Category Archives: Detroit Pistons

Detroit’s domination and struggle inside the paint

Last night wasn’t exactly a spectacle between the Knicks and Pistons. I spent most of the first half staring at the box score as their combined made field goals, assists, and turnovers were all about the same. Eventually, with the help of Andre Drummond tying the league’s highest total for rebounds this season, Detroit pulled away and revived hopes of making the postseason. The Knicks, meanwhile…

Neither team was an offensive masterpiece. Detroit was the only one to make over 40 percent of their shots, shooting 35-for-83 with 48 of their 96 points coming in the paint. That’s typical of Detroit. Their point distribution graph from last Friday can be found here, but it’s worth noting in this post that they lead the league in the percentage of their points coming around the rim.

But the other portion of the paint was a pain. The Pistons score at a bottom-10 rate inside the paint but outside the restricted area, and it only got worse last night when they put up a donut — 0-for-12. It’s the most attempts taken in the non-restricted area portion of the paint without making a single shot.

Last night’s looks against the Knicks from that area of the floor were probably what would be expected. Some were altered by Tyson Chandler, others were forced attempts like Kyle Singler slashing after being run off the three-point line, and a few were blown looks by Greg Monroe or Brandon Jennings. It happens, especially when over three-fifths of the Pistons’ attempts come from players anywhere from below-average to awful finishers from that area. It’s also not completely unheard of for a team to go scoreless from there when the league average for attempts per game is about 12.5, nearly half the average from mid-range and around the rim.

However, it’s still pretty impressive that Detroit’s 12 attempts resulted in no production. Variance is weird like that.

Below is a breakdown of games where a team went scoreless from a specific area of the floor:

As for a team neglecting an area of the floor:

  1. No team has completely ignored the non-restricted area portion of the paint in a game, but there have been games where only one attempt was taken – two of the occurrences coming from the Knicks and one from the Bulls. The Knicks love to shoot outside the paint in general while the Bulls, well, at least Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, among others, have helped right their ship lately.
  2. Houston’s the only team to take less than five mid-range shots, which they’ve done in four games. Moreyball!
  3. 11 times has a team not taken a corner three. Detroit isn’t found in any of those games, but four games were from the Pelicans. I guess Anthony Davis can’t do everything.
  4. No team has not taken a three from above the break, but Memphis holds the season-low with three attempts on January 31.
  5. Around the rim, Sacramento’s the only team to take less than 10 attempts in a game, which they accomplished on January 24 all while nearly toppling the Pacers. That counts for a moral victory, right? Right?!

Around the rim is where Detroit thrives. The least amount of attempts they’ve taken within the restricted area is 22, which is Brooklyn’s average per game. They also hold the two season-highs for attempts at 53 and 51 on November 29 and January 10, respectively.

It’s that other portion of the paint that’s been tricky for the Pistons, as well as just about everywhere else. Things happen when a team’s composed of players whose ways of scoring overlap with each other’s.

But at least they got the touch around the rim…

Is that not what the Pistons would say to themselves? Long live Caddyshack.

All stats are according to NBA.com.

When Josh Smith makes consecutive threes

Over the last four months I’ve posted both optimistic words about Josh Smith’s shot selection and amazement of how bad it’s become. Hopefully this post is somewhere in the middle, both accepting of his jump shot and that I can’tstopwriting about him.

Josh Smith can do many good things on an NBA court. Catering his game to what math says about it, well, that’s not one of them (though that’s also on Joe Dumars). He’s taken nearly as many shots within five feet, where he averages 1.282 points per attempt, as he does from 20 feet and beyond where he averages .705 points per attempt. It also feels mandatory to mention that because Smith’s a 23.6 percent shooter from the arc that he’s five attempts away from becoming the worst in league history, minimum 200 shots. He’ll be the worst even if he makes every one of those five attempts. Fun times.

Making five threes in a row is possible, by the way. The current chance of Smith accomplishing that is 0.0011 percent or basically the chances of making a straight flush in poker, but the former event actually happened over two games in the 2012-2013 season against Memphis and Miami, when the likelihood of such an occurrence back then was slightly higher at .0053 percent.

Smith’s a streaky three-point shooter, proven as recent as last night when he laughed in the face of math by making two threes in a row against the Spurs. He came into the game shooting 22.9 percent from three (again, on nearly 200 shots) which meant the chance of making his next two attempts was 5.2 percent. If we go by his accuracy since January 1, that percentage drops to 3.1.

That’s exactly what happened, though.

As his 3-point percentage might show, however, Smith will have cold spells where he misses, say, eight in a row. His longest drought this season is currently 11 threes from December 23 to January 7, according to Basketball-Reference, which is currently about as likely to happen again as making another pair of threes. The odds for each are 5.55 percent and 5.18, respectively.

