There’s little question that the development of the young Detroit Pistons has been a point of controversy this year. Everyone’s heard the complaints that Sekou Doumbouya, in particular, hasn’t played enough. Svi Mykhailiuk and Saddiq Bey have found themselves out of the rotation for games at a time. The team’s perpetual minutes leaders game in and game out are veterans Blake Griffin, Delon Wright Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant.
There’s certainly good reason for the consternation. Detroit is very clearly in a significant re-build and will end the season as one of the worst teams in the league. Wanting to see what exists within the young core is tough when they’re not seeing a lot of minutes.
But how those minutes play out is equally important.
We’re not just talking about how each individual performs when they’re on the floor. The process of what happens on the court matters more on both a team and individual level. Putting young players in positions to succeed is an important part of their development.
So far, the process hasn’t been ideal.
Isaiah Stewart, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Sekou all share Derrick Rose as their most common point guard teammate. Bey has played slightly more with Delon Wright, but still plenty with Rose.
Those minutes haven’t been great.
The most-used bench lineups have been quite good defensively but a disaster on the other end.
With Derrick Rose on the move for Dennis Smith, Jr. and a pick, it’s important that Dwane Casey picks a successor for the bench unit that will best take advantage of the youth’s strengths.
We know Svi and Saddiq can provide gravity via their shooting, particularly when they’re moving without the ball and causing defenses to scramble. Sekou operates his best when he’s finding holes in the opposing defense and cutting into them on a path to the rim. Josh Jackson operates best when facing an unset defense he can exploit. Stewart thrives on creating havoc in open lanes.
Detroit’s reserves, at this point in their young careers, are going to play best when they can get the defense moving. Without the talent to make that happen in isolation situations, they need some schematic help and a point guard to execute. The former has happened at times, but Derrick Rose’s style of play doesn’t lend itself well to more structured basketball.
One of the better offensive concepts we see the bench run is a variation of the Spain pick-and-roll. In the traditional Spanish play, the original screener sets a high screen, gets a subsequent screen, and the second screener floats to the perimeter to shoot. The Pistons have run something similar.
Watch here as Jackson sets a down screen for Stewart who screens for Rose. Jackson sprints to the perimeter and is wide open with Stewart ready to set an additional screen to prevent a close out, but Rose decides to take on two defenders instead:
A short time later in the same game, Rose initiated the play by setting a token screen for Svi who sprints to the other end of the court. Stewart again screens for Rose who has open shooters in Jackson and Sekou but again elects to attempt a closely contested shot at the rim:
Several minutes later, Detroit set up a staggered screen for Rose that he turns down. With Sekou in position to set a good screen and flare to the perimeter, and Stewart available for a screen and a roll, the Pistons were positioned to make the Lakers defense work. Instead, Rose takes it himself and ends up in poor position underneath the basket resulting in a kickout to Jackson for a long missed three:
Whether it’s Saben Lee, Frank Jackson, or Dennis Smith, Jr., you’d like to see a more passing-oriented lead ball handler to execute some of these actions. On the surface, Saben Lee fits best as a facilitator.
A group of young players who are still learning the intricacies of NBA offense benefit a lot from having someone who can just organize them on offense and reward them for their hard work and movement. Sekou Doumbouya got a layup after Mason Plumlee directed traffic against the Cleveland Cavaliers:
Finding someone who can be a teacher and true floor general would be a nice change for the development of the youth.
Of course, the downside of a potential Rose departure is that you lose the one guy on your bench unit who is something of a dynamic creator. But the ability of wings like Mykhailiuk and Bey give you options to make the point guard’s job easier.
In the fourth quarter against the Lakers, Svi set a quick screen for Plumlee to keep Montrezl Harrell deeper than he might like to be. Mykhailiuk then sprinted toward the corner forcing Talen Horton-Tucker to not be able to slow down Rose’s drive:
When shooters are actively drawing defenders away from the paint rather than simply standing still as spacers in the corner, it makes help defense more difficult. If Detroit is without Rose, they’re going to need to find more ways to do that.
Less than a minute into the Lakers game, Detroit ran dual flare screens with Wayne Ellington receiving the ball after a hand-off. The head start he gets coming off the hand-off is aided by the defenders on the other side of the floor with their backs turned defending the other flare screen and Wayne finishes an open layup:
These rather simple actions can make a big difference in putting what is likely to be a less-dynamic bench point guard in positions to succeed. And that lead ball handler can in turn get his teammates better opportunities.
If the Pistons can find that type of floor general for the second unit, it could be a real boon for Detroit’s youngest players.