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Lay off the Detroit Pistons’ offense

Me at the Detroit Free Press:

The Pistons rank 29th in the league in 3-point percentage (31.4). They’re last in free-throw percentage (67.0 percent). And even coach Maurice Cheeks has said Brandon Jennings has yet to learn how to really run an offense.

But all that misses the point.

Detroit’s offensive rating is better than league average.

It’s not pretty, but the Pistons simply bull their way to the basket — they lead the NBA in points in the paint per game — and that’s enough for an effective offense.

they’re the NBA’s No. 1 offensive rebounding team.

Andre Drummond is the NBA’s top offensive rebounding starter. Greg Monroe is very good. Josh Harrellson has helped Detroit maintain its offensive-rebounding prowess when those two big starters rest.

The Pistons also gain offensive efficiency by forcing turnovers at the league’s third-highest rate and then running off them. Although Jennings doesn’t excel in the halfcourt, he does a great job of pushing the ball at any opportunity and a good job of playing point guard once the team is in transition. Detroit also leads the NBA in points off turnovers per game.

But don’t let those facts get in the way of a story line that was created before the season even began.

When the Pistons signed Smith — a move that created their identify-defining jumbo frontcourt — many worried he would ruin Monroe and Drummond, two of the NBA’s top blossoming interior players. Smith is not a reliable outside shooter, and it seemed opposing defenses could just pack the paint against the trio.

And they have, daring Smith to shoot from the perimeter. Smith has certainly complied, shooting 3-pointers far more often than ever.

But when not jacking up 3s, Smith has flashed impressive interior passing skills, and that has helped Monroe and Drummond. In fact, Monroe and Drummond have higher true shooting percentages when sharing the court with each and Smith than they do in other lineups.


  • Dec 13, 201311:37 am
    by Peter


    Really well reasoned piece. I crave this type of stuff about the Pistons. Thank you!

  • Dec 13, 201312:35 pm
    by Matt


    I would prefer that you stick to stories which back up the pre-defined storylines that I’ve been hearing about everywhere else. Seeing new “information” like this isn’t why I come to PistonPowered.
    I hope you understand and return to the scheduled programming which I’ve come to expect.
    Thank you for your consideration.

    • Dec 13, 201312:40 pm
      by Jacob



    • Dec 13, 20133:07 pm
      by Gordbrown


      Could be a good use for the sarcasm font here (see what I did there)

  • Dec 13, 201312:47 pm
    by Edgar


    Question: Is the team’s strength at offensive rebounding due to the size/strength/skill of their individual players or is there a strategic component involved? Can coaches put a strategy in place to improve offensive rebounding or do they just basically encourage players to hit the offensive glass and hope they succeed?
    I’m just wondering if we can credit the coaching staff at all for the great offensive rebounding or is it just a function of having the best offensive rebounder in the league.

    • Dec 13, 20131:11 pm
      by Jacob


      I give credit to terrible shooting. (Josh Smith)

    • Dec 13, 20131:55 pm
      by Otis


      Jacob is spot on. Awful shooting plus a lot of size up front is a recipe for plenty of offensive boards. On a related note: If there’s a more meaningless “major” stat than offensive rebounds in terms of judging the quality of a team, I don’t know what it is. You can’t possibly get very many offensive boards if you shoot the ball well. At least defensive boards mean you finished off a defensive sequence and secured the rebound. If you shoot a good percentage and happen to corral a high number of offensive rebounds, that’s another story.

      • Dec 13, 20132:46 pm
        by Huddy


        “You can’t possibly get very many offensive boards if you shoot the ball well”
        “if you shoot a good percentage and happen to corral a high number of offensive rebounds, that’s another story.”
        Which is it?  Seems like the first cancels out the second doesn’t it?
        Portland and Houston are two of the best offensive rebounding teams and have two of the highest EFF FG% in the league.  It is possible to get a lot of offensive rebound and shoot the ball well.