Here are some other occurrences in the NBA about as likely to happen as Smith either making two threes in a row or missing 11 straight, going off his new three-point percentage that’s a shade under 23.6 percent:

  • Brandon Jennings missing seven straight threes from above the break. Don’t count this out. Judging by the distance of a lot of his threes, this has happened multiple times this season.
  • Chris Bosh missing five mid-range shots in a row. With the looks LeBron James and Dwyane Wade give him, that possibility seems, um, not possible.
  • Carmelo Anthony missing five straight threes from above the break. More likely is Anthony making five straight threes and the Knicks still losing.
  • Stephen Curry missing in general, which feels like never.
  • And for the poker players, making two-pair is slightly less likely, calculating to 4.75 percent.

Smith doesn’t care for math, though, as last night was far from the only time he’s made consecutive threes this season — he’s accomplished that eight other times. Smith’s made 46 threes at a 23.5 percent clip, which should mean on average he’d only make two threes in a row just twice and maybe three in a contract year. A similar thing happened in 2013 when Smith shot just 30.3 percent from the arc, making 61 of 201 attempts but he made consecutive threes at twice the average occurrence — 12 compared to 5.6. As usual, the downswings were rough as he once missed 15 straight threes. Earlier seasons show similar variance, though this might be common for several shooters.

Smith’s been a downright streaky three-point shooter, for better or for worse with last night showing both sides. After making two consecutive threes early against San Antonio, Smith attempted another in the fourth quarter in which he proceeded to miss everything. Order was restored, but he’s going to keep hoisting threes whether his shooting hand is hot or so cold it confirms my suspicion he shoots with mittens.

If my math is off, feel free to chime in.

Josh Smith’s shooting has reached it’s low point, or has it?

Keith Allison | Flickr

Keith Allison | Flickr

Three months ago I dedicated a post to Josh Smith’s shot selection, back when it wasn’t so rough on the eyes. The newly-signed Pistons forward hoisted 23 threes through the first three games of the season but the mid-range attempts were mostly absent. A long shot to be an above-average shooter, having Smith take a step behind the line instead of taking 20-foot two-pointers was a step in the right direction, one that would yield more points per attempt from jump shots he’d have to take when playing alongside Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. It was a hopeful sign of efficiency.

Fast forward to now. Smith’s recording career-lows in PER, true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, and free throw rate. His threes and shots in the dead zone combine for about half his field goal attempts, most of them being bricks that create shot chart blood. However, the floor on Smith’s three-point percentage is most remarkable, possibly still untapped despite being on pace to be the worst three-point shooter of all time by a whole two percentage points, minimum 200 attempts. His 166 tries have dropped 23.5 percent of the time but the monthly splits worsen each month:

smithgraph1

Smith’s just 16-for-87 beyond the arc (18.4 percent) over his last 30 games. SportVU lists him as the worst three-point shooter in catch-and-shoot situations (24.7 percent) among the top 100 players in attempts, with teammate Charlie Villanueva second to last. His percentages are even worse in pull up attempts, though those shots have rarely occurred and it’s common for players to struggle shooting off the dribble versus a pass.

The good news is that Smith’s three-point rate is dropping. Here’s a table of those monthly splits with his mid-range rate and free throw rate included, via NBA.com. (I left out October and February because small sample size.)

smithgraph2

The three-point rates in December and January match up with Smith’s last season in Atlanta. Maybe they have to do with Detroit’s big three of Smith, Drummond, and Monroe playing together less frequently each month. According to NBA.com, the trio was together 18.7 minutes in November, 16.2 in December, and 15.0 in January. Neither monthly split yielded positive results, though that’s not 100 percent on Smith. The trio needs to be severely staggered, and Brandon Jennings at point guard hasn’t helped any.

The other evil in Smith’s game is the mid-range shot. The heater from that area of the floor last month, one that gave him a nice uptick in true shooting percentage was obvious, possibly even fatal fool’s gold after last night’s performance in Miami. Smith’s never shot better than 39 percent from mid-range in a single season, and there’s a chance if the three-point line was shortened like it was from 1995 to 1997 that he’d likely experience little to no improvement like players listed here.

As disappointing as Smith’s shooting has been, he’s not the sole reason for Detroit sitting in ninth place behind Charlotte and Washington. His shooting is costly but he would have more to offer if he wasn’t playing small forward over half the time, a position that helps neglect the skills he provides on both offense and defense. The Pistons, however, are going nowhere unless a third of its frontline is shipped out. Trading Smith would be impressive when he’s on the books until 2017 at $13.5 million a pop, but Monroe seems like the most moveable piece given his looming, steep raise next summer, one possibly not worth it given the holes in his defense.

Then again, the same could’ve been said about Smith’s contract and whether or not it’s worth paying him to play on the perimeter. Joe Dumars must’ve thought it was but the results, at least on offense, have been a three-month migraine. There’s plenty of room for improvement in Smith’s shooting with some of it bound to happen given how bad things have become, but the slight possibility that the worst-case scenario remains to be seen is amazing in itself.

