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Film Don’t Lie: The value of setting a good screen

I take a look at another aspect of the Pistons offense that is contributing to the struggles

Detroit Pistons v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

As I said in my article about the Detroit Pistons off-target passing, there is plenty of blame to go around for the early season offensive struggles. While this team has definitely had some better stretches as of late, there are still plenty of bad quarters that is keeping this young squad from notching a couple more wins. I understand where the team’s “restoration” is, and winning games is not the most important factor. Instead, the team is focused on development ad night-to-night improvement. With that said, an area I would like to see this team improve is setting screens.

I know a lot of people will argue that this team simply does not have the “type” of players to be effective screeners. I understand that, I truly do, and until the Pistons roster has a couple of those players we may not see major improvements. However, that does not mean we can’t see improvement from current members of the roster. Yes, not having a certain size or build is going to limit your effectiveness as a screener, but I still think this is an area the team can place an emphasis on getting better. Of course, it doesn’t help that the team has played major minutes without the two guys that are the best screeners on the team. As you know, I don’t often use stats in my breakdowns, but I thought it would be good to provide some quantitative data when discussing effective screen setting.

The best team in the NBA at “screen assists points” per game is the Portland Trail Blazers at 29.7. The NBA team average is 20.7. The Pistons are the second-worst team in this area with a paltry 14.7. When I looked at this stat individually, I used per 48 minutes averages, and as everyone might assume, the Pistons are led by Isaiah Stewart with 12.3 screen assists points per 48 minutes. Second on the team is Kelly Olynyk with 9.4, followed by Luka Garza and Trey Lyles, at 8.1 and 5.6, respectively. No other member of the Pistons roster averages more than two per 48 minutes. So, how do those numbers compare individually to the rest of the NBA? The 12.3 for Stewart puts him at No. 58 in the entire association. Alex Len leads the league with 26.7, and I’m sure some are wondering about old friend Mason Plumlee who comes in ahead of Stewart as well at 12.9. Looking at the league leaders is where the “Pistons simply don’t have the right body type” argument carries a lot of weight (no pun intended) as you go through that list you find the likes of Len, Nurkic, Adams, Kanter, etc.

We have seen Stewart miss some time recently, Olynyk has been out for some time with a knee injury, and Garza is a development guy who plays sporadically. I don’t see the team adding one of those types of players who is currently in the top 25/30 in this category during the season. Perhaps it is something the team will address in the off season. So, is there anything the current roster can do to show some improvement? I think there is, and I will go to the film to show you.


The “old school” High School coach in me wants to see the Pistons set a solid on-ball screen every time where the defender runs right into their chest. As much as I would love that (and highlight a possession where Bam does it for the Heat), I understand that you don’t have to do that every screen to gain advantages. The problem for the Pistons right now is they are setting far too many on-ball screens where there is very, very little to no contact at all and thus the ball handler is gaining almost no advantage from the screen. Once again, I respect and understand that personnel does play a role in this, BUT I still feel that with better positioning and moving their feet instead of just leaning into the defender we could see some better results. I don’t dive into as much but I also wonder if the ball handler could help in some of these situations as well to help them be more effective.


Screens away from the ball are where I really feel like any player, regardless of body type, can have an impact. By putting your body in the correct position AND reading the defender and how they are going to get through the screen, you can take a step up or step down and help your teammate get a better look. For me, just like the on-target passing, this is something that could help the Pistons’ shooting woes by aiding in getting better and more open shots. I also highlight that because the Pistons defense knew the Heat were going to set good off-the-ball screens, it opened up the Heat offense and got them a couple easy looks.

I know there are all sorts of areas for improvement for this Pistons offense and understandably so for how young they are and we are still fairly early in the season. I am not saying they should be perfect in all these areas I highlight but I do like to take a look and then follow the rest of the season to see if we start to see some small improvements. This is yet another area we can watch for as the season progresses.