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The Close Out: Pistons shouldn’t worry about what the rest of the league is doing

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Detroit is all in on the Griffin-Drummond duo, and have no choice but to play to their strengths.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Five games back of the final playoff spot with only 16 games remaining suggests it’s going to be another disappointing non-playoff season for the Detroit Pistons. The salary cap wiggle room to make off-season moves is minimal, and with only the slimmest of chances of capturing a 1-4 draft pick, Detroit is relying on an unhealthy amount of internal player development to contend in 2018-19.

It’s no secret the Pistons’ perceived fortitude comes from Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, a size and strength tandem that very few teams - if any - can replicate.

In a 2018 basketball world, is it the optimal paring? No - but it’s not a death sentence either. To reach anywhere near their ceiling, though, Detroit will need Griffin and Drummond to be the absolute best at what they’re best at.

Every team in the league has a certain number strengths and weaknesses to generate a winning blueprint, which varies only slightly from game to game. The best teams consistently win by executing their strengths while limiting their opponents’ opportunities to conquer their shortcomings. In Griffin and Drummond, Detroit has two willing and able passers that can make the lives of their teammates much easier. Their unique skill set can reduce spacing issues, but since Griffin has joined the club, Drummond’s passing has been an afterthought.

If it’s going to work in 2018-19, that must change.

Nothing completely fixes long-distance shooting woes like... actual shooting, but there is no point in playing pace-and-space if you can’t space. Right or wrong, this is the core moving forward, and it’s up to Stan Van Gundy and the boys to squeeze every available ounce of skill from Drummond and Griffin.

We’ll see.....

As a reminder, unless the Pistons rise from the dead and make a run, we’re finishing the season at The Close Out by looking through the lens of Detroit’s opponents. Below, we’ll take a look at the sideline out of bounds plays executed by Cleveland and Toronto, Kyle Korver’s new role as a rim protector, and Zach LaVine’s inability to finish at the rim.

Inside the Pistons’ opponents playbook

Like any team, the Pistons’ opponents have a go-to collection of sets and play types. Here we’ll break down the plays used often by the Pistons’ opponents, along with variations and break down the process and the results.

Cleveland

The same Cleveland SLOB DHO, with two different actions yielding the same result:

  1. Rodney Hood feeds an active Larry Nance Jr.
  2. Hood then calls his own number.

LNJ finished with a career-high 22 points and 15 rebounds, with a lion’s share of his damage coming in and around the basket via a hard and uninterrupted roll:

Despite both Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson sitting out due to injury, the Cavaliers outscored Detroit 40-26 in the paint. Below, rookie Ante Zizic’s smart slip capitalizes on non-existent Detroit interior defense:

Cleveland’s motion offense, like all successful offense, is highly dependent on proper timing:

  1. Kyle Korver screens the screener, forcing Eric Moreland to play catch-up. Zizic’s flat-screen carves out enough room for a Jordan Clarkson three-hard-dibble-pull-up.
  2. The Cavaliers’ flex package is used by George Hill for a mid-range look.
  3. Zero hesitation shown by LeBron James’ DHO freeing up the sharp-shooting Korver.

Toronto

SLOB, part II:

  1. The Raptors expose Ish Smith’s lack of help (which might look familiar).
  2. Moments later, Smith and Kennard switch the same look, and the Raptors hit ‘em with option two. The rook then compounds the mistake by fouling.
  3. A well-defended DeMar DeRozan isolation. Tip your cap and move on.

Veer:

The play is designed for a three-point look but the Raptors successfully adjust. If you’re a Pistons fan, you’re probably OK with the look. When it comes to the Veer, I always think of the J.J. Redick-era Clippers (here).

Below, Toronto makes life miserable for Luke Kennard:

A well-designed DHO made Kennard choose between tagging the roller and staying home on the shooter. He executed neither favorably.

Chicago

The Bulls used a sideline flat-screen to try and put immediate pressure on Detroit’s bumpy PNR defense:

While also making a blunt effort to go at Ish Smith:

This DHO into a prompt PNR should look recognizable:

As Detroit runs the same thing with Reggie Bullock.

