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The Close Out: Are the days of Andre Drummond missing All Star Games over?

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His numbers certainly suggest so but, sometimes, it’s not always about the numbers.

NBA: All Star Game-Team LeBron Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in his six-year-career, Andre Drummond participated in the league’s most celebrated pick-up game (albeit as a replacement for Washington’s John Wall). At just 24-years-old, Drummond’s best days are clearly still ahead of him.

Will those better days, though, include annual trips to the NBA’s All-Star Game?

Most — including myself — thought the answer was a resounding “yes” after his first selection back in February of 2016 - then came the bitter 2016-17 campaign. Both Drummond and the franchise took a significant step back by failing to capitalize on the relative success from the prior season.

For many on DBB, it was a “put-up or shut-up” attitude heading into 2017-18 when the topic veered towards Drummond. As far as I’m concerned, he’s put-up. 15 points, nearly 16 rebounds and a career high 3.6 assists per game are the raw numbers which look pretty darn good. His 62-percent from the free throw stripe is just short of a miracle after spending his entire career as a punch line in the mid-30s.

Honestly, though, that’s the easy stuff.

Andre Drummond is an All-Star now and for the foreseeable future because he finally acknowledged defense, as a concept, is something he must actively and consistently partake in.

In years past, Drummond was a bit of front-running defender. If the Pistons were playing well, he was out there blocking shots and talkin’ tough. If the game was out-of-hand in favor of Detroit, he had no problem challenging a perimeter player in game of who’s quicker.

That’s the easy stuff.

It’s when the Pistons got punched in the mouth — which was far too often — that Drummond lost interest on the defensive end. Not the trait of perennial All-Stars.

For every first year NBA player in the history of basketball, the defensive end is a humbling and often time humiliating experience. Some, eventually catch on and others never do. Once it dawns on a player that, yes in fact, defense is important to winning, very rarely do they relinquish such an outlook and resort back to their previous ways.

Drummond finally gets it.

While he’s in his sixth year of professional basketball, he’s only in year one of professional defense - he’s got room to grow which should punch him a ticket to most All-Star Games moving forward.

Below, we’ll explore how Detroit changed their Blake Griffin PNR defense, why the coaching staff failed in the New Orleans loss and example how and why fixing on-court chemistry is vital to Detroit’s trade deadline acquisitions.

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.

Last week, we explored this motion Punch set whose goal was solely to get Blake Griffin on the left block:

The Pistons built on that look which not only included the Griffin post-touch but a manufactured PNR as well:

The Grffin-led elbow PNR needs some fine-tuning:

But not all Griffin-related PNRs look this bad.

This type of high ball-screen between Stephen Curry and Draymond Green is darn near impossible to stop:

Quickly getting the ball into the hands of Green while being flanked by shooters and a big who can finish a lob is an unwinnable game of “pick your poison” for the defense.

In Griffin, we have our Green:

Above, Griffin made the right choice on all four late game rolls in the win against the Hawks yet was only rewarded with one assist. Just another reason why box score assists = dumb.

How about a 1-in and 4-out starring Ish Smith?

Fun, but I’d advise to use sparingly.

On back-to-back possessions against the Hawks, Jameer Nelson used a dribble entry to the wing before locating Griffin at the elbow. From there, James Ennis employed a simple read and react on Atlanta’s defense:

Finally, pretty much every outcome of the Horns double-screen including a genuine Griffin-Drummond high-low:

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

No show Blake

As we all remember, Stan Van Gundy had Tobias Harris (and Anthony Tolliver) show hard on a majority of PNRs earning mixed results. Often times, the slow rotations or recoveries led directly to easy points for Pistons’ opponents:

The beginning of the Blake Griffin-era saw a similar mindset including the loss against the Pelicans:

The principle, however, changed during the home win against Atlanta as between Andre Drummond, Anthony Tolliver — and most notably — Blake Griffin, a single hard-show was nowhere to be found:

If I had to guess, this will be the mentality moving forward concerning Griffin. Keep in mind, had the Pistons been playing anyone else in the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference or Big Ten instead of the Hawks, the outcome might’ve varied.

Drummond used a similar drop technique which — from his view — encourages mid-range shots:

I’m perfectly fine with this as long as he doesn’t resort to last year’s lethargic version:

That’s the Drummond who drove me — along with the rest of DBB — crazy. I honestly believe, though, we’ve turned the corner and the new and improved Drummond is here to say. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Reading the double-team

It’s been a while since Detroit owned an offensive threat consistently needing to be double-teamed. Not all double-teams are created equal, though.

Depending on a handful of variables (personnel, location on the floor and the time/score of the game for example), double-teams can be initiated as soon as the offensive player catches the ball, when the ball is on its way (in the air) or as soon as he puts it on the floor (think The Jordan Rules).

For Blake Griffin and the Pistons, what happens after the double-team is of utmost importance:

The good: Demanding two defenders.

The bad: Not making teams pay for doing so.

