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The Close Out: Anthony Tolliver remains an unsung hero

Taking a closer look into Tolliver’s defense against Kristaps Porzingis.

NBA: New York Knicks at Detroit Pistons Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

104 - 101.

So close! The final score of the Pistons-Knicks game was one measly point off my clairvoyant preview - see for yourself. Not impressed? Well, in the history of DBB, has anyone correctly predicted and put on-the-record a final score? That’s what I thought.

In my mind, the close call on the scoreboard more than made up for the swing and miss from the Dallas Mavericks preview, in which I wasted your precious radar space by putting Maxi Kluber firmly on it.

The Pistons split the week and now sit at 18-14 with a three-game week on deck.

Below, I’ll gush over the play of Anthony Tolliver, taking a deep look into his defense against Kristaps Porzingis. Then, I’ll ask for your basketball advice and critique the seemingly unimpeachable Greg Kelser.

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’ half court offense — while much more aesthetically pleasing than last year — has fallen back into the bottom third of offenses. Per Synergy, Detroit owns a 0.92 PPP (No. 22) in the half court. Per the nerd heaven website Cleaning the Glass (which eliminates garbage time stats), Detroit scores 89.3 points per 100 half court possessions (No. 27).

An uptick in transition offense and increased shooting efficiency are the only things keeping the Pistons offense afloat.

Below is an example of the clever looks:

It’s a cousin of the Spain pick-and-roll, with Anthony Tolliver shooting up the lane while the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond takes the defense towards the hoop.

MSU’s Tom Izzo calls these plays “home runs”:

Compounding opponent mistakes creates quick points, and causes finger pointing on the other side.

If the hand-off is the new post-up, then the Pistons must remain active and creative in long distance shooting and scoring on the run to help negate their sloppy go-to sets.

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.


At 32 years of age, Anthony Tolliver is leaned on by the coaching staff for locker room guidance and a bunch of other — cliched, but important — team chemistry quirks.

Tolliver started both games for Detroit in an effort (similar to Baynes and Drummond starting against Utah, yikes) to match up better with Dallas’ German forwards and New York’s Kristaps Porzingis.

Even after scoring 18 points against Dallas, including four of six beyond the arc (non-Tolliver Pistons shot three-for-20 from three-point land against the Mavs), Tolliver outdid himself with his vexing defense on the ‘Zinger.

Porzingis finished with a game high 29 points, but Tolliver — ten years his senior —made him work for every every inch. It took the Unicorn 28 shots to score the game high.

As we’ve discussed before, the best defenses do the job of dictating where the ball is going to be shot from. Below, Tolliver positions himself to take away the backdoor cut, and essentially forced Porzingis to use pindown screens:

Knowing where the shot is coming from is half the battle for smart players like Tolliver; even better if you can actually slide with the offensive player:

Great players are going to get theirs regardless of defense, especially if they are 7-foot-3 unicorns that are comfortable in the post. Tolliver held his own in isolation:

Contesting a shot properly is sometimes all you can do, most notably in a catch-and-shoot or spot-up:

Forcing shots three feet beyond the three-point, make or miss, is a win for the defense. Tip your cap and move on after a contested make.

Detroit and Stan Van Gundy have made a concerted effort to show hard on the the PNR when the “big” defender is Anthony Tolliver or Tobias Harris. The “show” is the first domino to fall in regards to rotations, and the Pistons continue to struggle recognizing, rotating and recovering.

When Porzingis slipped and went directly to the basket, Detroit defended well:

But it didn’t translate when Porzingis popped:

Darn near every shot was a good look and also applied to non-Tolliver Porzingis led PNRs too (here). A missed shot doesn’t equate to serviceable defense, just like making a post-up fadwaway doesn’t mean it was bad defense.

If you’ve been reading all season then you know this “trend” is nothing new. In fact, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks exploited the same hard show earlier in the week (here). Putting Tolliver (and Harris) in this situation game after game is quite taxing on them and such aggressiveness demands all other Pistons’ defenders to be on a string.

