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What’s Wrong With Detroit?

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The Pistons have had a rough streak of losses in the past few weeks– cooling off significantly from their hot 4-0 start.

They suffered their second loss in under a week to a surging Boston Celtics team last Tuesday night. Kyrie Irving had a break out game, scoring 31 points along with five rebounds and five assists, leading Boston to a 108-105 win.

The Pistons followed that up with an overtime heart-breaker against the Brooklyn Nets. Spencer Dinwiddie snatched the Pistons hearts again with a game-winning three pointer in the final seconds of overtime.

Following that, the Pistons took a beating from the 76ers in Philly on Saturday afternoon. They droppped that game 109-99, surrendering 39 points to Joel Embiid. Embiid punished Andre Drummond down low throughout the game and continued the narrative that he “owned real estate” in Drummond’s head.

And then last night, the Pistons lost another OT nail-biter to the Miami Heat.

So, what did the Pistons show to their fans and what can the team take away from this early-season slump?

Live by the 3, Die by the 3

The Pistons shot a combined average of 36.2% from three-point range in their four wins to open the season. It took them an average of 31.2 shots from beyond the arc to achieve that percentage.

Conversely, the Pistons shot a combined average of 25.2% from three-point range in their five game losing streak. They averaged 33.2 shots to achieve that percentage…notice a trend here?

When the Pistons hit their three-pointers, they tend to come out on top. When they miss their three-pointers (while shooting them at a higher clip), they seem to come up short. The Pistons need to work at finding more open shots for their perimeter shooters in rhythm. This means better spacing, better ball movement and of course– knocking down shots!

While the Pistons have seen improved three-point shooting from Blake Griffin and Ish Smith, the rest of the team seems to be struggling to find their stroke. Reggie Bullock was ice cold outside of one game in the losing streak and the loss of Luke Kennard due to a sprained shoulder throughout these past five games have made matters worse. Bottom line, they need to be better from behind the arc.

Live by Blake, Die by Blake

The Pistons rode a hot start to the season from Blake Griffin to a 4-0 record. Blake exploded for 50 points against the 76ers in the third game of the year and in Detroit’s 4-0 start, he averaged 33.8 PPG! That’s a staggering number, especially when you consider that he did that on 55.7% from the field.

Conversely, in the last five losses, Blake averaged only 23.6 PPG on 40.4% from the field. That included a seven point, 2/13 from the field effort in the first loss, quite the dud. While his averages throughout this streak are still pretty solid numbers for a superstar player of his caliber, the expectation is high and numbers like these just won’t cut it.

Sometimes Blake does stuff like this:

Other times he does stuff like this…

Blake surges, and Blake ebbs. This is something that Pistons fans will have to get used to, especially now that the former dunk contest champion is aging. At 29 years old, his explosiveness has surely declined from his former status (albeit only slightly). He will have off nights and this is something the team will have to learn to deal with.

Stanley Johnson Needs to Produce

Now in his fourth year, Stanley Johnson is needed by his team more than ever. The team finally has a superstar level talent on its roster and has serious playoff aspirations in a LeBron-less Eastern Conference. Stanley Johnson has got to step up and produce the way the Pistons expected him to when they drafted him 8th overall in the 2015 draft.

What happened to this Stanley that we saw over the summer?

No more waiting for him to find his shot or consistently attack aggressively! No more Stan Van Gundy looming over his shoulder to cut him down for in game mistakes and depleting his confidence. He has a starting role with all the necessary physical tools to become a prominent wing player in the NBA. He needs to make the jump and prove that he belongs on a starting NBA roster.

Plays like this one from last season show flashes of what he could be, but he just cant seem to consistently put it together.

Through nine games this season, Stanley has averaged 6.2 PPG/4.1 RPG/1.5 APG. That is simply not enough for him to remain locked in as a starter with this team. In fact, he was benched in favor of Glenn Robinson III last night– only seeing the floor for 14 minutes.

Stanley has shown in the past that he has the competitive spirit and is willing to take on the challenge (see his playoff series match up against LeBron in 2016). This is the challenge in front of him right now and he has to be willing to rise to it– otherwise this Pistons team will not be able to succeed.