The simple stuff

For all the high-level Xs and Os out there, the fundamentals remain as relevant as ever. Below are essentially identical Pistons’ plays with opposite outcomes:

  1. Bullock misses but no Pelicans box out the crashing Drummond. Two points.
  2. Bullock misses but two Pelicans box out the crashing Drummond. Zero points.

Technically, it’s a Pelicans “positive”. As a fan of good hoops, though, it’s a basketball “positive.” For all the kids out there, always eat your vegetables and always box out.

Negative

Pelicans push the pace, again

When doling out blame for on-court failures, typically, I give the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt and straddle the players with a significant portion of the criticism. I’ll concede that on many occasions it’s a “chicken or the egg” argument but in general, I’m pro-coaches.

Not in the loss against New Orleans, though.

In week 13’s Close Out, the very first negative trend low-lighted Detroit’s failure to recognize the Pelicans were leaking out in an effort to capture easy buckets:

It worked. As seen above, both Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins continually put pressure on the Pistons after made buckets (and misses) by sprinting down the court to establish early position.

It wasn’t just the bigs, either, as Rajon Rondo made it a point to push the pace:

Now, I don’t watch enough Pelicans basketball to know if this is part of their on-going philosophy or not but, either way, it should’ve been a paramount bullet point for the coaching staff to re-enforce heading into the rematch.

Well, it wasn’t:

If you made it through the entire clip then you’ll notice from the opening tip-off the Pelicans —after a Pistons make or miss—constantly beat Detroit down the court, again.

In a word: inexcusable.

Defending the Brow

Anthony Davis continues to use the Pistons franchise as his own personal punching bag. While no team has a definite answer in keeping the Brow in check, I wouldn’t be doing my fake job if I didn’t show you how he scored his 38 points.

In the post, Davis torched Stanley Johnson, Anthony Tolliver and Andre Drummond:

Quite frankly, he’s unguardable one-on-one.

Pick-and-pop:

Davis’ range doesn’t allow for slow recoveries.

Rolling to the hoop:

Usually, I’ll throw in some conventional and/or cliched basketball wisdom to help alleviate Pistons’ problem but with Davis, I, uh, I’ve got nothing. In 10 career games against Detroit, Davis sports an average of 30.4 points per game on nearly 59 percent shooting with an offensive rating of 129 points per 100 Pelicans’ possessions.

In a word: insane.

Zoning out

I’m a typical office stiff working an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule Monday through Friday. Sitting in front of a computer causes me — from time to time — to completely zone out. Coming to is always an awkward event - whoa, how long was I out?

You know who can relate? Stanley Johnson.

While the DBB consensus agrees Johnson’s play has trended upwards over the last three weeks, he does noticeably drift off. “OMG let’s trade him” type of trait? Hardly.

  1. There is no reason to be that hugged to Darius Miller. Doing so means there will be zero help from the weakside on a simple roll.
  2. It’s almost impossible to assign blame on communication errors but since Johnson and Bullock switched on the Hawks’ pindown the very next play, it’s probably on Johnson in clip two.
  3. When Ish Smith looks to reverse the ball to a hands-on-his-hips-Johnson, he’s clearly not ready.

Again, though, this isn’t the end of the world as it happens to everyone. So if my manager is reading this, remember: it happens to everyone.

Name tags needed

On court chemistry takes time and when Detroit acquired Blake Griffin, there was going to be an oafish get-to-know-you phase whether we liked it or not. A week later, Detroit added rotational pieces Jameer Nelson and James Ennis which only increases the oafishness.

On a standard pick-and-roll, ideally Drummond should be receiving the ball at the rim and not at the foul line:

Nelson must hang on to the ball for an extra bounce allowing Drummond to get to the rim. Giving him the rock at the free throw line is putting Dre in a no-win situation while also causing u/buzzardbeater to shake his head.

It goes both ways, though:

We’ve seen Drummond complete that pass to every perimeter player in a Pistons uniform this year, but in a best-case-scenario - what would Nelson do with the ball he the pass been completed? That is cut being made without the intention of scoring so while Nelson’s gotta be ready for the pass, Dre should know not to throw it.

Below, Drummond must lay the wood a bit harder on the screen for the 36-year-old Nelson. Not doing so allows the Hawks’ Isaiah Taylor to stay with Pistons’ new point guard:

There is zero separation.

And finally:

Above, clearly Luke Kennard is expecting Griffin to roll. He didn’t. In my humblest of opinions, Kennard is in the right but it doesn’t mean Griffin is in the wrong.

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

I mean, he knocked down that three-ball. Good enough!

Low

As the on-ball defender, you cannot get beat if the ball-handler rejects the screen:

Of the fewer-than-I-thought-there-would-be Luke Kennard defensive shortcomings, this one keeps popping up.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

Only two games this week: at home against the Celtics and on the road in Charlotte.

The ASG break came at the perfect time for Detroit as Blake Griffin had a chance to get his feet wet in a Pistons’ uniform before taking some much needed time off. Excuses are out the door, though. No more losses to the Hawks, Bulls or Nets of the league if the Pistons want to take a post-season run seriously.

It starts with the Celtics game.