some killer examples).

Ish Smith, for example. He had 7 assists and 0 turnovers, which, on the surface, is a very effective night. However, it could be argued that Smith’s playmaking didn’t have much of an impact on the team overall. While Smith was on the court, the Pistons had an offensive rating of 87 points per 100 possessions. That’s not good.

So what does this mean? Was Smith ball hogging all night?

In fact, quite the opposite. Where you would see Reggie Jackson dominate usage rate statistics, Smith had the second lowest usage rate of the starters, at 13.5%. The lowest? Well, that’s a surprise we’ll get to in a second.

Outside of Smith, playmaking was lackluster all night. The rest of the team had 10 assists and 13 turnovers combined, with 6 of those assists coming from Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Stan Van Gundy has spoken about the need for a secondary ball handler in both units, and yet the men tasked with that job did not live up to par last night.

Tobias Harris, as good a game as he had scoring the ball (22 points on 8-13 FG), only served up one solitary assist to go with a full hand’s worth of turnovers (5 for those not keeping up). In the second unit, Stanley Johnson didn’t fare much better, with only 1 assist in 14 mins (although 0 turnovers), while freelance backup point guard Beno Udrih somewhat struggled, dishing 2 assists, but again, 0 turnovers.

In fact, 9 of the team’s 13 total turnovers were from Harris (5) and Andre Drummond (4). Ball security was not the biggest issue, but rather, ball movement, and the stagnation on offense was apparent in the loss.

Now, the other thing we have to talk about is shooting. Damn shooting, the bedrock of scoring points in the NBA. The NBA is moving towards a system of 1-in and 4-out, surrounding a center with shooters at multiple positions, a strategy sometimes credited to Stan Van Gundy for its inception with his 2009 Magic squad. But last night, the plan failed dismally.

4-22.

No, don’t shudder, it isn’t the record just before we released He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. No, it isn’t the score in the cricket and the batting team has not suffered a major collapse (big ups if you understand cricket at all).

It was the Pistons three-point shooting last night.

Let’s roll through the class here, shall we?

Tobias Harris: 1-2, you get a pass, 50% is hard to complain about.

Jon Leuer: 1-2, likewise.

Marcus Morris: 2-8. Look, Marcus, you had a few open looks, but hopefully this isn’t a sign last year was really just a major aberration.

KCP: 0-3, pls don’t do dis, not so soon.

Ish Smith: 0-4, why are you even thinking about 4 three pointers, let alone shooting them?

Beno Udrih, Stanley Johnson, Michael Gbinije: 0-1, at least you tried.

Woof.

The shooting was not pretty at all last night, but it wasn’t like there was a lack of open chances. Even though I said the ball movement was somewhat lacking, the team still created a decent amount of semi-open looks, but they weren’t tumbling. At all. NBA.com does keep track of contested and uncontested field goals, so let’s take a look at that.

The Pistons shot 25-51 on contested field goals (defender within 5 feet). Obviously this is high because of the nature of shots closer to the basket. However, you’d think the team would be able to hit a similar rate of uncontested shots.

10-33.

Nope.

In fairness Toronto shot 11-34 on uncontested looks, but perhaps this is a sign of a number of things. First, it could be the offense failing to generate enough clean looks, or it could just be our shooters aren’t actually that deadly. Maybe Ish Smith couldn’t get decent penetration enough due to Andre Drummond sitting early with foul trouble.

All I do know is the Pistons shot 41.7% from the field, and 18.2% from deep. On the bright side, the team did convert 17-22 free throws, good for 77.3%, with 4 of the 5 misses coming from Drummond (thanks, Beno).

On a quick side note, I do want to give a shoutout to KCP for this game. Yes, he had a horrible offensive output with only 4 points and an offensive rating of 55. It obviously wasn’t a particularly good, or even average, game for him, but his usage rate was the lowest of the starters at a meager 11.6%. In fact, it was lowest on the team except for Boban Marjanovic’s 8.9% usage rate. KCP does take a lot of flak for his offensive output, but if he can restrict his usage to numbers like that, it will hopefully help him pick his spots better, and hopefully develop a more efficient side to his play, allowing him to find a niche as an offensive player while remaining most valuable on the dirty side of the ball.

**

Look, overall, it wasn’t the prettiest game, but the fact that the margin was relatively doable for most of the game despite foul trouble and horrid shooting shows that this team can stay in games. I’ll be looking for a strong response at the home opener on Friday against Orlando. Look for better energy in front of the home crowd and sharper ball movement. Expect better games from Andre Drummond (only 6 rebounds) and maybe KCP (2-9 FG).

But most of all, be glad #DetroitBasketball is back.