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Pistons High / Low: The reoccurring themes that came to define the Detroit Pistons

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Film don’t lie.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

With the announcement of Stan Van Gundy’s decision to throw in the towel on the 2016-17 season, the underwhelming year is all but over. While there were certainly a handful of Highs, it wasn’t enough to out-weigh the laundry list of Lows.

Below is list of my favorite reoccurring themes which detailed this depressing Pistons team. I’m going to ask for your favorite ups and downs so mentally prepare yourself to answer.

To the tape!

High

What was your reaction when the Pistons inked Ish Smith to a three-year, $18 million deal last July? If I had to guess, I’d say somewhere between: Who? and Who cares?

Has the feeling changed at all?

Smith signed the deal with the assumption he’d be a change-of-pace backup to Reggie Jackson. Plans changed when Jackson went under the knife in September to try and fix a recurrence of knee tendonitis.

With Smith as a starter, the Pistons owned an 11-10 record. Considering how much the team was built around Jackson’s skillset, hovering around .500 should be viewed as a win.

Ish Smith’s 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in the Pistons’ comeback win on the road against Toronto highlighted his ability to make an (otherwise toothless) offense hum.

An Ish Smith block became a staple of High / Low:

As did his propensity to get into the paint:

Smith has clear limitations and a full-time starting point guard he is not, but he is a pretty darn good backup.

****

Throughout the season as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continued to expand his ball handling duties and he developed some nice chemistry with Andre Drummond:

KCP aslo improved his efficiency as a scorer in the pick-and-roll and in spot-up opportunities.

Per Synergy:

PPP as the ball handler in the PNR
2015-2016: .823
2016-2017: .893

PPP as a spot-up shooter
2015-2016: .899
2016-2017: .974

The neverending debate of KCP’s worth will certainly rage on into the summer, but the guy continues to get better with each off-season and he hit some mighty big shots:

At Toronto:

At Portland:

Against Charlotte:

****

Tobias Harris, whether coming off the bench or in a starting role, proved to be Pistons’ most consistent offensive threat.

Taking advantage of smaller defenders:

On the drive:

And beyond the arc:

When Stan Van Gundy made the decision to move Harris to the bench, the dynamics of his choice were completely different than the Jackson benching.

Harris was contributing in a positive way and SVG was trying to determine how to best use Harris while Jackson’s removal from the starting lineup was a clear demotion.

Still just 24 years old, Harris draws a lukewarm response from the national media and I’m not sure why. Sure, there are facets to his game that could use some fixin’, but on an offensively challenged Pistons team, Harris should have a spot moving forward.

****

I can’t think of one singular action that grabs my attention more than Andre Drummond making the correct pass out of the pick-and-roll:

Whether the shot goes in or misses isn’t the point:

It’s all about Dre making the right pass at the right time.

If this becomes second nature and not a predetermined decision on Drummond’s part, such a simple pass unleashes a whole new set of variables the defense must account for. Of course, eventually it will matter if the shot goes in.

****

Aron Baynes does the little things well.

Verticality:

Holds his own on any mismatch:

Someone from the loyal DBB community mentioned this in the comment section a while back and since then, I’ve noticed it a couple dozen times - he gets in the way:

It was a great observation (kudos to whoever that was).

Although I would hate to see him go, Baynes, if you’re reading this, feel free to list me on your resume for a positive reference.

****

Honorable mention:

The Jon Leuer cut. Leuer always got open to help out a stuck teammate.

Following Ish Smith on his way to the hoop. Want an easy bucket? Follow Smith on his way to the hoop, it’s probably coming off.

Boban! We saw a career game just recently in Houston but he was properly introduced earlier in the season against Charlotte.

****

Low

I might run out of space.

Andre Drummond’s defense, like, all of it.

Defending the pick-in-roll:

Awareness:

Boxing out:

Physicality:

The gamble:

The close out:

Any Dre-inspired double team:

If you’re tuning in for the first time, Drummond is a helluva rebounder but average or below average with every other defensive bullet point. These traits didn’t just pop up this year, it’s been a struggle throughout his career which should raise eyebrows.

When I read Zach Lowe’s piece on the Pistons from earlier this year, it mentioned: “The Pistons spent training camp testing a more aggressive defense, and Drummond blew away the coaching staff with his speed and footwork. Once the season started, Drummond sank closer to the rim.”

Wait, what?

Did Drummond simply veto this strategy on his own? Or was he simply afraid of getting torched when the cameras were on, and didn’t trust himself to be as aggressive? Either answer is troubling.

The frustrating part remains the glimpses of defensive dominance showing up on occasion and then disappearing for random possessions, quarters and games at a time.

Marc Stein, care to comment?

****

The Pistons defensive woes were not all on Drummond despite the painted picture above. There were many times Dre did his job but no one helped the helper:

All year the Pistons lacked sufficient communication and rotational help.

But hey, they had a good Defensive Rating.

****

The Pistons fastbreak was always an adventure:

And everyone pitched in:

Johnson, Stanley:

These are easy points turned sideways. Both Jackson and Smith are a threat (don’t laugh) to pass or score on the break but Johnson is most effective when he is looking to score. The playmaking will become easier with each Johnson score so lets get that down first.

****

Reggie Jackson’s defense was poor all year. He’s hurt, I know, but that excuse only goes so far. On the professional level, if you’re on the floor, your performance is going to be judged and scrutinized by mophatt1. If you, as a player, wish to critique my use of the home row or poor grammar, it’s fair game.

This should be shown to all levels of basketball of proper turnstyle defense.

Jackson must’ve had the over.

Transition defense:

PNR defense:

Going under the screen? Really?

But over the screen 40 feet from the hoop:

If he was hurt, he shouldn’t be out there. Can’t hide behind an injury.

****

Andre Drummond is a mountain of a man yet lacks a “go-to” move to finish off smaller defenders:

Against point guards:

If there is a mouse in the house, Drummond must finish the play.

Honorable mention

Long twos - Long twos, contested twos, early-in-the-shot clock tough twos, foot-on-the-line twos, any time Dre tried a non-dunk twos and no-pass-possession-step-back from Jackson twos. Am I crazy or is that a lot of shitty twos?

I give you the Detroit Pistons’ offense.

Tim Hardaway’s oversized and/or ugly suit collection - I’ll never figure out why 90s hoopsters can’t hire a tailor.

Drummond’s post game - Like, all of it.

****

That’s a wrap.

Please add your own High/Low theme in the comments section.