The issue of fit was, and still is, a loud talking point when the Detroit Pistons acquired Blake Griffin in late-January. Even with an overly optimistic assumption of perfect health, building a team around Griffin and Andre Drummond in the 2018 NBA landscape has left the
millions dozens and dozens of Pistons’ fans worldwide feeling a bit woozy.
Whether you like it or not, though, the pairing of Drummond and Griffin will be the Pistons’ reality heading into next season. I, for one, am ready to move on and focus on the solutions, rather than the problems, a conventional basketball lineup entails. If you’re not quite ready, it’s understandable and I’ll never tell someone how to “fan” properly.
You do you, Doom Squad.
To prove my solution-seeking mindset, I’ve posted a handful of concepts (here, here, here and way over here) that Detroit could integrate to help navigate through their fit-related obstacles. None of the above links offer groundbreaking basketball tactics or wizardry and neither will the crux of this post but, at the very least, it falls in line with the idea of zigging while the rest of the NBA zags. If the Pistons are going to build around bigs while their competition continues to do the opposite, they might as well double down and:
HIT THE OFFENSIVE GLASS.
One of my favorite all-time Grantland articles will turn five (!) years old in September, but the conversation discussed by Zach Lowe and friends remains undeniably relevant to this day. Essentially, the piece examines the relationship between offensive rebounding and transition defense, and whether or not a conscious dedication to tracking down your own misses equates to a net positive. It’s a fun read and highlights the exact opposite of what I’m proposing. It’s always healthy to understand both sides of an argument.
Due to the roster construction, the pursuit of the offensive rebound is the smartest ticket for Detroit to punch to position themselves as the top Eastern Conference team not named the Raptors,
Cavaliers, 76ers or Celtics. I’d love to hear why I’m wrong in the comment section, but only if your take starts with “Fantastic job, Mike, but I disagree because of x, y, z” or some variation. The “Fantastic job, Mike” part, however, is a must.
(all stats per cleaningtheglass.com and nba.com)
The Drummond x-factor
During the Stan Van Gundy era, the Pistons’ idea of crashing the offensive glass centered around leaving Andre Drummond to fight by his lonesome while the four remaining players retreated to discourage transition looks. Drummond, by himself, was so good on the offensive glass that merely getting the ball on the rim and turning Dre loose was, at times, the best option to secure a bucket:
Drummond rebounded 15.2-percent of all Pistons’ misses, which landed him in the 99th percentile of bigs for the entire league. He has a knack for it, to say the least.
As a team, the Pistons finished No. 11 in total offensive rebounds per game (10.1) and No. 15 in offensive rebounding percentage (25.5 percent). Those are some pretty impressive numbers, considering the offensive glass was more of an afterthought than anything else.
What if, instead of an afterthought, the Pistons made rebounding their misses a priority? What would those numbers, and in turn, their shitty-to-date half-court offense, look like? The only way Detroit makes a splash in 2018-19 is to play to their strengths and Drummond’s out-of-this-world rebounding is a trait zero teams can match up with as-is. Now imagine if Dwane Casey compounds that strength by green-lighting help on the glass.
It’s the reason why isolation works in Houston. The Rockets are built around the historically great isolation play of James Harden (and Chris Paul, to a lesser extent) despite iso-ball’s frowned upon connotation. They spread the defense out and let Harden drive to the hoop or kick the ball out to open teammate. Playing to the strength of Harden isn’t Rocket science (pun intended).
The Golden State Warriors’ impossible-to-defend ball movement is directly related to the elite shooting of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. It’s the shooting prowess that unlocks the door to everything in their arsenal and it has defined their greatness.
As currently constructed, what are the Pistons known for? Anything?
Over the last decade, what are the Pistons known for? Anything?
Detroit v. Everyone only carries so much weight - it’s not an identity, it’s a built-in excuse for when things turn sour. In no way, shape, or form is the concept of offensive rebounding an identity in and of itself, but it’s a principle the Pistons could corner the market on and force teams to adjust to. There’s only one Andre Drummond in the league, and the Pistons should leverage his uniqueness and build off his rebounding, not shy away from it.
Getting Stanley Johnson involved
The question then becomes: Who Else? As in, who else on the Pistons’ roster is best served by lending a helping hand on the glass? First, let’s rule out whose easily not: Blake Griffin.
Griffin, 29 and injury-plagued, has no business expending precious additional energy chasing down stray shots, especially as he continues to drift further away from the basket on a possession-to-possession basis. And you know what? I bet he’s cool with that. In Griffin’s eight-year career, only two (his first two seasons) of those years did he finish higher than the 43rd percentile of bigs in regards to offensive rebounding percentage. It’s simply not part of his game.
