One Team, One Stat: Can Pistons' defense get better?

NBA.com Global on Oct 09, 2018 06:51 AM
One Team, One Stat: Can Pistons' defense get better?
FILE - AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 11: Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons goes up for a dunk during a game against the New York Knicks on March 11, 2017 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

NBA.com's John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2018-19 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Detroit Pistons, who may have one more step to take defensively.

THE STAT

The Pistons are one of two teams that have improved defensively in each of the last four seasons.

THE CONTEXT

In the 2013-14 season, the Pistons ranked 26th defensively, allowing 107.3 points per 100 possessions, 3.3 more than the league average. Then the Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy and, in regard to points allowed per 100 possessions vs. the league average, they improved in each of his four seasons as head coach.

The Utah Jazz are the only other team that has done the same, improving defensively (vs. the league average) in each of Quin Snyder's four seasons on the bench.

Last season, the Pistons actually registered the league's biggest drop in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 78.5 percent of available defensive boards (10th in the league), down from 81.2 percent (first) in 2016-17. But they saw big improvements in both opponent turnover rate (from 23rd to eighth) and opponent free throw rate (from ninth to third) to more than make up for the rebounding drop-off.

The Pistons moved up a few spots (from 19th to 16th) in opponent effective field goal percentage. And they did that despite seeing a big increase in the percentage of their opponent shots that came from the restricted area or 3-point range.

In each of the previous two seasons (2015-16 and '16-17), Detroit was the best in the league at forcing their opponents to shoot from between the restricted area and 3-point range. League-wide over the last three seasons, restricted area shots (shot at 61 percent) have been worth 1.23 points per attempt, 3-pointers (36 percent) have been worth 1.07 points per attempt, and shots in between (40 percent) have been worth just 0.81 points per attempt. So if you're forcing the shots in between, you have the structure of a good defense.

Last season, the Pistons took a step backward in that regard. In fact, no team saw a bigger increase in the percentage of their opponents' shots that came from the restricted area or 3-point range. They went from 59 percent (lowest rate) in 2016-17 to 65 percent (14th lowest) last season. The much bigger jump came in the percentage of their opponents' shots that came from beyond the arc, where they went from 31 percent (12th lowest rate) to 36 percent (fourth highest rate), which is interesting in regard to the Pistons' new coach.

Last season, Dwane Casey's Toronto Raptors saw the biggest drop in the percentage of their opponents' shots that came from 3-point range. After allowing their opponents to take 33 percent of their shots (the league's eighth highest rate) from beyond the arc in 2016-17, the Raptors allowed them to take only 29 percent of their shots (the league's second lowest rate) from 3-point range last season. And that's how Toronto saw defensive improvement (points allowed per 100 possessions vs. the league average) for the third straight season.

Forcing opponent shots from the least efficient areas of the floor isn't everything in regard to defensive success. The Brooklyn Nets allowed the lowest percentage of opponent shots to come from the restricted area or 3-point range and ranked 25th defensively. And while Casey's Toronto defense was terrific against the league's not-so-great offenses, it had major issues against the top 10 teams on that end of the floor.

The Pistons just need to get better. And while there's more room for improvement on offense, there's still another step forward they can take defensively. In Casey's first season in Toronto, the Raptors allowed 8.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did the season prior. That is the fifth biggest improvement in defensive efficiency of the last 40 years.

Note: The above table is based on true possession counts. Other efficiency stats here are based on possession estimates (typically higher than true possession counts).

PISTONS NOTES - GENERAL

1. Only Eastern Conference team that hasn't won a playoff game in the last 10 years. Have been swept in the first round in both of their two playoff appearances (2009 and 2016) since they reached the conference finals (for the sixth straight time) in 2008.

2. Have played at a slower-than-average pace in 17 of the last 18 seasons.

3. One of two Eastern Conference teams (Boston was the other) that beat both Golden State and Houston last season.

4. Went 0-5 in overtime, shooting 12-for-43 (28 percent) in the extra periods.

PISTONS NOTES - OFFENSE

1. One of two teams that has been below average in offensive efficiency in each of the last seven seasons. The other is Sacramento (12 straight seasons).

2. One of two teams - Sacramento was the other - that ranked in the top five in 3-point percentage (37.3 percent - fifth), but in the bottom five in 2-point percentage (48.8 percent - 26th). Saw the biggest increase in 3-point percentage from 2016-17 (33.0 percent - 28th in the league) to last season (37.3 percent - fifth). Were one of two teams - Boston was the other - that had two players (Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver) that ranked in the top 10 in 3-point percentage.

3. Saw the league's second biggest increase in the percentage of their shots that came from the restricted area or 3-point range, from 53 percent (lowest rate in the league) in 2016-17 to 63 percent (eighth lowest).

4. Only 4.1 percent of possessions, the league's second lowest rate, came from the roll man on a pick-and-roll. The 0.97 points per possession their roll men scored was the league's worst mark.

