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The Close Out: Pistons running out the clock on the season

Detroit will finish below .500 for the ninth time in the past ten seasons.

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NBA: Detroit Pistons at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

With the Pistons out of the playoff race, the toughest opponent remaining isn’t on the schedule. Nope, it’s in the Pistons’ mirror as human nature strongly suggests players to go through the motions in these, otherwise, meaningless games.

It’s not where anyone wanted to be but here we are.

Games 81 and 82 this week signify the end of the road so while I still have your attention....

I would like express a special thank you to the DBB editors: Laz Jackson, Steve Hinson, Sean Corp and Sean Wheeler. All four talented contributors spent time, at one point or another throughout the season, rifling through the overly-lengthy Close Out. It really is a thankless job and deserves more appreciation.

To put it lightly, grammar is not a strong suit of mine. In fact, I’d love to have a little sit down with whoever-the-hell invented this “grammar” and give him/her a piece of my mind. I know for an absolute fact that each editor had their hands full dealing with misplaced commas, run-on sentences and enough their, there, they’re mix-ups to last an eternity. So, thanks!

Also, to the readers. You guys were overwhelmingly positive with your comments and it did not go unnoticed. The simple fact that someone takes time out of their day to scribble something complementary will never be taken for granted.

I started writing for DBB because I inundated my baseball, basketball and football fantasy league message boards with basketball-related content. These were my best friends and family, and to put it lightly, they couldn’t care less about Anthony Tolliver’s hard hedge. I needed an outlet to talk hoops and the DBB community filled that void. Thanks!

Next week’s version will be a wrap-up, so before the season was officially over, I had to get that out.

Below, we’ll take a look at how the Philadelphia 76ers dismantled the Pistons’ half-court defense, check in on the Stanley Johnson-led pick-and-roll and we’ll collectively SMH at Johnathan Motley’s 26 points.

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.

The win over the Mavericks needed a heavy dose of the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond spread PNR and ram screen late in the fourth to push the game into overtime:

The staggered screen and Horns double-screen is an Anthony Tolliver favorite:

Resulting in a three-point attempt, a drive, high-low with Andre Drummond, and morphing into a flare screen.

Luke Kennard test drove these looks last week and Reggie Bullock showcased them against Philadelphia:

We’ve witnessed the elbow DHO a million times this year but can you spot the subtle, yet significant, difference below?

With Ersan Ilyasova taking away the baseline backdoor cut, J.J. Redick positions himself to force Kennard to use the Henry Ellenson screen. Smartly, Kennard reads the defense and cuts his route short while Redick flies by.

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.


Stanley Johnson

With limited resources moving forward, the Pistons are banking on the internal development of Stanley Johnson. As we’ve seen with Kennard, recently, SVG has been putting the ball into the hands of Stanley as the role of creator.

Johnson has a hard time scoring for himself in a standard PNR but the ability to get others their looks could be a difference maker:

When things get clunky or stagnate on offense, guys who create becomes priceless and the same goes for transition:

As always, consistency is key.

Red hot Tolliver

Guys like Anthony Tolliver don’t have many plays called with them in mind. Even the Horns series depicted above, Tolliver is just an option, and far from the main one.

AT gets a majority of his points by being in the right place at the right time, and this year, by taking it to the hole:

Since March 9th, Tolliver’s eFG is over 70-percent while averaging 14 points per game.

Dennis Smith Jr’s rough night

Seven points on 2-for-12 shooting thanks to Ish Smith making his life miserable. As far as highlights go, the Drummond block might be the best of his career.

Engaging the defender

As a ball-handler, anytime you can can engage multiple defenders, it opens up passing lanes that, otherwise, would not have been there:

Above, as the penetration occurs, the defensive eyeballs dismiss the Pistons in the corner. Smart basketball.


Philly’s half-court offense

In his prime, Rajon Rondo was a delight to watch on offense. He astutely knew exactly how to carefully manipulate the defense to, eventually, bend at the knee. The only aspect of his game missing was a reliable jump shot and, often times, defenses would give him space and outright dare him to shoot.

In theory, it made sense.

