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The Close Out: Back to the drawing board

Detroit’s ugly showing after the All-Star break doesn’t bode well for the remainder of the season.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

There are a handful of reasons I spend a good chunk my weekends putting together The Close Out. First and foremost (most importantly, too), I enjoy it - no one has a gun to my head. Somewhere way down my list of whys includes the small chance of carving out a name for myself in the NBA blogging world and from there, who knows. Basically, a “you don’t know unless you try” type of thing.

With that in mind, the following statement might not be in my best interest but as a painfully self-aware individual, I’ve got to get something off my chest in order to sleep tonight. Here it goes: Stop listening to me. Like, seriously, stop. It’s in your best interest as basketball fan to unsubscribe to my Pistons’ forecast.

If I spend words selling you on the concept Stan Van Gundy deserves to play out the rest of his contract, he probably doesn’t.

If I list three or four happy-go-lucky bullet points on why the Blake Griffin deal was good for Detroit, it probably wasn’t.

If I argue that Andre Drummond has put himself in a position to be an All-Star for the foreseeable future, he probably hasn’t.

If I say the Pistons’ sky doesn’t have a cloud to be seen, there’s probably a severe thunderstorm brewing.

Almost nothing I’ve spewed out this year has come to fruition including (but a limited to) a dozen or so 104-100 early season score predictions. Question everything I say!

So until further notice, my Pistons’ takes should be swallowed with a hefty grain of salt or outright ignored. Don’t get it twisted, I’m going to keep making them but don’t pay them any attention. When we disagree in the DBB comments section, just know that I know I’m wrong. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt my feelings as I have no one to blame but myself.

My basketball stubbornness is on full display when I buy into stories like this. Pistons’ insider Keith Langlois detailing how SVG spent his entire All-Star break watching film and hoping to maximize up-coming practice time in an effort to better utilize Blake Griffin.

Yes! This is exactly what I want to hear and conveniently fits snuggly into my “just give them time to figure it out” narrative. I was pretty jazzed for the Celtics game which promised to feature my improved Pistons’ offense. The creative new sets and schemes surely would take center stage. Sky’s the limit - would I even recognize these guys?!

Well, I did, and more than likely, so did you. Spoiler alert - the playbook section this week looks oddly familiar to every other week this year. I aim to keep redundancy low in each Close Out section, but, God damn do the Pistons make it hard to pull it off.

The league figured out the Pistons’ new motion offense by Thanksgiving of last year while the new post-Griffin addition offense doesn’t even need to be figured out. The unwanted mix of those two inarguable facts helped to keep the Xs and Os and both the positive/negative trends the exact same throughout the year. So that’s it, I’m done making excuses for this team and completely out of the Pistons’ prediction game.

The shitty part? On a scale of 1-10, I’m about a five on Pistons fandom. I love basketball and follow the Pistons closely because of proximity. My opinions on this team are solely hoops related and have little to do with wishful thinking or hometown kool-aid. By my ugly track record of hard stances and viewpoints this year, they’re making me question every basketball truth I’ve come to hold dear. It’s maddening.

On the positive side, I must admit, it’s a pretty comforting feeling knowing my takes don’t count anymore - ‘Oh, I’m wrong about Blake Griffin’s fit? Don’t get mad at me, I told you I’d be wrong.’

Basically, I’m free to do anything.

Below, if you care to go further, we’ll geek out over the Celtics’ Brad Stevens, revisit Ish Smith’s rough night against Boston and illustrate the Pistons’ three-point defensive woes.

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.

Griffin gets his post touches one of two ways which is seemingly the default Pistons offense.

Punch entry:

Or starting out on the perimeter and bully-balling his way to the cup:

The four players sharing the court with Griffin still have no feel for his post game leading to too many disinterested possessions. DeAndre Jordan majored in ducking in at the most opportunistic times to collect easy baskets when paired with Griffin. Drummond, thus far, only has an elementary understanding of the same type of timing.

Below, Griffin does his best Reggie Jackson impersonation:

Pretty spot-on.

The Pistons made an effort to run more sideline PNRs which invites the league-wide used ICE defense. The goal of ICE is to force the ball-handler to the baseline:

There are a number of ways to attack ICE including the pocket pass to the screener exampled by Ish Smith and Blake Griffin above.

