10 things I like (and don’t like) about the Detroit Pistons

Mar 9, 2017; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) has words with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the fourth quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons won 106-101. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2017; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) has words with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the fourth quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons won 106-101. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons have had a season to remember for some good and bad reasons. Let’s take a look at some of what has made this a memorable campaign.

Perhaps the most widely-read NBA-related column is the “10 Things I Like And Don’t Like” column by NBA writing godfather Zach Lowe. It is essentially exactly what it sounds like; a series of things that stand out to Lowe across the league, both good and bad. There’s plenty of content for both sides of the story across a league as dynamic and exciting as the NBA, but the Detroit Pistons might be among the teams with the most polarizing elements.

In an homage to Lowe, and in appreciation of this maddening Pistons team, let’s take a look at 10 things I like (and don’t like) about the Detroit Pistons.

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1. First quarter energy

The Pistons’ hot start versus the New York Knicks on Saturday notwithstanding, this is a notoriously slow starting team. I have some theories about why this might be, several of which we’ll get into in depth in the near future, but the bottom line is that the Pistons regularly dig holes early in games that they force themselves to spend the rest of the game fighting out of. Good teams don’t do this to themselves, and this team isn’t doing itself any favors by getting off to such lackadaisical starts.

2. The rise of Voltron

The Golden State Warriors had their Death Lineup, the Oklahoma City Thunder had their Megadeath Lineup. Every great unit needs a great nickname, and the Pistons have a unit worth of such a moniker. Coined by Rod Beard, the Pistons’ beat writer for the Detroit News, the Voltron lineup is the unit consisting of Ish Smith, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, Aron Baynes and whichever of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris happens to be lucky enough to play with these world-beaters. This foursome has a +20.9 net rating since February 1st when they’re on the floor together.

3. Tobias Harris

In the starting lineup, off the bench, it doesn’t matter. Tobias Harris has been magnificent. He’s been the Pistons’ most reliable and efficient scorer since the season began, especially since that move to the bench in December. While at the time that move made sense, Harris has been so effective and deadly that the only things that matter for him right now are getting minutes and touches. There should never be any scenario where Jon Leuer is getting more minutes or shots than Harris, regardless of who starts.

Harris has been a consummate professional this season, accepting his role change without complaint all while surely knowing he’s the best scorer on the team. That’s to be lauded. He’s also been vastly better defensively than anybody gives him credit for.

4. Poor efficiency shots

The Detroit Pistons love the mid-range, they love the pull-up jumper, and they don’t mind feeding Andre Drummond in the post. None of these are good options. The Pistons take the 4th-most pull-up jumpers in the NBA, and they shoot the highest percentage. That might sound great, but their 43.7 percent success rate adds up to almost exactly .874 points per possession. Good halfcourt offenses score over .900 points per possession, so getting the bulk of your possessions from a low-efficiency area of the floor is not a winning strategy. And we all know about Andre Drummond’s post-ups. He’s getting about .723 points per possession from the post, which is absolutely dreadful and actually less efficient than he is from the free throw line. Try to wrap your head around that.

5. Reggie Jackson

You might wonder which side Reggie Jackson falls on here. There is an argument for both sides, but Jackson is surging towards a positive verdict. He’s been strong since the All-Star break, lending credence to the idea that maybe he needed some time to rest his knee to get back in gear. That could be promising for the offseason as well, since if a week off helped, a couple of months could do wonders. Since the break Jackson is averaging 16 points and 5 assists per game on 55.8 percent true shooting. If the Pistons are going to make noise down the stretch and into the playoffs, they’ll need more of that from their starting point guard.

