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2016-17 Pistons offense: Is Pistons’ personnel and scheme the right fit?

Film don’t lie.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When Stan Van Gundy came to Detroit during the summer of 2014, it was assumed the Pistons would inherit Orlando’s “one in-four out” principles centered around Andre Drummond in place on Dwight Howard. While there are certainly aspects of SVG’s Orlando schemes in present day Detroit, the playbook goes much further than one in and four out.

By and large, most teams run similar sets and plays and none of this is unique to Detroit or Stan Van Gundy. What is unique to each team is their personnel as the old adage suggests: “it’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes.”

With any professional playbook, there are “read and react” elements making the offense flow instead of being bogged down by restrictions or constraints. Knowing this, the trust factor between player and coach largely determines their rate of success. Are they seeing the same things? Are they on the same page?

The end of the season has been nothing short of disastrous and low-lighted by a punch-less offense. During a long, grueling NBA schedule, actual practice time is precious and SVG has indicated 75-80 percent of that time has been geared towards the defensive side of the ball. By their performance, color me not surprised at that ratio.

We’re coming to the conclusion of Stan Van Gundy’s third year; what is the offensive identity of this team?

Is the answer on this roster?

Reggie Jackson made a name for himself last year as the closer and thrived in clutch situations. Not so much this year. After everything he’s gone through this year, it’s hard for me to imagine when/if the Pistons become a contender that Jackson will still be in a Pistons’ uniform.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is due big money and will be courted by numerous teams this off-season. Assuming an 18-20 million dollar price tag, it’s within reason to think if the Pistons do re-sign KCP that someone making similar money will be shopped and shipped.

Andre Drummond’s ceiling has probably been met. 14-16 points per game and 12-14 rebounds is right around where he’ll finish for the foreseeable future. His post-game is one of the least efficient plays in basketball which supplements his bad shot selection. If he (and SVG) can rid himself or at least minimize those silly post-ups, the 14-16 points per game would look a lot better.

Tobias Harris has been the Pistons most consistent scorer but does his best work outside the perimeters of SVG’s set plays (same goes for Ish Smith).

Marcus Morris’ contract and his part time leadership role are his best attributes. The stretches of cold shooting - especially the long twos - leave a lot to be desired.

Stanley Johnson is continuing to develop and like most young small forwards, the ebbs and flows of that development are consistently an issue.

Jon Leuer could be rotational player for a good team if he could tag out on defense but that’s another discussion.

Do these pieces fit?

Below is a compilation of Detroit’s schemes and the accompanying options that come with each. All season, the halfcourt offense was handcuffed by their inability to shoot the ball and properly space the floor and anytime they were met with adversity the Pistons caved.

“It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes” is an answer that can buy time but ultimately, it has a short shelf life. Moving forward, Stan Van Gundy must do a better job of putting his players in a position to succeed.


(NBA verbiage is pretty universal as horns, floppy and PNR are easily heard around any team huddle. Since SVG won’t return my calls, any proprietary language he uses has been filled in.)

High pick and roll

No smoke and mirrors here, the high pick and roll is a staple of all teams, especially Detroit. Per Synergy, nearly 21 percent of all Detroit possessions end (shot, turnover, free throws) via the PNR.

The evolution of this play is dependent on Andre Drummond making the correct read:


Staggered screen

The best staggered screens are those involving a rim runner and shooter setting the screens. Bonus points if they’re interchangeable - which Detroit does not have.


Double screen for lead guard

The double screen gives the point guard a directional option and again, it’s best used with a rim runner and shooter.

Ball reversal four

Jackson/Smith reverse the ball and then head to the opposite (from the ball) corner to open space. Read and react as there are multiple hand-off and PNR opportunities.


1-4 hand-off

Top of the key hand-off setting up PNR / pick and pop.



Triangle-esque. Point guard and Marcus Morris (Tobias Harris too) play two man game on strong side; weakside includes big (Drummond/Baynes/Boban) for ball reversal or an evolved PNR.


PG wing hand-off

Wing hand-off morphing into high PNR.


Pistons sure do love their Horns set - point guard at the top of the key, bigs on the elbows and shooters in the corners.

As the ball is entered to the elbow, Jackson/Smith screen for the corner shooter. If the elbow big includes Harris, an elbow PNR is in play.

Horns 4(5)

Per Synergy, Harris as the ball handler in a PNR scores 1.023 PPP which, in short, is awesome.

Horns 45 mix

Mis-direction to begin the action as Baynes/Drummond screens for Harris/Leuer. Read and react include: hand-off to corner shooter, PNR and isolation.

Horns 3

Horns action to set up a three pointer.


Ram screen

Screen the screener. The goal is to get the defender out of position (or chasing) before the real screen takes place.



Another league-wide favorite. Shooter roams baseline and collects off ball screens.


5 hand-off

Top-of-the-key hand-off from big to corner shooter - opens up the post, a rolling big and a three point attempt among other read and react options.


2 off ball

A Pistons specialty of late. Corner shooter comes off an off ball screen. Options to drive, shoot or drive and dish exist.


Iso Morris/Harris

When the Pistons are in need of a bucket or at the end of the quarter, they turn to isolation Morris/Harris. This is done by PNR in hopes the defense will switch; if not, it becomes a simple clear out. The other iso option is via the post.


And finally....

No chance 0

When the Pistons are looking to not score, they will dump in down to Andre Drummond in the post for his No Chance hook-shot:

Per Synergy, Drummond’s .735 PPP on post-ups is good enough to keep the opponent in the game.

And if that doesn’t do the trick.....

Little hope 1

If Detroit is dead set on keeping the game close or even losing, they will give the rock to Reggie Jackson and turn him loose:


These cherry-picked plays make the Pistons look unstoppable! If only it were that easy.

This core was built around the idea that Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond would run opponents into the ground with the PNR while everyone else feasted off the collapsing and helping defense. Jackson’s inability to finish in the paint not only hurt his production but reduced opportunities for his teammates as well.

Lots of questions. What’s the plan, Stan?