        • Dec 13, 20133:10 pm
          by Otis


          Ugh. God damn, dude. “if you shoot a good percentage and happen to corral a PROPORTIONATELY high number of offensive rebounds, that’s another story.” How’s that? Or how about this: “If you shoot the ball like total SHIT, don’t get excited about leading the league in offensive rebounds.” You get the idea, man. Jesus.

          • Dec 13, 20133:42 pm
            by Huddy

            You didn’t address the fact that your sentence regarding the impossibility of getting a lot of offensive rebounds and shooting well is wrong…you just restated the second sentence in a new way that is is unrelated.  I have no issue with the use or lack of use of the word proportionately.
            The Pistons are a middle of the road shooting team.  The worst shooting teams are not the best offensive rebounders and the best shooting teams are not the worst offensive rebounders.  The Pistons shoot the ball at an average percentage get offensive rebounds better than anyone else in the league.  That fact does not ruin the foundation of your argument about trading Monroe, but the fact that it is a positive statistic for the team doesn’t make it invalid…breath deep it will be ok.
            P.S. “You get the idea, man. Jesus.”  Really?  From the guy who writes novels critiquing the grammar and word use on this site constantly. 

          • Dec 13, 20133:59 pm
            by Otis

            Oh Huddy, whatever will I do with you? I rewrote that sentence because I meant to say that if the team shot well and grabbed a proportionately high number of O rebounds, it would be objectively good. I didn’t type that word in, so my point did not get across, and apparently needed to be picked apart for it. The fact that we shoot a piss poor percentage makes the point moot, but it shouldn’t be worth arguing against the fact that teams who miss a ton of shots are likely to get more offensive boards than teams who shoot the ball well.
            Also, it will not be ok. Trust me on that one. Between our bad roster, the contract status of our disaster GM, and an owner who doesn’t seem to understand basketball or the business thereof, it’s a perfect storm for this to get very ugly.

          • Dec 13, 20134:14 pm
            by MIKEYDE248

            Maybe next time you will have to actually read what others are writing before criticising them.  What Huddy was trying to say is that the Pistons aren’t shooting piss pore, they are right in the middle of the pack.

          • Dec 13, 20134:29 pm
            by Huddy

            Its like you selectively read. 
            “You can’t possibly get very many offensive boards if you shoot the ball well” —this is a sentence that you, Otis, typed.  It is wrong.  That was my point.
            As Dan pointed out below, the Pistons pull down a higher percentage of offensive rebounds, which is unrelated to shooting percentage.  If the Pistons shot better, they would still have a higher offensive rebounding percentage.  They are good at offensive rebounding…they don’t miss more shots than anyone else…they have a better chance of pulling down an offensive rebound on a miss than any other team in the league, 
            Offensive rebounding is a positive area for the Pistons…its not related to contracts or Joe Dumars or trading Monroe (I know, I know, EVERYTHING IS!!!)….but no really this is just an area of the game of basketball that the Pistons are good at….say it with me now…offensive rebounding is a positive area for the Pistons.
            Now, lets get back to the real issues.  Where do you stand on the whole should we or should we not trade Monroe debate?

          • Dec 13, 20134:47 pm
            by MIKEYDE248

            Awesome Huddy.  I think you summed up every post by Otis.

      • Dec 13, 20132:50 pm
        by oats


        The team’s FG% is pretty much the same as last year though. The biggest change in number of available boards is actually pace. They went from approximately 91 possessions a game to 94. That’s about 1.5 extra misses a game. The only player to actually improve on their usual rebounding numbers is Drummond, who is up .7 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. I guess that might be the answer for his improvement, but FG% is not it.
        Anyways, I would say that it isn’t worthless. Being good on the boards make it so those missed shots don’t end possessions, which drastically increases the likelihood of getting points on that possession. Detroit’s Offensive Rating from last year was 103.8 and this year it is 104.7. This is despite the team having a lower TS% than last year. Last year it was .539 an this year it’s .519. So despite getting fewer points per shot taken they are creating more points per possession. Offensive rebounding is the explanation for that.

