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Milwaukee Bucks v. Detroit Pistons: Kennard, Jackson offer glimmers of hope, the defense ... not so much

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If someone has figured out how to guard Giannis, would someone please let Detroit know

Detroit Pistons v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Two Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

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.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks finished the year 60-22, swept the Pistons in the first-round of the playoffs, but lost to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Detroit lost all four regular season games to Milwaukee.

Regular season box scores

Playoff box scores - (all clips below are from the playoff games)


Pistons v. Drop coverage

With Blake Griffin sidelined by knee injuries for Games One and Two of the playoffs, Luke Kennard enjoyed an uptick of basketball responsibilities. The sophomore-wing responded by scoring forty total points in the two games, including eight-of-eleven from beyond the arc.

Most notably, Kennard’s ball-handling opportunities skyrocketed without Griffin, including this set play:

The weave is eventually engineered into a step-up pick-and-roll between Kennard and Andre Drummond or Zaza Pachulia.

The Bucks played drop defense against Detroit’s middle PNRs which prioritizes defending the rim, but also allowed for Kennard to attack downhill. There are levels to the drop game, and Milwaukee’s depth (especially Lopez) is an ultra-conservative approach that grants on-ball defenders ample time to recover:

Lucky Luke improved at finishing near the rim this past season, but only 13% of his total field goal attempts came within four feet of the bucket. Based on being a southpaw alone, that rate should be closer to 20%.

Defenders that sag off Drummond when he’s perimeter orientated create prime conditions for a two-man game with Kennard. These types of looks will ALWAYS be there:

Few played the throw-and-chase, DHO, cat-and-mouse game better than J.J. Redick and Joel Embiid did last year:

If I’m Luke Kennard, between now and when training camp starts, I’m grabbing Andre Drummond, Coach Casey, and finding out a way to hook up with Mike Snyder, and saying:

“Hey, let’s all get together over my house to watch some tape on Embiid and Redick and figure out what made them so special. Then we’ll call Blake and grab a table for five at The Olive Garden, carb-load on unlimited breadsticks and pasta e fagioli, and discuss our futures with the organization.”

Or something along those lines.

Do you know who else loves to operate against the drop defense?

When I think of Reggie Jackson, I think of a dotted-line floater:

Let me rephrase, when I think of Reggie Jackson against the drop defense, I think of a dotted-line floater. There are many traits that come to mind when thinking solely of Reggie Jackson during his time in Detroit, and most aren’t as positive as the dotted-line floater reviews.

But, just as I’m ready to throw in the towel on the guy, Jackson reinvents his game.

Reggie and Blake shared only a handful of rather meaningless minutes together during the 2017-18 season thanks in large part to minor injuries to both players. Essentially, 2018-19 was the first taste of any sort of on-court partnership, and it required a drastic change on the part of Jackson.

Can Reggie, ball-dominant under Stan Van Gundy, play off the ball if the offense was going to run through Blake?

With less ball-handling duties, Jackson’s scoring efficiency soared. Per Cleaning the Glass, RJax recorded 112.1 points per 100 shots, by far a career-high, and good enough to rank in the 72nd percentile of point guards.

Jackson’s career-high 3-point accuracy of nearly 37% this past season helped fuel his career-high 54% true shooting. Oddly enough, he was fine off the ball:

Unlike Griffin, Jackson seemingly got stronger as the season progressed. For the first time in his professional career, Reggie played in all 82 games. When’s the last time you witnessed anything come out of Jackson remotely as bounce-y as this:

Because he almost did it again:

Reggie Jackson and his expiring contract will start the 2019-20 season as a member of the Detroit Pistons, but will he end the season in the famous Pistons grey?

Defending The Freak

Giannis Antetokounmpo had mild scoring games of 24, 26, 14, and 41 during his playoff run against the Pistons mainly because the job didn’t require much else.

While playing off Giannis is the preferred choice of defense for the Pistons in the now, it’s a tactic that has an expiring shelf life:

Gimmick!

Do you know what superstars do to gimmicks?

They eradicate them.

The exact coverage to be used against Antetokounmpo hasn’t been invented yet, but it will surely involve multiple humans. The only possessions to experience any sort of basket-denying against The Freak were the ones in which a secondary-defender made an appearance:

It’s going to take at least four arms and legs to corral Giannis.

In the meantime, which NBA superstar wore this ‘both ends’ play better?

Since Bruce Brown only shot 54% at the rim this year, he gets the nod!

Hoops talk

Follow this link for how the Bucks defended Griffin during the regular season:

All steals are not created equal

It’s always an awkward look when an Andre Drummond perimeter gamble goes awry:

Drummond averaged a career-high 1.7 steals last season, but losing bets (like above) are lavishly littered throughout his film. Sure, he eventually ended up with the theft, but that’s only because Brook Lopez missed a prime opportunity.

Drummond’s gaudy steal stats are easy on the eyes, but, unlike film, numbers sometimes lie.

Dre still lacks consistent defensive discipline, but his length and springs allow him to deny pocket passes and lobs at an elite level:

When Andre Drummond commits to being the best at what he’s best at, few can do it better.

Transferable skills

In football, it’s been said that a holding penalty could be flagged on every single snap. While you couldn’t whistle holding on every possession in the NBA, it probably happens a lot more than you think.

Below, Milwaukee’s Lopez clings onto Reggie Jackson like your favorite Detroit Lions linemen:

Or is Reggie the guilty party? Man, I’d hate to be a ref.

Below, Blake Griffin plays the role of a beat defensive back perfectly. As the Bucks look to get Lopez the ball, Griffin puts his hands up a nanosecond after Lopez does. Why? Because he knows the ball is on the way if Lopez is reaching for something:

If you were with us last summer, you already knew about Dwane Casey’s stick arm approach. But, Blake, you gotta get your head around and locate the ball if you want to play in the NFL, or else that’s pass interference.

Below, Pat Connaughton sends Wayne Ellington baseline by denying his preferred route. Connaughton is allowed to play this aggressive because the scheme has built-in help, and everyone is on the same page. Like a Safety supplying over-the-top coverage and help, Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez both have Connaughton’s back:

No over-the-top help, and not being on the same page, looks similar to this:

Help the helper

Wayne Ellington surrenders 50 or 60 pounds and around six inches of height to Giannis Antetokounmpo, but what must be done must be done.

On the play below, it’s Ellington’s job to rotate to the space vacated by the doubling Thon Maker:

Ouch.

Does anyone have any legit beef with Wayne Ellington? I do not. During 28 games in Detroit, Ellington averaged 12 points on a 58% true shooting and played well-intended defense. Congrats, Mr. Wayne, you’ve officially earned the title ‘Friend of the Program’ from Film Don’t Lie, which is not handed out to all former Pistons.

It’s a realistic goal newcomer Tim Frazier should shoot for:

You know you’re going to get some run, right, Tim? Third-stringers must remain loose and fresh ‘round these parts during each game. Chances are, they’re going to check in.