What does perfection look like? Monet’s Impression, Sunrise? Coltrane inhaling before My Favorite Things? Ashley Graham on the cover of Sports Illustrated?
No. All those things are great, but they are not perfection. THIS is perfection:
... OK, you’re right, that’s not as great to look at as Impression, Sunrise.
Anyway, the Detroit Pistons’ offense operated exactly as fans only could’ve dreamed of in the first quarter against the Atlanta Hawks. This was the second game with the new (correct) starting lineup of Reggie Jackson, Reggie Bullock, Glenn Robinson III, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond, and we, as fans, got to see the devastation Blake Griffin can wreak on opposing defenses without firing a single shot.
So, what is perfection composed of? Let’s dig in:
* Fans self *
Special shout-out to Andre Drummond flashing from the corner for a dunk (THAT’S new) and the Hawks triple-teaming Blake Griffin with the defenders of the Pistons’ two best perimeter shooters, leading to a swing-swing corner three for the guy shooting 47 percent from the corners over the last two years.
How do the Pistons achieve this level of offense more often? What are the lessons we can derive from this stretch of play?
Move the Ball
During this five-minute stretch, the only Detroit bucket without an assist was an Andre Drummond putback. Everyone got a touch and a chance to participate in the offense in a relatively equal manner, and because each of the starters likes to score in different ways this diversified the looks the Pistons displayed to the defense.
Keeping the defense off balance is key for a team that doesn’t have the personnel to attack a set defense with ballhandling - until the Pistons trade for Jayson Tatum (Note: they will not be trading for Jayson Tatum), they need to be creative with how they compel a defense to react. Also, most of these are mostly relatively simple offensive actions (no Terry Stotts flare screens or anything), so getting to execute them before the defense gets a chance to recognize and acknowledge what’s coming helps.
Get stops, then get out in transition
Four of the Pistons’ scores were in transition during this stretch. Detroit is not the fastest team in the league (according to NBA.com, they currently rank 14th in pace), but they got stops and got out in this game, and the offense was better for it. Of course, in order to get stops and get out, you have to... get stops, which has been a sore spot for myself and others at DBB.
It sure doesn’t FEEL like the Pistons have a top-10 defense most of the time, but the numbers say they do, so they have to leverage that top-10 defense into transition opportunities more often.
Obey the Shot Spectrum
The philosophies of Dwane Casey’s Shot Spectrum (trademark pending) - take threes and shots at the rim - still guides the Pistons offense. Again, without the personnel to break down the defense off the dribble without screens, Casey has worked the other aspect of that (taking threes) to the hilt. This is not a bad thing - if you run beautiful offense for 18-footers, even if you make them, that won’t be enough offense in today’s NBA.
So, during the best stretch of offense for the Pistons all season, they take a grand total of two non-three-non-layup shots (ok, fine, GRIII has his foot on the line on the last corner shot, but that is clearly unintentional - and something he needs to work on, that’s not the first time that’s occurred), both by Reggie Bullock, who is their best midrange shooter. Those are the high-percentage or high-expected-value shots the Pistons want to be taking, and you see why when they go in at the rate they did.
Blake is more than a brute
The biggest takeaway for me was this: Look how involved Blake Griffin is without the hard-stop, clock-eating, energy-sapping post-ups.
In a short stretch, Pistons scored off of two-man DHOs with Reggie Bullock and Blake Griffin, out of a Griffin post-up, on a transition alley oop off a grab-and-go rebound from Blake, and with Blake passing out of a 4-5 PNR. That’s a LOT of ways Blake can hurt you that the defense has to account for, and only one of them involves forcing a switch and backing down the mismatch for four-and-half seconds.
Another thing to remember: Blake only shot ONCE during this stretch, and he was still undoubtedly the straw that stirred the Pistons’ drink. The Pistons’ starting lineup can survive (and thrive!) offensively without wearing him down, which is good. A worn-down Blake is a Blake more likely to get injured, and an injured Blake literally cannot help the Pistons at all.
Look, all these points feed into one another. Getting out in transition facilitates ball movement. Ball movement facilitates the kind of shots the shot spectrum demands. Scoring according to the shot spectrum will compel teams to take more threes, which, if you defend properly, will turn into long rebounds you can use to get out in transition.
Perfection, fleeting perfection, only reminds us of what we’re capable of. You are not who you are at your best, you are not who you are at your worst, you are who you are when you are where you are. Where the Pistons are now is at .500, with a steadily progressing offense and a principally sound defense, with the potential for more. Let’s hope they can take the lessons from this stretch and move forward.