How Are The Pistons Scoring So Well?
Admit it, you didn’t think it was going to work. When the Detroit Pistons signed Josh Smith to a 4-year, $54 million contract, your first thought was: how in the hell is he going to fit in the same lineup with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond?
It’s okay to admit. I was right there with you. Is Josh Smith going to shoot more outside shots at low efficiency, in an attempt to create floor spacing? Will the lane be a clogged mess of big men vying for the same space on the floor? It’s going to be a disaster, it won’t work.
Well, turns out, we were right with our first two guesses. Smith is shooting 7.3 threes per game at a 27% clip. Oye. When he’s not shooting threes, the lane is piled up with bodies.
But somehow, someway, the Pistons are 2-1 and currently sit at 10th in the league with a 103.1 ORTG despite a ranking in the bottom fifth of the league in Pace (95.74) and inefficient scoring from anywhere besides the paint.
How are they doing this?
The Detroit “Big 3” has accounted for 32% of the Pistons’ total points scored and are doing so almost exclusively from the restricted area. Monroe, Drummond, Smith have attempted a whopping 47 shots from 0-3 feet, 14 from 4-9 and five from 10-15.
They have attempted 22 three-pointers but obviously all of those are coming from Smith. It’s a desperate attempt to space the floor in some situations but at 27%, you wonder how much longer the Pistons can do this.
I wish I had a better answer for how the Pistons are doing so well offensively with such an odd grouping of big men, but it’s working. In terms of individual ORTG, Drummond currently sits at 101.0, Smith at 108.1 and Monroe at 107.4, all very respectable numbers. How are they doing this?
Here are some examples over the weekend:
In this clip, we see a mess of floor spacing with everyone hovering inside the three-point line. Smith starts by backing down Jeff Green, he pretty easily beats him to the baseline at which point Vitor Faverani completely leaves Drummond to double Smith allowing for an easy dunk to Drummond.
The floor spacing is a mess, but by god, it works.
This next clip is much of the same. Smith hovers around the three-point line in attempt to open up the lane for Monroe and Drummond. Chauncey Billups fakes Green out of his shoes, dishes off to Monroe who Brandon Bass left to help out on Billups. At this point, our good friend Faverani comes to help on Monroe leaving an opening for yet another Drummond dunk.
What we have discovered through this process is the Celtics are really bad at defense. Still though, the Pistons are exploiting it really well without a ton of threat from the outside, which has to be seen as a positive in the early part of the season.
This next one is an absolute mess. The idea was right, you’ll see Billups and Will Bynum out at the three-point line to clear up the lane, Drummond is hanging around the baseline presumably waiting for Faverani to completely leave him again (you’ll notice, he’s left him). J-Smoove inexplicably decides to cut right into Monroe’s path bringing essentially five defenders into Monroe’s line of sight. Of course, it doesn’t matter, Monroe puts up a little hook and scores.
Okay, I’ll spare with another Celtics clip. Let’s look at Saturday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis hasn’t been great on defense this season, but it’s still Memphis, they should be able to punish the Pistons lack of spacing, right?
In this clip, we see a legendarily broken play filled with multiple dribble-drives, a horrible pick-and-roll attempt and a pass that nearly flew out of bounds. In the end, it works (!) on the heels of a Smith dribble drive dump off to Drummond. A situation created solely by reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol leaving Drummond on the baseline to double team a driving Smith. The result is yet another wide-open Drummond dunk.
The last clip also comes from Sunday’s game against the Grizzles and again is successful starting with a Smith dribble drive. Smith’s drive causes Gasol to lose track of Drummond who floats over to the baseline. Smith dumps off to Drummond who attacks the basket, forcing Randolph who had somewhat rotated towards Drummond to collapse on Monroe who dumps it off for a Drummond layup.
My initial thought on how the Pistons are doing so well defensively is stellar passing in the paint, but their AST% for shots at the rim ranks only 21st in the league (51.7%). Frankly, I’m out of answers. It’s early in the year so I’m sure at some point we’ll see regression or maybe the Pistons have just found a way to win.
They have played great defense thus far, something nobody worried about from them. They are second in the league in points off turnovers, so they are turning their defense into offense and working well in transition.
We’ll just have to wait and see how the experiment works out, so far so good for the men from the Motor City. As mentioned, I’m not sure how long you can live with Smith shooting 27% from three while still taking seven per game, but regardless, the Pistons are still cruising.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com/Stats