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The Close Out: Pistons winning with league leftovers

Detroit—already down Avery Bradley—lost Reggie Jackson this week but borderline journeymen are saving the day (season?).

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

What a ridiculous week to digest.

Detroit wins at home against Indiana and San Antonio while dropping a head-scratcher on the road in Orlando. The Pistons sit at 20-15 with five of their next six games on the road.

DBB posted two stories last week that—if you’re reading this—you probably lended your opinion to. Both pieces compiled lots of emotion, speculation and some really thought provoking takes.

Now, I’ll let you in on the correct opinion ;)

First, Justin Lambregste diagnosed Reggie Jackson’s latest setback as the end of Jackson’s run in Detroit. As the OG of such an idea, I agree with Justin but it has little to do with the ankle injury.

To me, labeling Jackson’s “end of an era” doesn’t literally mean Tom Gores ceases to sign his checks. We all know Jackson’s still under contract, he’s still number one in the program and even being out a minimum of two months, he still could impact this season.

The phrase “end of an era” means we tried but you’re not the answer. Once you’re not part of tomorrow, your today is minimized in importance.

So while he’s part of the 2017-18 core, the sentiment doesn’t hold moving forward. If/when the Pistons become a legit championship contender (which is their stated goal), can you envision a Pistons universe in which Jackson is in the team picture?

Me neither.

In fact, a stronger case could be made for every rotational player currently in Detroit owning a higher Pistons’ future ceiling than Jackson in regards to helping (or at least being on) the squad get back to the ECF and beyond.

Next was a story nobody wanted to hear. TMZ reported Avery Bradley agreed to a financial settlement with a woman accusing him of sexual assault last May.

What we don’t know are exact details. What we do know is how this will be viewed in the court of public opinion - and it’s not good for Bradley.

Anytime there is “financial agreement” between two parties, the accused usually loses the option to deny charges to the public. It’s assumed—right or wrong—Bradley is guilty of something but to what degree? We have no idea.

Other than the victim (be it Bradley or the accuser), an additional loser—to a much lesser extent, of course— of such a public event is the fan.

I, especially while reluctantly getting older, have little patience for shitheads and have no interest in rooting for them. At this point, though, we don’t know who the shithead is in this case.

During the rare occasion Bradley actually speaks, he says the right things and genuinely seems like a good dude. I’m really hoping he’s not full of shit but it’s impossible to not be a tad pessimistic when it comes to the actions of public figures.

For now, it’s wait and see.

Below, we’ll get into actual Pistons’ on-court action including the strong play of blue collar players Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith and Anthony Tolliver; I explain why Andre Drummond had his most impactful game of the year without mentioning the words “rebound” or “points”; and explore how the Pistons plan on staying afloat without the services of Reggie Jackson.

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.

Even though we all firmly agree the Jackson era is over in Detroit, it’s not to say his skill set isn’t effective. The biggest difference from last year’s forgettable Jackson compared to this year’s useful Jackson was his decision making when penetrating.

The Pistons are clicking on all cylinders when Jackson is driving, Drummond is rolling (or dishing) and spot-up shooters are shooting (and making). Jackson picked his spots carefully and patiently this year (at least more so) and deferred a shot at the right time.

New starter Ish Smith must continue to make these types of decisions while still being true to his game.

Smith probes the defense better than any back-up point guard you can name and probably better than half of the league’s starters. His never ending puppy-energy led to Pau Gasol unaware if he was coming or going at the end of this play:

Replacing Jackson’s scoring will be a team effort (although Ish certainly isn’t shy on shooting) with Tobias Harris leading the way. In Detroit’s first game completely without RJax, Harris engineered looks from a healthy mix of play types:

I’d love to see Harris involved in more PNRs whether he’s leading them or the screen setter. Detroit has gone away from either look as the season has gone on.

As the Pistons continue to put more of their offense on film, teams have a chance to better prepare for Detroit’s shift in offensive philosophy. No one’s role changed more than Drummond and he must continue to evolve.

