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The Close Out: Bitter last minute losses lowlight Detroit’s week

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Two heartbreaking defeats could’ve been avoided had the Pistons zigged when they should’ve zagged.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Brooklyn Nets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit goes 1-2 in week 13 with heartbreaking losses at New Orleans and Chicago sandwiching a blowout win in Brooklyn. On the season, the Pistons sit at 22-19 and are officially halfway through the 2017-18 season.

Some forgettable Ls mixed in with a handful of memorable wins at the turn but all in all, this is probably where a majority of fans and media-types had the Pistons, right?

Below, I’ll rehash the end of the Pelicans and Bulls game to see where they went wrong, check in on Andre Drummond the “playmaker” and Stan Van Gundy’s assistants get a boisterous earful.

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.

Detroit made a concerted effort to run the logo pick-and-roll in New Orleans:

It’s a “logo” PNR because of where it takes place on the floor and can be initiated directly on the logo or from the corner.

With his feet facing the opposite baseline, Boban Marjanovic examples a flat screen:

Typically, the Pistons use this type of screen in their Snap series and not so much in open space like depicted above. It’s basketball hell for an on-ball defender because the screener is completely out of sight and the slightest delay of defensive communication results in a blindsided collision - kinda like how the superior Lopez flipped and took out Tobais Harris here.

We’ve witnessed a starting-in-the-corner Avery Bradley collect staggered screens a million times this season but below is wrinkle yet to be highlighted:

Jaw-dropping Xs and Os? No but it doesn’t need to be. Putting new looks on film means one more variable defense must take into account.

Anyone catch Zack LaVine’s first bucket of the season? If not, here it is:

At the very least it should look familiar as the identical play was a Close Out focus last week. Not so much fun being on the side, huh Reggie Bullock?

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

Two weeks ago, I asked Drummond to start coming down with alley-oop passes that were way too damn difficult to finish - like these.

Progress!

Hell, most of the time, Andre Drummond is the only one rushing Andre Drummond. Below, he has time to miss the initial lob and still go back up:

Until they start awarding degree of difficulty points, coming down under control makes the most sense. When Dre snarls lofty oop passes and gathers himself before going back up strong, usually the worst thing happening is a foul. Foul > lost opportunity.

Cool (off) hand Luke:

Forget food, the quickest way to my heart is a dangerous off-hand. If I could find an ambidextrous girl, I’d pop the question today. But alas...

(get your mind out of the gutter, Sauce)

The Golden Globes were last week but don’t tell that to Detroit. Below, three Pistons set up a bucket with Best Performance in a Basketball Game style acting:

  1. Ish Smith passes and instead of picking away, darts to the hoop.
  2. See description 1 for Reggie Bullock.
  3. Finally, Anthony Tolliver insinuates a screen is on its way and a rusty LaVine gets backdoor’d.

The screen feint is an art form in and of itself - you must sell it hard! Resourcefully engineered layups are for closers.

Way back in November —when we were all still getting use to Drummond’s new role in the offense— I made the case Dre is still NOT a point-center despite what the box score might strongly indicate.

I stand by it (not to mention these are still considered assists; there is zero consistency with this topic and it drives a certain blogger crazy).

The offense lends itself for bigs to amass assists by simply making the correct pass. Eric Moreland had five assists in the Chicago loss and both he and Boban are over three assists per-36 (Dre is at 4.1). So do we have three point-centers?! No.

However, two things are trending upwards as Drummond continues to get cozy at the top of the key.

First, he’s seeing things in real time and responding accordingly. Below, the Pelicans off-ball switch as Kennard is set to accept the hand-off and instead of forcing the DHO (which he was prone to do earlier in the season) he pulls the ball back like an option quarterback reading a defensive end:

Boring? Yes but minutia matters.

One of my loudest bullet points back in November against the point-center title included that Dre wasn’t making plays for others, rather he was just taking what the defense gives him.

It leads me to the second part:

Above is an example of Drummond creating space by absorbing defensive eyeballs which leaves Harris wide open. Or, in one word, “playmaking”.

As a team, Detroit averages .791 PPP in a hand-off playtype and is heavily influenced by Avery Bradley’s .754 PPP in a DHO. Where the team and Bradley shined all season is within the spot-up:

Bradley hit six triples against Chicago and all of them were spot-ups. On the year, Detroit logs 1.076 PPP and Bradley 1.206 PPP in these scenarios.

