The Detroit Pistons have struggled since Reggie Jackson’s return, and tensions have boiled over to the point where the team called a players-only meeting following a dismal home loss to the Indiana Pacers.
The Detroit Pistons were riding high on the strength of a three-game road winning streak just two weeks ago. They had crept back over the .500 mark at 11-10, and their starting point guard Reggie Jackson was on the verge of returning to one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
Since then, the Pistons have been a confusing and disappointing mess. They lost Jackson’s first game back against the Orlando Magic, then a week later suffered a horrifying 97-79 home loss to the woeful Philadelphia 76ers. This weekend, the Pistons lost both legs of a back-to-back against the Washington Wizards and the Indiana Pacers.
Frustrations from the team’s confounding poor play boiled over following the 105-90 loss to the Pacers on Saturday night. The media wasn’t permitted access to the locker room until about 45 minutes later than usual, and Stan Van Gundy didn’t appear for his post-game press conference until about 40 minutes after the game ended.
“I did a lot of the talking, I said at the end of the meeting that we have to make a decision,” Morris said. “Everybody go home tonight and decide on what you want to do. Do you want to be a winning team or do you want to continue to get embarrassed? Are you going to play for the next man beside you or are you going to play for yourself?”
When Van Gundy emerged to address the media, he had some comments of his own.
“Our offensive frustration is affecting us at the defensive end and we’re losing heart a little bit,” Van Gundy said. “That’s concerning. The offense has not been moving the way it should. The ball is not moving. I got to look at play calls and the whole thing.
“We went through stretches where Reggie (Jackson) made some plays in the third quarter and we were scoring, but again, what happens is, we’re scoring, but we’re trading baskets. Part of it is, we got guys upset they’re not touching the ball and everything else so they’re not as engaged in the game on the defensive end of the floor.”
This is very much in line with Morris’ own beliefs on what ails the Pistons at this point. He went on to say:
“If you have a guy wide open, he has to get the ball. It builds guys’ confidence. It makes the game funner. That’s just how it is. Of course some dudes are going to get more shots than other dudes. That’s how the game goes,” Morris said. “Guys are not going to respond well when they don’t get the ball when they’re open. That’s just basketball. That’s just the right way. The Spurs, Golden State, Cleveland, the top tier teams play the right way. You never win if you don’t play the right way. That’s just the bottom line.”
This passes both the eye-test and the numbers test. Since Reggie Jackson’s return, he has been as ball-dominant as ever. After posting a career-high in usage last season of 29.1 percent, his rate of 29 percent this year is close behind. This has been at the expense of his fellow starters, all of whom had reached a performance peak while playing with Ish Smith in Jackson’s relief over the first 21 games of the season.
With Ish Smith on the court this season, the starters flourished under his leadership. Andre Drummond has a usage rate of 25.4 percent, Tobias Harris has a usage of 22 percent, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a usage of 20.6 percent, and Marcus Morris has a usage of 18.4 percent. This present essentially the optimally balanced offensive attack, with all five starters able to shoulder the load and getting the ball almost equally.
With Reggie Jackson on the floor, his ball dominance completely changes the equilibrium. Drummond has a usage rate of 21.4 percent, Harris is at 18.4, Morris is at 16.4, and KCP is checking in at just 15 percent. There’s no balance in this attack, and Jackson is barely more efficient so far on offense than Smith has been, with a true shooting percentage of just 48.7 compared to Smith’s 45.9 percent.
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The difference is that in comparison to Jackson’s 29 percent usage, Smith’s usage checks in at just 19.2 percent. Ish Smith has been an excellent facilitator, working around his limitations and bringing his assets to the forefront.
An added bonus of everybody getting touches is that it keeps players engaged. Whether justifiable or not, players get zoned in more when they’re getting the ball, and they check out when they don’t.
When the offense largely focuses on either Jackson holding the ball or running the pick and roll, there are three or four players on every possession who know they aren’t getting the ball, and that’s had a negative effect on the defense. The Pistons’ defensive rating–once second-ranked in the NBA–is down to sixth, and it’s been the 12th-best in the NBA over the last eight games since Jackson made his return.
The time for niceties in the Pistons’ locker room has past. The veteran leadership has begun to call out the malaise on the floor, and Stan Van Gundy is mulling options.
Who might be subbed in? Is Jon Leuer going to make an appearance in the starting lineup? Will the Pistons experiment with bringing Reggie Jackson off the bench? Time will tell, but the message is loud and clear that what the Pistons are doing right now is not good enough.