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Pistons’ problems defending the pick-and-roll

At minimum, Pistons fans thought they could expect an improved defense this season.

Josh Smith is a defensive juggernaut. Brandon Jennings is not worse than Brandon Knight. Andre Drummond is a year older. And so on.

Most experts thought the line-up of three big men without range would cause a poor offense for which the defense would have to compensate. Turns out, the Pistons rank 10th in offensive rating at 103.2 and dead last in defensive rating at 106.4. (via www.nba.com)

What’s the biggest source of Detroit’s defensive woes?

According to MySynergySports, the Pistons allow 1.24 points per play pick-and-rolls when the roll man finishes the play – a rather high number for a common play. After reviewing every play so far this season of that type, I found that exemplifies the problems rather well. The play took place against the Indiana Pacers in the middle of the first quarter.


The play commences with a hand-off from Roy Hibbert to C. J. Watson on the left wing. The Pacers had already run a play before, which is why Jennings is a bit out of position. Josh Smith is occupied with guarding Paul George. Greg Monroe is attached to David West, and Chauncey Billups has an eye on Lance Stephenson in the corner.


After the hand-off, West sets a sort of drag screen for Watson. West quickly moves away and pops out to the left elbow. Meanwhile, Drummond is sagging down into the lane to cut off the passing lane to Hibbert. This is unnecessary, and due to his young age, Drummond is not aware that at Greg Monroe  is in better position. In this moment, even Smith is in position to intervene a pass.


The consequences of Drummond’s bad positioning become apparent. Jennings is still out of position, but Watson is not the primary threat in this play, anyway. He is an excellent back-up point guard who knows where to find his more efficient teammates – in this case, West. Detroit’s communication on switches does not  work  in a lot of situations. As you can see, Drummond is still sagging, Monroe points with his finger at West, because now Drummond is neither in position to cover Hibbert down low, nor is he anywhere near West. The ideal spot for him to stand would be three feet closer to the free throw line so he could prevent a pass to West. Had he realized Monroe’s better positioning before, he would not be in this dilemma.


Due to his lack of defensive awareness Drummond starts moving only once West has caught the ball. For all his physical gifts, this is where Drummond still has lots of room to improve.  In this play, Drummond concedes a wide open jumper to West, which missed. Most of the time, however, capable big men like West will knock this one down, and the statistics appear to prove this.

To contrast this, let’s look at an elite defense  the Pistons are often advised to model themselves after, the Memphis Grizzlies. This is a similar situation last season, when Memphis gave up only 0.95 points per play on such pick-and-rolls finished by the ball handler, .29 points per play better than the Pistons so far this year.


As you can see, the Grizzlies find themselves in a similar situation. What you cannot see, Randolph already has his eyes on West, and is therefore prepared to run over in order to contest the shot. He has sagged because Gasol is a bit out of the picture in this one, but Randolph knows his job, while Drummond appeared completely lost.


As soon as George Hill passes the ball to West, Randolph dashes towards the Pacers forward. Randolph is not nearly as gifted athletically as Drummond, but he is a smart defender, and he gets to West in time for him to opt for a pump fake. West puts it on the floor, and eventually takes a rather contested jumper, which is a miss.

Drummond obviously has the agility and athleticism to be a good pick-and-roll defender. But he often gets lost like he did on the previously examined play. Or he shows to hard on screens, and then he needs a tenth of a second too long to locate his man who then is wide open. It’s not for a lack of trying, this is all pretty tough to learn, therefore very few big men master it like Gasol, or Randolph, two of the smartest big men in the league. Once Drummond learns to make quicker rotations, combined with his physical skills, the Pistons might have an All-Defensive team center.


  • Nov 19, 201312:26 pm


    Im not making excuses for Drummond or maybe i am…I really like the kid…
    Heres my problem, LAST YEAR… he should have been in games learning how to defend the pick in roll, he should have been tough how to keep his feet on the ground, Him and Greg should have had an on floor comfort with each other….
    To me this is how his rookie year should have been…
    So during games I get never frustrated he he is often out of position on defensive assignments, But people need to realize for the first time in his life he is learning to be more than an athletic big man….

    • Nov 19, 20131:16 pm
      by Huddy


      I don’t think Drummond is to blame it is just an observation about his play that is to be expected because of his age.  Randolph defends the pick and roll better after 12 years in the league,,,no surprise there.

  • Nov 19, 20131:28 pm
    by Vince Ellis


    I know everybody likes to pick on everybody else, but it’s strange to me to give Drummond a pass. I have a lot of the same conclusions and Cheeks is always saying Drummond needs to be more of a presence inside (blocking shots). Yall act like he hardly played last year and he was always a rotation regular, lol.

