Reaction to the Pistons’ turnaround isn’t hard to find as Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul think-pieces and other hard-hitting analysis can be found on every internet street corner. “What are they doing differently?” is a common theme, but, it’s not what they’re doing that’s giving the Pistons new life, it’s how they’re doing it.
If it seems like an oversimplification to attribute Detroit’s offensive explosion to good old-fashioned and gosh-darn execution, well, that’s the point. None of what they put on film is difficult to grasp as ball-reversals, pick-and-rolls and DHOs are far from high-level concepts. Detroit isn’t winning with smoke and mirrors, they’re playing with a purpose and executing Dwane Casey’s game plan to near perfection.
Coaching, at its core, is a transfer of awareness and know-how which can be used intrinsically by each individual to help breed confidence as a team. The tricky part for coaches isn’t the teaching part, though, it’s getting their players to apply those transferred beliefs onto the court.
Knowledge (BBIQ) is a trait that, in the proper environment, can be moved from coach to player, and is a form of quickness in and of itself. The better you grasp and understand basketball concepts, the faster you’ll be on the court going from point-A to point-B. Why? Because you’re not wasting precious nanoseconds on internal decision-making dialog. No matter the defensive-rotations blueprint being used, for example, you’re going to be early to the spot if you’re guessing, and late if you’re reacting. It’s when you know that things start to click.
Detroit is playing like they know.
When you’re in the know, there is meaning behind your movement. Of course, not all ball and player movement is created equal. If the offense is swinging the ball from side-to-side but no one is looking to score, then what you have isn’t offense. What you got is a glorified shell drill or a Big Ten basketball game.
Successful offense in the NBA demands defenses to be in a constant state of reaction or recovery. Sure, on any given possession, there is going to be some fluff or deception (for various reasons), but the secret behind putting the ball in the basket is to actively look to put the ball in the basket. Shocking, I know.
Detroit is one the best teams at utilizing DHOs due to the ball-handling assertiveness of both the individuals involved.
A staple of Detroit’s halfcourt offense is a ball reversal into a DHO, similar to this:
The Pistons’ spacing, above, engineers a two-on-one as Robin Lopez must keep both the ball-handler and roller in front of him. Good luck. If Wayne Ellington doesn’t turn the corner with scoring intentions in mind, though, then the play would’ve never materialized.
Ball-handling and scoring duties for Detroit’s bigs come into play as Blake Griffin, for instance, can also keep the rock:
Slick screen, Mr. Wayne. Each of those clips represents a commitment to making the defense react by the use of aggressive ball-handling.
Once you have their attention, or when a trend is put on film, then come the defensive adjustments. The Bulls, below, decide to jump Ellington after the DHO which created an easy scoring lane for Griffin:
Chicago would have no reason to blitz the DHO if there wasn’t a threat to score deriving from the ball-handler.
Below, Langston Galloway attacks another Bulls’ adjustment by recognizing that the helping-on-the-Griffin-roll Robin Lopez abandons Andre Drummond:
Smart and easy basketball.
The PNR is one of the oldest actions in the book, but it’s still one of the best. In Detroit, any number of rotational-players can lead the look including Luke Kennard:
Dwane Casey: "Luke Kennard is really growing up right in front of us. ... You know you have respect when teams are double-teaming you. They're blitzing his pick-and-rolls."— James Edwards III (@JLEdwardsIII) March 10, 2019
The key for Kennard, and the rest of the offense, is to identify the strategy as soon as possible and, like the DHO, attack the vulnerable spaces on the court created by a scrambling defense:
Above, Luke Kennard makes the proper reads and his Pistons teammates cash in.
Detroit’s version of the Spain PNR shares similar objectives when facing a double-team:
Ish Smith identifies the pair of defenders and his pass to Griffin initiates a Timberwolves’ rotation. As the Wolves recover, passing lanes open and slam dunks and good times ensue.
Of course, you don’t have to use a double to defend the Spain PNR:
Didn’t work for Chicago, and neither did drop coverage against a standard Reggie Jackson-led pick-and-roll:
Taking what the defense gives is about as simple as it gets, and for Jackson and Smith that shot will be available every time the opposing big remains handcuffed to the paint.
Unfortunately for the rest of the league, Blake Griffin can do some things with the ball too:
#Bulls coach Jim Boylen on #Pistons Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin: "We had a hard time with that big-big pick-and-roll. We couldn't get under it; we were under the switch and we couldn't get under it and couldn't keep them in front of us."— Rod Beard (@detnewsRodBeard) March 10, 2019
Jim Boylen was referring to these Griffin-Drummond PNRs. First, Lauri Markkanen is late to cut off Griffin’s penetration (which is the entire point of going under, let alone going under both Drummond and Lopez), then Lopez is late to contest Griffin’s three-ball:
Again, the shot-creation possessions that ball-handling Griffin is capable of continues to warrant the attention of non-primary defenders, and he continues to make the correct read:
Kris Dunn swipes at Griffin as Reggie Jackson stops the help. Smart and easy basketball.
The playbook of a Tex Winter and Brad Stevens’ love child means nothing if the team using it is constantly making the wrong reads or lazily going through the motions. Good Xs and Os ran poorly are bad Xs and Os. That’s an old Blog Boy saying, feel free to use it at the watercooler, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, or however you see fit.
The ability to apply locker room strategy to on-court behavior takes time and trust. The shitty part about trust is that it can’t be rushed. Whether you’re a volunteer sixth-grade coach or Dwane Casey, win or lose, the first question after every game should be: did we execute the game plan? And adjust accordingly. If yes, how? If no, why? For Detroit, it’s been: Yes, see above.