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Film Don’t Lie: Detroit Pistons’ ball screen offense

I go to the film to see what it shows from the Pistons as a team in ball screen situations

Detroit Pistons v LA Clippers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

Running a more ball screen prevalent offense is something that Detroit Pistons fans have been clamoring for all season. With last off season’s addition of Killian Hayes and this season’s addition of No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, many fans felt like a heavy dose of Pick and Roll or Pick and Pop is what we would see. While it may not be as prevalent as some fans have wanted, I do think we are seeing plenty of possessions every game to get a feel for where this team is and what they are getting.

In the most recent weekly episode of Motor City Hoops, I was joined by Chris Oliver of Basketball Immersion for what was an amazing episode (you have to go listen!!) and he does a GREAT job of explaining the finer details of what leads to success or failure in these situations. He even gave me an emphatic “YES” when I asked him if an NBA offense needed to be good in ball screens to be successful.

After hearing him talk I was motivated to see what the film said about the Pistons and screening. I know the quicker and easier thing to do would be to just look at synergy or one of the other analytical sites but you guys know I love seeing it with my own eyes. So, I took a special focus on-ball screen offense for the Pistons over the three games this week and my observations in five areas.

On-Ball Finishes

One of the things that really stood out to me when talking with Chris Oliver was how poor the Pistons’ ball handlers were in ball screen situations. I spend a lot of time placing the blame on the roll guys (and we will get to them shortly) but by his account, Cade, Killian, and company were not doing them any favors.

After watching and re-watching every ball screen from the past three games, I would have to agree with Mr. Oliver (and the synergy stats). In this breakdown, I will show the primary ball handler and the shot attempts they are getting in ball screen situations. These attempts will come from all three levels, and I will highlight the positives and negatives we have seen.

True Roll

Now let’s talk about the roll guys. In a recent breakdown, I looked at Luka Garza’s screening and highlighted how he will have to find a “crafty” way to be a finisher at the rim. The same goes for Isaiah Stewart who also lacks the ability to be a true lob threat. A jumpy-jump guy (you know I can’t have a ball screen article without mentioning the term coined by Laz Jackson) is much needed in these situations to help with finishing these plays off more efficiently.

A couple “X-factors” I will highlight include the Pistons roll guys NOT getting enough offensive rebounds in these situations. A lot of times a ball screen and roll should lead into an opportunistic offensive rebounding position when a teammate takes the shot. Over the three-game sample, I was hard-pressed to find ANY offensive rebounds that led directly from screen and rolls.

Oliver highlighted my second X-Factor which is using some of the “smaller” players on the roster as the rollers. Guys like Saddiq Bey, Hamidou Diallo, and Josh Jackson could present better options as the roll player in opportunistic situations than the current collection of “bigs.”

Short Roll

Anyone else missing Mason Plumlee?? If there is one thing that you could usually count on Plumlee to do, it was to make the right pass out of the short roll. This is yet another thing the Pistons are missing from their bigs. This is another reason to put Bey, Diallo, etc. in that situation more often. Now, we all know those guys are not the best creators and decision-makers by ANY stretch, BUT we can agree they are better than what we have seen from Stew, Garza, and Trey Lyles. Maybe Dwane Casey could even get a little creative and get Killian and/or Cade in some of those short-roll situations moving forward.

Weakside Looks

If there was an area where I came away from this article feeling the most confident or positive about it was the open shots this team is generating on the weak side in these situations. While Cade and Killian may not be scoring the ball at a high level off of ball screens OR hitting the roll man for easy buckets, they are collapsing the defense to get good opportunities for their teammates “spacing” the floor on the backside. I put spacing in quotations because part of the reason these guys are open at times is they are not big enough threats to prevent their defenders from helping off. This is where the improvement and efficiency of converting these opportunities at a higher rate will then hopefully open the lane for even better opportunities for the ball handler and roll man.


As I reviewed every turnover from the past three games to see how many were coming in ball screen situations, I was struck by how many of the team's turnovers were off of screens. In the breakdown, I go through each of the preceding areas and where advantageous situations to score the ball are actually ending up in turnovers instead of shot attempts, let alone makes. Also important to note that it seems teams are starting to trap the Pistons’ ball handlers more often so it will be important for them to be strong with the ball AND for the short roller to be able to make the right play out of it.

To go back to Chris Oliver one more time, just because we may not be seeing the present success in these situations does not mean Casey and the Pistons should go away from them. Becoming better in ball screen situations, in ALL of these areas, is important for the LONG-TERM success of this team and organization. I think we would all agree that part of that success will come with better talent as well but some of these players will be on that competitive future roster and they will need to provide the right value in a ball screen possession with whatever role they are asked to fill.