An unintended consequence of this strategy arose in that, without an active hand in his face, it gave Rondo 20/20 vision on the entire court while also providing ample room to rev up the motor and attack the hoop.

Picture Rondo, and those strategic ramifications, and now add nine springy inches to his six-foot-one frame:

Ben Simmons is going to be a problem for a long time. At (give-or-take) zero dollars, the Pistons don’t pay me enough to concoct a defensive scheme to stifle Simmons but granting him on-ball space is probably something I’d violently throw out the window.

Moving on...

Over the course of the year, I’ve pleaded for the Pistons’ players to slip the off-ball switch, especially in their fancy motion-centric offense. The 76ers actually applied my suggestion:

Both Simmons and Markelle Fultz enjoyed a wide-open lane when the switch was late (Simmons) or both defenders abandoned the screener (Fultz).

(On a side note, here is a Pistons’ player finally slipping a switch)

The DHO roll was problematic for Detroit:

As was this backdoor:

Ish Smith’s preemptive DHO stance forces a backdoor cut but when Marco Belinelli trots to the opposite corner, he takes the help defender with him.

With both Kennard and Drummond shading Belinelli, there is no one for Simmons to pin down:

So he screens his own man.

Finally, sharp-shooter J.J. Redick used a screener for the shooting challenged Simmons and Fultz ended with decent Philadelphia looks:

Great offense beats great defense.

Johnathon Motley

I, too, was guilty. Johnathan who?

Motley, as it turns out, is a two-way player for the Dallas Mavericks-Texas Legends and he turned in a career-high 26 points in Mavericks’ OT loss to Detroit. I’m assuming the Pistons were a little light on the Motley bio as it took nearly the entire first-half before they took him seriously.

Detroit awkwardly defended Motley all night and it almost cost them.

  1. Harrison Barnes quick kick-out exposes Drummond’s not-needed double-team.
  2. Motley made the shot and that’s fine. I’m way more concerned with the non-communication allowing Dwight Powell to knife to the hoop uninterrupted.

Langston Galloway must diagnose this defensive possession much better:

I understand you’re worried about the corner-three but let Stanley Johnson handle that. The biggest off-ball threat on this possession is clearly Motley.

Andre Drummond owns an annoying habit of daring guys to shoot. For example, against Philadelphia:

Defending Motley, Dre’s uninterested flat-feet led to two Dallas points:

Let the record show that I’m ok with waving guys off. However, you must win, at minimum, one playoff series to get a pass. With that qualifier, Chris Paul barely makes the cut:

Below, when the ball is tossed to the trailing Powell, there is no reason why Drummond shouldn’t have kicked Smith out back to Dallas’ Smith:

Instead, Motley easily overpowers the house in the mouse.

Finally, the three-pointer sending the game in OT:

If you to pick one Maverick to take a wide-open shot, it would be Motley, but, it’s not a free pass to do nothing.


All jokes aside, nitpicking hoopsters who were more accomplished as a basketball player in the sixth grade than I’ll ever be is probably my favorite thing to do. With only two games remaining, I’ve gotta soak it up.

  1. Don’t bring the ball down.
  2. A more polished pivot and it’s a finger-roll instead of a push-shot.

Entry-pass angles matter:

A top-of-the-key entry pass to a post-up against a three-quarter front has a minimal chance at success. Tolliver smartly makes up for it only moments later.

With time winding down on the shot-clock or game-clock, no one can blame Drummond for unloading a Hail Mary. With zero DBB comment section shot-selection repercussions and a clean conscious, I’m convinced these are Drummond’s favorite shot:

Not necessarily a bad thing.

This cannot happen:

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.


Secure the ball, find an outlet, run the court, get physical. I’ve got no problem with this “offensive foul”:



This James Ennis shot could be the worst selected shot during the modern-era:

Good grief.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

Just two games remain at home against Toronto and the finale in Chicago. As we discussed, next week’s final entry of The Close Out will include a culmination of everything we saw this year. I’m looking forward to putting it together - I only wish it included post-season play.

The off-season is for improving your game and coming back to training camp with a new move or two. I know how I’m spending my summer months, what about you?

Again, thanks for reading.