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 broke down hundreds of hours of video, analyzing how the Pistons did against each team in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers finished 48-34 and lost to the Boston Celtics in round one of the playoffs.
The teams split the first two games with each winning at home. The Pacers swept back-to-back games in early April as Detroit played without Blake Griffin in both.
Defending the rim
The Pacers defensive blueprint was clear each time they played the Pistons. Indiana, not so secretly, prioritized defending the rim over defending the 3-point line.
Detroit chucked up 151 threes (connecting on 50) in their four games against Pacers.
The decision on how the Pacers should eliminate Andre Drummond’s roll off of a ball-screen was made easy every time there was a non-shooter such as Bruce Brown occupying the weak corner:
Indiana invites the pass to the corner by sending in Corey Joseph to clog the lane. From there, the weak-side X-out between Joseph and Bojan Bogdanovic deserves an award.
Other than the Pacers, you know who else doesn’t give a shit about the Pistons jacking up three-pointers? Another Central Division affiliate called the Milwaukee Bucks, maybe you’re familiar with their work? Opponents of the Deer launched an average of 36 threes per night.
Strap up DBB, the Pistons are going to tip-off against this type of defensive rim-worship at least a few times next season.
The simplest way to counter a team that generously allows threes is to graciously make threes.
The Pistons had a lot of three-point shot-takers (35 per game, ranked 6th) last season which satisfied half of the strategy busting formula, but they were a little short on the shot-makers (34%, ranked 23rd).
For basketball newbs, to be crystal clear, the making part is the most crucial aspect of the entire shooting process, anyone can heave it. Ball going in hoop = good. What Pistons typically do = bad.
Aggressively defending the rim the way the Pacers do ain’t an easy gig. It’s quite taxing on the weak side, which is a downside the Pistons can take advantage of with a few more reliable shotmakers in the rotation.
Remember the award-winning X-out from above? The amount of territory Corey Joseph had to cover was exhausting. Below, Joseph must take another lengthy route, only on this possession, he cannot recover in time, and Kennard nails the open look:
Joseph, again, was checking a nonthreat in the weak corner and drawn to Bruce Brown’s penetration.
During Detroit’s lone win against Indiana, the Pistons made 18-of-41 threes, good for 43%. To repeat, ball going in hoop = good.
Consistent weak-side shooting would have rim-prioritizing teams adjusting at halftime, but for much of the year, and especially against the Pacers, the Pistons’ weak-side offense was toothless:
A Jose Calderon kick out to Stanley Johnson? A swing to Ish Smith? Insert favorite vomit dot gif.
Taking a step back and reflecting, you know what, 41-41 sounds about right.
Assuming overall team health, I’d love to see the ball in the hands of Luke Kennard more next year, but not necessarily against the Pacers and Bucks of the world.
Whether it’s off a Griffin post-up, Rose or Jackson penetration, or Andre Drummond’s rolling gravity, when defensive eyeballs get enthralled with protecting the rim next year, and that rock is reversed or skipped, Cool Hand Luke is designed to deliver:
We just need to see a higher rate of delivery pursuits.
Luke, my friend, it’s weird that I have to keep asking you to shoot the ball. Pull the fuckin’ trigger:
Thanks to nagging injuries, and being overworked as a high school Athletic Director, Kennard got off to slow start to last season, but was the team’s best player against the Milwaukee Bucks during their brief postseason run.
2019-20 is year three for Luke Kennard in the NBA and it’s time he permanently inserts himself into Detroit’s future and into the general NBA conversation as up-and-coming players.
Tony Snell didn’t have many plays called for him in Milwaukee over the past three seasons, and will likely fill a similar offensive role in Detroit. Snell did, however, knock down over 40% of his threes (on 827 attempts) during his Bucks days, making for an ideal shooting weak-sider:
Finally, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk came to Detroit during the Reggie Bullock deal near last-season’s trade deadline with the reputation of being a long-distance shooter. Frankly put, I’ll be the judge of that.
Thon Maker’s defense
Thon Maker tries super-duper hard on defense.
You cannot get pushed around down low:
And play turnstyle defense on the perimeter:
(While shooting 30% on threes as Maker did during his 29 games in a Pistons uniform, but we’ll stick to defense for now)
Before we start hating on Maker for his Blake Griffin-inspired closeouts from above, please understand that Dwane Casey preaches running guys off the 3-point line. So much so that only Utah Jazz opponents averaged fewer 3-point attempts per game.
Casey’s defensive philosophy last season was almost the exact opposite of how the Pacers defended the Pistons. As the league’s collective offense includes more reliance on 3-point making, Casey is hoping to eliminate the opportunity of an attempt. You see, the opponent cannot make threes if they don’t take threes.
He’s certainly not alone in the thought process.
To be fair, it’s my guess that Maker is being coached to ensure his check doesn’t get a 3-point shot off, and it’s Casey’s reinforcement that is triggering the over-assertive closeouts by Maker.
Coaches do that. It’s on both to get their story straight.
For Casey’s defense to properly function, there needs to be a backside rotation (and then another rotation to help that rotation, etc.) to deter the ball-handler’s (now) direct path to the hoop. You know, not like this:
No 3-point attempt? Check!
Backside rotation? I’m not going to name names, but, unfortunately, no check.
Per Cleaning the Glass, teams shot nearly 66% at the rim last year against Detroit (ranked 27th), and I’m curious how many of those made buckets originated off closeout blow-bys. In effect, does “running guys off the line” (eventually) create a more efficient attempt at the basket than a conceding a 3 pointer?
But, yes, Thon is active.
Few teams saw handoffs end their offensive possessions more than the Detroit Pistons. Wings of all shapes and sizes were the main beneficiary of the playtype for Detroit as former Pistons Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson, Wayne Ellington, and returning wings Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway were all frequent end-users of Detroit’s DHO.
Part of Detroit’s early-offense look included this simple two-man game between Blake Griffin and fill-in-the-blank wing:
In Langston Galloway’s case, the six-foot-two shooting guard started to incorporate rim attacks after accepting the handoff, which was new for his time in Detroit:
Yes, I use the term “attack” rather loosely.
Per Cleaning the Glass, only 13-percent of Galloway shot attempts (6-percent during the previous season) came at the rim, so, yeah, DHOs are on Galloway’s resume, but he’s a catch-and-shoot guy through and through.
The problem, if you remember correctly, is that Detroit needs more catch-and-make guys.
37-percent of Galloway’s attempts on the season were spot-up chucks similar to these:
In 26 games after the All-Star break, Galloway hit 41% of his threes on just shy of five tries per night. The 54 previous games, however, the attempts remained high and the conversation rate was much lower — just 32%.
Galloway can get buckets in a hurry, but when he’s not on, the St. Joe’s product doesn’t offer anything else. 2019-20 will be the last year of the three-year, $21 million dollar contract he signed in the summer 2017. Clearly, Stan Van Gundy at the time was thinking...well, I don’t know what he was thinking.
Langston Galloway will enjoy a long career, mostly because he busts his ass, but that long career won’t see too many nine- or 10-man playing rotations.
Stop the ball
Ten Twenty push-ups, all of you.