Welcome to Film Don’t Lie: The Definitive Video Breakdown of the Detroit Pistons. For more on this comprehensive video series, please see our intro post. In short, I analyzed Pistons film against the top-seven seeds of the Eastern Conference in search of on-court themes and tendencies.
The Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic finished 42-40, won the Southeast Division, but were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in the first-round of the playoffs.
Detroit won three-of-four against Orlando.
Zaza Pachulia puts his cutters in a position to succeed by passing ahead:
Coach, please tell the fine people of DBB why this is important:
Dribble handoff defense vs. offense: The subtleties of offense are on full display by Golden State as this two player action creates an advantage off of a stationary handoff, curl & patient pass delivery. #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/Q6ZfTTOWYe— Chris Oliver (@BBallImmersion) May 15, 2019
Pachulia seems like a great teammate, but the Pistons chapter of his career has come to an end. Can I get one more touchdown celebration before we part ways?
Thanks Z, I’ll never forget what good ole number 29 did for this organization!
Oh, I mean 27. Whatever.
A potent off-hand reeks of long summer hours spent in a smelly gymnasium. You have to work hard to be able to pull a move like this off:
I’ve been preaching about Kennard’s off hand for as long as he’s had an off hand, but byproducts of hard work should always be recognized and are the quickest way to my (basketball) heart.
Don’t get me wrong, Luke, paint-ambidexterity is cool and all, but what’s your range like?
Orlando’s early offense
Three different outcomes for Terrence Ross from the same early-offense look:
All three of Ross’ checks forced him to use the screens and were banking on help that showed up late, left too early, or never arrived.
Detroit’s backup point guard
A Jose Calderon sighting in 2019 can’t mean things are going well:
Calderon looked every bit of his 48-years last season, and the team suffered every second he was forced into action.
Like Pachulia, the Jose Calderon Pistons-era has come to an end.
In an effort to address this exact issue, the Pistons signed (emphasis on) former MVP Derrick Rose as backup point guard, and Tim Frazier to assume the role of third-string quarterback and (seemingly inevitable) injury replacement.
Frazier was a no-brainer. Between injuries to Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith over the last few years, the third-string point guard has seen an absurd amount of run.
I like the Rose signing.
Does he fit on the court?
In the big picture, who cares? When/if this team is ever competing in the upper echelon again (like, for real) Derrick Rose, fit or no fit, will be long gone. The film doesn’t matter for Rose while he’s in Detroit. It’s not a free pass to poor play. I’ll still complain, but there are more meaningful Rose-centric discussions to be had.
Look at this way.
If Rose in Detroit goes well, it’s great news for everyone.
But if it goes wrong, how does it go wrong?
Does he take anyone down with him? Does Drummond get sucked in? Is he getting in the ear of the young guys for all the wrong reasons? If he is committing these culture no-nos, then Blake Griffin and Dwane Casey’s voice doesn’t carry as much weight as we thought it did. In reality, it would be back to square one on rebuilding from the middle.
If the addition of Rose goes sideways, the unified message from the team is likely to be “Thanks, but no thanks. We are going to move on with life without you. Please feel free to visit the gift shop on the way out.”
So what’s the big deal?
Trade him, waive him, I don’t know the exact rules, just get him out of here at that point. Part of the lure of building great basketball culture is being able to take calculated risks on risky players like Rose and see if you hit a jackpot.
The timing of this miniature litmus test couldn’t be better. Can the stakes be lower and still somehow actually matter? If the Casey-Griffin-Stefanski-built culture cannot survive this version of Rose then we have the wrong guys in the wrong places and it’s time to hit the hard reset. And even that’s worth knowing.
Now, if you’ve got beef with Rose for his off-the-court trouble, that’s certainly understandable. May I recommend this particular DBB podcast as Laz does a tremendous job of discussing the topic.
To both Derrick and Tim, please DM me on Twitter for interview requests. All I ask is to be patient, I’ll get to you when I get to you. Remember, I’m the excuse-maker. For the most part, play hard and smart, and we’ll have no problems. Steve is the one you’ve got to worry about.
Griffin v. Gordon
Aaron Gordon caught Blake Griffin with cement in his sneakers:
Blake did, however, seduce Gordon into three offensive fouls:
With 31 total drawn charges last year, Griffin finished second to only Ersan Ilyasova (50) in the league.