Reggie Bullock shot 10-of-27 from the field in the losses to Boston and Charlotte. Below, the Griffin DHO is directly followed by a Drummond screen:

Easily the most successful look the Pistons presented was the Ish Smith-led double-screen:

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.


I’m desperately grasping at straws but we’ll give it the old college try. Wish me luck.

Arguably Detroit’s best offense remains an Andre Drummond put-back:

Drummond is in trouble if they ever start calling three second violations with any consistency.

That’s about it.


Ish Smith got torched by the Celtics

You’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger or louder Ish Smith cheerleader than myself but I wouldn’t be doing my fake job if I didn’t show you just how exposed he was on the defensive end in the Boston loss. On some possessions, the entire blame doesn’t lie at the feet of Smith. Others, however, unquestionably does.

First, Kyrie Irving must lick chops when he sees Smith in the opposing lineup as he has a lengthy history of making Smith look lost (yikes):

Irving is a stable genius with the ball and Smith definitely isn’t the first player to get roasted by such David Blaine-like ball-handling illusions but it’s just the start of a long and forgettable night.

In true broken record fashion, each week there are multiple examples of Smith losing the mismatch battle to the taller opponent deriving from switching in the half-court or simply trying to negate the most impending scoring threat. Below showcases the latter:

Swiftly retreating after a change of possession is on the checklist of most defensive minded point guards (and coaches). Like a safety in football, he must be the deepest man and keep everything in front of him. This doesn’t mean, however, the remaining four players can take their precious time getting back.

Both Reggie Bullock (first clip) and Andre Drummond (second clip) should’ve lent a helping hand and kicked out Smith who had no chance against Jayson Tatum and Daniel Theis. Either Stan Van Gundy doesn’t coach kicking out (unlikely) or the players keep failing to recognize it in real time (likely).

Boston’s potent offense destroyed Detroit in the half-court and we’ll touch on that in a minute. As a sneak peek, the screen-setting Jayson Tatum earned himself three great looks as Smith’s switch was late or non-existent:

Assuming the right call is a switch, Smith stays with Irving and Terry Rozier for a count too long making a timely recovery all but impossible.

Half-court defense

In terms of strategy, at the NBA level, there are a handful of coaches that separate themselves from the pack and the Celtics’ Brad Stevens is one of those whiteboard wizards who is a notch or two above his colleagues.

Below, Celtics force a switch while Aron Baynes simultaneously sets himself up to screen off Stanley Johnson:

We see the same look in the third quarter:

Wide open.

Boston’s Stack set is Stevens’ staple:

More Stack looks here.

As Horford’s gravity attracts Drummond, Theis replaces the cutting Horford above the three-point line to keep proper spacing:

With all eyes on the developing two-man game, Theis backscreen’s an unsuspecting Reggie Bullock:

A missed shot does not equal good defense. In this case, it means lucky defense.

Speaking of generating two-man games:

Nothing forced or awkward and all within the flow of player movement

How many times have we seen Ish Smith probe the baseline only to find no one bothered to cut? Below, two Celtics cut for a driving Rozier:

Could you imagine following this team night in and night out? Sure, some of the half-court magic is universal to hoops like cutting and ball movement but Stevens puts his players in a position to succeed. A trait not universally shared by all.

Force-feeding Drummond in the post

In the direct opposite direction of the Stevens engineered basket-getting from above, Detroit thought force-feeding Andre Drummond in the post was the correct answer:

Leading to four turnovers. If a Dre post touch is the answer, what the hell is the question? In two games last week, Griffin totaled 12 turnovers (18 in his last three games).

Stop the ball

When possessions change, someone’s got to stop the ball:

Or don’t.

Defending Charlotte’s PNR

Dwight Howard scored 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting which was heavily influenced by the Hornets PNR:

Charlotte also used their PNR to initiate shots beyond the arc:

The Hornets and Celtics combined to shoot 33-for-74 (45 percent) from three-point land. It’s a dreadful theme that has played out all season so I don’t feel guilty cherry-picking this non-rotation:

Which was Blake’s.

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.


When the on-ball defender goes under the screen, I’m a stickler for an automatic re-screen:


Stanley Johnson should’ve let Dre finish this one:

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

At Toronto tonight.

Home against Milwaukee.

At Orlando.

At Miami.

It’s too bad I’m done with predictions. I’m losing interest in this season rapidly BUT have an idea to keep things fresh for next week. If you’re still around, see you then.