Losing a winnable Chicago game sucked (for a lack of better words) but other than the obvious “it shouldn’t have come down to the last play” beef, I really don’t mind how the Pistons ended the game:

I would’ve flung my shoe at the TV had Detroit wasted time trying to steal the ball only to end up intentionally fouling but they didn’t. The Pistons earned the stop and looked to tie the game but Bullock missed the bunny. Shit happens.

Extra credit:

Rajon Rondo is still a fun watch: two incredible skip passes, screens his own helping-man to free up Boogie, high IQ switch here).

Negative

Nice shot, Tobias:

What’s the deal? How are you going to knit-pick this downtown bucket?

Since you asked - after the shot, you’ll notice Pelicans’ forward and certified Pistons’ headache Anthony Davis leak out towards the opposite direction and it wasn’t a one time deal. In fact, Davis scored eight of his team high 30 points in this exact same sequence, and, when he left the game with an ankle sprain, DeMarcus Cousins followed suit:

After a make (inexcusable) or miss, Davis and then Boogie burned the Pistons on no less than five possessions. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Pistons yielded a defensive rating of 137.5 per 100 live-ball Pelicans’ rebounding possessions which is super specific but super shitty.

When it wasn’t the bigs, it was Rajon Rondo effortlessly knifing his way to the basket:

Boys, this is unacceptable.

Blame game? This one is on Stan Van Gundy’s assistants. At some point, one them must put down their Men’s Warehouse catalog, tap SVG on the shoulder and say something along the lines of “Hey boss, we need a stronger focus on getting back on defense.”

Noticing this type of in-game sequences and acting on it is firmly in the job description of an Assistant Basketball Coach, especially in the NBA.

On a scale of 1 to Tim Hardaway Sr.’s retired Heat number, this is minor only because Detroit is typically diligent in their hurried retreat but you would’ve never known watching the New Orleans game.

Last week, we discussed the problems the Pistons face when they show hard on a PNR. Below is the perfect example of hedging before the screen has been set:

With the screen being set so high, smart screen-setters simply slip which leads to a four-on-three. Both Tobias Harris and Anthony Tolliver must force the screen to actually be set before making the jump.

Late in the Chicago loss, Kris Dunn was allowed to turn the corner before his man could recover:

Darn near impossible to defend a ball-handler heading down hill at full speed.

As noted above, possessions ending in Bradley hand-offs don’t end well for Detroit. Below is peek into the outcomes of the DHO in which Bradley settles for a jumper compared to when he aggressively drives against New Orleans:

Notice a difference?

He fancies himself a shooter and while it’s going to be hard for Bradley to completely change his stripes, a better mix of drives and jump shots would do wonders.

Taking the ball to the hoop with bad (in a good way) intentions also gives the best offensive rebounder in the galaxy the go-ahead to hit the boards:

Certainly not every time but Drummond is more apt to hit the glass when Bradley drives.

Like the Chicago game, Stan Van Gundy had a chance to call a timeout and setup an opportunity to tie the game late in the Pelicans loss. I’m glad he didn’t, let them play! But for this look:

Ugh.

But the worst decision was yet to come. Down three with the ball on the sideline:

Puke. Two non-shooters in the play while New Orleans didn’t even bother covering the cliched “most dangerous man in an out-of-bounds play”. This is hardly the work of, like, a very stable genius. Sorry Stan, I can’t pawn it off on an assistant, that’s on you.

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

It’s a severe violation of Rule six, Chapter twelve, Verse eight of my Pistons offensive rulebook - “Moreland, Eric is never to put the ball on the ground” but it magically worked:

Bobby Portis showed his hedging cards too early and Moreland slipped the screen while finishing the play. Color me pleasantly surprised.

LOW

Both the Pistons and Bulls give us an example of whatever the opposite of textbook fast break is called. In a Close Out first, both teams are awarded the “low”:

Congrats?!

Obviously cherry-picked but the best basketball era? Insert eye roll.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

At home against Charlotte (noon-thirty tip time, not sure I like it - check that, I know I don’t like it).

On the road in Toronto.

Home against Washington and Brooklyn.

First four-game week in a while and with the brightest highlighter I found find, I’ve circled the Raptors game. That, my DBB friends, should be a fun one.

It’ll be interesting to see how Stan Van Gundy handles the ESPN media after issuing warnings he might not comply with their insight access (I get that Lavar Ball generates clicks but I’m with Van Gundy).

Charlotte and Brooklyn at home are very winnable. 3-1 should be the goal with an even Steven 2-2 being the worst case aftermath.

In honor of Detroit starting the second half of the season, next week’s Close Out will be a culmination of what we’ve learned so far. And, yes, there will be a test.