        • Dec 13, 20133:16 pm
          by Otis


          It’s not that offensive rebounding is a bad thing in and of itself. It’s just a mixed bag of a stat. It’s quite possibly the last “positive” stat I’d ever go beating my chest about. You can’t get an offensive board without missing a shot first. Points in the paint is in a similar boat, where I don’t care how the hell you got the points if they weren’t enough points to win the game. Is there a record of the fewest points outside of the paint? Because I’m sure we’re league leaders in that stat.

          • Dec 13, 20134:17 pm
            by oats

            The Pistons are an average offensive team in points per possession (15th) yet below average in points per shot attempt (21st). The explanation is a simple one, they are the best offensive rebounding team in the league. Admittedly their being bad at scoring on a shot hurts the value of offensive rebounding a bit though, which is why they are 9th in 2nd chance points. They are average in FG% (15th) and in possessions per game (13th), so they got to be the best offensive rebounding team by being exceptional on the glass. This has allowed them to take a lot of additional shots, which is why they actually take a really high number of shots per game (6th). The conclusion is clear, offensive rebounding is one of the key components in keeping the offense afloat.
            There are other factors of course. They are 10th in free throw attempts per shot, so they are pretty good at getting to the line. They are also 5th in fast break points and 1st in points off turnovers. Fast break points are being factored into their points per shot attempt, which should tell you just how awful the half court has been for Detroit.
            I can’t find where they have points outside paint listed separately, but I’d say it is a safe bet that Detroit is the last in it. The teams that are similar in terms of points in the paint score more points than Detroit, and the lowest scoring teams don’t score in the paint well at all. I would say that both offensive rebounding and points in the paint aren’t clear cut indicators of how good an offense is. Points per possession is much better at that to be honest. That said, they are absolutely vital in explaining how this team scores. That was kind of the point of the entire thing. The Pistons have been average at scoring despite being bad at shooting, and Dan was pointing out why just looking at the bad shooting and complaining about the offense isn’t always the way to go. Yes, you are also right that winning is even more important than scoring, and the team is below .500. Yet it makes sense to note that the reason the team is below .500 is that they have an average offense and a below average defense. The whole point is to show where the deficiency is, and it isn’t with the part of the game that most people are spending most of their time complaining about.

          • Dec 13, 20135:16 pm
            by Matt

            I agree that the total number of offensive rebounds you corral isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. However, as Dan pointed out later (I didn’t notice it in the column, just in his comment at 3:43pm), the Pistons lead the league in OR percentage, which actually does mean something. It means they’re better than any other team at extending possessions after a shot goes up and is missed.
            If you’re a team that misses a lot of shots, you want to make sure that you extend your possessions to maximize the number of shots that you take.

      • Dec 13, 20133:43 pm
        by Dan Feldman


        Pistons lead the league in offensive-rebounding PERCENTAGE. That means how well they shoot is irrelevant to the stat.

        • Dec 13, 20136:18 pm
          by Otis


          Fair enough. And that should be expected for a very big team with three major guys who thrive in the paint and nowhere else. Still don’t think this offense is anywhere near “alright.”

    • Dec 13, 20132:23 pm
      by oats


      I would not give the credit to the coaches. Drummond got 4.9 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes last year and is at 5.6 this year. That’s a jump, but not a huge one. I guess it’s possible that he has been coached up on where to go when hunting for boards, but it’s not like it’s a huge change for him. Monroe is right on his average from last year, which is down from his rate in the first two years. Smith is rather predictably down from what he has done in his career, which makes sense for a guy playing farther from the hoop on average than he has in the past. Everyone else is more or less hanging steady with their usual rates, except JJ is way down. I don’t know if JJ’s effort has dropped or if it’s just one of those anomalies based on an unreliably small sample size. I’m leaning towards the latter since per 36 numbers on a guy playing fewer than 10 minutes a game are notoriously unreliable. So, we’ve had the young potential star player improve a bit and everyone else remain constant or get worse on the boards. I’d say the most likely explanation is it has nothing to do with the coaching and everything to do with the fact that the team just has good offensive rebounders.