5. Led the league in hand-off frequency (10.9 percent of total possessions).

6. Saw the league's second biggest increase in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), with 22.7 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field (25th in the league) last season, up from 21.8 (30th) in 2016-17.

PISTONS NOTES - DEFENSE

1. One of two teams that ranked in the bottom five in both the percentage of their opponents shots that came from 3-point range (ranked 27th at 36 percent) and the percentage of their opponents' 3-point attempts that came from the corners (26th at 24 percent).

2. Ranked 27th defensively in the first quarter (109.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) and seventh defensively thereafter (103.2).

3. The 11.8 points per game they allowed from pick-and-roll ball-handlers were the second fewest in the league.

4. Opponents recorded assists on 64 percent of their field goals, the highest opponent rate in the league.

PISTONS NOTES - LINEUPS

1. Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin played just 47 minutes (in four games) together last season.

2. After acquiring Griffin, the Pistons outscored their opponents by 2.9 points per 100 possessions in 594 minutes with both Griffin and Andre Drummond on the floor and by 4.5 points per 100 possessions in 237 minutes with Griffin on the floor without Drummond. But they were outscored by 3.5 points per 100 possessions in 472 minutes with Drummond on the floor without Griffin.

3. Pre-trade lineup of Reggie Jackson, Avery Bradley, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris and Drummond was outscored by 7.4 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark among 29 lineups that played at least 300 minutes together.

4. Highest on-court OffRtg among returning two-man combinations (minimum 500 minutes together): Ish Smith and Luke Kennard. The Pistons scored 111.3 points per 100 possessions in 713 minutes with the pair on the floor together.

5. Lowest on-court DefRtg among returning two-man combinations (minimum 500 minutes together): Bullock and Johnson. The Pistons allowed just 100.8 points per 100 possessions in 606 minutes with the pair on the floor together.

PISTONS NOTES - INDIVIDUAL

1. Reggie Bullock ranked second in 3-point percentage and had an effective field goal percentage of 63.0 percent on shots from outside the paint, the third best mark among 207 players who attempted at least 200.

2. Bullock had an effective field goal percentage of 66.2 percent at home and 53.6 percent on the road. That was the fourth biggest home-road differential among 213 players with at least 200 field goal attempts both at home and on the road.

3. Bullock attempted just nine free throws for every 100 shots from the field (49/546). That was the seventh lowest free throw rate among 223 players with at least 400 field goal attempts.

4. Andre Drummond recorded assists on 15.9 percent of his possessions, up from 6.9 percent in 2016-17. That was the third biggest jump in assist percentage among players who played at least 1,000 minutes each season. Only 62 percent of his assists were to the restricted area or 3-point range. That was the second lowest rate among 93 players with at least 200 total assists.

5. Drummond ranked second in offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage, grabbing 26.1 percent of available rebounds while he was on the floor. He led the league with 5.3 second-chance points per game, which accounted for 35 percent (411/1,171) of his scoring. That was the highest rate among 219 players who scored at least 500 total points last season.

6. Drummond ranked third with 4.7 screen assists per game.

7. Drummond shot just 29 percent on non-restricted-area shots in the paint, the worst mark among 31 players who attempted at least 200.

8. Blake Griffin took 32 percent of his shots from 3-point range, up from 11 percent in 2016-17 (and up from just three percent the season prior). That was the biggest jump among 126 players with at least 500 total field goal attempts both seasons.

9. Griffin had an effective field goal percentage of 48.0 percent on wide-open jumpers, the worst mark among 55 players who attempted at least 200.

10. Griffin recorded assists on 28.6 percent of his possessions (30.9 percent with Detroit), a career-high rate and the second highest rate among 74 players 6-10 and taller who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 games or more.

11. Reggie Jackson (19 percent) was one of three players - Chris Paul (14 percent) and James Harden (16 percent) were the others - that had at least 200 field goals and was assisted on less than 20 percent of them.

12. Stanley Johnson registered a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 0.259, up from 0.145 in 2016-17. That was the fifth biggest increase among 206 players with at least 300 field goal attempts in each season.

13. Johnson had an effective field goal percentage of just 37.9 percent in the fourth quarter, the worst mark among players who attempted at least 100 fourth-quarter shots.

14. Luke Kennard shot 41.5 percent from 3-point range, the second best mark among 23 rookies with at least 100 3-point attempts.

15. Zaza Pachulia played only five percent (50/972) of his regulation minutes in the fourth quarter. That was the lowest rate among 353 players who played at least 500 minutes in regulation.

16. Ish Smith took 58 percent of his shots from between the restricted area and 3-point range. That was the fifth highest rate among 180 players with at least 500 field goal attempts. 88 percent of his jump shots were pull-up jumpers, according to Second Spectrum tracking. That was the fourth highest rate among 230 players who attempted at least 200 total jump shots.

17. Smith averaged 4.88 miles per hour, fastest among players who played at least 1,000 minutes last season.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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