Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.
1. The Pistons have been one of the NBA’s worst teams when it comes to closing out teams late in the fourth quarter. Is this a the kind of smaller issue that will go away with time or, at this point, is it a significant and obvious issue?
Dan Feldman: It’s a minor issue, but it’s definitely more than a non-issue. If games ended after the third quarter, the Pistons would be 18-15. Only the Denver Nuggets benefit more from that alternate reality. But this still too small a sample to panic about.
Tim Thielke: The Pistons are playing opponents to a draw in the first quarter, they’re +1.5 in the second, -0.3 in the third, and -3.2 in the fourth. That’s not a big enough disparity to draw conclusions, but it is enough to raise questions.
Brady Fredericksen: It’s always a significant issue, but it’s one that I think will eventually work itself out. Tim makes a good point — the Pistons aren’t playing the same in the fourth quarter. That’s obvious, the results don’t lie, but they just settle offensively. If you’re not going to defend well, you’ve gotta avoid the scoring droughts.
2. Put yourself in Maurice Cheeks position, what are you doing to alleviate these issues?
Dan Feldman: I’m pulling Brandon Jennings aside and telling him no stop trying to take over games. The Pistons, like most teams, function best when they’re playing unselfishly. Then, I tell the rest of the team not to worry about fourth quarters, that they shouldn’t press to solve an issue that might be nothing more than random variance.
Tim Thielke: Stop pulling Andre Drummond when he gets in foul trouble. Let him play through it to put the team in a better spot before the difficult fourth quarter rolls around. Maybe he avoids further fouling and you look good. Maybe he fouls out early and you’ve maximized the court time that you could have gotten out of him. Then you don’t have to second guess decisions of whether or not to play him in crunch time when his rebounding is an asset, but his free throw shooting is a liability.
Brady Fredericksen: Find some organization. To Cheeks’ credit, he’s beginning to put the Pistons in good spots offensively. I’m sure when you were a pretty good point guard in your playing days, you’ve probably got a feel for at least seeing what works and what doesn’t for a guy. The problem is his point guard(s) aren’t always as aware of what works best all the time. I can’t bash Jennings’ shooting because it’s been just as valuable late at times. According to Sports Illustrated, he’s averaging five points and two assists in the fourth quarter — better numbers than Kyle Lowry, Ty Lawson and Ricky Rubio.
3. These struggles aren’t based on just one issue, but if you had to dump the majority of the blame on one specific for the late-game troubles, what would it be?
Dan Feldman: Jennings shooting too much and at the expense of Drummond and Greg Monroe. Among the Pistons’ 10 minutes leaders, Jennings’ shots per minute he’s on the floor increase by most from quarters 1-3 to fourth quarter/overtime. For Jennings to get those extra shots (shots he doesn’t make at a higher clip than earlier in the game), as pointed out by Sean Corp of Detroit Bad Boys, Monroe and Drummond — two of the team’s most-efficient scorers — suffer most.
Tim Thielke: I tend to think that much of the quarter-to-quarter variance is just randomness. But teams undeniably go to the line more in the 4th. And free throw shooting is one of Detroit’s greatest weaknesses.
Brady Fredericksen: Ball movement. I don’t want to place all the blame on Jennings — although that would be really easy — but the ball legitimately stops once they get late in the game. As the point guard, Jennings’ main objective is to keep the offense flowing, but somehow the team always just stands around. Maybe it plays into the fact that Jennings is a proponent of Hero Ball, but when the Pistons get up in the fourth quarter, they play keep away. You can’t win in the NBA like that.