Blake regularly shouldered his way into a scoring position:
Griffin’s got muscles in places most people don’t have places and flexes regulatory on those not in his weight class. To his credit, Gordon never backed down, held his own, and seemed genuinely enthusiastic in the matchup against his future-self.
Detroit’s third-team All-NBA selection averaged 21-5-4 on 57-TS% against the Fightin’ Magicians which is all-around lower than his on-the-year numbers of 24-7-5 at 58-TS%.
Gordon found buckets on empty strong-corner PNRs:
Once the strong-side wings (above it’s Ross and Fournier) relocate to the weak side, there is no one to tag the rolling Gordon. Should the Pistons fully rotate to cover the roll, the wings then become Plan B as they collect staggered screens.
Impressive, sure, but I still like our version better.
Where’d he go?
Glenn Robinson III had trouble keeping track of his check:
GR3 isn’t the only guilty ball-watching defender on the roster though:
While Robinson blew his single assignment(s), Bruce Brown, above, blew the scheme, there is a difference. Griffin initiating the double team is Brown’s cue to sink to the baseline:
Sinking prevents the baseline cut and leaves a skip pass to the opposite wing as the only legit weak-side option. Even if Bruce is taking the first pass (essentially a zone), he still must be aware of his surroundings.
Capitalizing off the switch
When the season kicked off last October, the Pistons’ roster didn’t scream defensive switchability, and, rightfully, they only utilized switching on a limited basis. Somewhere down the line, though, they gained irrational confidence in routinely swapping duties.
Below, Detroit late-switches the initial ball-screen leaving 6-foot-3 Reggie Jackson on Orlando’s 7-foot All-Star:
Easy work for Nikola Vucevic.
Switching, at times, could be the best or only option on any given possession, but Detroit continuously got burned all year long when they decided their original matchup integrity wasn’t a priority.
Vucevic exposed Detroit’s ill-timed switching in more way than one.
Below, Calderon and Pachulia (playing at the same time, there is your first problem) swap an elbow PNR and force an Orlando miss. Vucevic, however, crashes with little pushback:
An offensive sequence like that looks familiar, but from where? Hmmmmmm....
Oh, I remember now.
“Toss up some garbage shot and hope Andre cleans it up” was Stan Van Gundy’s favorite play call. Orlando’s Steve Clifford is, in every sense of the word, a Van Gundy protege.
Below, Detroit switches a sideline DHO granting Vucevic the greenlight to attack the misplaced mouse in the house. As Augustin coaxes Drummond to the perimeter, Glenn Robinson III tries to lend a helping hand, and, whoops:
Every switch initiates a tiny ripple effect in scheme for each defender on the court. Responsibilities are in a constant state of flux making early-recognition a must have ingredient for a successful defense. The slightest hesitation, at this level, is an automatic bucket.
Big man handles
Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic attacks Andre Drummond off the dribble:
In four games against Detroit, Vucevic averaged 18.0 / 11.3 / 3.8 on 52-TS%.
D.J. Augustin’s effortless effectiveness
Detroit took three of four games from the Orlando Magic during the regular season, but with averages of 18 points, 6.5 assists, one turnover per game and splits of 55/47/93, the former Piston and pint-sized point guard was rather problematic, and the reasoning behind his success should come as no surprise.
The lack of reliable perimeter defense was an annoyingly consistent talking point for Detroit’s defense all season. The Pistons finished 27th in rim protection (per Cleaning The Glass) and Augustin’s effortless paint touches, and those like them, absolutely played a role in Dwane Casey’s heachache.
The Orlando Magic made 73% (81-of-111) of shots within four feet of the rim during their season series with Detroit. Strung out over a full 82 games, such a high-percentage would easily be number one in the league.
Augustin is under contract through next year for Orlando at 7.25 million dollars and, more importantly, he should make quite the influential big brother to Markelle Fultz.
Drummond pushing the pace
I LOVE the idea of Andre Drummond pushing the pace on his own after securing another rebound or loose ball, sign me up for putting immediate pressure on the retreating defense. The thought is great, but the actual practice needs some of those smelly-gym hours I was rapping about earlier:
Even when it “works,” the sequence seems clumsy:
This is something Drummond can do, but it’s not there yet.
Big on big rejections
Bigs who aren’t afraid of getting dunked on are bigs I like:
Drummond continued to develop as a defender this season.
Damn, I completely forgot about that buzzer-beater, and I bet you did too.