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The Pistons are great at defending three-pointers, but at what cost?

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Are the Pistons placing too much emphasis on three-point defense?

Philadelphia 76ers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons are getting killed in the paint. On both sides of the ball, actually, but we only have time to chat about defense today.

The familiar faces of answering “how?” have all made an unwanted appearances this year:

A lack of perimeter containment:

Head-scratching choices:

Or both traits on the same play:

Hmmmmmmm?

Ok, well, you gotta do something.

We’ve come to expect those shortcomings from time to time so is there anything else?

Maybe.

Defensively speaking, surrendering mid-range looks is the desired outcome of running guys off the three-point line while stopping them before they get to the rim. Detroit’s defense yielded an array of mid-range looks during their 13-7 start to the season, but, again, that was by design and, for the most part, it worked. During that stretch, Pistons’ opponents only saw 30-percent of their total field goal attempts come at the rim. The stubborn paint admittance policy, in regards to frequency, ranked 2nd best in the league.

From after Detroit’s home win against the Golden State Warriors on December 1st thru present day (the next 20 game stretch), though, 37-percent of opponents’ looks have a come at the rim which, in regards to frequency, ranks 19th. It’s quite the notable drop considering Detroit’s obsession with defending the three-point line hasn’t varied an inch. The Pistons have hovered around the top 5 all season long in both limiting opponents’ three-point makes and attempts.

It begs the question: is Detroit placing too much emphasis on defending the long-ball?

On the surface, a commitment to limiting threes seems in stride with a winning strategy for modern-day basketball success. The problem for the Pistons, especially during their swoon, is the cost of denying good looks, is giving up great looks, and the logic isn’t holding up.

In their late-December loss to the Indiana Pacers, the Pistons conceded 68 points in the paint to their Central Division rival. The Pacers pocket passed the Pistons to death due to, among other things, Detroit’s over-reliance on defending the pick-and-roll with only two defenders:

Positioning Blake Griffin at the weak elbow means a kickout three to Myles Turner won’t happen (nixing a three-point attempt), but it also creates a path of little resistance for the rolling Domantas Sabonis.

You know who doesn’t give a shit about defending three-pointers? The Indiana Pacers:

Look at all the attention the rolling Andre Drummond receives:

On the season, the Indiana Pacers rank 29th in limiting the frequency of opponents’ three-point attempts. For what it’s worth, the Milwaukee Bucks are 30th and both teams are in the top-3 of halfcourt defense over the last 20ish games.

Below, the Los Angeles Lakers make Langston Galloway choose: stay at home on the corner three or help on the Michael Beasley roll:

Galloway decides to stay put as Beasley gets the bucket. Being the sole tag-man, such as Galloway in the example, is a difficult position to be in, but it’s something teams keep throwing at Detroit. Essentially, Lance Stephenson is an option quarterback running down the line and reading the defensive end. If Galloway helps on the roll, it’s a corner three. If Galloway stays home, dump the ball off. Detroit keeps choosing to stay home.

Fast-twitch bigs are having a field day against the tag-less Pistons with quick slips to a naked rim:

Two dunks, but hey, look mom, no three-pointers!

There are teams out there, the Utah Jazz for one, who can successfully defend the rim and three-point line, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a choice. For the first 20 games of the year, the Pistons were one of those teams. Not anymore. Is it due to a shift in focus, or poor execution of the same principles?

* Thank you to Cleaning the Glass for all the wonderful stats.