Detroit Pistons: Numbers to keep an eye on

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 08: Reggie Jackson
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 08: Reggie Jackson /

As the 2017-18 regular season rapidly approaches, we look at three key areas to keep a statistical eye on in judging the Detroit Pistons’ season.

The debate between statistics and the eye test has reached, at times, a boiling point.  Some people on each side cling so blindly to their position that the benefits of each side becomes lost.  The reality is, as often is the case, somewhere in the middle.  The advanced statistics that are publicly available can provide an excellent supplement in judging certain areas of the game.  Entering the 2017-18 season, the Detroit Pistons have several known deficiencies and fans can look toward certain statistics to help judge whether things are improving.

Reggie Jackson’s Athleticism Indicators

Much has been written and discussed about Reggie Jackson and the importance of his health to the Pistons’ 2017-18 season.  It’s no secret: Andre Drummond‘s success is largely tied to Jackson’s success and Drummond and Jackson have the potential to be Detroit’s two best players.

Jackson’s decline in athleticism last year could be seen quite evidently in two statistical areas: his free throw rate and his attempts near the rim.  For a guard like Jackson that relies on penetrating and getting to the rim, free throw rate and shot attempts near the rim are the two most reliable statistical indicators of athleticism.  Last season, Jackson saw serious declines in both categories.

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Jackson’s free throw rate in 2016-17 was .201, a number significantly lower than his previous two seasons in Detroit.  His percentage of shots near the rim (0-3 feet) was even worse.  Jackson attempted only 23.2% of his shots at the rim last season, a number that is a full three percentage points worse than his previous career low.

Even if Jackson doesn’t return to his full 2016-17 form, an increase in his free throw rate and percentage of shots at the rim will be an encouraging signs for the Pistons in the upcoming season.

Spot Up Efficiency

Last season, the Pistons finished second to last in the entire league in terms of efficiency on spot up possessions.  That poor shooting on spot up attempts contributed to the team’s poor 25th finish in offensive rating.  In 2015-16, by contrast, the Pistons finished seventh in the league in spot up possessions and were league average in terms of offensive rating.

Efficiency on spot up attempts correlates extremely closely to the team’s offensive success.  The bottom five teams in spot up efficiency last season – the Magic, Pistons, Suns, Nets, and Lakers – were among the worst offenses in the league.  The top five teams in spot up efficiency – the Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs, Clippers, and Celtics – were among the best offenses in the league.

The Detroit Pistons dedicated much of their offseason to improving their offense by drafting, signing, and trading for shooters.  If this summer’s moves are going to have a positive impact on the floor, the first sign will be an improvement in Detroit’s spot up shooting in 2017-18.

Andre Drummond’s Shot Types

Since Stan Van Gundy took over the Pistons for the 2014-15 season, Andre Drummond’s efficiency has plummeted.  Drummond has been used much like Dwight Howard was under Van Gundy in Orlando, and it’s become clear that Drummond just doesn’t have the ability to be a dominant post man offensively.

The NBA has publicly available information for post up situations for the last two years, and Drummond has rated very poorly in those situations.  Using other information that is publicly available since the 2013-14 season, the difference in how Drummond has been used pre- and post-Stan Van Gundy becomes clear.

When Drummond (like most other big men) gets the ball and immediately goes up for a shot in the paint, he’s successful.  When he sits in the paint, dribbles, and tries to make post moves, he often gets pushed further outside the paint which results in a lower percentage shot.

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If Stan Van Gundy is serious about using Drummond more like DeAndre Jordan, like he said in August, it will be evident in Drummond’s numbers in terms of his shots with zero dribbles and less than two seconds after he initially touches the ball.  If those numbers look more like Drummond’s season from 2013-14, Detroit Pistons fans could see a rejuvenated man in the middle.