Josh Smith nearly goes documentary, barely misses out on 30-for-30 performance

Erik Drost | Flickr

Erik Drost | Flickr

What if I told you two days ago the Detroit Pistons had a 13-point fourth quarter lead against the 20-win Blazers, only to blow it and lose on a buzzer-beater by Damian Lillard? Not only that, but Josh Smith scored 31 points on only 17 shots.

We’ll probably never see that efficient of a performance again by Smith, who Detroit should’ve kept feeding the ball to while they had a double-digit lead. Unfortunately, he only took one shot in the fourth quarter and overtime combined. Detroit wouldn’t let that happen twice in a row, not even against the best defense in the league in Indiana.

For better or for worse, Smith was chucking all game last night against the Pacers, nearly mimicking the ESPN documentary series by finishing with 29 shots and 30 points. There were moments of brilliance that were overshadowed by frustrating shot selection: fade away jumpers, long twos with 12 seconds on the shot clock, isolations leading to more long twos. All three of those kind of shots by Smith resulted in barely grazing the rim when they didn’t go through the net. When the first long two swished, Indiana must’ve had an evil grin knowing Smith would continue flirting outside the paint.

And for the most part, he did:

Shotchart_1387306921333

Josh Smith’s shot chart versus Indiana

As you can see from the shot chart above, long jumpers accounted for over half (!!!) his attempts, bringing back memories of Rudy Gay‘s performance against Houston. Though Smith was effective from those spots percentage-wise, he was at his best when he scored by moving off the ball. Twice he took advantage of miscommunication between Paul George and whoever was guarding Greg Monroe.

Rather than showing Smith’s baskets from moving without the ball by pasting screenshots that take up a ton of space, I put them in a short video with captions up top:

Smith could’ve easily sat around the perimeter, hoping Brandon Jennings would feed him for, you know, a jumper he only makes 25 percent of the time on over 200 attempts, according to NBA.com. He produces just 0.68 points per spot-up shot, according to Synergy, ranking 205th in the league. That’s not good when 20 percent of his shots come from that situation. 

Good thing Smith cut to the rim instead, an area where he shoots nearly 67 percent from and produces 1.24 points per attempt (35th-best). He also showed off a lefty jump hook last night, one he doesn’t take anywhere near as often probably because of the cramped spacing between him, Monroe, and Andre Drummond. Not a lot of those hook shots dropped versus Luis Scola, Paul George or David West, but for the season he’s 24-of-44. Efficiency!

But those efficient shots were scattered between the long jumpers Smith chucked to varying degrees of success. Maybe he took more of them than usual because of Mount Hibbert lurking in the paint, but they’ve become a daily occurrence regardless of the opponent. It puts an earlier blog post praising his shot selection to waste, though it does make Detroit handing Indiana their first home loss of the season that much more impressive.

Hack-A-Drummond could be wakeup call for Detroit

If there’s a great thing about being a basketball player in a small market, it’s that nobody knows your weaknesses. DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard play in two of the biggest markets, unlike Andre Drummond who resides in Motor City, which explains why the first two are widely known as terribly free throw shooters and intentionally fouled because of it while Drummond has gone unnoticed. 

Actually, that was a terrible attempt at sarcasm. Also, I have no idea why teams haven’t intentionally fouled Drummond yet. Sure, Howard and Jordan’s shooting woes from the line are discussed more frequently, but Drummond’s percentage has been far worse, down to 16 percent after last night’s loss to the Lakers. That percentage comes from a small sample size, however, since he’s only attempted 1.3 free throws per game.

But there lies what’s so surprising. Why haven’t teams intentionally fouled him? It’s not like Drummond’s an energy guy off the bench; he plays 35.1 minutes per game, right up there with Howard and Jordan. He also logs 7.4 minutes per fourth quarter, according to NBA.com, so the opportunity to put him on the line is there when opponents need to make up ground and quickly. This isn’t meant to rip on Drummond, who’s one of the most intriguing players in the league and uploads some of the best Vines,  among other things, but he has a glaring weakness in his game that teams haven’t taken advantage of. 

Maybe the intentional fouls are coming, but if they could actually be a blessing in disguise for Detroit. This is a reach, but hack-a-Drummond could signal Maurice Cheeks to further stagger the minutes of Detroit’s best three frontcourt players of Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Josh Smith, who play 20 minutes together per game according to NBA.com. They’ve bled points on defense and cramped the spacing on offense no matter who has started in the backcourt, though the CaldwellPope and Jennings pairing at the guard positions has yielded solid defensive numbers through two games. It’s also been at the expense of having even an average offense. 

That doesn’t mean Drummond’s free throw shooting makes him unplayable, but when teams are in the penalty and outside of two minutes, they can hack away and grind Detroit’s offense to a halt. It also doesn’t mean Drummonds at fault for the frontcourt’s failures. It would be unfortunate for its split to come at the hands of teams exposing his poor free throw shooting, but if that’s the calling card for Mo Cheeks to search for more efficient frontcourt combos, then it could be for the better. 

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