The curious case of the Detroit Pistons defensive woes

Throughout franchise history for the Detroit Pistons, their fans have known that defense will be at the forefront of their success. So what’s going wrong?

The Detroit Pistons have been watching their season slip away for several weeks now, and the reality that they’re going to miss out on the playoffs is becoming a more feasible reality with every day that passes.

What happened? Where did they go wrong?

An assortment of injuries derailed this team from the jump. They were banged up as soon as the preseason started, and still haven’t been able to full recover from it. Reggie Jackson just played in his first game for the first time in three months, and Blake Griffin will presumably miss the remainder of the season.

This has forced some of Detroit’s lesser valued options into elevated roles. While some of those players are admittedly living up to the expectations, the one thing that’s remained consistent is the lack of fluidity on the defensive end.

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The Pistons are currently ranked 20th in the league in defensive rating, (111.3) and 25th in points allowed in the paint. (51.3)

When you look at the numbers and see how ineffective Detroit’s big men are in the paint, it doesn’t really come as a surprise. Although Andre Drummond has been excellent defending pick and rolls this season, and is continuing to improve his rim protection, this issue goes deeper than him.

Coming into the season it was expected Christian Wood and Thon Maker would see extended minutes. But again, due to injuries (Griffin and Markieff Morris) fans have seen their roles increase over time.

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The issue with Maker isn’t his effort, if nothing else he genuinely hustles every second that he’s on the floor. The issue is that he has trouble defending any big man in the paint. His frame should allow him to block more shots but, he doesn’t. Teams are scoring more against Detroit when Maker is on the floor.

Opposing team’s have an offensive rating 116.2 when he’s on the floor versus 111.8 when he’s off.

Wood suffers from the same issues but on a lesser scale. His verticality is impressive and his shot blocking abilities are among the best on the team. However, he often finds himself out of position and has trouble picking up switches.

The Pistons are also relying on a player like Sekou Doumbouya to guard LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Draymond Green. He was thrown to the fire, and honestly he actually did a commendable job of defending each of them, it’s the same issues with Doumbouya as it has been for the last two mentioned players.

To be fair, that comes with being a 19 year old.

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The lack of communication and lack of fluidity is what drives Detroit’s turmoil. They can’t establish a defensive presence in the paint unless Drummond is on the floor. As much as fans love Wood this season, he still has a lot to improve on and that’s one major area.

Bruce Brown emerged last season as Detroit’s best on-ball defender. On a nightly basis he’s tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best guard, and more often than not he’s able to do an efficient job.

This season alone he’s been able to slow down James Harden, Trae Young and Kyrie Irving.

Though he struggled at the beginning the year, his peskiness and ability to jump passing lanes has proven to be a crucial part of any success that the Pistons do have on defense.

Derrick Rose is going to give you effort on defense, but there’s more value in what Jackson is able to do and that’ll likely help Detroit mend some of the damage as we begin to close out the season.

That aforementioned lack of fluidity causes Detroit to constantly be out of position, and as a result they’ve allowed their opponents to score over 100 points in 26 consecutive games. The last time a team didn’t  score 100 points against the Pistons was December 3rd.

That is the longest streak in the NBA.

Next: Should the Pistons consider trading Christian Wood?

Are the Pistons close enough to succeeding defensively that if they had a healthy roster they’d be in better shape? Of course. But they wouldn’t transcend into something substantial, they’d just be more average.



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