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Film Don’t Lie: Looking at the Struggles of the Pistons Transition Defense

Where are the areas for improvement when defending in transition?

Atlanta Hawks v Detroit Pistons Photo by Rick Osentoski/Getty Images

According to, the Detroit Pistons are second to last in opponent points per possession in transition defense at 1.34 and T-23rd overall, giving up 25 transition points per game. For comparison, Detroit only gave up 1.14 PPP last season and 19.7 points per game overall in transition.

It is worth noting that transition scoring looks to be up across the board in the NBA, maybe in part to the implementation of the take-foul rule or just early season struggles, but that is not even close to the sole reason for Detroit’s place in the rankings.

The first thing to consider when looking at transition defense is if the offense is contributing to the issues. Surprisingly, this young Pistons roster has fared very well in terms of turnovers through the early part of the season.

Are there some turnovers leading to easy buckets? Sure, and it is important to keep an eye on the number of live-ball turnovers the Pistons are committing, which stands at roughly 13 per game. These, as opposed to dead-ball turnovers, are the ones that really put pressure on your transition defense.

In the same vein as live-ball turnovers, bad shot attempts and missed shots also lead to transition opportunities. It would be fair to say these are more of a contributing factor than the turnovers. It almost never fails in the game of basketball that when you miss an easy shot at the rim, it turns into an open shot for your opponent.

Detroit is in the bottom five of the league in field goal percentage, which means there are plenty of missed shots and blocked shots (think back to that Pacers game) that are turning into opportunities for the Pistons’ opponents to push in transition.

Another contributor that has shown itself through six games is the young and dynamic rookie guard, Jaden Ivey. Ivey has been incredible early in his career, but he does have a tendency to hit the floor multiple times throughout a game after attacking the lane. This leaves the opposition with a five-on-four advantage as they push the ball the other way.

It should be noted that Ivey is not the only member of the team guilty of this. Other players hit the floor or argue calls and are slow to get back but Ivey does seem to stand out more than others.

Turnovers, missed shots, and five on four situations are things that every NBA team is going to have to deal with. The two biggest areas the Pistons must improve are a sense of urgency and simply getting matched up.

The easiest example of the Pistons’ lack of sense of urgency is when they give up an easy bucket in transition after scoring themselves. Not only does this end up in points for the opponent but is such a deflating momentum swing.

Detroit must start, or maybe continue, to emphasize not relaxing after a made basket and having a sense of urgency to get back. You have to imagine the rest of the NBA has taken notice of the transition struggles and will look to capitalize on them even more.

Giving up an easy transition bucket after a basket is one of the more frustrating things to watch, and not getting matched up when you get back is on the same level. You could contribute this to a lack of sense of urgency, but awareness and communication are factors as well.

There are simply too many possessions where five Pistons on the floor have gotten back and in position to defend but do not get matched up and give up an open shot attempt to their opponents.

It is well documented that Detroit is fielding a young roster, and it is so early in the season that improvement in transition defense very well may come. The half-court defense has not been good in its own right as they try to implement a less switch-heavy scheme. Any overall defensive improvement may come the easiest through growth in the areas outlined above.