Justin Holiday uses an elevator door to knock down a three:

For the game, Chicago shot 36 percent from the field.

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’ opponents are doing really well, and understand what to look out for going forward.

Positive

Cavs let ‘em shoot

Pistons’ fans - including myself - can scream about offensive schemes until they’re blue in the face but as the old saying goes, “It’s not about the Xs and Os, it’s about the Jimmys and Joes.” Below, is an example of decent Pistons’ looks deriving from a Griffin-influenced offense which netted a total of zero points:

The greatest game plan in the world won’t save you from incompetent shooting. It happens to all consistent playmakers - and maybe it’s just confirmation bias on my end - but how many times has Griffin been screwed out a dime due to poor teammates? It’s another reason why box score assists = dumb, and, why I still hold optimism for a Blake-centric offense.

Kyle Korver the rim protector

First, Korver flexes enough muscle to persuade Eric Moreland from getting any closer to the rim then distracts Dwight Buycks just enough to help cause another Pistons’ miss.

Drummond’s mid-range

Make or miss, this is win for the defense:

From Detroit’s perspective, it’s not like this a common occurrence and some slack should be given to the big fella.

Transition defense

Stop. The. Ball.

Both Cleveland and Toronto took advantage of a less-than-stellar retreating defense. For Detroit, it’s been an issue all year, and climaxed with the DeRozan dunk (I’m not linking it, you know which one) which will be on Raptors’ highlight reels for years to come.

Negative

Bully ball

Griffin had his way with the Toronto front line:

Scoring 31 points, Griffin and Reggie Bullock (21 points) did their best to keep pace with the Raptors.

Under their skin

Every game and without fail, Eric Moreland mixes it up with the someone in the opposite colored jersey. Blake Griffin is also no stranger to skirmish-inducing behavior. If contained correctly, it’s a feature that can pay off for the Pistons:

Detroit collects two frustration fouls when Moreland and Griffin crash the offensive glass. It’s my guess each did something to piss off Korver and Norman Powell that went unnoticed by the cameras. We also witnessed Griffin exchange words with the Bulls’ Kris Dunn - again, this type of chippiness can be a good thing.

Trouble at the rim

Zach LaVine’s night in Detroit is probably one he’d like to soon forget. LaVine finished with eight points on 3-of-15 shooting which included little success attacking the bucket:

Drummond finished with four blocks and 17 rebounds.

Chicago couldn’t contain Griffin

Blake Griffin’s 25 points against Chicago came from both inside and outside, thanks in part, to a progressing chemistry with Drummond:

Like it or not, accept it or not, on-court chemistry takes time. Below, a Kennard-Griffin DHO from an Atlanta game taking place three weeks ago, then a DHO from the Bulls game:

Kennard’s pass all but MAKES Griffin roll. Does this mean the Pistons are in the clear? Of course not. Someone with the usage rate of Griffin is like hiring a new office administrator - you can’t expect the new admin to know how everyone likes their coffee on the first day. You can call it an excuse, I call it reality.

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

Serge Ibaka blows past Blake Griffin, then Jonas Valanciunas blows by the very same Griffin to clean up Ibaka’s miss on the very same play.

Low

Stanley Johnson intercepts the pass by way of textbook weakside defense. The much needed stop kept the nail-bitter at a manageable seven possessions.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

At Utah

At Denver

At Portland

Detroit is embarking on a six-game Western Conference trip, and judging by their pitiful 9-22 road record, things could get ugly. First up is an altitude stress test against the Jazz and Nuggets, followed by visit to Portland to take on the red hot Trail Blazers.

Portland (40-26) is 9-1 in their last ten games, which has pole vaulted them into the third seed, which has forced Damian Lillard into MVP talk. During the 10-game stretch, Dame is throwing up averages of 33, four and five, and connecting on nearly four three-pointers a game.

Styles make fights, and the power of the Pistons is in the front court, while the Blazers rely on the interchangeable back court of Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

That’s the game I’m most interested in this week, because of the high-profile match ups and, more importantly, it’s on Saturday, which makes staying awake for a Pacific Standard Time game a tad more realistic.

Hang in there guys and gals, only a couple more weeks left.