Category → Notes
Rob Mahoney of Point Forward wrote an awesome article on the Pistons that is definitely worth a read, but this part especially caught my eye:
Detroit’s starting five was eaten alive on the perimeter in the first few weeks of the season. Over the last 10 games, though, the Pistons seem to have caught a rhythm. The clear point of demarcation was an injury-induced change to the starting five. With Chauncey Billups sidelined by tendinitis in his left knee, wiry rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has assumed a spot in the starting backcourt.
That shift, among others, has made a fairly dramatic defensive difference. Despite not logging a single minute with the other starters during the first seven games of the season, Caldwell-Pope stepped in to provide more pressure and athleticism on the perimeter. Billups, 37, still has a reputation as a strong defender, but he shows his age when chasing opponents around screens and was a burden on Detroit’s pick-and-roll coverage. It wasn’t all his fault; Monroe and Drummond are frustratingly terrible at guarding the pick-and-roll without impeding the movement of the ball handler, which made Billups’ job that much more difficult. The Pistons attempted to compromise by having Billups (and many of their other guards) go under screens, though that only afforded opposing guards a safe pocket from which to pull up and shoot.
The entire arrangement was a mess, on top of Detroit’s more generally sloppy coverage through a tough patch of schedule. Billups’ tendinitis, though, forced Cheeks to insert a quicker, longer player into the starting lineup to contend with opposing guards.
The Pistons’ defensive rotations really aren’t that much cleaner than they were at the beginning of the season, but Detroit has managed to ramp up its effectiveness by chasing shooters off the three-point line, jumping passing lanes and pressuring ball handlers. It’s amazing how much length and size alone can do under those circumstances. By attacking the ball handler and forcing him to make a decision under duress, Detroit’s bigs are in a position to deflect or intercept passes.
In the 10 games since the Pistons switched lineups and began dialing up the pressure on the perimeter, Drummond, Smith and Monroe have averaged a combined 5.5 steals per game. Detroit has cuffed its opponents by creating turnovers: Of the 25 lineups that have played 100 minutes or more this season, Detroit’s new starting unit ranks third in points allowed per possession. With that group turning opponents over on 31.2 percent of their possessions, avoiding fouls at a remarkable rate and locking down the defensive glass to avoid giving away extra scoring opportunities, the Pistons have seemingly found a way to survive their own over-helping and inconsistent rotations. They’ve leaned into the gambling tendencies of players like Smith and Jennings, in a sense, and had enough success in doing so to both undercut opponents and fuel their own fast breaks.
After bottoming out as the NBA’s worst defensive team, the Pistons have climbed to 20th in defensive rating. At this point in the season, the early failures still weigh heavily on that stat. So the recent improve has been extreme to compensate, and Caldwell-Pope has been at the heart of it.
Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are basically locks to get major minutes. The fifth player to join them has mostly been Billups, Caldwell-Pope or Rodney Stuckey. And as Mahoney said, that lineup with Caldwell-Pope has been among the league’s best defensive units.
Here’s how the Pistons have defended with each Caldwell-Pope, Stuckey and Billups joining the big four. Column widths are scaled to minutes the lineup has spent together, because at this point in the season, we’re still dealing with sample-size issues.
Just to reiterate, the gap between Billups (and to a lesser degree Stuckey) and Caldwell-Pope is amazing. Not only do the Pistons’ big four defend better with Caldwell-Pope rather than Billups or Stuckey as their fifth wheel, they’re better by every major measure. They force more misses and turnovers, yield fewer free-throw attempts and grab a higher percentage of available rebounds.
But why do the Pistons defend so much better with Caldwell-Pope joining that lineup rather than Stuckey, who’s defended fairly well this year?
There are few things at play:
1. Stuckey played more early in the season, when the Pistons were still working out team-wide kinks in their defense and playing a tougher schedule. This unfairly weighs down his defensive numbers in ways that don’t apply to the rookie, who was buried on the bench early. Since Caldwell-Pope entered the rotation, the Pistons defensive rating with the big four and Stuckey is a more respectable 104.9.
