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The Close Out: New lineups and rotations help end seven game skid

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The Pistons are streaking again. After dropping seven straight, they’ve won three in a row.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

First thing’s first - I love the grey/chrome uniform donned by the Pistons while visiting Indiana. The mere association with the color grey screams athletics while people who consistently wear grey become increasingly athletic by association. In fact, I would drape myself in 1980’s grey sweatsuits if it were socially acceptable.

Everyone needs more grey in their life, even you.

Reluctantly moving on.....

One of the underrated parts about submitting a weekly post instead of a game-by-game blurb is the convenience of week-long perspective.

Detroit lost six straight games heading into last week and were promptly blown out at home by a Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic-less Denver Nuggets team.

With the losing streak now at an unimaginable seven games, the sky was rapidly falling in Pistonsville. Had I gone live after the game, the trade machine would’ve been working overtime.

Drummond’s got to go.

Jackson’s got to go.

Goose15’s got to go.

Stan’s got to go.

Thank God it’s not on record. One of these days—no time soon—I’ll learn to relax.

Detroit ended the week winning at Atlanta and Indiana and home against a loose interpertation of the Orlando Magic.

Now at 17-13, we can comfortably breathe a little. Below, we’ll revisit each game and take a closer look at the infustion of Reggie Bullock, Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard into the rotation, the pros and cons of playing Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic and I cut Ish Smith some slack on his missed shots.

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.

Defensively speaking, you can’t stop everything. The best defenses in the NBA do the best job at dictating where the offense is going to be taking shots.

In Atlanta, Miles Plumlee and Hawks used drop coverage to defend the Pistons’ PNR. The technique is essentially conceding a mid-range shot:

With an “athlete” like Plumee, it’s really Atlanta’s only option. Once Jackson turns the corner, it becomes a make-or-miss league. The mid-range is oh-so-wide-open and oh-so-tempting but the best offenses don’t settle - they impose their will. More of this, Reggie.

Reggie Bullock supplanted Stanley Johnson in the starting lineup before the Nuggets’ game and I’m not sure if he’s ever coming out.

Bullock was a 2013 first round NBA draft pick for the Los Angeles Clippers and his zig-zag route to Detroit has been well documented. Things certainly didn’t go to expectations but somewhere along the way, Bullock smartly realized he must carve out an in-demand skill set.

Ego aside, he had to ask himself: what the hell can I do to keep collecting NBA checks?

Here’s the answer:

Scouting reports including “he can create his own shot” are usually associated with the ball but any hoopster can tell you the best shots are engineered without the ball.

It’s Bullock’s gift to DBB and the world - enjoy it.

Bullock’s free-flowing movement isn’t the only thing he brings to the starting unit table as the spacing improves with a reliable spot-up shooter which adds another legit variable for opponents (Bullock was 9-of-15 beyond the arc this week).

Assumers never win:

Above, Tobias Harris examples the traditional hand-off we’ve witnessed over and over this year and then burns an assuming-there-is-going-to-be-a-hand-off Luke Babbitt. Spacing in the corners means no one’s home at the hoop.

Stan Van Gundy tinkered with the lineup all week. Some changes stemmed from inability (Stanley Johnson), some were injury related (Avery Bradley) and one change in particular came seemingly out of left field.

No Ish, no Reggie, no problem:

The point guard-less lineup efficiently ran flex screens, PNR and DHO’s. My favorite? Eric Moreland posting up in the second clip. C’mon E, what was the plan had you caught it?

Atlanta came just in time.

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 doing really well, and understand what to look out for going forward.

Positive

I do my best to spin Ish Smith’s short comings into positives. Full disclosure, though, I’m a big fan.

But I truly believe the following.

Not all missed shots are created equal:

When Smith drives to the hoop, he forces himself onto the radar of all rim-protecting bigs. In this case, it’s Pacers’ Myles Turner. Smith snatches Turner’s attention and floats two shots at the rim—both misses—and Drummond (Turner’s man) cleans it up.

It’s an unaccredited assist.

Langston Galloway played 18 or more minutes in all four games this week (first time this year). Like Bullock, he spaces the floor as a spot-up shooter and off screens but sign me up for more of the subtle ball handling moves:

In the biz, we call these “pro moves”. Catchy, right? Now grab your ball and meet me in the gym.

No fence sitting - are you Team Moreland or Team Boban?

I take that back, it’s not that easy.

Marjanovic is a one tick pony on offense but it’s a helluva trick. The profoundly sound post play is unguardable one-on-one as it demands help:

Other than the block or paint, though, Boban isn’t much of a threat to do anything else. He can’t roll on the standard PNR but if Detroit can disguise the unguardable post up as a roll (here), well, that works too.

Moreland, by contrast, is an offensively challenged big who does all the little things no one else signed up for:

He moves his feet well, isn’t afraid of contact and is the best shot blocker on the team. Most importantly, according to a stat I just made up, he leads the league in pissed off opponents (per-36, of course). Without fail, every game produces Moreland going toe-to-toe in a bout of stubbornness with someone in the opposite jersey.

The vigorous choice of Moreland v. Marjanovic is purely situational.

With the absence of Avery Bradley, Luke Kennard earned his first start in Indiana and hit ‘em every way possible:

Two things stood out to me.

  1. A Pistons’ BLOB that doesn’t end in an immediate baseline jumper is as rare as they come.
  2. Luke’s off-hand is as good as they come.

Nothing indicates off-season work like a reliable off-hand:

In my day, bigs like Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning ran block-to-block in constant search of the easy bucket. The game has changed but some basketball truisms remain:

Always reward your big.

Negative

If the purpose of your defensive closeout is to to run the opponent off the three-point line, blow-bys happen. From there, reacting to the ball becomes a team initiative. It didn’t happen in the loss against Denver:

In case you’re wondering what true blow-bys look like, enjoy:

Denver hit the Pistons early and often with what they call “pick-and-roll.” Surely this was the first time Detroit played against such a unique strategy:

The roll man (or even the threat of one) and the ball handler doomed Pistons’ defense.

Tell you what big fella, keep hovering around 15 and 15 and allow one of these dumb looks per game:

You get one, use it wisely.

I’m guessing the latter was in the intention of the former:

Heads up!

At worst, Stanley Johnson’s got to get to the line:

Those weak takes wouldn’t cut it at my Lifetime Fitness Sunday morning runs.

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.

High

Andre Drummond fell for the oldest trick in the parenting book:

Nikola Vucevic connected on four-of-six shots beyond the arc including two during Orlando’s late game comeback attempt. The apt shot-making forced Drummond to man up and take Orlando’s big man seriously. Dre’s lateral movement swallowed Vucevic hole during an overly important possession depicted above.

Ok, so now that we know you can do this, there is no reason not to.

Low

I’m as new-school as they come in regards to basketball principles but this hardly a textbook four-on-two fast break:

You must get a better shot than that.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

At Dallas on Wednesday and home against the Knicks on Friday, that’s all the week has to offer.

Uh, 2-0, right?

Well, at worst, 1-1.

The fake Big D is arguably one of the worst teams in the league and beatable by Grand Rapids Drive standards let alone Detroit Pistons’ standards.

The Knicks, suprisingly, are in the thick of the six-seven-eight playoff seeding hunt behind the inspired play of Kristpas Porzingis Michael Beasley.

Most importantly, the Knicks-Pistons game reunites two best friends:

Tolliver’s reaction is absolutely priceless.

Happy Holidays!