Perimeter Defense Is Still A Weakness

The Pistons have struggled to defend guards and wings on the perimeter for years now. Their backcourt is certainly undersized and at times outmatched in terms of athleticism. Reggie Jackson is a dynamic scorer and creator with the ball in his hands, but he has shown a weakness and inability to keep up with the more athletic guards of the league. He struggles with getting through picks and also seems to have an unwillingness to fight through them as we saw against the Celtics a few times when Aron Baynes would come out and set the pick. Kyrie was able to slither his way past the defense often and wreak havoc on the interior of the Pistons defense. Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie was also able to penetrate from the perimeter and attack inside against Drummond and getting him into foul trouble late in that game.

Ish Smith on the other hand has the ability to keep up with athletic guards, but is severely undersized and gets easily out muscled even when he is able to maintain position. Smith’s shortcomings come from the simple fact that he is not very big and does not have the strength required to keep up with some of the NBA level guards he faces. His effort is certainly there, but he can’t magically grow six inches and add 50 lbs to his frame.

Reggie Jackson Still Loves “Hero-Ball”

It’s been no secret to Pistons fans that their starting point guard has a penchant for heroics (or his perceived version of heroics). He loves to have the ball in his hands in crunch time, for better or for worse. It was the same story that led to his departure from Oklahoma City and now the same issue is rearing its ugly head here in Detroit.

Through this five game losing streak, Reggie has often called for isolation on the perimeter and waved off Blake and Andre on post ups. He has often ignored calls for entry passes into the paint and has decided to simply do it himself. Except the problem is that he doesn’t seem capable to do it himself night in and night out. He isn’t LeBron James, where he can call an isolation 25+ feet from the basket and somehow muscle his way to the rim for a bucket, or at the least a foul. To make matters worse, he seems to bring out this play style even more in crunch time. Here is a prime example from down the stretch in the loss to the Nets:

Tie ball game with 8.4 seconds left in the 4th.. and he decides to drive into a double team in the middle of the lane and chuck up a prayer, instead of giving the ball to Blake after the switch on the pick, or dump it off to Andre down low once he drew the double team. This is not acceptable and the more this continues, the more the Pistons will see close games slip away.

This Team Still Needs to Learn How to Win

For all the progress this team has made to get to this point, they still have not been together for a full season. They still are learning the intricacies of playing with each other and are developing their chemistry. They still have yet to put together a campaign of value where they win something big like a playoff series.

This was on display against the Celtics when the Pistons were down by three with under 15 seconds left on the clock and had the ball at their own sideline to inbound. Blake gathered the ball and nonchalantly threw a inbound pass to Ish which was too wide for his grasp and bounced past him. Marcus Smart made a quick reaction play and dove on the ball and scooped it backwards towards Kyrie. Blake dove for it but by this time it was too late and Kyrie had possession, got fouled and went to the line to ice the game away.

The Pistons also fumbled away in the Nets game in many ways down the stretch. Jackson took bad, contested jumpers in crunch time when other teammates were open. Blake got the ball with the game tied at 110 and around seven seconds left. He had Dinwiddie on him– who is severely under-matched in terms of size and strength in comparison to Blake. Blake took a few dribbles while backing him down, and then decided to shoot a 17-foot fade away jumper. That is not the shot you want to see your superstar power forward put up with the game on the line against a much smaller and weaker point guard defender. Blake needed to trust his talent and take Dinwiddie to the rim and either convert in close or draw a foul.

The Miami game was also fumbled away down the stretch, as the Pistons made enough of a run to force overtime, but when Blake fouled out by diving for an almost impossible loose ball thus crashing into Dwyane Wade with about 10 seconds left in regulation, it seemed as though the Pistons would not have enough firepower to sneak one out in overtime.

Sure enough, the Pistons hung close for a while down the stretch but when the play got physical in crunch time, they were unable to make the necessary plays to secure the win. Sure, the officiating could have been better, and they did get a wide open corner three from Glenn Robinson III for the win, but they simply could not hit the shot. Blake should have more composure as a veteran leader on this team and should not be diving for a loose ball that he had very little chance of getting when he knows his team needs him down the stretch in overtime.

These are prime examples of the fact that this team still hasn’t learned how to win and to win together in a clutch situation. That’s okay though, because they still have plenty of time to figure that out but it needs to be something coach Casey works on diligently if this team is going to be able to contend in the East. The playoffs will be full of clutch situations like this where execution counts and the players will have to rely on their instincts and their chemistry with their teammates to pull off tight wins. As this team has more time to gel with one another that will come, but for right now, they still are searching for their identity.

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About Vivek Sevak

Vivek Sevak is based out of Detroit, Michigan and is the content manager for Pistons Lead.

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