So it’s a big season for the Pistons and there are a few key metrics that are essential for them to be successful. Here are a few I’m tracking from the preseason, along with some context.
In the first Pistons by the Numbers piece of the season, I wrote that “Andre Drummond is...making a great case for the worst defensive big man in the league.” And based on his performance in those first five games on as it rolled over from his abysmal play on the defensive end last season, he was.
In those six games since then though, Drummond’s defense has mostly been very good. See, that’s why it’s worth tracking performance as it progresses through the season.
True shooting percentage
2016-17: 52.1 percent
2017-18: 55.1 percent
The Pistons have three starters at or above the league average in true shooting percentage.* It’s been a while since that’s been the case.
Tobias Harris as the number one option continues to be a great thing. And even as Drummond’s free throw percentage dipped after a 0-7 performance, his TS is still strong thanks to a much improved shot selection. Also shout out to Langston Galloway’s 74.7 percent TS.
Reggie Jackson is .1 percent below the average - close enough.
Three pointers per game and percentage
2016-17: 23.4 per game at 33 percent
2017-18: 28 per game at 36.7 percent
The Pistons have three power forwards averaging at least 6.9 three point attempts per 36 minutes. All of them are shooting over 31 percent on them. You never want to see a guy get hurt and Jon Leuer brings some nice things to the court. But the increased three point threats at power forward have been helpful.
The consistency from three has also been a welcome change for the Pistons. They’ve been over 40 percent in five games and only under 30 percent in one game. While that may not seem worth celebrating, the Pistons were under 30 percent in 29 games last season. That’s a difference of 35 percent of their games to 9 percent of their games.
Midrange field goal attempts per game
2016-17: 24.7 per game
2017-18: 17.8 per game
2016-17: 53 percent
2017-18: 54.1 percent
The Pistons are doing so much better of a job generating quality looks this season, even without the benefit of getting to the line (the Pistons are still 28th in the league in free throw attempts per game). It’s nice to see Stan Van Gundy’s offense looking like something other than what he tries to force opposing offenses into.
The ball movement in particular has been terrific during the current home stand. Over those past three games, the Pistons have had an assist percentage of 61.7 percent.
The Pistons have the ninth best offense and the ninth best defense in the league so far this season. So far this season, only four Eastern Conference teams have a net rating of four points per 100 possessions or higher: the Celtics, Raptors, Magic, and Pistons.
Even taking into account the slow start for the Cavaliers and presuming they’ll wind up in the top half of the Eastern Conference before too long, the Pistons have earned their 8-3 record and strong place in the standings.
Reggie Jackson TS
2016-17: 51 percent
2017-18: 55.1 percent
Jackson net rating
Don’t look now but Reggie Jackson is averaging 15.7 points and 6.3 assists per game in just 28.6 minutes per game with the best true shooting percentage of his career. Not a bad way to respond from a career-worst season.
2016-17: 51.8 percent
2017-18: 58.9 percent
The guy goes from shooting 14-16 from the free throw line in one game to shooting 0-7 two games later. This game is the best.
The improvement from the line so far has been great, and I’m buying on it’s potential to stick around. With his improved touch, Drummond looks the part of a 50+ percent free throw shooter.
But the improved shot selection is even more important. There has been a little backsliding - Drummond had 10 shot attempts from outside five feet against Golden State and missed all of them. But he’s mostly stayed disciplined. In the four games since the Warriors, he’s taken 35 shots and only six have come from outside five feet.
The dramatic change in Drummond’s shot selection was going to require a dramatic change in Drummond’s overall offensive game. We’ve gotten that. Beyond just Drummond’s involvement in the game as an initiator from the top of the arc, he’s done less sitting on the block waiting for the pass. This in particular has been awesome:
Drummond just stays the hell out of the way and ends up with the easy dunk. That play opens up the court so much more - the wings have the lane to attack the basket and Drummond is put in the spot where he’s most effective, as a finisher.
In the next, it’s actually a post up! But by the time he catches the pass, his left foot is nearly directly under the rim. He did a great job sealing off Turner, getting position deep, and using footwork to get a dunk - not a hook.
In the third one, what a smart cut by Drummond. Thon Maker prematurely comes with the aggressive hedge and Drummond responds by cutting to the rim. Only a terrific defensive play by Giannis Antetokounmpo stopped it from being an easy dunk for Drummond. So far this season, the Pistons have done a great job of getting Drummond underneath the defense for easy buckets and his teammates have done a great job of getting him the ball.
This is an Andre Drummond that can be effective on the offensive end even if it turns out that his free throw shooting isn’t sustainable.
Opposing centers’ field goal percentage
2016-17: 52.5 percent
2017-18: 57.7 percent
Through the first five games, opposing starting centers were averaging 18 points per game on 62.5 percent shooting and 10.6 rebounds. In the past six games, they’re averaging 6 points on 50 percent shooting and 6.5 rebounds.
Drummond has been immensely better on the defensive end. His defensive rating has been 102.8 in the past six games after 111.6 in the first five. He was up and down defensively in the Warriors game and wasn’t much of an impact against the Lakers, but has otherwise been very solid.
Drummond net rating
After a net rating of -3.1 through his first five, you could probably guess that since he’s been playing better on both ends of the court since then, his net rating has reflected that. It’s 7.2 over the past six games, fourth best on the team behind Anthony Tolliver, Galloway, and Jackson.
Drummond is often referred to as the team’s best player, even though his play hasn’t been reflective of that title nearly as often. Right now he’s in a stretch of playing like the team’s best player and is flashing what he could look like if he’s able to fulfill his potential. Let’s hope it continues.