  • Dec 13, 20132:20 pm
    by Otis


    I strongly reject the notion that being pretty much the absolute worst at outside shooting and simply bulling your way to the basket is enough for an effective offense. First and foremost, Dan, you don’t have the authority to make such a bold claim. Most smart writers who want to be taken seriously wouldn’t start from that premise in the first place, and if they did, it would be as a hypothesis that they’d argue in favor of, not a silly assertion like you’ve made.
    Here are a few important things to clear up before we start digging into the numbers, if we want to actually parse this information in a meaningful way:
    1) The Pistons have exactly one win– ONE– against .500 or better teams, and it was that bogus fluke where the Wade-less heat sleepwalked through almost the entire game, and the Heat came right back five days later to demonstrate who they really are as a team and where the Pistons stand. ONE WIN, Dan. One. Who gives a flying F*CK what their scoring totals are when they’re more than 1/4 through the season and have yet to beat a .500 team who actually showed up to play.
    2) The Pistons have had a strength of schedule that ranks in the bottom third of the league. I think it was 21st the last time I checked a few days ago. New Orleans probably didn’t affect that by much. So their 10-13 record should be judged accordingly as well. It’s not like they’ve been running into buzzsaws all season. They’re just not good.
    3) When you allow the opponent to score at will night-in and night-out, you’re going to end up with some high scoring games for both teams. If you’re not winning, you can’t hang your hat on the offense that looks respectable based on total points scored if you’re not winning games.
    I don’t know if I’d rather have a team that can’t score anywhere BUT the paint or one that scores well from outside but can’t score AT ALL in the paint. We’ve had both in the last few seasons (never any balance, though. Thanks Joe D.) and I can’t tell which is worse. I feel like at the end of the day, the team that can only score inside the paint will have slightly more wins, because they can probably be trusted to steamroll through bad teams more often than not. Both teams will struggle against good teams, but I think it would be easier for good teams to pack the paint and shut you down. I think the team that can only shoot from outside would at least give itself a chance to beat good teams, because some nights your shots are just going to fall and it’s difficult to defend the entire floor.
    Points off turnovers is meaningful, and I appreciate the nod to Jennings who really does a nice job of pushing the ball in transition. The only time this team has been truly fun to watch for me has been in transition. But again, that says more about how bad they are in the half court than anything.
    The flip side of the coin is that we’re terrible in transition D, and with so many misses because of our poor shooting, that kills us a lot. If we were a balanced offensive team, we’d put the ball in the hoop more and have the opportunity to set up our horrendous defense rather than try to dart down the court and play catch-up. Our defense might be so bad that it draws attention away from how big of a problem our offense is, but they’re both horrible problems and this is a bad team. ONE win against a .500 team, and it was fraudulent. Any time at all spent defending this team is just a disgrace to yourself. So yeah, let’s lay off this talk about how anything in this town is alright… at least until we have, oh, I don’t know, one meaningful win against a .500 or better team. That fair?

    • Dec 13, 20133:02 pm
      by oats


      They have an average offense in points per possession. So it’s not Dan just making an unsubstantiated claim.
      1) He’s not claiming the team is good. In fact, he closes the article lamenting the fact that the defense isn’t as good as it was supposed to be. It has been getting better as the year moves on, but it’s still been below average. Average offense and below average defense = below .500 team. Yeah, that makes sense.
      2) Already covered this. The article is not declaring the team good. It’s saying that fans shouldn’t put all of the blame on the offense when it’s been better than the defense.
      3) The offense is average in points per possession stats and not just points per game stats, so that factor is kind of irrelevant. They are also average in points per game, ranked 15th for both. So they aren’t really having high point totals artificially skewing the traditional numbers anyways.

