The Detroit Pistons are showing this season that an NBA team is about more than just the names on the roster. Despite a major upgrade in talent, the Piston’s have struggled to a 4-7 record this season. So far the doubts about how this roster would mesh seem justified. Why exactly has the team played so poorly though? It starts with a major commitment to a player many thought would sign elsewhere.
This offseason the Pistons made a splash when they signed free agent Josh Smith to a four year 54 million dollar contract. This move puzzled many analysts because with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond already in the mix, Josh Smith would have to play major minutes at small forward where he is not a very efficient offensive player. I thought perhaps Drummond would come off the bench and Smith could play power forward but Detroit is starting all three players so far this season. With Drummond and Monroe clogging the paint Josh Smith has spent too much time on the perimeter. Everyone knows he is a poor jump shooter, and in his return to Atlanta last night fans were actually cheering whenever they saw him rising up for an ill advised jump shot. This has led to Smith having a career low in field goal percentage this year and he is also shooting more three pointers than ever before. I still believe Josh Smith is a good player, but when he is used like this he becomes a real liability on offense. Ideally he is cutting to the hoop and attacking the rim off the dribble but the Detroit offense frankly doesn’t have a lot of movement. In the game against Atlanta the offense was reduced to a series of isolation plays for Monroe and Smith with some bad shots by Brandon Jennings mixed in. Needless to say that is not a winning formula.
Even with the sluggish half court offense, Detroit has managed to be 12th in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions). Some of this comes from offensive rebounding, where Detroit ranks first in offensive rebound percentage at 30.9%. This is not too surprising when you consider the tremendous rebounding ability in their frontcourt of Smith, Drummond, and Monroe. The other major factor contributing to the surprising offensive success is the Pistons ability to create turnovers. They rank second in the league in turnover percentage on defense, leading to a lot of transition hoops. Despite this, they rank last in defensive rating. This leads me to what I believe is the most concerning problem with Detroit, they are flat out awful defensively. They are last in opponent’s field goal percentage, which is surprising considering the length they have on defense. Despite the size defensively, the Pistons do not defend the rim well. In the Atlanta game the Hawks came out with a series of pick and rolls right away and Detroit looked like they had never seen that play before, as Atlanta got a layup almost every time. The rotations were terrible and it did not get any better throughout the game. Rather than putting themselves in good positions on defense, most of the Piston’s players went for steals. Sometimes it worked, but overall it just led to easy opportunities for the Hawks who shot over 50% for the game. Whenever a team is high in defensive turnover percentage but last in defensive rating, that’s a pretty good sign that they are playing out of position. Hopefully with more time together the defense will improve but for now it’s going to lead to a lot of losses for this squad.
Hopefully with more time together the defense will improve but for now it’s going to lead to a lot of losses for this squad. As for the offense I don’t really see how they will fix it. Trading Monroe or Drummond is a possibility but Detroit would need to get a great offer. Good young big men are too valuable to just give away. This could mean that we’ll see the half court offense struggles continue to the trade deadline. Until a move is made thought, I just don’t see this squad going anywhere. That’s a major disappointment considering where this organizations expectations were coming into the season.