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The Close Out: Detroit’s season is slipping away

The losing streak hits eight, and Detroit will try to regroup during an upcoming homestand.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It was a rough week on and off the court, as Andre Drummond was denied a second All-Star Game appearance, Stan Van Gundy’s job security was debated and the Pistons are now the not-so-proud owners of an eight game losing streak.

Let’s quickly address all three.

Andre Drummond should’ve replaced...

At 27-22, the Washington Wizards are under-performing by most objective standards, yet they have two All-Stars in Bradley Beal and John Wall. With a scoring average north of 23 points per game and career highs in assists and rebounds, Beal is a no-brainer.

Wall? Not so much.

John Wall has seen his scoring average dip by four points this year compared to last while shooting a career low (after rookie year) field goal percentage of .417 (advanced shooting percentages paint a similar picture) and has already missed 12 games.

Sorry not sorry but he’s got to go.


I’m on Team Don’t Fire SVG.


If for no other reason, what or who the hell else is out there? It’s a question 97.1’s Mike Valenti failed to answer in his Pistons diatribe and at this point, the correct answer is: no one that is a clear upgrade.

The only thing more predictable than the content of a Valenti “rant” is the ending to any sappy Rom-Com. Just as opposites always seem to attract by the end of fill-in-the-blank Rom-Com, Valenti’s rants always end with firing everyone and are filled with dramatic pauses. He’s a very talented sports personality but his shtick is way too shticky for my palate.

0-8: Not so great

Detroit’s last W came on January 10th in Brooklyn. The Pistons, now four games under .500, will have a chance to get back on track with a flood of home games during the upcoming weeks.

Does anyone think they’ll right the ship? Does it matter?

Below, I intentionally forgo the “positives” of the week while taking a look at the disadvantages of an aggressive PNR-defending-Drummond, exploring the lack of a certain Hoops 101 trait in Detroit, and I retire a handful of 2017-18 Close Out red-panda-worthy themes. You won’t see ‘em here again.

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.

Stan Van Gundy has noted the Pistons intend to increase the workload for rookie Luke Kennard. Doing so means more plays designed solely for Kennard as the first option - like this floppy look, which has usually gone to Avery Bradley or Reggie Bullock:

Or this Iverson cut:

As Stanley Johnson clears out of the eventual strong-side-corner, the play generates an isolation situation for Kennard.

Lastly, this Snap Thru pin down (gotta finish, though):

Rejecting the hand-off is something he maybe stole from Avery Bradley:

Which would double the list of Bradley positives to two.

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.


It hovered around 50 degrees in metro Detroit this weekend. While no one is going to mistake the balmy overcast for a tropical paradise, 50 degrees in January is something I’ll gladly accept.

Other than that, though, I’ve got nothing.


Winning time

Detroit led Utah by nine points with 3:16 remaining in the game while at home and on two full days’ rest.

They lost in overtime.

Ideally, this is “Reggie Jackson time” but Detroit remains painfully closer-less and instead, the final five field goal attempts were Bradley, Smith, Smith, Johnson, and Kennard:

Good grief. A murderers’ row of bucket-getting this is not.

In the Cleveland loss, a Stanley Johnson jump shot made the score 98-97 with roughly 6:20 remaining in the game. The Pistons finished the quarter with 2-of-12 shooting and a 121-104 final score.

Believe it or not, Detroit actually thrived in the fourth quarter earlier this season but the team’s lack of a Mariano Rivera has become too much to overcome. Hell, at this point, I’d be OK with Todd Jones taking the last shot, because the Pistons have no one to slam the door shut when it’s time to win the game.

(“Detroit has no closer” talk is now formally shut down for the season)

All turnovers are not equal

Turnovers are the root of all basketball evil - they put coaches in therapy faster than any other component of the game. At any given moment in the world, there are thousands of coaches watching film while muttering to themselves with a look of equal parts disgust and agony written all over their face.

One of Stan Van Gundy’s undeniable points of emphasis is taking care of the ball at all costs, but this past week saw a different story play out.

Against the Jazz, Detroit turned the ball over 20 (!) times. They gave it away 17 times in the Oklahoma City loss, then finally got back on track against Cleveland with only six (five by Smith) giveaways.

All turnovers aren’t created equal, though.

I can quickly look past a “right decision with poor execution” type of giveaway much faster than a room temperature basketball IQ turnover. Below are two examples of the “right” play turned bad:

  1. A hustling Drummond had Mitchell completely sealed, but Stanley Johnson decided to thread the needle instead of an easy lob.
  2. Another lost opportunity on the seal, as Boban cleared space but Tolliver’s pass was nowhere near where it should be.

The thought process was correct but the action was clearly flawed. Ok, teaching moment I guess.

But this shit? This shit below makes all throwable objects in and around me a fastball aimed at the TV:

When my poor dog sees his toys flung at warp speed, he knows either the Pistons just did something profoundly dumb or I found his new peeing-in-the-house spot.

Alexa, what is a re-screen?

I’ve casually mentioned it in prior Close Outs but maybe I need to formally introduce the Pistons to the re-screen.

