The Detroit Pistons are off to a 2-3 start playing all five games without the services of Blake Griffin. It would be hard to argue that the roster hasn’t been clearly upgraded considering the Pistons couldn’t play basketball and chew gum at the same time when Griffin sat last season.
Let’s take a look at a few of the early season talking points.
Pick and roll defense
Defending the PNR requires a three-pronged commitment to stopping the ball handler, the roll man, and the offense deriving out of the pick-and-roll (meaning, the possession has transferred from the PNR into secondary action). Five games into the season, Detroit has just one, containing the ball-handler, under control.
One of the subtle improvements to Andre Drummond’s game has been his dedication to staying disciplined within the defensive scheme. In the early years, Drummond was all over the place trying to block everything into the cheapest of seats. The Stan Van Gundy era saw an aloof Drummond pretending to play drop coverage. Now, though, we’re treated to an athletic stance, hands wide apart to show length, and an engaged Dre:
It’s not flashy, he doesn’t record a blocked shot, but it’s exactly what the scheme calls for under these conditions. Thanks in large part to Drummond’s patience as the defending big, ball handlers are only scoring .789 PPP (last season .896) against Detroit this season.
Unfortunately, for Detroit, not all defensive possessions call for conservative coverage. Go ahead, drop against a dude like Trae Young and see what happens:
See, I told you.
Ideally, you’d like to get the ball out of the hands of the Trae Youngs of the world as quickly as possible. You know, put a little heat on him and give the Hawks something to think about:
Well, they thought about it and adjusted rather quickly:
When Drummond is applying pressure to the ball-handler during PNRs, he’s banking rotational help from the weak-side to take away the roll (his check).
The lack of help, or rotations arriving too late, from the weak-side is where the Pistons are getting killed on their PNR defense. So much so, that roll men are scoring 1.281 PPP this season compared to 1.104 last year.
Offense out of the PNR
On any given night, defenses will have to navigate through 70-80 pick-and-rolls. Some end like the examples above with the ball-handler or roll man taking the shot while many PNR possessions transform into secondary action.
Below, the initial PNR is thwarted but the overextended help from Luke Kennard left Patrick McCaw open for business:
It’s easy to point at Kennard as the culprit on the play above, but, ideally, he’s inviting that pass to the corner. From Detroit’s perspective, McCaw with the ball in the corner > literally anything else ... except when he makes the shot. So far, teams are doing just that scoring 1.02 PPP against Detroit while passing out out the PNR, last season it was .972 PPP.
It’s way too early to label Detroit’s PNR defense a problem, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Derrick Rose’s offense
Dwane Casey hasn’t been shy about unleashing the former MVP as Rose holds a nearly 39% usage rate while averaging 20 points and six assists per game.
Rose has, by far, conducted most of his work out of the pick-and-roll which includes this set:
To generate isolation looks, these Iverson cuts get Rose in space:
Hoopers of DBB - stop reading, get into the gym and work on your off-hand. It opens up an entire new world. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be featured on Film Don’t Lie?!
Andre Drummond quirks
Let me set the scene: Andre Drummond secures a defensive rebound and begins to bring the ball up the court ...
What is your reaction?
I’ll sign off on Drummond pushing pace and initiating offensive flow, that’s part of the modern-day big’s job description.
The skill set to score at a reasonable rate isn’t quite there yet so pump the brakes just a bit.
For now, push the pace then please immediately locate the nearest legitimate ball handler. The sequence below put the nail in the Pacers’ coffin on opening night and includes Drummond showing some timely restraint on his one-man transition looks:
Last year, Blake Griffin was a master at establishing early position after a change of possession. Drummond dabbled as well, but this season he has made it a point to leak out while defending stretch bigs:
Doing so puts immediate pressure on the defense to retreat and often times leads to easy buckets.
What are you seeing?
It’s only been five games, but the Pistons look a lot different than a year ago — for better and for worse. What are you seeing out of the team that is catching your eye? What would you like me to break down in the future?