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The Close Out: A season’s worth of negative Pistons trends (Ch.2)

Rounding out the trends that defined a doomed Pistons’ season.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Brooklyn Nets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve gone over the positives here and round one of the negatives here.

Below are three remaining issues that played a part in another losing season. All stats are courtesy of Cleaning the Glass. If you haven’t noticed, I love CTG and highly recommend it.

Finishing the play

While the team’s three-point shooting enjoyed a much needed shot in the arm during the 2017-18 season, finishing at the rim (anything within four feet of the basket) proved to be a difficult endeavor for many in a Pistons’ uniform.

In total, Detroit shot 61.7 percent at the rim, which ranked No. 23 in the league. Although it’s not the be-all and end-all statistic, shooting at the rim is a sizable ingredient in the success recipe. The top ten in finishing at the rim is a who’s who of NBA contenders: Cleveland, Golden State, Philadelphia, Toronto, Houston and Utah. Only three (the Orlando Magic, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Denver Nuggets) of the top 15 teams didn’t enjoy a postseason run.

I’ve narrowed the guilty party of Pistons to a three-man tally: Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Jackson. Luke Kennard and Eric Moreland both earned honorable mention to this dis-honorable list.

Andre Drummond (392-out-of-625 attempts)

Drummond finished in the 33rd percentile of bigs at the rim, and it’s not hard to tell why. Despite having six years of professional experience, his feel in the paint, other than dunking, is still a work in progress.

Without adding anything new, one of his shortcomings is rather fixable - come down with the ball:

Detroit loves tossing the big fella alley-oops and, on too many occasions, it led to zero points because the passes were poor or Drummond simply rushed the finish. Come down with the ball, gather yourself and go back up strong. You’re a 60 percent free throw shooter now! At worst, these possessions should end at the stripe.

He usually has more time than he thinks:

Drummond misses the initial try and still had time to go back up without Bulls interference.

Same goes for all those empty calorie offensive rebounds. Tip-ins are great, but playing volleyball, without eventually putting the ball in the hoop, is misguided effort. Collect the ball and go back up strong.

Adding a reliable drop-step would be a signature move and an automatic bucket. Instead, with two feet in the restricted area or against a clear mismatch, the outcome is still very much up in the air:

With the NBA being so switch-happy, Drummond often ends up with a distinct power advantage, but has limited capacity to execute.

Reggie Jackson (63-out-of-115 attempts)

The frequency of a Reggie Jackson attempt at the rim reached a career-low, as just 22 percent of all Jackson’s shots took place at the rim. His 55 percent conversion rate place him in the 41st percentile of point guards.

Jackson has always been a league leader in drives per game since earning consistent starter-level minutes. This season, however, he turned in a handful of rim attacks each game into those flip shots he loves.

Over 51 percent of his field goal attempts - a career-high - were from mid range, a somewhat concerning trend. Continuing down this path might chip away at one of Andre Drummond’s substantial positives, the put-back - Settling for floaters won’t attract the opposite big as much as invading the rim:

A “good miss” has its place in the game.

Once he gets to the paint, Jackson has a tendency to contort his body in an effort to avoid contact or a blocked shot. The distortion will lead to an off-balance prayer:

Many of those prayers go unanswered.

Instead, I’d much rather see him use his off-hand with increased volume. Finishing with the left is in the Jackson bag-of-tricks, but doesn’t get showcased nearly as much as it should. It’s smooth, natural and, most importantly, a Mike Snyder favorite:

Johnson (84-out-of-143 attempts)

Stanley Johnson’s 59 percent at the rim, a career-high (!?!), places him in the 37th percentile of wings. Absorbing contact while converting at the rim has been a talking point since his Arizona days and remains an open investigation.

15 percent of Johnson’s restricted area attempts resulted in a blocked shot. In the half-court, it looked something like this:

And in transition, it looked like this:

For the most part, Johnson gets where he wants to go, but his lack of vertical explosion remains a large determining factor in conversion. Johnson looks like he’s carved out of granite, but he also jumps like... a statue made of granite. All those muscles are for show if there is no application from the weight room to the basketball court.

Back to the P3 drawing board.

Half-court offense

Roughly 80 percent of all NBA possessions take place in the half-court, making competency rather important. Well, the Pistons scored 91.1 points per 100 half-court possessions (ranked No. 24), which meant if the Pistons weren’t on the run, they weren’t doing much of anything. Eight of the top ten half-court offenses made it into the postseason, including Houston, Golden State, Cleveland and Toronto, who were the top four teams. It’s far from the bottom line, but it’s a decent indicator of DBB happiness.

The inability to put the ball in the basket is nothing new to Detroit and Stan Van Gundy, as the team has finished No. 25, No. 21, No. 26 and this past year, No. 24 in this scenario during SVG’s four-year term.

B-b-b-but wasn’t the motion-offense was suppose to bring the Pistons into the modern era? In theory, yes. But much like Stanley Johnson’s gun show, the results beg to differ.

Assuming Stan Van Gundy is at the helm for 2018-19 and assuming relative health (big assumption, I know), there is absolutely no reason why this shouldn’t be a top-12 offense next year. There is more than enough talent on this team to perform at an above average level.

For myself, the frustration this year reached a tipping point after the All-Star break.

To refresh your memory, Detroit went 5-3 with newly acquired Blake Griffin but much of the success was, rightfully, attributed to the kind schedule. With zero time to practice or implement anything of value, the Pistons pointed towards the week-long All-Star break for everyone to get on the same page.

The Boston Celtics would go on to hammer the Pistons 110-98 (the score doesn’t do it justice) in the first game back after the layoff, with seemingly no software updates to Detroit’s punchless offense. The Pistons would go on to lose seven-of-eight post-All-Star-break.

The following is an excerpt from that week’s Close Out in regards to the Drummond-Griffin tandem, which I still believe it to be true:

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.

Put your thinking cap on, Stan (or new coach), and figure out how to make the team but the ball in the basket.

Ugly losses

Detroit seems to lack a sense of urgency as it pertains to handling business when their backs are against the wall.

March 2, 2018 - Detroit 108, Orlando 115. There is nothing I put less stock into than body language, but, as cliche as it sounds, where the hell was the fight? Coaches and players alike took the loss in stride.

The Pistons, with a realistic chance of capturing on the final playoff spot, shit the bed in Orlando. In fact, Detroit lost both of their road games in Orlando.

The Magic won 25 games this year.

Teams lose to lesser-than squads all the time but - and maybe I’m just more sensitive to it - the amount of face-palm losses (Nets, Bulls, Hawks, Mavericks, and the Magic twice, to name a few) is simply unacceptable.

Now throw into the mix the Pacers loss where Detroit was up 22 in the third quarter, the Jazz loss in overtime after being up nine with three minutes to play, and the Martin Luther King Day loss to the Hornets.

Think about the games that Detroit came out flat or looked completely disinterested like at home against Cleveland, Denver, Oklahoma City, the Clippers, New Orleans, Boston, and on the road in Philadelphia, Washington and Cleveland (again). The outcome was decided long before the final buzzer in each of those.

A significant amount of the schedule boils down to: WTF?

Is it coaching? Players?

In my humblest of opinions, the absence of on-court leadership is the main culprit. Leadership is hard to quantify and a little buzzword-y, but it’s the most imperative trait other than talent.

This, maybe more than anything else, is why the Pistons need Blake Griffin to be the leader of their otherwise direction-less franchise.