Ole! Why aren’t Detroit Pistons better defensively?

Brooklyn Nets center LaMarcus Aldridge (21) passes between Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart (28) and guard Hamidou Diallo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Brooklyn Nets center LaMarcus Aldridge (21) passes between Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart (28) and guard Hamidou Diallo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Coach Dwane Casey set a goal of his Detroit Pistons being in the top 10 defensively in the league. Well, that has not quite worked out, has it? But it should have.

That the Pistons would not be a high-scoring team was assumed going into the season. Outside of Jerami Grant, there was no one with a history of putting up a lot of points in the NBA.

The plan was that Detroit would hang its hat on its defense. The Pistons last season were ranked 16th in points allowed in the NBA, not bad for a club that went 20-52. Coach Casey had higher ambitions for 2021-22, he wanted them to move into the top 10.

As anyone who has watched the team play knows, that goal is no where close to being reached. Instead of tough, grind out defense – a hallmark of Pistons teams throughout the years – it has been more like the infamous Ole’ defense, where opponents just drive past Pistons players, like bull charging past a toreador.

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Even a bad Houston Rockets team, missing its two of its top scorers (Kevin Porter Jr. and Detroit hater Jalen Green), managed to post 116 points, including 38 (!) in the first quarter of Detroit’s latest game.

What is the problem?

Looking at the players individually, there seems to be no one known for being a sieve on defense. Actually, there are a more than few: like Grant, Hamidou Diallo, Killian Hayes, plus Cade Cunningham if you include college rep, who are knows as above-average defenders.

On paper, the Pistons should be pretty good on defense. But the latest NBA team stats, have them ranked 22nd, worse than last year. Here are some possible explanations:

Three reasons the Detroit Pistons defense is below expectations:

3. Injuries

The Pistons have never really had their full complement of players,  all fully healthy for a game. Which is kind of amazing considering they have lost not a single player to COVID-19 protocols. A rash of pre-season ankle injuries hurt a lot of players, including Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes, at the start of the season. Now, Kelly Olynyk and Jerami Grant out out for a while.

Grant is a standout defensive player and Olynyk, while known more for his shooting than defense, is a capable defender. You don’t get time with Miami and Boston in the playoffs, like Olynyk did, without being able to play defense.

A lot of good defense is team chemistry, knowing where the guy next you is going. In pick and roll defense, both players have to be in sync. Chemistry and being in sync have not yet occured with Detroit.

2. Lack of height

You can be as tough a defender as you want, if they other guy has a few inches on you, they still can get off an open shot. The injury to Olynyk left the Pistons with no one over 6-foot-9 in its rotation.

Kevin Durant, almost 7-foot, feasted shooting over the smaller players, pouring in 51 points, Detroit tried to challenge his shots, but no one could get up high enough. Cunningham and Hayes are tall, but the rest of the guards are 6-3 or smaller. They can get posted up, or run by, pretty easily.

When the 6-9 Isaiah Stewart is not in the game, there is no rim protection and opposing teams basically can go into the lane with abandon. Myles Turner could help?

  1. They are simply too slow

The Pistons are not that athletic a group. Outside of Grant, Diallo and backup guard Saben Lee, there are not a lot of elite athletes out there. Defense takes hard work, but it also helps if you are quicker than the guy you are guarding.

With pick-and-rolls, swinging the ball aroind or simply exploding to the basket with superior athleticsm, opponents are able to take apart the Detroit defense.

There is no quick fix to this problem. General manager Troy Weave simply needs to bring it quicker, faster, leapers who can play hard next year.

Is losing now, good for the Detroit Pistons future?. dark. Next

A lot of being a good defensive player is simply desire. Since most of Detroit’s players are not so hot on offense, they need to take pride in their defensive play.

When you are no good on offense and defense, well, you should not be playing at all.