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Film Don’t Lie: Taking a look at the Pistons Ball Handlers in Ball Screens

I go to the film from the past few games to see how each player on the roster looks

Detroit Pistons v Sacramento Kings Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The ball screen may be the most talked about aspect of the Detroit Pistons offense under head coach Dwane Casey this season and last. This is largely due to the personnel that was selected with the Pistons top pick in the last 2 draft classes. Killian Hayes came into the NBA with the reputation as being best utilized in ball screens and any situation where the ball is in Cade Cunningham’s hand is something fans want to see more of.

For the purpose of this breakdown I will not be using synergy numbers and I will NOT be looking into “ghost” or “slip” screens. I am not even really going to dive into how much the Pistons are running ball screens, although I will reference some players getting more opportunities than others. What I really wanted to see was what trends can be taken away from certain players in the possessions they are getting with an actual screen set.

Are some players doing a better job of getting down hill and putting pressure on the rim? Are there any trends or “go to” moves that I could pick up on through the few games I watched for this article? What kind of off the ball opportunities are being created in these ball screen situations? These are the questions I wanted to answer as I went to the film. I will break this down into individual looks at Cade, Cory, and Killian with Saddiq/Jerami together and then a final look at the aforementioned off the ball opportunities created.

Cade Cunningham

Let’s start with the #1 overall pick and the guy who absolutely gets (and should) the most reps in these ball screen situations. The thing that stood out to me the most with Cade, as with the rest of his game, is the variety of ways you see him using his possessions. We have already seen him putting his defender in “jail”, snaking the screen, getting all the way to the rim, pulling up from the mid range, and stepping behind for a 3. Now, that is not to say he is good or efficient in all of these areas but I do think it is impressive for a guy just 40+ games into his rookie season that he looks so comfortable.

With the addition of Marvin Bagley III at the trade deadline we are now also getting our first look at Cade with a true lob threat as his roll man and have resulted in a couple highlight plays. I will say that him and Beef Stew seem to be developing a little chemistry as well, although it won’t result in those types of finishes. Lastly, because of his ability to play in ball screens, I believe we are going to see Cade get “blitzed” or doubled more and more in his possessions which will open up short roll opportunities for the screener.

In terms of areas of improvement, just the efficiency of making shots at all 3 levels needs to get better. I also think Cade could do a better job of staying on his line with his drive, playing through contact, and drawing some fouls.

Cory Joseph

In an admittedly small sample size in terms of games I would say CoJo got about the same amount of possessions that I was looking for as Killian Hayes which was significantly behind Cade Cunningham but still tied for the 2nd most.

If there is one thing that immediately stood out to me with Joseph compared to Hayes and Cunningham it was that he sure seemed much more focused on “getting his” than those two. I came away feeling like his absolute go to was just taking a pull up jumper, albeit effective at times, or maybe putting the defender in jail to allow for an attack for a little floater (he does get all the way to the rim in one clip I will show).

One thing I would love to see, which I do not expect we see much “growth” in his game at this point in his career, is putting more pressure on the rim which would also allow him to get the roll man and players off the ball involved more. I will say that upon 3rd, 4th, 5th review he was more involved creating some opportunities for weak side/off ball teammates.

Killian Hayes

If I am going to “complain” about one player’s possessions where they get to utilize ball screens it is going to be Killian. I know, and understand, the wide range of opinions about the young kid but I absolutely just want to see how he would look with more opportunities running these with MBIII and the 2nd unit. The interesting thing was even in the limited opportunities, two of them have AWFUL spacing which was not something I readily noticed as I worked through the other personnel.

Again, with limited possessions to work with I wasn’t able to get a ton of takeaways for Hayes but I do feel like he has a little more nuance to his usage of the screens behind only Cade. You will see him change speeds, snake, show some creativity with the ball in his hands and attempt a lob with Bagley III. I am VERY interested to see what kind of chemistry those two can create through the rest of the season.

Saddiq Bey/Jerami Grant

Not a whole lot of nuance with Saddiq Bey and Jerami Grant when it comes to these possessions but I did want to include them. Essentially, both of these guys are playing off the ball screen to get a pull up jumper or in Grant’s case to get a “mismatch” that he can try and take advantage of.

Off Ball Opportunities Created

As crazy as this may sound, this is actually where I think a lot of the shortcomings came with the Pistons not being more effective in ball screen possessions during the games I watched for this. I know that the lack of “roll man” has been a major talking point (and rightfully so) but the advantages and opportunities are still being created for weak side, and even strong side, teammates.

I hate to pinpoint one player but it did seem that player ended up being Jerami Grant on a lot of possessions and he just wasn’t able to knock down the 3 or take advantage of the drive lane that was created. AGAIN, I want to emphasize this was a very small sample size where I just focused on this part of the game and a lot of the opportunities are ones you expect Grant to make. In general, I came away pretty pleased with what Cade, Killian, and Joseph were creating for their off the ball teammates.

As we close in on the end of the Pistons season I continue to find areas of the game like this to watch for growth and improvement. Can the apparent chemistry being created between Cade and Stew in the ball screen continue to grow? What kind of impact does MBIII have on these possessions and can he develop that same chemistry with Cade and/or Killian Hayes? As I will definitely keep my focus on this area of the offense the rest of the season I am also interested to see how many possessions each player seems to get and if they show anything else they may have in their ball screen repertoire. And maybe, we don’t see anything different this season but I think increasing the efficiency of this teams ball screen offense will be a topic of conversation all off season and into 2022-2023.