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The Close Out: A peek into Bradley’s rough return to the lineup

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Avery Bradley returned this week from a groin injury but his jump shot didn’t make the trip.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

After losing on the road in Miami and Philadelphia, the split-personality Pistons salvaged the week with a home win against Houston and now sit at 21-17 on the year. Four games above .500 has Detroit in the mix anywhere between the fourth seed and the ten spot in the no-longer-junior-varsity Eastern Conference.

Keeping their head above water despite a myriad of injuries is a testament to their depth and should be noted.

Already down Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson and Jon Leuer heading into the week, Andre Drummond missed the Heat loss with bruised ribs, bounced back to go toe-to-toe with Joel Embiid then sat out the Rockets game with a from-my-couch diagnosis of a bruised ego.

Depending on the severity, a bruised ego can last anywhere from a couple days to a couple years but moving forward, Drummond shouldn’t touch the floor until he is 100 percent the penguin we’ve been accustom to this year. Dre has been the model of playing time consistency with zero injury concerns since his rookie year and there is no reason to prematurely thrust him back into action.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at the dos and don’ts of Eric Moreland handling the basketball, the rocky return of Avery Bradley and a take take deep dive into the hard hedge that Detroit loves to throw at stretch-fours. To temper expectations, don’t expect to see a minute of offense from the Philly game, I burned the film and it’s a decision I don’t regret.

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.

Ring around the rosey floppy set:

Not getting dizzy is impressive enough but then to properly read the defense—as exampled by Bradey and Reggie Bullock—tops it off. As Josh Richardson chases Bradley, he curls off the Tolliver screen while Bullock fades as Eric Gordon tries to shoot the gap.

Don’t expect to see this exact play ran more than once or twice a game. It’s basically misdirection to get into floppy. It catches opponents off-guard but losses effectiveness if over-used.

Detroit loves the top-of-the-key flair screen:

Houston’s Trevor Ariza is late on his recovery on both plays but only Tobias Harris takes advantage of the big-less paint. Bradley, on the other hand, settles for a jumper which seems to be par for the Bradley course.

In the box score, Bradley gets the points, Moreland is credited for the assist but this is Harris’ bucket:

In a rush to take advantage of a perceived mismatch, low IQ players will take their team out of rhythm and often end up with a shit look. For the switch-happy Rockets, this happens at an alarming rate but Harris hurries for no one:

Above, as the help comes to Chris Paul’s aid, Harris throws an imperfect skip pass to Bullock in the opposite corner as Moreland shrewdly creates extra time needed for Bullock to get the shot off.

Needing points in a hurry, Detroit turns to the hammer screen for the corner three:

Whether by design or simply within the flow of the game, it generated an open look despite being superbly defended by Miami’s Tyler Johnson.

For more of the Heat game offense, click here.

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

This is the Ish Smith part.

As stated above, the Rockets rely on switching to negate offensive schemes—obviously most notably during PNRs and DHOs. Again, exploiting these mismatches is a fine line. Below, Ish Smith takes on Houston’s bigs with zero hesitation:

As mentioned in previous Close Outs, Smith gets a hard thumbs down from me when he lets slower-footed bigs off the hook with a jump shot. Attacking the rim? Two Boban-sized thumbs up.

Houston’s Trevor Ariza doesn’t want to post-up. He’s much more comfortable spotting up in the corner and slashing to the hoop. The move to have Smith check Ariza was just a single step below genius:

Unlike the Harris mismatch example, Ariza looks to punish the smaller Smith right away. If he only knew Smith was one of the best rim protectors on the team:

The frustrated Ariza scored 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

Eric Moreland earned his first NBA start for the ailing Drummond in the Houston game. Moreland is still raw as sushi on the offensive end but good things happen when he sticks to his strengths:

Finishing at the rim is one of those strengths.

