When Reggie Jackson went down to a sprained ankle and looked to be out for extended time, we knew the Pistons would be in trouble in the fourth quarter. It’s been as bad as expected.
Since Jackson’s injury, the Pistons are averaging the second fewest fourth quarter points per game, second lowest true shooting percentage, and third worst offensive rating. The Pistons are 4-12 without Jackson and this right here is the biggest reason why. They can’t score in the fourth quarter.
Jackson has always been the player the team could go to when the offense dries up in the fourth quarter. With him out, the Pistons have been clueless team without an identity in the fourth.
Tobias Harris was excellent, but he wasn’t a guy who can carry the offense by himself. Neither is Blake Griffin.
Here’s the team’s players fourth quarter numbers since Jackson went down. Avery Bradley has led the team in shot attempts in the fourth quarter since Jackson went down, and you can guess how those numbers look. Adios Avery. Drummond has also struggled though, shooting just 42 percent from the field.
Outside of Harris, Stanley Johnson is really the only player contributing much offensively. And when you’re leaning on Johnson’s offensive contributions, that’s a precarious spot.
Those are the numbers, but the eye test in the fourth nods right along.
As the game slows down and half court offenses take over, the Pistons just don’t have enough options. Ideally, Griffin gets all of the shots. But it doesn’t always work that way on a practical level.
Harris was a savvy offensive player in that he’s able to score in a variety of ways, but it usually comes in the flow of the offense rather than the hero ball style that Jackson offered. As annoying as that hero ball gets at times, having a guy who can score without being set up can be helpful.
Griffin is better able to do that than Harris. But he’s never been The Man down the stretch, having Chris Paul and Lou Williams around to help. Help would be nice.
Here’s what his help has looked like.
It’s a whole bunch of ugly offense.
To talk about the playoffs coming off of an eight game losing streak begs for the Jim Mora playoffs clip, so we can preface with that.
Ok, with that out of the way, the Pistons aren’t making the playoffs without figuring out their fourth quarter offense.
And yeah, it does feel silly talking about the playoffs with how many losses have piled up over the past 16 games. But it’s not really that silly. This team has one clear problem. It was the key factor in losses to Orlando, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, Toronto, Utah, and Cleveland. That’s seven losses that very well could have been wins were it not for this one factor. If they can solve it, they’re immediately competitive again.
The solution is probably going to require Ish Smith not being expected to be on the floor as the game winds down. So that means that remaining trade options would likely need to focus on point guards.
Kemba Walker has been tied to the Pistons, though he wouldn’t come cheap. Walker has been just mediocre this season in the fourth, but is typically outstanding in the final period. Last season he was eighth in the league in fourth quarter points with nearly 60 percent true shooting percentage.
Like Jackson, Walker is great at creating his own look and operates well in the pick and roll - so he’d essentially give the Pistons exactly what they need. It’s not too difficult to see Kemba doing this in a Pistons uniform:
The other point guard on the block could be a surprisingly good solution as well. George Hill has been quite effective in the fourth quarter, even in a crummy current situation in Sacramento. He’s currently shooting 47 percent from the field and 45 percent from three in the fourth quarter, and last season showed that he was capable of carrying a heavier load late in the game.
Hill lacks the same ability to create his own shot, so the fit isn’t quite as natural as Walker. But if you lament the hero ball style, that might not be a bad thing. It’s still not too hard to see Hill fitting into the Pistons playbook. And another benefit is that Hill would cost far less in a trade for the now asset-poor Pistons.
Perhaps the most risky choice would be to pursue CJ McCollum. McCollum offers the shooting and explosive scoring the team needs, but if the Pistons were to pursue him, they’d need to be convinced he’s actually a point guard playing out of position next to Damian Lillard. One could argue either side of that debate. But there’s no denying that McCollum would be a dynamic option.
Rodney Hood doesn’t fit the point guard criteria, but could be an interesting solution. Swapping Hood for Johnson would give the Pistons another reliable option who you can run as a primary option in a set and can also score off the bounce.
And the bright side of going after Rodney Hood is that it doesn’t leave the Pistons in the position of needing to dump Jackson over the summer.
The trade deadline is February 8 and the Pistons are left with little to deal after the Griffin trade. If the Pistons aren’t able to make a deal work, they may have an in-house option in Luke Kennard.
As Mike Snyder pointed out in the latest Close Out, Stan Van Gundy is calling more plays for the rookie. Looks like these are exactly what the Pistons need in the half court.
More of this please.
Kennard looks ready. He’s shooting 45 percent from the field and 44 percent from three in fourth quarters. He was lights out against Washington, pulling the Pistons back into the game with 16 fourth quarter points.
Kennard has been getting more fourth quarter minutes as of late, especially with Bradley off and on from injuries. The next step is calling more plays for him.
It’s been another frustrating season to be a Pistons fan. But the good news is that there’s reason for hope. There’s still a way out of this 4-12 streak.