clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How bench play and ball movement have supercharged the Pistons

Breaking down game film to find the highlights and the lowlights from the Pistons’ playbook

NBA: Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons are 10-3, and I’m sure everyone reading this has the same question. How the heck are they doing this? Luckily for you, I’ve watched and rewatched the games and broken down the game film.

I’ve come to a firm conclusion — This is a damn fun basketball team. 10-3 are you kidding me?

I ended last week’s Close Out column with the question “could your Detroit basketball Pistons really start 10-3?” Make no mistake, I fully expected Detroit to slip at least once, if not twice, during this past week. Not because the opposition was overwhelming, rather, it’s what I’ve trained myself to do as a Pistons fan over the last nine years.

I guess this really isn’t the old Detroit Pistons.

This week we’ll break down a variety of pet screens Detroit employs to find players open looks, the Pistons awesome bench and how they are finding success, point Drummond and his propensity for turnovers as he becomes an offensive hub and some transition defense that leaves a lot to be desired.

Inside the Pistons’ playbook

Like any team, the Pistons have a go-to collection of sets and play types. Here we’ll break down the plays used often by the Pistons, along with variations and break down the process and the results.

The Pistons continue to use the drag screen with a trailing Andre Drummond (or Eric Moreland) to great success:

Against the Hawks, Detroit’s go-to set ended up in a handful of good looks:

On Tobias Harris’ three, look at the gravity a rolling Drummond causes. Basketball is an easy game if you let it be.

The Pistons also introduced a classic UCLA set in the win against Atlanta:

It’s a dribble entry to the wing by Ish Smith with Langston Galloway as the first option. As Galloway cuts through, Anthony Tolliver immediately sets a screen for Smith, with the option to accept or deny. My high school coach would be proud I remembered ole UCLA.

After a pass to Drummond, typically we see Jackson (or Smith) head to the corner to set a screen for the wing to use a DHO from Dre. Below, is an example of a quick remix to keep defenses on their toes:

Jackson uses a Reggie Bullock screen to flare out to the corner. Fun stuff.

This Week’s Trends and Dead Ends

A closer look at the habits —both good and bad—of players, coaches, and maybe even DBB commentators. Discover what the Pistons are getting really right, and understand what to look out for going forward.

Positive Trend — Pistons’ dominant bench

In the win against the Indiana Pacers, the bench mob helped the Pistons get back on track before the starters carried home the victory:

Smith, Galloway, and Boban Marjanovic combined for 31 points.

Two different (but not the only) bench mobsters left their mark against Miami:

As someone who doesn’t recognize college basketball, it always takes time for me to get a feel for rookies. Luke Kennard was billed as a shooter, but the fact he can also put the ball on the floor and make plays was — for me — completely unexpected.

There was more off-ball movement vs. Indiana than the entire 2016-17 season:

Poor Ish Smith. Most ball handlers are once in a while forced to create with the clock winding down, but Smith had to take a number of difficult shots this past week:

It’s not a knock on stats or analytics (they’re growing on me) but always keep context in mind.

I’m always on the Pistons’ case in their defense of the pick-and-roll (or lack-thereof), this week, though, not so bad:

Dead end — Careless turnovers

In my mind, the game doesn’t officially start until there is a turnover from Avery Bradley trying to feed Andre Drummond:

Speaking of turnovers:

I’m all in favor of Dre being more involved on the offensive end but he’s got to learn to keep it simple. It’s just like post-ups vs put-backs: Focus on the easy stuff. Turnovers happen, it’s a part of the game, but these are fixable.

There’s such a thing as too much passing, too:

I’d rather see Dre put that up, especially that he’s shown the ability to make a free throw (or two).

Also, teams are catching on to the DHO’s:

Eventually, there’s got to be a counter to defensive wings jumping the DHO; backdoor cuts and Drummond’s fake hand-off come to mind.

High/Low: One Highlight, One Lowlight of the week

Not all good and bad plays are created equal. Some stick out and make you take notice. Or they’re just so funky they deserve a special place of their own.


Ah yes, the importance of proper spacing. As the always-probing Ish Smith seeks the paint, Anthony Tolliver scoots over just enough that his man’s (Dedmon) recovery angle is non-existent. Had AT stayed put, his drive and dunk would’ve been non-existent.


Neither Bojan Bogdanovic, nor Bogdan Bogdanovic, and especially not Alex Bogdanovic. should be able to travel 85 feet with the ball and slice right through the Pistons’ defense in such comfort.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

I’m glad I never left the Reggie Jackson bandwagon, as people casually jump back on... but if you actually believe I never left, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

The combination of Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith have been vital to the 10-3 start, with each getting hot at the most opportunistic time. One the biggest changes (other than looking simply healthier) I’ve noticed with Jackson is his ability to properly pick and choose when to aggressively look for his shot and when to defer throughout the game. It’s a mature change of mentality and it’s paying off.

The Pistons have three tough road games on deck, and sooner or later this team is going to run into some sort of on-court friction. Can Jackson stay on this newly found course?

Can your Detroit basketball Pistons be 13-3?


Week four is in the books. If you made through all those videos, I’m willing to bet you have a Joe Dumars poster on your wall because, obviously, you’re a Pistons nerd.