Related Story: Teammates have helped Reggie Jackson persevere

6. The defense

The Detroit Pistons have had a top-five defense for a decent chunk of the season. They were top-three for most of the first month-and-a-half, and since February 1st they’ve had the fifth-best defense, giving up 103.3 points per 100 possessions. That’s largely thanks to the fact that they don’t turn the ball over much, and they don’t give opposing offenses second-chance opportunities. The Pistons are responsible in some very critical ways, and this team that is not considered especially high-IQ is actually quite intelligent in important areas. One of the biggest reasons the Detroit Pistons have such a solid defense is thanks to one very large man, and in some ways that may surprise you. That leads us to…

7. Andre Drummond

Yes indeed, Andre Drummond is one of the reasons the Pistons have such a strong defense. But why? And how? He can’t protect the rim! As it turns out, the monstrous impact Drummond has on both the offensive and defensive boards have wide-ranging effects. For starters, the Pistons are the best team in basketball at keeping opponents from scoring second-chance points, allowing just 10 points per game, almost a whole point better than the second-place Utah Jazz. In addition, the Pistons are the best team in the league at keeping opponents from scoring points in transition, allowing just 10.3 fast-break points per game. What does that have to do with Andre Drummond?

The Pistons score the 12th-most second-chance points per game, and in almost all cases teams have to decide whether they’re going to crash the boards en masse for offensive rebounds, or get back in transition defense. Drummond is such a force of nature that they don’t have to crash the boards, he carries the load and allows his teammates to get back while he fights for the offensive rebounds. He’s no Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but Andre Drummond is absolutely vital to the success of the Detroit Pistons for these reasons.

8. Jon Leuer

I miss the old Jon Leuer. 12 points off the bench Jon Leuer. Does it all well Jon Leuer. Gone are the heady days when Ish Smith and Jon Leuer were the best players for a strange Piston team. Leuer has struggled mightily for weeks to the point where he’s hitting just 29.9 percent of his threes. His struggles have been so tremendous that his career three-point success rate has dropped from 37.5 percent to 34.3 percent thanks to just this season. Across the board, his numbers off the bench are superior to his starting numbers, but that’ll happen when you’re playing better players on starting units than reserves. He’s been exposed a bit, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see Leuer get moved back to the bench in favor of Tobias Harris. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see Leuer’s play improve if such a move was made.

9. Aron Baynes’ unseen value

Nobody really talks about Aron Baynes unless it’s to ask why he is getting minutes over per-36 minute superstar Boban Marjanovic. Nothing about Baynes will thrill you, and he’s certainly not 7’3 with hands the size of baseball mitts like Boban. Why, pray tell, is Stan Van Gundy so enthralled with a backup center who gives you 4.5 points and 4 rebounds per game? Stanley Johnson answered this when we spoke recently.

"Me, Ish and Tobias, and Aron being able to screen the way he does is big. I think he’s one of the best screeners in the league and he puts you in a position where you’re playing two-on-one against a five-man. That’s why a lot of teams go over on me and Ish who are not really dribble-up shooters because with Aron when you go under the first one Aron turns around and gets you on the second one, now we’re shooting layups. Now we’re shooting 15 footers."

He’s also the best communicator on the floor on the defensive end, calling out screens so perimeter defenders like KCP and Johnson aren’t running blind into screening big men. The defense goes up another level when Baynes is on the floor, and that’s no coincidence.

Next: Chad Ford's latest mock has Pistons getting shooting

10. Stanley Johnson

Speaking of Stanley Johnson, over the past 8 weeks or so, he looks like a damn good NBA player. Not just an NBA player, but a ferocious ball of energy seeking plays to break up on the defensive end. His shot is still not falling, but he’s looking and feeling more comfortable with it. He’s good at spacing the floor in transition, which is a valuable skill when playing as many minutes with Ish Smith as he does. Even if he doesn’t get the ball, teams can’t bunch into the paint to stop Smith or Harris on the drive because Johnson’s presence is a deterrent. If he can ever get his shot to fall consistently, he’ll be a solid two-way threat. In the meantime he’s a destructive force on opposing offenses, and much like Baynes, it’s not mere happenstance that the defense steps up a level when Johnson is on the floor.