Detroit, this is re-screen; re-screen, meet Detroit:

As we all know, defenses tailor their game plan to be player-specific. In a pick-and-roll, you don’t treat a ball-handler capable of shooting equally to non-shooters. Dwyane Wade has been a member of Team Go Under The Screen for his entire career, and above is no different. As Atlanta’s Isaiah Taylor goes under Channing Frye’s initial screen, Fry immediately hits him with another.

A prompt re-screen on a going under on-ball handler is about as universal and automatic as it gets in the basketball world. Doing so means the ball-handler inches closer to the basket and more importantly, it forces the defense to communicate at an alarmingly high rate. The more times you demand the defense to verbalize, the more it increases the chance of them screwing up.

Wade, Rajon Rondo, Elfrid Payton, anyone who played in the 80’s, these are all examples of guys who benefit from re-screens. Can you think of any non-shooting ball-handlers on Detroit who would benefit from a re-screen? Hmmmmmm:

Like slipping the off-ball switch that I’ve desperately cried about, the re-screen is another way to generate good looks without changing the fundamental principles of the offense. I’ve given up on the slip, so can I get just one re-screen before the season is over?

(“Slipping the off-ball switch” is now formally shut down for the season)

Backfiring defensive strategies

Andre Drummond has destroyed pick-and-rolls at times this year, and while it’s on him to continue to hold up his end of the defensive bargain, it’s on his teammates to do their part.

Below, as Dre begins to shade to the screened side, Utah’s Joe Ingles rejects the screen and makes Luke Kennard pay for not forcing him to use it:

In a drop coverage, Drummond would be patiently waiting in the paint to deter penetration, but in a show, he's absorbed different responsibilities. As of writing, scientists have not figured out how to be at two places simultaneously.

Similarly, if Drummond allows the ball-handler to split the defense, there is no one of consequence at the rim:

Both Mitchell and Gobert are open post-PNR in the first clip, which may be a basketball first.

Below, the Jazz hit the Pistons with a well-designed pick-and-roll that left a showing Dre scrambling and led to Avery Bradley getting backdoor’d:

As Drummond begins to defend the Rubio-led PNR, the ball — and action —quickly changes course. It’s like a wide receiver reverse taking advantage of the defensive end who didn’t stay home.

(”Complaints about Avery Bradley’s off-ball defense” is now formally shut down for the season)

In Cleveland, Drummond outright switched on some PNR’s, but the help was slow to rotate:

Against Houston, SVG lined up Ish Smith with Trevor Ariza, and the decision passed with flying colors. Ariza is out of his comfort zone initiating offense from the height mismatch, and would much rather hang out in the corner or slash to the hoop:

In the loss to OKC, Smith was asked to check Russell Westbrook on a handful of occasions.

Westbrook is not Ariza:

Smith logged nearly 35 minutes in the loss, which inevitably means he’s going to share the floor with Westbrook. There must be a better option on the roster, because all of Smith’s fast-twitch defining traits are useless against Westbrook. The reigning MVP is faster and twitchier.

Boban v defending the PNR

I mean, we know how this ends, right?

Marjanovic can score at will, but his overall impact remains a net negative.

(*Boban’s defense of the PNR is now formally shut down for the season)

Defending the BLOB

The Pistons give up 1.033 PPP in defending a dead-ball baseline play, which ranks No. 27 in the league.

The blame on these two? I’m unceremoniously giving it to Drummond:

First, by Johnson’s funneling defensive stance, he’s clearly expecting help from his rim protector, but it never comes. Next, Dre again offers no help on a simple cross screen.

Defending the long ball

As the season wears on, Detroit’s ability to defend the three-point line continues to go south. In the Utah loss, the Jazz connected on ten three-pointers with eight of those coming directly in semi-transition or via Rudy Gobert gravity:

Defending gravity and semi-transition three-point looks also played a part in Cleveland’s 15-for-35 shooting beyond the arc:

(Opponent three-pointers made is now formally shut down for the season)

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.



Donovan Mitchell shoots this ball 99/100:

If that was Harris and Johnson’s plausible mindset, one of them should’ve started the unenviable task of boxing out Gobert. Instead, neither Close Out (Roll Credits *ding*) on Mitchell and neither even acknowledge the presence of the 7-foot-1 Stifle Tower. Which is odd - he’s kinda hard to miss.

You know who hates perceived laziness? Everyone.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

Detroit is home all week hosting Cleveland, the Memphis Grizzlies, and Miami Heat.

The Grizzlies are ripe with injuries including Mike Conley being out for the year with a bone protrusion in his left heel. Add the fact in which Memphis will be on the second night of a back-to-back while visiting Detroit and the outlook looks positive.

The other two games are not favorable. Cleveland wiped the floor with the Pistons in their first trip to Detroit earlier in the year, and Miami has shot up the EC standings and is arguably a better road than home team.

The Pistons will be home for nine out of their next ten games with the only road trip to Atlanta on February 11. If they’re going to right the ship, it’s going to happen over the next three weeks.

Clearly, that’s a big “if,” and “right the ship” is open for interpretation, but despite the recent shitty play, the postseason is still a viable option. Postseason play is something I’m wholeheartedly rooting for, as long as we don’t use future assets at or before the trade deadline to get there.

We’ll see.

Catch ya next Monday.