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Losing streak highlights Pistons inefficient offense

The problem is clear. The solution isn’t.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Pistons are on a four game losing streak, and that’s ok.

Streaks happen. The ones with a bunch of Ls are never fun. But they’re part of life in sports. It’s easy to get frustrated that the Pistons didn’t take advantage of the Pelicans with a hobbled Anthony Davis, or the 76ers without Joel Embiid, or that they shit the bed against the Thunder and Bucks.

But none of those things are all that bad. The Pelicans and Bucks’ supporting casts played really well. And better to shit the bed against the Thunder or Bucks than the Bulls or Suns.

However, losing streaks can be helpful. It can give a more realistic look at a team on aspects that are too easily overlooked when it’s all rainbows, sunshine, and wins.

For the Pistons, the big thing is their scoring efficiency.

It’s been a problem for the better part of a decade now with this team. But especially so with Stan Van Gundy, where they spent every season in the bottom five in the league in true shooting percentage.

There was hope that a change in coaching to Dwane Casey and his shot spectrum might finally turn this team into something that at least resembles an efficient team. But nope.

The Pistons are back to dead last in the league in true shooting percentage.

After their win against the Warriors, the Pistons were sitting in the upper half in the league in overall offensive efficiency at 13th in offensive rating. But even then, their true shooting percentage was 25th in the league.

They were simply out-possessioning teams into a good offensive. They were fourth in the league in offensive rebounding and 10th in turnover percentage.

But the Pistons tried that formula all through the Stan Van Gundy years. They traditionally finished in the top 10 in both of those metrics while languishing at the bottom five in TS. It doesn’t work.

Tom Haberstroh wrote a really interesting piece last week on the most important metric for teams - the number that should be the first thing you look at after a game ends. With the focus on three pointers that has risen over the past couple of years, the presumption would be that three point shots made would be the most important number. Gregg Popovich went on a bit of a rant suggesting as much.

So Haberstroh worked with Basketball Reference to check the correlation between wins and numbers so far this season. Here’s what he found:

Go read the whole story, it’s definitely a topic worth more conversation down in the comments.

For the Pistons, they’re always very good on the defensive rebounding front. It helps having a best-of-his-generation rebounder for that sort of thing. They are second in the league in defensive rebounding percentage. But they’re last in the league in field goal percentage.

It sounds obvious to say, and perhaps it’s more obvious to say it during a four-game losing streak than during a five-game losing streak, but there’s a clear ceiling to how good this team can be if they can’t make shots. They may be able to be a bit above average, but they’ll always fall short of the contenders in the East.

That’s a point worth considering in the big picture of this franchise and in its roster construction, both short and long term. Blake Griffin and Jon Leuer are the only players on the team with an above average true shooting percentage. Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock are the only other players who could be realistically expected to finish the season above the mark.

Meanwhile Andre Drummond is back to 51 percent for the year on 15 shots per game, Reggie Jackson is back to 52 percent with 13 shots per game. Stanley Johnson and Ish Smith aren’t likely to ever be particularly efficient guys, nor are Glenn Robinson III or Langston Galloway’s track records particularly inspiring.

So what’s the solution?

Long term, it’s tough to say. Can a roster featuring Drummond and Jackson ever really be particularly efficient? Even adding an efficient, high usage centerpiece like Blake Griffin hasn’t been enough to move the needle. So what would?

Short term though, it’s easier. When balancing between scoring efficient and virtually any other attribute, efficiency should win. Who should play between player A and B? Whoever is more efficient. Who is the better potential trade target, signing, or draftee? Whoever is more efficient. It is clearly the biggest issue for this team and should factor in to pretty much any decision.

There’s a certain logic to the idea of out-possessioning teams and using that as a strategic advantage. But it’s not enough. During the current four-game losing streak, the Pistons have still boasted an offensive rebounding percentage of 31 percent, second best in the league over the stretch.

But the TS has been 47 percent. That’s abysmally bad. Losing streaks happen, that’s not the problem. A team even being capable of putting up a 47 percent TS over a four game stretch should be enough to raise eyebrows.

It’s not a coaching problem, it’s a personnel issue. And without solving that issue, it’ll be a ghost that continues to haunt the franchise.