Detroit’s Offense, Retooled— November 16th 2017
What’s responsible for the Pistons’ sudden offensive surge?
By David Fernandez
All words you could use to describe the Detroit Pistons offense of 2016-17.
They probably (and rightfully) ranked dead last in your League Pass rankings. Take it from someone who watched 90% of their games last season, it was a 48 minute eyesore every time Motown’s finest took the floor.
Last year’s Pistons were one of the most inefficient offensive groups in the league. Detroit boasted a 103.3 offensive rating, the 25th ranked offense in the NBA. They shot 23.4 three pointers a game (26th), while converting at a putrid 33% clip (28th). The playbook heavily featured Andre Drummond post-ups, and flurries of mid-range jumpers. In fact, 21 percent of their points came from the mid-range, good (err, bad) for tops in the league, while only 23 percent of the offense came from the three-point shot (28th).
The Pistons were broken, and no one was surprised when they missed the playoffs, finding themselves drafting at the tail end of the lottery. But things have changed in Motown, and while this team hasn’t magically transformed into the Houston Rockets East, their offensive scheme has gone through a serious makeover.
Leading up to Wednesday night’s contest with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Pistons boasted a top ten offense, scoring 107.4 per 100 possessions. Detroit is currently shooting 28.2 three point attempts per game (17th), and hitting at a clip of 38% (9th), equating to 30.1 percent of their entire offense (12th). And while the Pistons offense has statistically improved to start this season, stats do not tell the whole story. Detroit clearly is not just shooting and hitting more shots than they did last year.
There have been three major factors to this new-look Pistons offense.
Andre Drummond has transformed in a variety of ways so far this year. The most glaring of these has been his shooting from the free throw stripe, but possibly more important is how Drummond has been utilized in the offensive scheme. Gone are the days where Drummond dribbles down the clock, ineffectively banging his way to an 8 foot baby hook, while the supporting cast idly watches from beyond the arc.
Stan Van Gundy has, for the most part, ditched his token one-in, four-out system that was far more effective in yesteryear’s NBA. Instead he’s embraced Drummond’s ability to find open shooters by involving him in the offense early and often as a passer and decision maker.
In the clip below, you’ll see Reggie Jackson immediately pass the ball off to Drummond at the top of the key, above the three point line. Reggie Bullock then sets an off-ball screen for Jackson, and as Jackson fades beyond the arc, Drummond finds him for a wide open bucket.
Again, you’ll see Ish Smith drop the ball off to Drummond to start the possession. Tobias Harris then runs a pindown screen for Avery Bradley. Drummond dribbles towards, and hands off to, a curling Bradley while simultaneously setting an additional screen for Bradley’s defender, who is already behind in the play. Result: Bradley drills a wide open three.
Here are a couple more instances of Point Drummond working his magic…
These play types and wrinkles of this motion offense through Drummond have become a staple of the Pistons playbook. Drummond is currently averaging a career high 3.2 assists per game, tripling his previous career high, which has injected some much needed life and activity in Detroit’s offense.
Quick Trigger Tobias
Tobias Harris has been ballin’ this season. He’s coming off Eastern Conference Player of the Week accolades, and appears to be on track for his first ever All-Star Game appearance. Harris is averaging 20.1 points per game on 51 percent shooting from three, 48 percent from the floor, and boasting a 58% effective field goal percentage, all a career high. He’s shooting 6.4 three pointers per game (again a career high), compared to 3.8 3PA last year.
And while Harris won’t be averaging 50+% from three for the entire season, his improved three-point shooting and quick-trigger mentality should continue to work wonders for Detroit’s overall offense.
Below you’ll see Ish Smith pushing the pace off a Miami Heat miss, finding Harris in transition. And while Harris’s man may be set, he gave him too much of a cushion, so Harris immediately launches a three.
Similar quick trigger action here.
Since Stan Van Gundy has decided to ditch the dump it down to Dre offense, and has cut back on the Jackson/Drummond pick and roll, it’s opened up cleaner scoring attempts for Harris. Expect to continue to see Quick Trigger Tobias moving forward.
The Avery Bradley effect
When Van Gundy traded Marcus Morris for Avery Bradley, the NBA mainstream barely flinched. With so many big name players changing clubs, Detroit’s acquisition of Bradley fell under the radar. But the trade has worked wonders for Detroit to start the 2017-18 season.
Bradley is averaging 17 points per game while shooting 41% from deep, both a career high. The Pistons have utilized Bradley much in the same way they utilized Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last season, primarily off-ball, off screens, and spotting up for clean looks.
Here are some of the token plays run for Bradley in the new look Pistons offense.
Jackson finds Bradley spotting up in the corner for a quick release three:
Harris screens Bradley’s man, who in motion, receives the hand off from Drummond (Dre sets an additional pick on the trailing defender). Result: Bradley gets a bucket at the cup.
In this similar play, you’ll see Harris and Drummond set a double screen on Bradley’s man. Result: an open floater in the lane.
Frankly put, Bradley is a more efficient scorer than their previous starting shooting guard. The offense Detroit runs for Bradley is not complicated, it’s quick, decisive and effective. And if Bradley can continue to hit the clean looks dialed up for him, you should expect to see continued growth in his overall production.
Yes, it’s early in the season. Yes, the Pistons schedule has not been a warrior’s gauntlet. But do not trick yourself into thinking their early success is fools’ gold. Detroit’s already taken out some quality opponents, including the Golden State Warriors at Oracle, and now have their eyes set on cementing themselves as one of the top tier teams in the Eastern Conference.
All statistics and rankings were pulled from stats.nba.com.