2. Caldwell-Pope is probably just a better defender than even an engaged Stuckey, which he is this season in a contract year. The MySynergySports numbers – Caldwell-Pope ranks 85th in points allowed per play to Stuckey’s 123rd – bear this out, and anecdotally, Caldwell-Pope just appears to stick tighter with his man.
3. This one is most important: Caldwell-Pope is a much better off-ball defender than Stuckey. Stuckey is solid on the ball, but he can definitely lose track of his man off it. With Smith, Monroe and Drummond in the frontcourt, the Pistons are short on speed to cover the entire halfcourt area. So, a single defensive liability in the lineup makes a massive difference. Most teams can rotate to cover for a weak spot, but the Pistons are too slow to do that. So, Caldwell-Pope’s ability to stick to his man off the ball has been particularly key.
Maurice Cheeks was handed the tough task of making a lineup featuring Jennings, Smith, Monroe and Drummond work. Before the season, it appeared offense would be the biggest issue, but it quickly became clear the unit was more flawed defensively.
Billups’ injury certainly served as a catalyst for the fix, but inserting Caldwell-Pope into the starting lineup was merely one option of several. Credit Cheeks for choosing the right one and getting the Pistons’ most-used lineup trending in the right direction defensively.
Yes, that’s three straight road wins for Detroit.
The Pistons also have won three consecutive road games for the first time in more than five years.
That seems like a long time. Is that a long time?
Before Wednesday night, the Pistons had gone 1,761 days without a three-game road win streak – easily the longest-such active drought in the NBA.
Days between three-game road winning streaks is obviously a contrived stat, but I think there’s some meaning here. The Pistons for too long lacked the talent and discipline to win consistently on the road, but that’s changing for the better.
There’s obviously a long way to go, but Detroit is making progress, and this is a sign of it.
Now, I look forward to when the Pistons winning three straight road games happens at least once per calendar year and isn’t cause for special attention, as is the case for a majority of NBA teams.
Cheeks knew where everyone on the floor was supposed to be — or supposed to be going. When they weren’t, he told them. Jennings is trying to learn that now, after a life of seeking out space to shoot.
“It takes a certain amount of time for a guy to do that if that if they haven’t been doing it that way their whole career,” Cheeks said. “I don’t think it’s just an overnight thing, I think Brandon is learning a little of that.”
“It’s very important to figure out where a (teammate) should be and direct him where to go,” Cheeks said. “It’s not an overnight thing where you learn how to play with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith.”
After he pays the electric bills Tuesday for two women’s shelters, Detroit Pistons point guard and Chicago native Will Bynum will host a Thanksgiving dinner for the shelters’ residents.
Clara Kirk, founder of the West Englewood United Organization, which runs Clara’s Place and Clara’s House at 1650 W. 63rd St., said Bynum will pay nearly $3,000 owed to ComEd.
Bynum, who once lived in Englewood and attended Crane High School, said his efforts go far beyond money.
“This is bigger than just paying an electric bill and giving dinners to those in need, it is about me seeing a need and doing my part to help," Bynum said. "I want the homeless and battered women who are living in the shelter to know there is someone who cares, that the situation can and will get better."
Never change, Will. Never change.
Updated: Caron Butler sure as heck doesn’t hold the higher ground (hat tip: bvpiston):
I really hope that kid wasn’t planted by the Pistons’ publicity arm, because if genuine, that was pretty awesome.
Smith missed practice Thursday after skipping the team flight home from Atlanta, his hometown, on the assumption that the Pistons would have a day off after playing Tuesday and Wednesday.
Smith already planned to stay in Atlanta, then was convinced to do so after learning his father, Pete Smith, was suffering from the flu.
Josh Smith said he was surprised not to see his father in the customary courtside seat where Pete Smith always watched Hawks games involving his son when the Pistons lost Wednesday in Atlanta.
