This past season for the Pistons seemed so promising, picking up a fringe all star with a huge contract in Josh Smith, then trading their starting point guard and two prospects for the flashy young gun in Brandon Jennings, this coupled with 2 already developing towers down low in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, what could possibly go wrong? Their goal was set on the premise that adding talent is the best way for success, neglecting to evaluate whether the players fitting would be a factor, this was the start of a disaster.
Start of the Season
The hype train had already started chugging, multiple sources had already begun declaring Detroit bound for the playoffs, some even saying as high as 4th seed, the big 3 down low were set to dominate, and out-muscle any team that stood in their way, but the flaws were shown the minute they walked onto the court. With Josh Smith away from his natural position in PF to SF make room for out Greg Monroe, who was out of position playing PF instead of C to play Andre at his correct position, the history book should have already been written that doom was set upon this team. Tom Gores had spoke before the season saying this is a boom or bust season, and many speculated Joe Dumars needed the playoffs to bail him out. The first game pushed the fans to their feet as, it would seem that the Pistons may have done something right, a 113-102 win over a solid Wizards team was just what the doctors ordered, but the game told a different story. Josh Smith started out with an obscene 7 three pointers for a man who at his peak attempted 0.1 per game, and had a career of 27%. The problem was nobody cares when you’re making them and 3/7 is completely acceptable. Over the next month he averaged 4.5 attempts per game with a percentage of 25.4%, this is almost a comedic stat. While Brandon Jennings was injured, the newly (yet old) acquired Chauncey Billups had the chance to come and lead the team like the good old days. This lasted 5 games. Billups shot an abysmal 28.6% from the field and 18.8% from beyond the arc in the first 7 games and was benched and only played sporadically for the rest of the season, it was a good thing Jennings was back, right? Wrong, looking back at the first month, if you can get past the ‘Wow, 15.6 ppg and 8.1 asts with only 2 turnovers” you can see the real story, this is where we find what went wrong.
What Went Wrong
Well let’s look at the main issue, the Pistons had tried to fit 1 Power Forward and 2 Centers in the 3 spots limiting not only the way they play, but at how well they play in their respective positions. One of the biggest repercussions of was Josh Smith resorting to long twos, which are the worst efficient shot in the game, to try to space out their offense. Let’s look at this play for example:
As you can see the spacing is already looking the spacing doesn’t look good, they have 2 PF’s and 1 C’s on the court all shooting 26% or lower from beyond the arc, only 1 real 3 point threat would be Kyle Singler who was shooting 34% at the time. With only 27 seconds left and only down one the Pistons had a chance to take the lead and maybe pull out with the win, all they needed was a well run play. After the pass in they start to set up their offense having Charlie Villanueva and Kyle Singler set up in the corners, Brandon Jennings takes it right with a weak brush pick by Smith as Kyle Singler does a backdoor cut, but there is not enough room for a safe pass. This limits the moves they can make, Charlie V makes his way up to the top,as Smith gives Jennings another pick coming back to the center of the arc. This is a better pick, but Felton goes under the screen knowing Jennings isn’t getting off a efficient 3 or fade away long 2 and stays in front of him to stop his drive. Now you have 4 players standing around, and the only option is to chuck a contested 3 or pass to Josh Smith. Josh Smith gets the pass and tries to get a little space, but Carmello is too physical to gain even a slight bit. With 4 ball watchers, Josh Smith takes an awful shot and air balls it by a few feet.
This is just an example of how the spacing issues have effected the Pistons throughout this season, with only 1 player shooting over 40% for 3 (Kyle Singler) it forced Josh Smith to take too many shots outside his range. Looking at his 13′-14′ shot chart every thing outside of the 3ft area outside of the hoope was below average, but we can’t put all the blame on Josh Smith. Brandon Jennings also had a poor shooting year shooting one of the lowest percentages of all time for the usg% he had. These two shot charts show a little bit of the seasons results via Kirk Goldsberry:
Outside of the right side of the 3 point line, Brandon Jennings shot awful every where else, his slender small body made it too hard to take it to the hole and shot well below average for guards, only 45% near the basket. The 3 main lineups the Pistons used in a per-game basis were also all in the bottom 5 in ts% this season shown here:
The offense was bad, but the depression of this years team doesn’t end at the spaceless, vomit inducing efficiency the Pistons experienced, but the defense also played a big part in their downfall. One of the big problems the Detroit Pistons had on defense was defending the P&R. With Greg Monroe at PF, his feet are too slow to guard a natural PF, and has a hard time communicating whether he wants to switch off or have the guard stay with the guy he’s defending. The problem is, it isn’t just Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond has yet to find his groove on D, and Josh Smith is always at his peak energy while playing defense on any play. This has led to them allow the highest percentage in the NBA in 48.5%. The Pistons lack of defense have landed them in at least the bottom 8 in Opponents PPg, fast break ppg, points in the paint, assist/game, rebounds/game, and assists to turnover ratio. Their players out of position were a big indicator of this and could be looked at as the cause for big part of this.
What The Pistons Do Next
Well, most would look at the draft to improve, signing a young player with a relatively cheap contract that can develop and fill your teams needs. The Pistons had the 8th pick going into a extremely deep draft, the only thing stopping them would be if they drop back and lose their pick to Charlotte due to the Maggette/Gordon trade in 2012. The 17.6% chance of the Pistons losing their pick came to fruition on the 20th when none other than the Cavaliers did the near impossible and jumped to #1, their third #1 in the last 4 years, moving the Pistons out of their protected top 8. So now with only a second pick, what are their options?
We will find out in part 2!
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