For Detroit, the role of crasher is best played by Stanley Johnson, newb Glenn Robinson III and Luke Kennard (Jon Leuer is a prime candidate, too, but it remains to be seen if he has two working ankles).
We’ll start with Johnson.
After three ho-hum years in the league, Johnson has yet to establish himself as a dependable offensive player. His jump shot has been broken since day one and finishing at the rim via penetration is always an adventure due to his lack of vertical explosiveness. Giving Johnson the opportunity to put a little hustle behind all that muscle, on a continuous basis, could be a game changer and a key to keeping Johnson on the court.
For an example of what it might look like, look no further than Andre Roberson and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Roberson rebounded seven percent of all Thunder misses, which landed him in the 96th percentile for all wings. Collectively, OKC rebounded 30 percent of their misses, which led the league - and they also finished with a top-ten defense, including No. 15 in transition defense. Losing Roberson (against Detroit in late-January) for the year was an under-discussed variable in the Western Conference.
Andre Roberson is the epitome of an in-demand role player. His box score stats fall short of painting an accurate picture of on-court value, but just ask his teammates what they think of him:
The importance of Andre Roberson and Paul George as a defensive tandem -- George's defensive rating without Roberson: 111.2; George with Roberson: 94.2.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 28, 2018
Johnson, a similar less-than shooter and defense-first wing like Roberson, was, by comparison, non-existent on the offensive glass. Roberson’s two offensive boards per game nearly quadrupled Johnson’s 0.5 per game average. For his troubles, Roberson was rewarded with easy put-backs for himself and additional possessions for the Thunder:
As the NBA continues to veer towards a “switch everything” defensive philosophy, there will be numerous possessions of where Stanley Johnson will be checked by smaller guards as the shot goes up.
Hit the boards, my man.
Glenn Robinson III, a welcome addition
The bouncy 6-foot-7, 215 pound Glenn Robinson III seems to be the ideal fit for the modern game. Switchable on defense and able to knock down the open jumper? Color me intrigued.
With the Pacers, GR3 never finished lower than in the 64th percentile for wings in offensive rebounding percentage. It’s been a while since the Pistons had a player do this from the small forward spot:
Um, yes, waiter, more I’m-just-going-to-out-athlete-you rebounds, please:
Again, SVG preached getting back on defense - although it generated specific defensive results, it left too many possessions ending and looking like this:
What if, every once in a while, the Pistons gave Drummond some help on the offensive glass? Big Dog Jr., you’re up:
Robinson III had a knack for crashing from the perimeter - specifically from the corner - to hand-deliver extra possessions for the Pacers. To put it lightly, the half-court offense exampled by the Pistons the last decade has sucked, and they need all the chances they can get to put the ball in the basket.
Luke Kennard? Yes, Luke Kennard
The Philadelphia 76ers finished third in offensive rebounding percentage, while also owning the eighth-best transition defense. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
T.J. McConnell, a similar sneaky-athletic, hard-nosed gym rat like Kennard, earned a majority of his offensive rebounds came by one of two ways: the Hail Mary and the chase down.
In football, one of the smartest ways to position yourself in a Hail Mary attempt is away from the scrum:
Let the ball bounce around, and reap the benefits of being solo.
In hoops, the land of human giants, guys like McConnell and Kennard have little chance at securing a rebound thru physical force or playing above the rim. Like the Hail Mary in football, avoiding the scrum can be opportunistic:
First, though, he must have the blessing of the coach to do so.
Long shots = long rebounds, a universal basketball truth. In the era of the long-ball, giving up on potential rebounds seems like a waste:
Pistons’ guards don’t get those rebounds. That needs to change.
Dwane Casey insists the Pistons will use the three-point shot with great frequency - and we’ve seen some of that from the offense they’ve run in summer league. Any and every worthwhile shooter in the world will tell you the easiest shot in the game derives from inside-out:
In his rookie year, Luke Kennard logged a measly 21 total offensive rebounds. We can do better. If the rumors are true and Kennard dips his toes into the point guard arena (even if he doesn’t, really), the high-IQ, hard working, first one in, last one to leave McConnell should be on his emulate list.
In total, a full-time commitment to the offensive glass might boost the total number of possessions for the Pistons by only a handful, but it just might be worth it. I say, hit the glass hard and let the paramedics sort ‘em out.