"I consider him my best friend, and so it does bother me," Josh Smith said. "When that came about and I didn’t see him in the stands, it really was a shock to me. I wanted to be able to make sure I took care of that. That was my main priority, moreso than anything else."
Smith said he learned about 12:30 a.m. Thursday that Cheeks had scheduled an 11 a.m. practice. But by then, Smith had skipped the team charter flight.
"Generally, 99.9 percent of the time, on back-to-backs, you have a day off," Smith said. "And considering that I was at home and my father was dealing with a real serious illness, I thought it was self-explanatory. But I should have made better communication on my part, as far as letting these guys know that I was going to stay over.
"I apologized to Joe Dumars and Mo Cheeks the following day. It’s a situation that’s very minor and I really want to move past it, because it’s a situation where I thought it was a day off."
The good and most important news is Smith’s dad is feeling better, according to Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News.
In terms of more trivial matters, as Cheeks said would be the case, Smith returned to the starting lineup in a win over the Nets on Sunday. As he should have.
We can get into whether starting Smith is the correct strategic choice at another time. As far as a disciplinary issue, Smith served his punishment – and maybe a little more.
Cheeks’ flexible/disorganized (take your pick) style put Smith in a bind. It seems Smith didn’t communicate well enough, and Cheeks is entitled to call a practice with as much notice as he wants to give. But why did it come to that? Why not announce the practice sooner?
Often, being organized/inflexible (take your pick) makes things go more smoothly.
Smith missing a single practice is no big deal, and it also seems Smith is going out of his way to take the fall. That’s fine here, because the fall came with a minor price, and it will help Smith repair his image as difficult. But I wonder whether this irritated him, whether he learned a lesson or both. We might get a better idea the next time a similar issue comes up, if it does.
But this episode should be firmly in the rearview mirror.
This was a minor transgression, and Smith paid a minor price. He wasn’t fined and wasn’t suspended, but he was embarrassed publically a little bit. I’m not sure he deserved that, but there’s no use protesting a slap on the wrist.
Stuckey made seven of his 12 shots but had five turnovers, mostly due to the defense.
“We just didn’t have a counter,” Stuckey said. “We just have to be ready for next time. We didn’t go over any situation where they would trap me in the post. We have to read it better. Part of it is my fault.”
No coach can prepare his team for every scenario, particularly first-year coaches and particularly early in the season. And this is just a small strike on Maurice Cheeks’ record, albeit a strike nonetheless.
Not only was the team unprepared for Rodney Stuckey to get trapped in the post, Stuckey talked about it publically afterward. Players are unhappy with coaches all the time, but when a player is dismayed enough that he expresses it publically, that sometimes signals a great frustration.
Is this the end of the world? Not at all. Heck, it might not even be important.
But it’s an opportunity to evaluate Cheeks – one of what has been and will be many throughout the season – and a reason I’ll be watching more closely what other players say in an attempt to gauge how they feel about Cheeks.
When Cheeks was asked who would take over as acting coach in the event he were ever ejected from a game, Cheeks cooly replied, "I’m not getting ejected," before smiling and walking away.
Cheeks was ejected after getting two technical fouls in Detroit’s loss to the Hawks on Wednesday, and Maz Trakh took over head-coaching duties. I was a little disappointed Cheeks implemented a plan that involved keeping his cool and couldn’t stick with it, but I’m already over it.
I’m much more disappointed Cheeks hasn’t implemented a defensive scheme to lift the Pistons above last in defensive rating.
However, in a conversation with Joe Dumars a few days ago, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations apparently told Jennings a little selfishness could be a good thing for a point guard, despite the latter’s promise to get his new teammates more involved offensively than during his shoot-first days with the Milwaukee Bucks.
"That’s one thing me and Joe talked about," Jennings said. "That was my first problem in the beginning, when I came back — trying to please everybody, trying to make sure I was being a pass-first point guard instead of just playing basketball. But like tonight, I’ve just got to play basketball. If the shot’s there, I’m going to take it. If not, then I’m going to pass it."