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Identifying the Detroit Pistons’ “late switch” defensive concept

The late switch is a significant in-game adjustment to Detroit’s pick-and-roll coverage.

Utah Jazz v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

With the current roster, the Pistons are at their defensive best when staying true to their original matchups. An offensive ball-screen is the most switch-inducing action in the game, but, as we all know, drop coverage is the preferred choice in defending a standard PNR:

Reggie Jackson fights over the Jonas Valanciunas screen as Andre Drummond corrals Kyle Lowry until Jackson recovers. After a ball-screen takes place, the goal of the on-ball defender is to be fully recovered by the ball-handler’s second dribble. A mid-range attempt is the perfect ending to perfect coverage.

There are times, however, in which personnel or specific in-game context dictates a switch to be the best option. For example, when the on-ball defender is too late to recover back to his man, even though it’s not part of the initial game plan, it’s best to simply switch and try to salvage the possession. In this scenario, the on-the-fly adjustment is called a “late switch” (it has many synonyms) and can be applied to a rolling or popping big.

Below, Kemba Walker’s lighting fast first step is too much for Jackson so he passes Walker off to the retreating Zaza Pachulia and then looks to box out the rolling Cody Zeller:

Walker still gets the bucket, but you, hopefully, get the idea. If not, take another look:

Khyri Thomas is picked off by the BucksThon Maker and, while it’s not the first option, the rook has no other choice other than to switch as Eric Bledsoe is just too deep. Thomas then looks to, at the very least, become a nuisance to Maker.

For shooting bigs, the same principles are used:

Once Jose Calderon rightfully realizes he has no chance to get back in front of Mike Conley, he drifts to JaMychal Green.

High-level defensive communication and recognition are needed to pull off the late switch and things get messy when one or both traits go missing.

Below, Jon Leuer abandons the penetrating Bledsoe a step too early:

Leuer must call for a late switch or stay put until Thomas is fully recovered.

An easy cue for on-ball defenders: if you can read the name and number on the back of the ball-handler’s jersey after his two penetrating dribbles, you’ve gotta ignite the late switch. It’s a tip Bruce Brown could’ve used here:

Brown, bless his heart, busts his ass to get back to Conley, but the damage has already been done. Drummond correctly switches onto Conley and Brown should’ve slid over to take away the pocket pass to Marc Gasol. Thank God for the always alert Reggie Jackson.

Do you think Brown could’ve read Conley’s name and number on that play?

Yeah, probably.

The late switch concept isn’t unique to Detroit by any means, but it’s certainly part of their game plan.