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Behind the Pistons’ slump

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The Good, the Bad, and the Uh Oh That’s Really Kinda Worrisome.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

This season so far reminds me of an old Jerry Reed song “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.” There’s really not much additional context to give there, except that the next part is, of course, “when you’re not, you’re not.”

After a hot start where the Pistons very well could should have been looking at 11-2, the Pistons are a Jimmy Butler side eye away from being 0-4 over the current stretch.

So what gives? Were the Pistons fake? Too many unsustainable starts? After Andre Drummond starting the season shooting 78 percent from the free throw line over the first nine games then falling to 48 percent over the past eight games, does that prove that everything good in life that happens is only something that is bound to let you down?

Ok, that got dark. Put away the My Chemical Romance cd, we aren’t going there. It’s not really that bad.

Much of what lies underneath the surface of the Pistons’ hot start are still there with the crummy stretch. It’s not a matter of them fading or not being legit. More a matter that coin tosses only turn up heads so many times.

The Good

Andre Drummond’s defense (and his shooting is ok)

Unless this is your first time here, you might know that I’m something of a critic of Andre Drummond’s play on the defensive end. But since Joel Embiid called Drummond out for not playing defense, Drummond has been mostly very good defensively. And over the past four games, he’s been solid.

Drummond is averaging a defended field goal percentage of 39 percent, nine percentage points below opponents’ average. Yessssss. Those numbers were 52 percent and plus four percent last year. He’s not getting as many blocks and steals as he did early in the season, though combining 2.3 for the two figures isn’t terrible. Drummond is making solid decisions and doing most of what he needs to do on that end.

While the other key aspect of Drummond’s game, offensive efficiency, is down over the stretch, there’s reason to think it’s not permanent. His true shooting percentage has been 49 percent over the past six games after 59 percent through the first 11 games. But over that stretch, 88 percent of his shots have come within five feet of the basket. He’s just only been shooting 50 percent on them after 67 percent on them early on.

These are mostly good shots, shots that Drummond should be taking. He’s having a lot of tips and layups just roll out with only very few poor shots mixed in.

In the past, I’ve said in relation to Drummond that an inefficient scorer and a poor defensive player who rebounds at an elite level is basically as valuable as Reggie Evans. I stand by that. The good news is that an efficient scorer who is pretty solid defensively and rebounds at an elite level is a very good starting center. Drummond has been that so far this season.

Pistons’ three point shooting

I mentioned this figure in the last By the Numbers piece, but last season the Pistons shot under 30 percent from three in 35 percent of their games last season. When they went cold, they went cold.

During this four-game slip, the Pistons still shot over 40 percent in three of them and haven’t been under 30 percent in any. In fact, it was pretty much just their 15-37 three point shooting that kept them in the game against the Bucks, where they shot 35 percent overall and committed 18 turnovers.

Reggie Jackson and Avery Bradley

Tobias Harris was the Pistons go-to scorer through the early part of the season. But since earning Player of the Week honors, he’s slumped to shooting 38 percent from the field and 33 percent from three.

Jackson and Bradley have picked up the slack, playing some excellent ball through the slump. Jackson is shooting 49 percent from the field and 46 percent from three while inspiring some epic side eye and and Bradley is shooting 48 percent from the field and 52 percent from three.

While it’s not great when your go-to scorer comes down with a slump, it is great to have a couple of other threats step up in his place.

The Bad

Stanley Johnson’s return from injury

Before Johnson’s injury, he was posting a shooting line of 40/33/71 and a TS of 51 percent. Since then it’s been 32/19/50 and a TS of 38 percent. After a promising start to the season, it’s been enough to drop his overall TS to 47 percent on the season.

It’s certainly dour, but there’s reason not to jump off the ledge just yet. Johnson remains a low usage player, his usage percentage even dropping from last year’s minuscule 14.8 percent to just 13.3 percent this year. That’s one of the among the league’s lowest marks for a starter.

So we may be bumping into some small sample size issues here. When Johnson’s hot, he’s hot - but he still doesn’t get a ton of shots. But when he’s not, he seems to get even more shots. So those bad games have been a real anchor on his average. He’s actually been over 50 percent TS in 9 of his 14 games played so far this season. Those five he wasn’t were just pretty brutal.

Playing against LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo

Sometimes you lose going up against those guys. And they were incredible against the Pistons.

LeBron’s final numbers don’t jump off the sheet, but the big thing was 16 points on 6-8 shooting, including 3-4 from three point range in the first quarter. It felt like one of those nights that we might be on the verge of seeing something special from James.

Combine that with 11 first half turnovers from the Pistons, and it just felt like one of those games the Pistons weren’t going to be able to come back from - even though double digit comebacks have been this team’s whole identity so far this year.

And Giannis had three steals and four blocks, setting the tone for the Bucks’ 10 steal and 16 block game.

They shouldn’t let these guys play basketball anymore. It’s not fair to the rest of us.

Tobias Harris

Tobias Harris was the Pistons go-to scorer through the early part of the season. But since earning Player of the Week honors, he’s slumped to shooting 38 percent from the field and 33 percent from three.

Yes, I know I already said that. But it didn’t really belong in the “Good” section, so I figured a copy/paste here would be appropriate.

It’s been a matter of a few tough matchups for Harris, plus teams perhaps starting to take more notice in how they play him. But he’s a savvy player. He’ll get his game back on track.

The Uh Oh That’s Really Kinda Worrisome

Andre Drummond’s turnovers

Don’t look now, but Andre Drummond is in the top 10 in the league in turnovers. They’d been a bit of a concern as we saw his role change to get more involved in the passing game, but Drummond getting more involved in the passing game was enough to get that bitter pill down. After the Cavs game, it’s a bit concerning.

Drummond’s turnover percentage is up from 10.9 percent in his first five seasons to 22 percent this year. Believe me, no one is happier to see Drummond’s bad hook shots go away. But let’s not replace those wasted possessions with a new kind of wasted possession, especially one that creates tons of transition opportunities for opposing teams.

The schedule

At Oklahoma City against the third best defensive rating in the league Thunder. At Boston against the best defensive rating in the league Celtics. An easy one trap game at home against the Suns before a four game road trip against a bunch of playoff contenders in the Wizards, 76ers, and Bucks. Oh and hey, those four road games are in six days.

And oh shit, it doesn’t get any easier when they get back home with the Warriors, Celtics, and Nuggets coming to town. Come on, when do we get to finally play the Bulls?

****

The Pistons’ hard times may not be over just yet. But I’ll close out with the best part: there’s a lot of fight in these Pistons.

They made Milwaukee and Indiana work for their wins and made a terrific comeback to steal the win from Minnesota. Even in a sure blowout against the Cavs, they made a nice third quarter run.

They’re almost certainly going to drop some of these games. But they’ll still be worth watching.