The lions’ share of the attention is on Detroit’s current, some would say historic, inability to put the ball in the basket. Kind of goes with the territory of having a league-worst true-shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage and bottom-three overall offensive rating.
The most noticeable reason for all those offensive struggles are an allergy to hitting open 3-pointers. This has been discussed endlessly all season so I won’t belabor the point. Simply put, the Pistons shoot the 11th-most 3s in the league and are the only team in the NBA shooting less than 30% from deep.
I want to flip the script a bit and focus on the defensive side of that 3-point equation. Detroit has the 26th rated defense in the NBA, and at least by the eye test they don’t seem nearly as hopeless on defense as they do on offense. Sometimes they look downright frisky. There are plenty of defensive breakdowns, don’t get me wrong, but that’s to expected with any team relying on so many young players.
If the Pistons mostly pass the eye test then it’s incumbent on me to dive into the numbers and see what they are telling me. Turns out, the story is equal parts ugly and comical. The Pistons allow the fifth-lowest field goal percentage at the rim. So far so good! They do allow opponents to hit 45% in the paint outside the restricted area, which seems to indicate that they are hampered by an overall lack of size that allows quality looks on runners, floaters and assorted short jumpers. That extends to allowing a league-worst 46.8% from the mid-range. On the one hand, you’re turning those into semi-efficient looks for the opposing team. On the other, these are the exact kind of shots you want your opponent to be shooting.
This is where we get to 3-point shooting, and boy oh boy, do the Pistons do not fare well here. Sort of. The Pistons let opponents hit 45.3% on corner 3s. That is the second-worst mark in the league. That’s bad. However, the Pistons allow just 6.8 attempts from the corner per game. That is the fourth-lowest frequency. That is good. Moving on to above the break 3s, the Pistons are last in the league allowing an almost unfathomable 40.4% on the long 3s per game. Again, very bad, no good. But again, the Pistons limit the shots. They allow just 24.5 per game which is good for seventh-fewest in the NBA.
Study after study has shown that there will always be wild variance in 3-point shooting from game to game and even season to season. That means that there isn’t much of a way to be “good” at defending the 3-pointer, and your best bet is to simply limit attempts as much as you can. Detroit is doing the hard part — limiting the shots. Opponents are hitting their shots, and there isn’t much Detroit can do about that.
But how many of those opponent shots are open? The Pistons allow 16.4 wide open 3s (defender is 6-plus feet away) per game, which is smack in the middle of the pack. They also allow the second-fewest number of open 3s (defender is 4-6 feet away) in the league. A symbol of how much luck might play in all this? The Denver Nuggets are No. 1 in the NBA in fewest open 3s allowed. Opponents shoot just 32.9%. The Utah Jazz rank third. Opponents connect on just 32.6% of attempts. The Pistons? Well, opponents are hitting 43% of their open 3s.
What can the Pistons do about this? Honestly, not much. They need to do everything they can to limit attempts. That means cutting out some of their own mistakes. Detroit allows nearly 21 points off turnovers per game, ahead of only the Houston Rockets.
Nobody is going to confuse the Pistons as a good team on either end. They entered the season as a likely bottom 5 squad, and that’s exactly where they will end up. But they aren’t as bad as they have showed early on this season. It is a cruel combination of absolutely unlucky and abysmal 3-point shooting on offense and giving up an abnormally high percentage from deep on defense.
That is turning games that would have been 7-point losses last season into 20-point blowouts this season. Things will hopefully even out eventually. Soon. Let’s make it soon.