    • Dec 13, 20133:18 pm
      by Merwin


      Otis, it is starting to feel like if Dan went back a week or two, copied one of your posts, pasted it on the website as a new post, and then waited a few minutes, he’d have you on here tearing him a new one for how stupid the post is.  Get over yourself man.  It is not possible for everything in the world to suck.  The Pistons are NOT a great team.  We know that.  We all want them to be better.  But they will not get better because you sat on here and pulled them to pieces.  Grow up.

      • Dec 13, 20134:23 pm
        by Georgio


        Amen to that, Otis is a troll, no matter what he’s going to claim the team a diaster as long as Joe is the GM. Ignore him and maybe he will go away. 

        • Dec 13, 20136:20 pm
          by Otis


          Ugh. You’ve changed, Georgio. You used to be cool.

          • Dec 13, 20138:51 pm
            by Georgio

            You made me do it

      • Dec 13, 20136:23 pm
        by Otis


        Merwin, you’re the one who should get over yourself. Ask anyone.

        • Dec 13, 20136:58 pm
          by Merwin


          Oh.  You really are a troll.  Okay, I’ll ignore you then.  I didn’t realize.

  • Dec 13, 20134:46 pm
    by sebastian


    I’m personally more aghast at being dead last in the League, as a team, from the FT line (67%). And, it would be way, way worst without my boy, Stuckey’s FT shooting.

  • Dec 13, 20135:10 pm
    by Matt


    I agree that Otis can be a little shrill at times, but I don’t think he’s completely out of line. The problem is that he doesn’t offer any alternatives outside of “trade Monroe at all costs” without providing more than the barest of details of what he would like to get in return and even detail whether the return would be feasible.
    The other problem is that when you’re constantly beating the “Pistons suck” drum on a Pistons fan site when it’s clear that the Pistons do not, in fact, suck, people eventually tune you out.
    Are the Pistons a good team? Probably not, but it’s actually more the fault of their defense, which was the point Dan was making at the end of the article. Not because Monroe looks clumsy driving to the hoop.
    Otis made the point that our transition defense is terrible. As someone who has watched a fair amount of the Pistons this year (but by no means an exhaustive amount) it does seem like their transition defense is pretty poor. That would seem to be a logical extension of having an excellent offensive rebounding team, but I was wondering if anyone had any actual stats to back that up. Do the Pistons give up more transition opportunities and are their opponents more effective at scoring on those opportunities? If it would be possible to filter out the transition opportunities that result from turnovers, that could be illuminating.
    The fact is, almost nothing happens in a vacuum. If a team is basically an average-ish team (which the Pistons are), if they’re good at one area, it’s likely that there is some kind of trade-off, and the coaches need to decide if the trade-off is worth it or if it makes more sense to sacrifice something they’re good at in order to improve an area where they stink.
    For example, maybe by forcing a lot of turnovers, the Pistons also commit more fouls than normal (I don’t know if this is true, but bear with me). Maybe for some teams that shoot free throws extremely well, it would be a wise decision to gamble less for steals in order to limit the number of fouls that are committed.
    Personally, I can say that I like watching the Pistons a whole lot more this year as opposed to last year. Generally, they’re a lot of fun and also can be very frustrating. I think a lot of people share my sentiments and, since the Pistons have been so unwatchable over the last couple of seasons, it’s fun to talk about how much better they are. It’s also just fun to watch Drummond for more than 20 minutes a game.
    However, someone like Otis can’t get past the frustrating aspects of the team and can’t understand how everyone else can just gloss over those aspects so he feels the need to shout it from the rooftops in the hopes that we’ll come around to his point of view. As for me, I’m never going to be that kind of fan. If the Pistons are playing enjoyable basketball, I’ll watch. If they’re getting blown out, I’ll find something else to do. I don’t know if that makes me a “worse” fan than someone who will watch an entire game even when they’re down by 15 after the first quarter, but I don’t live and die with the Pistons.
    I don’t want to hear someone harp on the point that this is not a championship-caliber team, and, for those of you who read Deadspin, I thought Drew Magary’s take on fantanking (in yesterday’s Jambaroo column) summed up my feelings on the subject:  Your team is rarely going to be a championship contender, so you should focus on the good stuff that they do and the small victories because, if you’re only waiting for the huge victories (i.e. a title), you’re going to be disappointed the vast majority of the time, and where’s the pleasure in that? What’s the point of being a fan if you’re pissed off almost all the time? It’s not like the Pistons are paying me to root for them, and they’re certainly not asking me for advice (so what’s the point in complaining just for the sake of complaining?) so I should only do it if I enjoy it. What’s the point of being a pissed-off, martyr of a fan?

