How the Detroit Pistons generate open threes

Detroit Pistons Luke Kennard. (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons Luke Kennard. (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Detroit Pistons have been a top three-point shooting team so far, one of the biggest bright spots this season. Let’s take a look at how they’ve been able to create open looks for their best shooters.

Dwane Casey has been preaching three-point shooting since he became the head coach of the  Detroit Pistons. While the attempts were there a year ago, the team showed little nuance in the creative department. Bad shooters got a lot of attempts and there was more of a “just shoot a lot of threes” mentality instead of a “let’s create good looks” one.

But the more chemistry builds the more we see the Pistons synergizing to cater to everybody’s strengths. The big thing with Casey is that he lets the offense flow based on already established concepts instead of calling plays.

So, it’s nice to finally see the team consistently following those habits and organically creating offense. Andre Drummond finds himself on the elbow, which has fortunately been happening a lot more, and the team knows exactly what to do and where to be without any play call.

This is a standard secondary action the Pistons run in their freelance offense with some variation. The freedom the players have on the floor creates the variation, thus unpredictability. There are three players on the weak side which usually means the wing, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk will cut to the opposite corner.

Instead, Mykhailiuk and Blake Griffin set a staggered off-ball screen, a wide pin, and Andre Drummond hands it off to Langston Galloway. It’s the first screen that makes Galloway’s man late which means Giannis Antetokounmpo has to jump out on Galloway.

Galloway attacks off the catch, the only way he could ever get by “the Freak” and you’ve created a 2v1 situation on the weak side because Pat Connaughton had to run around the screens right into no man’s land.

Now, everybody in this play has the freedom to react to the defense and move in a way that takes advantage of the defensive coverage but also is in appliance with the team’s spacing rules. In a similar situation, now Tony Snell is closer to the ball while Griffin is near the baseline.

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That will trigger an off-ball action between those two, which is the rule, but they have the freedom to read the defense and choose the specific action. Griffin, familiar with the matchup, walks towards the wing and gets several steps of separation just by knowing that Giannis tends to stick near the rim.

That sets up the pin down he receives from Snell which leads to a dribble handoff and an open three. The unpredictability and reactionary nature of the offense are what created this look along with Griffin’s shooting skills.

With Griffin in a similar situation, the spacing works kind of differently. Drummond ducks in for a bit but then moves towards the corner to open the lane, while Snell receives a wide pin into a handoff. The defender is late and an open three is created.

Same action, same concept, different personnel, different result.

In the next clip, we have Drummond with the ball and four shooters. With Drummond’s man guarding up top the lane is wide open for all kinds of cuts.

We see simultaneous off-ball screens on both sides. Snell gets a pin-down and Galloway sets a back screen for Brown to cut to the hoop. Then he gets the ball from Drummond, Brandon Ingram helps one pass away and it’s an open three for Snell.

When Drummond is on the bench the Pistons recently have gone with the “five out” lineup. In a small sample of 42 minutes, the lineup with Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris and Christian Wood has been able to outscore opponents by 45.5 points per 100 possessions.

Mostly because they out-shoot opponents and they can actually rebound. Well, we’ll see about that but defensive rebounding hasn’t been a problem with that lineup so far.  With Morris and Wood in the corners, look at how much space Rose has to attack the paint.

He doesn’t need much of a screen to get by his man, so a Galloway ball screen and slip is a perfect action. As Rose attacks the rim, Mykhailiuk’s man has to step in. At that time, Wood sets an off-ball screen to free Mykhailiuk in the corner.

Galloway’s defender helps, Mykhailiuk pump fakes and makes the extra pass. This is the kind of chemistry we’ve been waiting to see all year and recently these types of plays have been happening more often.

Against the 2-3 zone, the Pistons pull their big men up top and Drummond sets a flare screen for Griffin. Open three. These are the plays that happen organically now in the Pistons offense. The best thing is that those plays are simple enough that you don’t risk turning the ball over.

Putting your players in a position to take advantage of the defense’s confusion goes a long way, especially in the regular season. You can use simple actions to create confusion and chain those actions to get a significant advantage.

Same play as above, but now Luke Kennard‘s defender switches the off-ball screen and jumps at Snell. So the latter turns and cuts, drawing both defenders with him. So Kennard gets an open three without even running the dribble handoff with Griffin.

If you put defenders in multiple confusing situations, they’ll mess up and you’ll get open looks without even risking a turnover. All the action happens away from the ball. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aggressive.

The more easy looks you create the more room you have to be aggressive and attack the basket. When attacking the basket the Pistons have done a better job of getting deep into the paint, forcing multiple defenders to commit.

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That is necessary if an arithmetical advantage is to be created somewhere on the floor and when attacking the rim aggressively, that advantage is usually created in the corner, where the help is coming off.

Brown’s quick first step means help has to come off the corner to contest at the rim. Brown makes sure he steps into the paint before he makes the pass, forcing the help defenders to commit fully.

That leaves Griffin wide open in the corner and the extra pass makes sure the three-pointer is as wide open as possible. Brown’s deep drive is what created that much space.

Now, compare it to this one where Rose makes the early pass before touching paint. The opposing big man is guarding both Rose and Wood without committing to any while the weak side defender is playing the passing lane.

This is no time to make a pass. You have to attack to make the defense commit. If Rose attacks, that opens up the lob and if the weak side sinks in, the corner is open. Fortunately, the Pistons have been more aggressive towards the paint lately.

And when they get to the paint, they’re not afraid to kick it out. And the Pistons have players that can get to the paint. Rose especially has been excellent at turning the corner and finding open shooters and combined with Drummond’s off-ball screens, you’re guaranteed to create open looks.

Drummond isn’t too shabby either. He practically lives in the paint and he’s been extremely eager and accurate with his kick-outs this year. He’s making them one the move too, which is very promising and adds a whole other level to his offensive impact.

And he’ll get offensive rebounds and kick it out once again. He’s now comfortable enough that he can get the ball in the paint, make a move to draw multiple defenders and make creative jump passes. His turnover rate on passes is pretty low too.

And let’s not forget Blake Griffin, one of the best passing big men in the world. He’s a known commodity and a reliable source of open threes when he’s in the game.

The Detroit Pistons are building chemistry and are looking more and more as if they’re playing “the right way”. Maybe they’ve already put themselves in a way too big of a whole to be able to turn things around.

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But it’s nice to see that there’s a system in place that’s being implemented and better executed with each day. Anything could happen as the schedule gets even more difficult but at least there’s a chance we’ll be watching good basketball along the way.