All in all, though, being able to put a journeymen on a budding superstar, and feel comfortable doing so, is huge bonus for Detroit. Keep in mind everything above AND Tolliver took one on the chin while never forgetting his own rotations:

A positive trend indeed.

Tobias Harris—and the rest of the Pistons starters—got off to a slow start on offense in Dallas. Harris alone shot 3-for-10 in the opening quarter, including these forced duds:

He finished the forgettable night with 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Ugh.

Points aside, he’s capable of so much more and we all know it.

He bounced back against New York, scoring a team high 24 points but more importantly he tied a season high of five (and-a-half) assists and went to the line ten(!) times:

To give perspective to outsiders, 10 Tobias Harris free throw attempts is as eye opening as Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points.

Because I can’t make up my mind, this is where I turn to you, the faithful DBB reader.

By now, I’m assuming SVG instructs his players that in any situation in which the opposition switches or there is a clear mismatch, the perimeter player is to take the shot instead of force feeding Andre Drummond (with a small now checking him).

It looks like this:

The thought process gives Detroit two chances at scoring: the initial shot from outside and Dre’s ability to offensive rebound and quickly put it back.

What I’m torn on is the absoluteness of it. I’ve never witnessed the opposite play out. Below, Drummond has two feet in the paint and Courtney Lee as his main defender. All my 36 years of existence on earth says to give the ball to Dre:

Now that Drummond’s respectable at the line, I think it makes even more sense.

It’s a matter of principle, there is no wrong answer. Where do you stand?


Since I started caring about Pistons’ basketball outcomes, Greg Kelser and George Blaha have been the comforting voices accompanying each night of NBA action. I can’t imagine — and don’t want to — life without the duo.

However, I wouldn’t be doing my (fake) job if I didn’t hold them under the same microscope as the players and coaches.

If you’re familiar with local Pistons broadcasts, you’ll recognize the “Menards Big Money Defensive Play” awarded to — ostensibly — the biggest defensive play of the night.

Kelser usually chooses and the Knicks game was no different. Here you go:

A solid defensive rotation leading to an easy basket. I mean, nice play but is it “Menards Big Money” worthy?


Kelser doled out the award late in the second quarter, killing any drama for the second half. He does this too often and last night he got burned.

With less than 40 seconds remaining and the score tied at 101, I counted no fewer than three defensive plays that were outright robbed of the award:

That’s embarrassing.

I love Kelser but he’s too loose with this prestigious award. What’s the rush? You can always revisit a first quarter defensive play in the fourth quarter. If I were Menards, I’d ask the responsibility be shifted to Blaha.

If pressed for reasoning, I’m blaming this on lack-of-patience-millennials. I bet someone got in Greg’s ear and basically said “Look Greg, we’re gonna lose the 18-30 audience if the award isn’t announced by halftime.”

So, as with most of society’s ills, thanks a lot millennials.

I think it’s appropriate to officially lump Enes Kanter in the same group as Brook Lopez, Jonas Valanciunas, and Marcin Gortat as annoying thorns in Andre Drummond’s side. Kanter scored 22 points and collected 16 rebounds, including eight on the offensive side:

Drummond assumes he can out-jump people too often. He did it as a rookie and continues to this day. God forbid he boxes out.

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.


Last week, we noticed the trend of bigs getting rewarded for running block to block. I’m a big fan of this, and against the Knicks, Drummond capped off his his blocked shot with a nice turnaround hook:

If we’re being honest, that’s another moment more worthy of the “Big Money” moniker.


This. All of this.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

Home against Indiana.

At Orlando.

Back home for San Antonio.

Apparently, Detroit plays the Pacers 42 times this year, as we’ve already tipped off three times against Indiana this season (and we still haven’t played the streaking-but-bad Baby Bulls). With the injury to Avery Bradley, it’s great to see guys step up in a time of need.

It also gives a peek into a world in which the Pistons don’t re-sign him this upcoming off-season. Ponder that possibility around the dinner table.

Have a safe and joyous holiday season, everyone!