    • Nov 19, 20131:45 pm
      by I HATE FRANK


      i think its different playing together with other bigs defensively.
      Drummond doesnt get a pass but im more willing to give 20 year old who is averaging a double double some slack, because he is making up for it in other reas

      • Nov 19, 20133:16 pm
        by Chris


        There is also a huge difference in who Drummond is being matched up against. Last year, being a backup primarily he was ALWAYS the 5, and he’d never switch onto someone like West for any decent amount of time because players like Jonas and Charlie would take that guy. Drummond and Monroe really didn’t play together enough to build nonverbal defensive communication, just knowing where someone else is going to be on the court and trusting that they aren’t just going to let a player like Hibbert be wide open on the opposite side of the paint (unless they are doubling, cutting off the baseline etc). 
        I think you are completely right Frank, while Drummond might have needed more breaks during a game, he really needed to be out there more against higher quality competition with Monroe to learn this stuff together last year. Esp if Joe wanted to keep his job this year. I think that would have helped Monroe defensively as well because he would have had to guard 4s more, while he would not have looked pretty, and gotten beaten badly I am sure he might have been able to pick up their tendencies last year as opposed to using just film this year and facing a lot of these guys for the first time 1 on 1.

        • Nov 19, 20135:55 pm
          by jamesjones_det


          Monroe and Drummond both need to improve on their on ball defense.  They both can rebound but Drummond often bites on ball fakes when he shouldn’t and that gets him into trouble both foul wise and stopping his man wise.  Monroe often times doesn’t even put a hand up (though he seems to be getting better at that).
          I wouldn’t give either a free pass but given they do so much in other areas as you and Frank have pointed out it’s hard to get super angry with them.  I’m sure over time they both will learn better presence when they are defending the ball.

  • Nov 19, 20132:37 pm
    by Vince Ellis


    But that bad defense is what is getting them beat, lol.

  • Nov 19, 20134:41 pm
    by Jakob Eich


    This was meant to be a piece to show where Drummond is lacking and why the Pistons might be this bad defensively. There are quite a few other things they don’t do very well, as I mentioned in the text they show too hard on screens, they lose sight, they noone coordinating the defense. This is the difference between Drummond and grade A defenders. I hope he’ll learn quickly, I just wanted to show how difficult it can be with such a young player being your supposed defensive leader. He is still watching out for himself instead of telling people where to go.

    • Nov 19, 20136:36 pm
      by Toozman


      Showing too hard on screens drives me crazy.  When Jennings and Smith are twenty five feet away from the hoop, standing by a pg that’s just passed out of it, it’s a guaranteed open jumper somewhere.  I’d like to see just one game where they don’t trap at all, deny the three, and if they get beat off the dribble, isn’t that why we have all those big guys in the back?  Keep it simple, there’s a lot of big and athletic bodies, quit trying this ‘scheme.’

  • Nov 19, 20135:47 pm
    by jamesjones_det


    There are two massive issues I see ever single game:
    1) The perimeter defender almost never stays in front of his guy
    2) when the perimeter defender gets bet the other perimeter defenders over commit instead of just directing traffic into the middle where they should for Dre.
    Also some other minor things I see, is if someone gets beat on an off ball screen they almost never switch out forcing the defender to fight over he screen (which they do poorly most times).
    I’m not sure if all this is by design or just being over aggressive but other than big number gambles (steals and blocks) this team is god awful on defense.

  • Nov 19, 20137:00 pm
    by eric chase


    Josh Smith is a defensive juggernaut? The one that plays for the Pistons?!
    Blocked shots doesn’t affirm good defense.
    I’m expecting Anthony to light him and them up tonight.
    I don’t think the Pistons have a single above average defender on their roster. Drummond may be that one day, but right now there’s WAY too many mental lapses.

    • Nov 19, 201311:12 pm
      by Some Dude


      Post game thoughts: Melo was 8-20, so Smith did pretty well on him. Granted Melo was in a funk himself, but Smith played him tough and physical and didn’t allow Melo to get into a rhythm. In conclusion, the Pistons have the tools to be a good defensive team. They just need to continue to grow and work at it.

    • Nov 20, 20136:04 am
      by Jakob Eich


      Smith posted a defensive rating of 96 just two season ago, which is a very good mark. Also he led the league in Defensive Win Shares that same season with 4.9, his career-high in that regard is 5.1, so the least we can agree on is that he has the tools to be one of the best defenders in the game, and has proven that over 66 games (lockout season). His DRat of 107 is the worst since his sophomore season. The worst after that before this season was 104, so I’d say the move to Detroit has something to do with it.  Right now, you’re right, he is not doing that much for the Pistons defensively, but that is not on him. And he’s definitely above average, he is in the Top 20 percentile by almost every statistical measurement we have for defense (which are few). By the way, Roy Hibbert is killing the DRat right now 87, which would be the best DRat by far since Ben Wallace in 03-04. Duncan won that category with a rating of 95 last year.

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