Let’s look at a play at the beginning of the second quarter against the Bulls last night. At that point the Pistons were down just eight.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is famous for his suffocating defensive system. His players have internalized his principles and execute them almost perfectly. You’ll see how superbly they rotate with so much detail. Even with its best player, Derrick Rose, and starting center, Joakim Noah, off the court, Chicago is tough to score on.
The Pistons had to run and execute an entire play without making a mistake before they got even a decent look.
The play starts with Brandon Knight dribbling on top of the key. Damien Wilkins (great game, by the way) occupies the right wing while Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell both go into the high post. Rodney Stuckey stands at the far baseline.
Knight passes to Monroe. I have raved about Monroe’s high-post abilities, and I’m glad Lawrence Frank fins him useful there, as well. Maxiell has set a screen for Stuckey, who will come over for the handoff. Meanwhile, Wilkins goes baseline to clear the space. Knight runs to the weakside to spot up for a 3-pointer.
The aforementioned handoff creates a mismatch. Brewer, Stuckey’s defender, is a few feet away from him, and Omer Asik must switch to Stuckey and fill his lane to the basket. Asik does a very good job, although you can see Stuckey could hit Monroe with the bounce pass for an easy lay-in. Stuckey is not an elite passer and instead chooses to pull out and look for a better opportunity.
After pulling out, Stuckey drives to the middle past his man. Brewer is a pretty big guard, so naturally he has problems with a quick and small player like Stuckey. Notice how perfect Chicago’s rotation is! They leave the one guy open who’s not a huge threat, Wilkins, and any other pass will be hard to complete. They play the passing angles impeccably while clogging the lane to prevent the drive. This time, Stuckey chooses not to penetrate against four players (unlike the past couple of years) and passes the ball to the open man.
Wilkins has an open shot, but he passes it up. He hit a few similar shots during the game, but he sees Maxiell has deep post position against Taj Gibson. Wilkins makes the entry pass.
Unfortunately the entry pass is not played ideally. Compare the picture above with the one before. Maxiell’s post position was a lot deeper before he catches the ball. When he makes the catch, he is not in immediate scoring position. Deng doesn’t hesitate and comes to help his teammate. It’s curious to see Maxiell get double-teamed, but it is the defensive scheme and it puts a lot of pressure on Jason. They pretty much reduce his options to going baseline or passing. At the same time, Wilkins comes over to the left wing and screens Knight’s defender.
Knight rids himself of his defender and goes for the floater. The shot is not easy, but he still makes it.
This is a very long play which is perfectly executed by both teams. It is a case of great defense and great offense.
Last night, you could see what Frank is trying to implement. He holds players accountable for their actions and play on the court. It was refreshing to see Charlie Villanueva get pulled after his horrible five minutes. Good coaches usually need time to teach new players. Short-term results tend to suffer, but the team will be a lot tougher and harder to beat in the long-term.
Facing teams like the Bulls shows why Frank has taken this strategy. Anything less than perfect decisions would have almost certainly meant not scoring on that possession – and even perfect decisions were barely enough.
If the Pistons execute that crisply more often, we’ll see rapid improvement. But it requires five players making the right calls to get there.