Part of that evolution is reading defenses as a facilitator. We’ve witnessed this sequence multiple times over the first 35 games....but—proven below— so has everyone else:

Like a high-end quarterback, Dre’s must know not only where the cornerback is but also the location of the safety as well. Look, I didn’t think he’d be this efficient in his new role and it would be dumb of me to assume he can’t adjust accordingly.

Teams feel comfortable jumping Detroit’s routes:

Above, the defense switches off-ball onto Bullock (vs. ORL) and Luke Kennard (vs. SA) who both are receiving pin down screens. The switch creates a lane to the hoop for Stanley Johnson (ORL) and Harris (SA) to cut but neither take advantage.

Teams who off-ball switch must pay a price. You know who is awesome at this identical strategy? The Golden State Warriors (seen here).

Who would’ve thought?

To stay above water sans Jackson, Detroit’s starters only need to tweak their current on-court behavior. Count me out for making a move via a trade. The starting unit will be just fine. The real problem arises with the second unit and hopefully after next week, they’ll have painted a clearer picture on where they stand in that exact department.

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.


All last year I (and probably you) begged for Andre Drummond to be more active on defense— most notably in the PNR. His play against the Spurs is the exact reason why it’s so crucial to have a mobile and alert Dre in a Detroit jersey:

None of the above plays get off the ground with a going-through-the-motions-Drummond or a sagging PNR Drummond. He has all the defensive tools to suffocate a pick-and-roll and when applied, the Pistons defense goes into another gear. Drummond sniffed out Spurs’ action on multiple possessions and dominated the game without touching the ball.

Spurs’ stars Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge shot a combined 10-for-25 in Detroit’s win thanks in large part to Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver’s physical defense and timely help from friends (including an attentive Drummond).

Tolliver bumped LMA out of his comfort zone while Pistons swarmed to help when needed:

Bullock forced Leonard into tough shots and directed him towards familiar faces:

Great stuff.

The Pistons continue to be one of the better teams in the league when it comes to pushing the ball after gaining possession from a defensive rebound or steal/block:

This stems directly from Stan Van Gundy. I can hear him loud and clear from my couch in Clawson imploring the team to push the ball. Even if it doesn’t directly translate into a Pistons’ bucket, it makes the defense retreat in a hurry.

A couple wrongs righted for you below.

Ish Smith can’t let bigs off the hook with a jump shot when they switch onto him. More of the latter, please:

Like offense, proper defense requires specific spacing and player placement. In an ICE pick-and-roll defense (force baseline, keep out of middle), it’s imperative for the weakside defender guarding the opposite slot to be at or near the nail (middle of the free throw line). Below, Jackson demonstrates poor help while Kennard executes:


Some of the below alley-oops are truly hard to finalize as the degree of difficulty is awfully high:

But no extra points are rewarded for tough attempts. Instead, on some of these, I’d rather see Drummond come down with the ball and gather himself before going back up strong.

Nothing grinds my gears harder than giving up a good look immediately following a dead ball:

Communication should be high and loud during a dead ball. Well, ideally at least.

Speaking of communication, flipping the pick calls for gossiping thirteen-year-old-girls amount of communication from the defense if there is any chance of navigating through it. Against the Pacers, it didn’t happen:

I think of Stanley Johnson every time this happens:

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.


Watch the gravity Anthony Tolliver creates from slipping the screen with a purpose:

The space Kennard needed to get the shot off wouldn’t exist if Tolliver casually jogged to the hoop.


The Kennard-Moreland PNR needs some polish:

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

At Miami and Philadelphia; home against Houston.

Not easy. I can see every scenario except 3-0 being a viable outcome.

I’ll be watching the rotation and playing time of the second unit. Dwight Buycks didn’t completely shit the bed in his first action as primary backup but clearly he still needs to prove himself. I would think any second-unit stretch hurting to put the ball in the basket would mean releasing The Boban but what do I know?

Oh yeah, Happy New Year!