Per Cleaning the Glass (my absolute favorite hoops site outside of DBB), the last time the Detroit Pistons’ half-court offense finished in the top 20 took place during the 2010-11 season when they finished 17th. Last year, and despite the adoption of Stan Van Gundy’s motion offense, the Pistons ranked 24th in half-court offense puking up a grisly 91.1 points per 100 half-court plays.
(For reference of the changing times, the 87.5 points per 100 half-court plays that finished 17th led by Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Tracy McGrady, Chris Wilcox, Rodney Stuckey - should I go on? - would’ve finished dead last in 2017-18)
To make sure we’re on the same page, a half-court possession (a play that ends in field goal attempt, turnover or free throws) is anything that occurs when all 10 players are in the scoring half of the court and set in a normal guarding position. Roughly 80-percent of the game takes place in this setting which means Detroit has downright stuck for, roughly, 80-percent of the game. Improving the offense, needless to say, should be a top priority for whomever accepts the head coaching role.
All coaches, NBA, NCAA, high school and otherwise, steal innovative or efficient concepts and designs from each other. It’s an acceptable and understood practice that has been going on since the first executed pick-and-roll or back door alley-oop:
Most of the successful modern offenses prefer free flowing principles rather than being bogged down by stingy designed plays. There is certainly a time and place for specific designed plays, ATOs most notably, but that’s not what we’re looking for. Below (and over the course of the next few weeks), we’ll go over some of the widely used offense standards the Pistons could steal and call their own.
H/T to u/isiah’s_dreamteam_issues (somewhere in the DBB comment section) and Laz Jackson’s recent twitter activity for inspiring this idea.
On paper, the Pistons roster isn’t short on offensive skill but the application, as described above, has left much to be desired. So what exactly do the Pistons have? Let’s quickly go over the core.
Blake Griffin: A ball-handling big specializing in bully-ball and playmaking while starting to dabble in volume three-point attempts.
Reggie Jackson: Shoot-first point guard who did a much better job last year of picking when to attack and when to delegate.
Andre Drummond: Vertical gravity specialist who demonstrated to be a worthy and capable passer. Yet to show shot chart proficiency on anything outside of the paint.
Reggie Bullock: Long-ball professional and space-creater with limited proven ball-handling expertise.
Luke Kennard: High IQ and three-point shooter who should be more involved with generating offense.
Ish Smith: High-energy point guard who can touch paint at will. Ideally, he belongs with the second unit. Showed some signs of three-point shooting but nowhere near a consistent three-point threat.
Stanley Johnson: Broken shot but has exampled symptoms of reliable playmaking traits.
Jon Leuer: At this point, who knows? Sold as a stretch-four/five who properly cuts to hoop but he’ll need to re-establish himself after missing 74 games last year.
Langston Galloway: Combo-guard with streaky shooting and even streakier handles.
Now, is that collection worthy of the championship contention? Of course not but there is enough bucket-getters to force teams into playing defense if they want to beat the Pistons.
The copycat method must be used in resourceful and intelligent ways. There is no point in replicating the entire Golden State Warriors offense because even though we’re talking Xs and Os, it’s the Jimmys and Joes on the roster that make the difference. In Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Steph Curry, the Warriors’ loaded Jimmys and Joes are head and shoulders above Detroit’s competence level. Make no mistake though, Detroit can steal aspects of their offense.
In Griffin and Drummond, the Pistons own gifted playmaking deriving from their bigs, a trait few teams have in common. Griffin, especially, can generate open looks for his teammates by simply existing. He demands attention from the defense and the Pistons need to squeeze out every ounce of possible offense from their gifted and expensive six-foot-ten forward. Even though spawning offense from the post seems like it’s straight out the 90s, it’s something the Warriors commonly do - and have been performing for a while now - with positive results.
Tossing the ball into the post and the subsequent split screens is a staple of the Dubs’ philosophy:
Above, you’ll see examples of screening the nail. The ball is entered into the post and the player who made the entry pass immediately sets out to the nail to administer or receive a screen.
This has Blake Griffin, as the decision-maker in the post, written all over it.
Detroit showcased Griffin in the post but the action after punching the ball down low was non-existent, and, more often than not, usually morphed to an isolation look:
At 0.93 points per post possession, Griffin’s above average propensity to put the ball in the hoop makes borrowing this scheme even more delicious. The attention from the defense that a legit post-scorer in Griffin occupies creates passing lanes that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
Adjusting to how teams defend the post is of utmost importance. The recognition and reaction to defenses off-ball switching is what separates the Warriors version from lesser teams who try and emulate their post play. These guys are smart AF.
Whether it’s from five or six years ago:
Five or six weeks ago:
Or five or six days ago:
The Golden State Warriors will make you pay for off-ball switching out of the post (or anywhere, really). This is not a play, it’s a philosophy but executing isn’t as easy as it looks, at least not for the Pistons. The good part for Detroit is that you don’t need any of the skill that Golden State’s Big Four has to implement taking advantage of an aggressive switching defense. Nope, this is an awareness issue, not a talent issue, and it works in the driveway or in the NBA Finals.
Failing to slip an off-ball screen was a main talking point all year for The Close Out and got to a point where I had to retire the complaint because it happened every week.
By far the biggest culprit was the, at times, aloof Stanley Johnson:
While it’s not in the context of post-play, it’s the alertness we’re looking for and Johnson failed to take advantage of the off-ball switch on too many occasions. Above, Johnson sits idle declining the open path to the basket which was unlocked thanks to both defenders going with Reggie Bullock.
Watch how Klay Thompson slips the nail screen:
The easy bucket isn’t due to Klay Thompson being Klay Thompson, rather, it’s directly related to high-IQ basketball. It’s only teachable, however, if the student is open to learning.
Similarly, successfully distributing out of the post when the defense throws a double-team is more hoops-intelligence related than the total number of All-Star Game appearances:
What, exactly, was so difficult?
Above, the Warriors hunt a mismatch which induces a double-team from the weak-side. The always attentive Draymond Green flashes to the free throw line and an easy bucket soon follows.
(Seriously, Draymond Green is one the smartest players I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch)
In comparison, Griffin’s strength mismatch goes to waste as the Pistons happily ball watch:
The all-too-familiar standing around must change if Detroit is going to profit from putting the Warriors’ post-offense to work.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling for Blake Griffin’s post-game to be the focal point of the 2018-19 Detroit Pistons’ offense but the Warriors’ split screens should be a focal part of Blake Griffin’s post-game.
I have all the confidence in the world with Griffin’s post play. It’s those other dudes that concern me.