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Pistons struggle to defend the long ball

Sloppy or non existent rotations doomed Detroit against Philadelphia.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It drove me crazy watching the Philadelphia 76ers hoist up uncontested three pointers without a willing Pistons’ defender in sight (and this couldn’t wait for The Close Out). A make or miss on the shot isn’t the point as proper defensive execution or, really, any execution would’ve been nice to see.

Let’s start at ground zero.

The best way to defend the three ball is to not allow the attempt in the first place. A tall order, sure, but it’s a common goal shared by all NBA teams. Limiting attempts obviously leads to a lower number of made baskets beyond the arc. Evolutionary thought, right?

A routine approach to team defense includes the employment of an “X-out”. Typically, it happens on the weak side of the defense and includes two defenders changing assignments in an effort to recover faster and more efficiently.


Above, Tobias Harris properly identifies the immediate threat and leaves his man (Saric) to help on Jackson’s man (Covington). In turn, Jackson rotates to Saric in the corner. Harris and Jackson’s paths form an X, hence, X-out.

I suggest to rewind the clip a couple more times and soak it in because it’s the only time the Pistons defended the three pointer in the half court all game. Buckle up as the ride is about to get bumpy.

In our first illustration, T.J. McConnell pick-and-pops with Embiid. As McConnell reaches the paint, he draws the attention of Anthony Tolliver and kicks it to Jerryd Bayless (AT’s man in the corner). Avery Bradley should take that pass with Tolliver X-ing out to Bradley’s man. Instead, Bradley is glued to his assignment and Bayless is wide open.

Below, it’s the same two defenders not on the same page. As Tolliver correctly helps on a rolling Embiid, McConnell is left in corner all by his lonesome with zero rotation:

Another wide open look.

Now, we have an example of two players rotating to the corner:

Let me be clear: both zero players and two players rotating to the same scoring threat is wrong. One rotating player is suffice.

Well, maybe they were tired. After all defense is hard work. Maybe? Nope:

Above, is within the first two minutes of the game. Bradley’s got a decision to make: stick to his man or rotate to the ball. He made the wrong choice, you cannot leave the ball especially when the guy holding the ball is a capable shooter. Not only is this on Bradley but nobody else on the floor recognized Bradley had to guard two players. Not good.

Here is what little effort looks like:

You can make the case Langston Galloway made the correct choice by sticking with the better three point shooter but to have no one close out? That’s pretty bad.

In non-rotation news, how do you fall asleep on J.J. Redick?

While it’s not a rotation beef, it certainly qualifies as bad off-ball defense which is a primary factor in bad rotations.


Look, I’m not say I’m right in my snarky analysis and I’m not privy to Stan Van Gundy’s game-to-game defensive blueprint. But. There is no way he’s coaching “do nothing” instead of “X-out” or any other simple strategy.