    • Dec 13, 20136:30 pm
      by Otis


      Matt, where’s the “no barest of details?” Everyone asks, and I answer every time. I can’t get overly specific because I don’t know who’s available. I wish there were some rumors floating out there so I could evaluate them. But for now, let’s say I want quality young wings and/or picks. Gordon Hayward, Kawhi Leonard, Bradley Beal. There’s some starting points. Or a package centered around a pick that projects to be in the middle of this year’s first round. It’s a bit of a stretch to say trade him “at all costs,” but not THAT much of a stretch. So if you like, pitch me some ideas and I’ll rubber stamp them. There’s probably a thousand different trades that make sense (and there aren’t that many guys in the league).
      Also, the point of complaining is to try changing people’s minds. Same as the people who don’t know anything and just want to be cheerleaders. I want this team to be good, I want to explain why they’re on the right track. If everyone was flooding the Palace and cheering them on, that’s an endorsement of the product. I’m just trying to do the opposite of that in the hopes that eventually something is going to click. Sending out those vibes that change is necessary and try to instill some urgency in this sleepy fan base in the hopes that something gets done before this deadline passes and most of our flexibility expires.

      • Dec 13, 20138:58 pm
        by Matt


        I haven’t been looking super closely, but I’ve seen a lot of people ask you for who you’d like to trade and I’ve seen some suggestions, but I didn’t notice that they came from you.
        I’m not actually in the ‘we should trade Monroe’ camp. I thought someone had posted something about how much better the Drummond/Monroe/Smith trio has been lately, so I’m certainly willing to let this season play out to see if that trend continues. If it looks like it will really work, we can sign Monroe. If not, there’s always the possibility of a sign-and-trade. If we could get Leonard, I’d be happy with that. Not so happy with Beal because of the injuries he’s had and not so happy with just a pick, but I’m not sure what we can get for someone who’s going to be an RFA. I honestly don’t know if that factors into basketball trades the way that it does for baseball trades (if an MLB player is at the end of his contract, he’s worth much less because there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to re-sign him). I would assume that, since the team that could trade for him can match any offer, Monroe wouldn’t lose as much of his value even though he’s almost through with his rookie deal.
        I don’t think that the Spurs would trade Leonard, though. It seems like they really consider him part of their core going forward. Obviously, I don’t really know, but I’d be surprised if they would do a Leonard-Monroe trade straight up.
        Do you think that your complaining is changing people’s minds? I’m not trolling, I really want to know what you think. My opinion is that you’ve almost crossed into the realm of self-parody. Particularly when you continue to insist that the offense isn’t alright even though they rank above average in the league.
        The fact that someone can create an OOtis account that nobody takes seriously that is pretty much the polar opposite of you should be an indication that 1) this site isn’t as filled with sunshine-and-lollipops fans as you might think (and therefore your complaining might not be as necessary as you think) and 2) your complaining might be over-the-top.
        Maybe there are other sites where the commenters really are drinking the Kool-Aid and think that the Pistons are on their way to a championship, but I don’t see it from the commenters here and I certainly don’t see it from Dan/Brady/Tim (Patrick, where are you?). I wouldn’t know about the other sites because this is the only Pistons site that I read with any regularity.

  • Dec 13, 20137:58 pm
    by Jack56


    The truth is OTIS is Bill Laimbeer and is bitter with Joe b/c he didn’t get the coaching job. Therefore, nothing the Pistons do will please him.
    Sorry to blow your cover. 

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