Welcome to the latest installment of my 313 Thoughts, your weekly recap of all things Detroit Pistons. Each week Jack Kelly highlights all the relevant news, rumors and on-court play while embracing Detroit’s 313 identity. The formula is simple—I’ll detail; 3 Things to like, 1 Thing not to like and 3 Things to monitor.
In the early moments of the third quarter of Thursday’s Detroit Pistons game against the Denver Nuggets, recently acquired forward Eugene Omoruyi attempted to set a routine baseline screen for a in-movement Rodney McGruder. Upon making contact, Omoruyi shuffled his feet and was whistled for the offensive foul, his fourth personal foul of the game.
With Injuries to key front court personal (Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Isaiah Livers) and Omoruyi’s foul trouble, head coach Dwane Casey was forced to deploy the towering duo of Jalen Duren and James Wiseman. The jumbo pairing played 9 minutes together across the the third and fourth quarters. The results were mixed.
The short minutes makes it impossible to make any conclusive judgements, however, it felt necessary to highlight a few key takeaways from the much-anticipated front court’s debut.
3 Things to Like
LIKE: Duren’s decision making and execution
If you’ve been paying attention to the Pistons this season, first, bless you. Second, you’re more than aware of Jalen Duren’s passing chops. Throughout his rookie campaign, the 19-year-old has displayed passing vision beyond his years. While his consistency (and the opportunity) to flash this part of his game has ebbed and flowed, Duren has made encouraging strides as a facilitator.
In Thursday’s clash with the Nuggets, Duren tied a career-high with four assists, three of which had James Wiseman on the receiving end. There were two passing reads in particular I wanted to highlight, each coming in the third quarter.
Detroit ‘short’ the Killian Hayes and Wiseman pick-and-roll (PnR)
Here, with the Nuggets switching the Killian Hayes-Wiseman pick and roll, Duren shifts to the strongside to open a runway for Wiseman toward the basket. By moving to the opposite side of the key, Duren takes the 6-foot-11 Nikola Jokic, leaving the shorter Bruce Brown to fend for himself on the Wiseman roll. From here, Hayes directs a pass to Duren, who softly floats the lob pass to his towering running mate for the lob dunk.
Duren finds Wiseman for the alley oop via high-low action
The two-pronged attack looked its most proficient when the big men were positioned in a high-low set. One big at the elbow, and the other on the low block. In the above clip, Wiseman jostles for positioning with the smaller Kentavious Caldwell Pope (Pay KCP!!! oh wait, it’s not 2017). In the meantime, Duren makes himself available on the elbow to receive the pass and dishes off a perfect pass to Wiseman for the dunk.
LIKE: One protects the rim, the other protects the glass.
The theory behind playing big is pretty simple: it gives a team the hypothetical ability to protect the painted area and win the rebounding battle. Essentially, you can take away the opponent’s highest-percentage shot (at the rim) and dominate the interior.
As previously highlighted, we have a small amount of film to date to assess the Duren and Wiseman combo, but the outcomes are still worth exploring.
Per Cleaning the Glass, the Nuggets shot only 60% at the rim, for reference the Memphis Grizzles are holding opponents to the lowest field goal percentage at the rim with 60%. For the season, the Nuggets are fifth in the NBA shooting within five feet with an overall mark of 67.5%.
The rebounding battle was close to even, with the Nuggets collecting 11 boards and Detroit hauling in 10. Below is an example of the type of defense you could expect with dual bigs on the court:
Wiseman provides the contest and Duren sags to the restricted area to collect the defensive board.
LIKE: Duren as the roll-man, Wiseman in the dunkers spot
If these two are going to be featured in any lineups—with their current skillset (no jumper)—Duren should be the preferred roll-man.
I’ve already highlighted Duren knack for passing, but his ability to make reads on the short-roll make him the favoured roll-man of the giant duo. Additionally, to this point of his career, Wiseman has showed little as a playmaker, often committing turnovers when pressured to facilitate.
The below excerpt provides some insight into the possibilities of having Duren rolling to the basket and Wiseman in the dunkers-spot:
Although Duren misses the gettable layup, he’s provided a clear shot at the rim as Aaron Gordon is glued to Wiseman. If Gordon commits to Duren, Wiseman is open for the dropoff or lob pass.
1 Thing to Dislike
When you field a big-man pairing featuring two players incapable of scoring outside of 6 feet, naturally floor spacing is going to suffer.
In their third quarter stint together, Duren and Wiseman did a relatively good job of maintaining spacing through high-low positioning. However, there were numerous possessions where the Nuggets were able to clog the painted area.
Without the threat of a jump shot, neither of Duren or Wiseman is able to provide the adequate space for Detroit’s perimeter players to attack the paint. In turn, this resulted in each of Duren and Wiseman attempting 10 of Detroit’s 15 total field goals in the 9 minutes the duo played together.
Put simply, for Detroit’s offense to function, the interior-bound bigs needed to be heavily involved. Probably not the most optimal offensive option in today’s perimeter focused NBA.
3 Things to Monitor
MONITOR: Defensive positioning
Each Wiseman and Duren is athletically gifted for his size. Wiseman is more fluid and graceful in his approach while Duren is explosive and ferocious. Defensively, each big has a ways to go to be a positive factor in an NBA rotation. Duren is probably slightly ahead but still has plenty of room to grow.
At their projected peaks, it’s hard to envision either player excelling defensively anywhere but the painted area. Hence, if they are going to play minutes alongside each other, it should be a priority to keep them as close to the basket as possible.
With most teams playing a 4-out-1-in scheme, Detroit can counter this by employing a switch heavy scheme to keep one big on the opposing center and the other roaming, protecting the weakside corner.
Last night, expectedly the defensive positioning seemed off. Below is an example where Duren was protecting the perimeter, instead of being positioned on the weakside block:
In most instances, a player with Jokic’s skill is still probably making the shot. However, Duren could provide a decent contest.
MONITOR: Can either of Wiseman or Duren develop a perimeter shot?
If there’s any chance of this pairing working long term, even in short stints, one of them will need to develop an outside shot.
Against Denver, Wiseman bricked a face-up jump shot and Duren air balled a corner three-point attempt.
For Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and whomever Detroit selects in the upcoming NBA Draft to thrive, spacing and driving lanes are essential. As previously highlighted, the spacing last night was far from optimal.
MONITOR: Will we see the jumbo-sized front-court again?
It appears unlikely.
Dwane Casey was adamant in his postgame presser the 9 minutes of action was a result of roster deficiency and not a desire to experiment:
“Out of necessity we had to. It was an opportunity to experiment with it. We’ve got to space better.”