When the Detroit Pistons announced Blake Griffin was sitting until he and the team could agree to a resolution for his departure, it shook up the nature of the team’s rotations and how to move forward.
Dwane Casey has struggled to find a consistent, successful starting lineup since that time. The most common iteration has been Delon Wright, Wayne Ellington, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, and Mason Plumlee. That group had a terrible -23.5 net rating in 68 minutes. When Josh Jackson replaces Ellington in that group, they improve to +7.9 and were terrific offensively in a short sample. Replace Delon Wright with Saben Lee and the net rating jumps to +15.2.
Now, those are all extremely small sample sizes. The combination of Jackson and Wright wouldn’t have sustained their efficiency over a large amount of minutes, but it speaks to a broader trend with the Pistons this year.
When Jackson and Grant have been on the floor together, the Pistons are outpacing opponents by four points per 100 possessions. That is true despite the fact that the team has negative net ratings overall when each is on the floor.
A large reason for those discrepancies is the struggles each of those guys have had since the rotation shakeup in February.
Both players are forced to shoulder a larger offensive load with veteran talent leaving the team and few reliable offense threats sharing the floor. Grant has become more and more a focal point for opposing defenses while Jackson has had to prop up a depleted bench with his customary attack mode. Neither has had another compelling downhill threat that can put pressure on the rim and cause defenses to scramble. As a result, neither has found themselves in many advantage situations — that is, until they are sharing the floor.
Perhaps most striking about the duo is just how well the Pistons’ starting power forward shoots when he shares the floor with Josh Jackson.
According to NBA Wowy, Jerami Grant is shooting a terrific 41% from deep when Jackson is also on the court. With Jackson off the floor, Grant is shooting just 32% from behind the long line.
There is a natural tendency to assume that having extra shooters is the only thing that really correlates with teams’ shooting percentages. And spacing the floor is certainly part of team shooting, but it’s not everything. By way of example, Detroit shoots better from deep when Saddiq Bey is off the floor this season.
It’s not really spacing the floor unless you have players who can create space — for themselves or for others. That creates the open, high-efficiency looks that Grant can feast on. It doesn’t take a mastery of advanced analytics for people to know open shots go in more often than contested shots, but the numbers over the years have confirmed the same.
The Pistons this season are a great example of that.
Detroit is about league average in terms of 3-point efficiency on “wide open” (6+ feet of space) shots and a bit worse, 21st in the league, on “open” (4-6 feet of space) shots. Unfortunately, the rate they take wide open shots is fifth worst while they attempt the 7th most open threes. Simply creating more wide open threes would have a significant impact on the Pistons’ overall shooting efficiency.
One of the ways Detroit may be able to create more wide open looks is moving Jackson to the starting lineup alongside Grant. Surrounding Jackson with more talent will make his life easier offensively, and Grant benefits from having another ball handler who can get to the rim.
Watch how Jackson’s basic drive attempt against the Washington Wizards sucks Grant’s defender into the paint to create a wide open corner three:
Against the Portland Trailblazers, a high screen gets Hamidou Diallo downhill causing the roll defender to have to step up too far leaving Mason Plumlee open. Grant’s defender has to commit down to help again leaving Jerami open for a corner three:
This one wasn’t Josh Jackson as the ball handler, but it’s a role he’s shown he can fill. And it’s the type of play that has inflated Grant’s perimeter shooting with Jackson on the floor.
In the win over Washington, we even saw Jackson be used as something of a decoy to take advantage of his downhill ability.
Jackson cuts toward the rim and both his defender and the Wizards’ center keep an eye on him recognizing the threat. Jerami Grant then gets the ball in some space as a result of an Isaiah Stewart screen and finds an easy driving lane due to Jackson having previously cleared the lane:
And while Grant getting more clean looks from deep and better driving lanes would greatly benefit both he and Detroit, Josh Jackson also benefits from the pairing. Jerami brings so much attention when he gets going attention that it inevitably brings advantage situations for his teammates.
After Grant gets to the rim against Washington and collapses their defense, the ball finds Jackson who easily beats a scrambling close out and draws multiple help defenders, providing Josh with an easy alley oop to Mason Plumlee:
Here’s another example with Hamidou Diallo that Jackson could certainly accomplish against the Blazers where Grant relocates after his drive, Diallo draws attention with secondary pentetration, and Grant easily attacks an off-balance defense for a big dunk:
With winning clearly not a priority down the stretch, it’s a good time to try out different combinations to see how players may fit in the future. With Diallo looking good with the bench in his early Pistons tenure, it makes sense to give Jackson a more optimal role for him as a secondary ball handler.
If Detroit can develop the likes of Jackson and Diallo into consistent downhill attackers, it will do wonders to open up the floor create more open looks for shooters. With the Pistons full of young players who need to become better shooters, finding more wide open looks for them may be a key in building confidence and more consistent shooting forms.