Growing up, two phrases were said ad nauseam from my worrisome parents:

  1. Nothing good happens after midnight.
  2. Nothing good happens when Eric Moreland puts the ball on the ground.

The second one never made sense until this year:

I hate putting on-court limits on developing players and speaking in absolutes but for the foreseeable future, Moreland should NEVER put the ball on the ground.

Parents truly know best.

Congratulations to Moreland, by the way.

Negative

Unfortunately, this is the Avery Bradley part.

I’m an “eye test” guy through and through and didn’t believe the ugly analytical numbers in regards to Avery Bradley heading into the season.

How could all these guys be wrong?

38 games later, there is a good chance I’m wrong.

Your Honor—in my defense—my attention to Bradley detail while in Boston green obviously wasn’t as close as it is in Piston blue (grey? red? white?).

Since game one, I’ve lost track on how many times Bradley has been on the wrong side of communication and recognition errors:

It’s impossible to pinpoint blame when it comes to defensive communication as Fox Sports Detroit does not include a Pistons’ mic’d up feature. However, when the same person is constantly involved in screw-ups, the investigation becomes clearer.

Granted, communication can be tough but god dammit, stop needlessly jumping out of the play:

I KNOW YOU KNOW HOW TO RUN GUYS OFF THE LINE PROPERLY:

Or, by all means, feel free to closeout under control. Anthony Tolliver, can I get an example?

Thanks AT, you da man.

All the above and I haven’t mentioned the fact that he’s 13-for-42 from the field in his first three games back from injury. And for his sake, I’m not going to mention it either.

Hard Hedge

By now, we all know that Detroit fancies a hard hedge on pretty much all stretch fours with Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson of the Heat being no exception.

If consistently ran correctly, the hard hedge is a great tool in helping to corral the stretch four as a shooter and playmaker. In Miami, though, the Pistons got burned and especially down the stretch:

Make no mistake, the open looks are not solely the fault of Harris and Tolliver as it’s very much a team concept.

The first part of the hedge involves the on-ball defender forcing the ball-handler to use the screen. Under no circumstances can they get beat on the bounce away from screen or the whole possession becomes a disaster. By-and-large, the Pistons perform this part this well (except here).

Detroit gets into trouble when opponents set their screen high, the four slips but the Pistons still hedge:

It’s a ton of ground for Tolliver to make up. If the stretch-four tips off the screen is coming, Harris/Tolliver must make them set the actual screen before they commit to hedging.

On closer-to-the-basket screens, the help defense must step up and be ready for the dump down:

Harris is smidge late sliding over but it’s all the time needed for Olynyk to get his shot up.

Finally, the hedge man cannot let the ball-handler turn the corner:

For Detroit, this concept is still very much a work in progress.

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

Last week, we exampled the “right” and “wrong” of playing the nail on the defensive weakside. Luke Kennard struck again:

Kennard never moved from the nail and Chris Paul dribbled right to him, it might be the easiest steal of his career.

Low

Detroit missed the services of Andre Drummond in more ways than one in Miami. When engaged, Dre is head and shoulders above his big man colleagues in destroying the opponents’ pick-and-roll, an attribute that didn’t exist last year.

The Heat connected on 17 three-pointers with many generating from a pick-and-roll:

All that from above and I didn’t even mention the defense of the PNRs that didn’t end in a long ball. And for Boban’s sake, I’m not going to.

Also, when I don’t have to preface Andre Drummond’s defense with “an engaged”, that’s when I’ll take him serious as a defender.

What do you think about that, Dre?

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

Three games, all on the road:

At New Orleans, Brooklyn and Chicago.

I’d be surprised if Drummond plays against the Pelicans and, again, it’s not the worst thing in the world to hold him out until he’s fully ready to go.

Both the Nets and Bulls are part of the lower-tier of EC teams but the Pistons have no business looking past either.

2-1 should be the goal with 1-2 as the basement.

Before the season, what if I told you Eric Moreland and Dwight Buycks would play an important part of the rotation in January?

Detroit would be in tank mode, right?

As usual, reality is stranger than fiction.