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Film Don’t Lie: Taking stock of the Detroit Pistons defensive struggles and potential

I go to the film to take a look at the Pistons defense in Isolations, Rotations, and Rebounding

Detroit Pistons v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

I (and all of you) anxiously awaited for the return of Kelly Olynyk, first from a knee injury and now a healthy return from health and safety protocols, so I could do a breakdown of his game and what it does for the Pistons offense. I watched the Detroit Pistons face off against the Golden State Warriors game last Tuesday scouring for topics. I could have broken down what Rodney McGruder showed offensively in the second half with his game-high 19 points. But with my luck he would have been traded (again) by the time the article was published.

Instead, I decided to check in on the Pistons defense one month after my last breakdown of what we had seen on that end of the court. That Warriors game is the perfect example of why the final score does not tell you the story of the game. That game was far worse than the final 16-point spread and the 102 points scored by the Warriors would indicate solid (if not GOOD) defense by Detroit. Anyone who watched the game that night simply knows that was not the case.

As I watched the Warriors’ offense dismantle the Pistons’ defense for 66 first-half points, I found myself with the urge to take a look at what is going on with the Pistons’ defensive rotations, switches, communication, on-ball defense, and on the defensive boards. This breakdown will highlight what I saw when re-watching that game along with the Kings game the following night and the Jazz on Friday. For this, I tried to keep the emphasis on isolation situations, off-ball rotations/awareness, and TEAM rebounding.

On Ball Defense (Isolations)

I put out an informal poll on Twitter to find out “how many good (or better) defenders this team has on ball, at the point of attack, or in straight isolation.” I ended up with 46% saying 3-4 players, 44% saying 1-2, 6% saying 5-6, and 4% saying the Pistons fielded 0. Based on the comments and conversations I had with those who answered and other people that follow the Pistons, Killian Hayes and Jerami Grant were the names that came up the most.

Rookie Cade Cunningham was probably the player that was closest to majority before getting into guys who I got mixed results on. Josh Jackson and Hamidou Diallo just don’t provide enough consistency. Saben Lee and Rodney McGruder were named sparingly. Saddiq Bey was definitely mentioned more than once and Isaiah Stewart probably makes this list because of his ability to be switchable even though he can be overpowered in the paint.

At the end of the day, even though there was consistency with the number of players, the fact there was so little consistency with the names tells you all you need to know. This team has a couple of guys at the top when defending on the ball (one of which we haven’t seen play since Dec. 10) and then a handful who can be at times or in certain situations. This, along with the aggressive style of play and lack of rim protection, is the perfect recipe for why we see teams getting to the lane as often as they do. The Pistons are 23rd in the NBA in opposition points in the paint giving up 48.1 per night. Let’s take a look at what the film shows where I will also highlight how poor transition defense is contributing to this as well.

Off Ball Defense

While the on-ball defense is definitely something that concerns me, I think it’s the off-the-ball defense that actually frustrates me the most. I can’t even imagine how hard it is to guard NBA-level talent, but I did find a few areas where I do believe we could see some improvements through focus and consistency.

Making multiple efforts on possessions could go a long way in eliminating some of the open opportunities. There are times where you will see a rotation, rotation, rotation and the offense makes one more pass and the Pistons simply don’t make that final effort to be there on the catch. Speaking of rotations, there is also room for improvement here as anticipating those rotations, being aware of where the next one is and communicating effectively would eliminate a lot of the mistakes we are seeing. Right along with that communication is making switches effectively and efficiently when teams know it is OR is NOT coming.

Rebounding

The Pistons are actually 18th in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage according to teamrankings.com, on par with where they were last season. This isn’t all bad considering the makeup of their roster, but I can’t help but continue to highlight the areas for improvement because of the number of times I feel like it costs them not just points, but momentum.

As I said, and have said before, I know this team plays small and doesn’t have a guy that just gobbles up rebounds, BUT I do think they could be better as a TEAM rebounding group. With that, you can not have guys leaking out or standing and watching. You must get five guys in the lane and attack the ball aggressively to bring down the boards. Maybe it’s the “High School Coach” mentality coming, but I continue to want to see improvement in the areas I outline in this video breakdown.

I hate to be so negative with my breakdown because I am not even sure if this is a huge cause for concern with how young this team is, the injuries they have been dealing with (Hayes and Grant being 2 of the better defenders, if not the best), and where they are currently at with the “restoration”. But I wanted to accurately convey what I saw when going to the film and this is what I came away with. As always, I want I will watch for now is any improvements we see from this team moving forward, individually or collectively.