Coming to a television set near you this fall: Detroit Lob City.
General Manger Joe Dumars must be bored of putting a perennial pretender out on the floor. After six straight Eastern Conference finals appearances from 2002 to 2008 and missing the playoffs every year following, Joe has created a monster in the Motor City.
That’s good news for Pistons fans and NBA League Pass subscribers. Bringing to town volume-shooting former McDonald’s all-Americans Josh Smith 1 in free agency and Brandon Jennings 2 in a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee instantly puts Coach Mo Cheeks’ team back into playoff contention.
Add to that goulash Chauncey Billups, late-blooming hero of the 2004 NBA Champions, and rookie sharpshooters Luigi Datome 3 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 4, and Detroit’s roster has become simultaneously one of the most talked-about and controversial in the NBA.
Returning starters Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, the 2013-’14 Pistons are a basketball Frankenstein, boasting a jumbo-sized front line that could become the greatest smash-mouth two-way force around the rim since Space Jam villains the Monstars put the Michael-Jordan-led Toon Squad in a 66-18 hole at half-time 5.
But the Pistons, who will likely start Jennings, Billups, Smith, Monroe, and Drummond, have serious questions awaiting them against the Wizards on opening night. Not the least of which: can they shoot?
Well, not really.
Although Drummond shot 50% from three last season, hitting a fluke fade away buzzer-beater against Denver, Jennings is probably the only Piston in the starting five who has a shot at cracking 40% beyond the arc in 2013-’14. Billups, limited to 22 games last year while battling a sore back and tendinitis in his left foot, cannot be counted on as Detroit’s primary shooting option.
In Toon Land, a jumbo-sized offense of Barkley, Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Shawn Bradley, was nearly unstoppable, only defeated by a fluke 48-2 run by the Toons, including Jordan’s famous stretch jam in the second half. In real life, however, this creates a potentially deadly logjam in the paint, where Drummond and Greg Monroe took 92.8% and 79.5% of their shots last season, respectively 6. Smith, by comparison, only took 50.5% of his shots around the rim and was not nearly as effective anywhere else on the floor. His signing comes at a curious time for the Pistons, particularly as the 27-year old Atlanta product saw statistical declines in several important categories last season, performing particularly poorly in win shares, averaging just 4.2, down from 6.8 in 2011-’12 and his lowest since his sophomore campaign 7.
Prior to shipping Tayshaun Prince to Memphis, the Pistons lived by the three last year. Despite allowing opponents to shoot .505 eFG% and 1.08 points per possession, the Knight-Singler-Prince-Maxiell-Monroe lineup was one of Detroit’s most productive. That makes the wholesale changes to the Pistons lineup curious, to say the least 8.
Dumars told Grantland NBA Columnist Zach Lowe in an interview last month:
“Even if you’re not spreading to the 3-point line, when you have high IQ guys playing together, they make plays for each other.”
Dumars could be on to something. Even with Smith, Monroe, and Drummond in the front-court, he can make the Detroit Monstars work. The solution: turn Detroit “Rock City” into Detroit “Lob City.”
The theory of the case: Drummond’s athleticism and leaping ability make him almost impossible to guard one-on-one in the post.
So What is Detroit’s Lob City Blueprint?
This nifty little high-low box set that the Pistons ran in Drummond’s debut against the Raptors. In Figure 1, Corey Maggette flashes toward the high post while Drummond shows a screen on his defender. In Figure 2, with Drummond’s defender moving to defend Maggette’s motion, the UConn product cuts to the hoop, where Will Bynum finds him for the alley-oop in Figure 3.
Switch in Monroe for Maggette, and sets like these give Detroit plenty of opportunities for high-percentage looks. If Drummond instead uses a hard screen to free up a Monroe jumper at the elbow (a move the former Georgetown Center has been working on with Hakeem Olajuwon during the offseason), Smith can cut backdoor into the paint for the dunk while his defender watches the ball. Billups could also potentially pop out for a shot at the pinch post elbow 9.
Bynum and Drummond also used lobs out of the pick-and-roll last season to allow the rookie phenomenon to convert easy chances at the rim. Jennings’ effectiveness in getting to the hoop will force defenses to collapse on him in the paint, freeing the lob to Drummond for the alley-oop.
This action is not a catchall for Detroit’s problems on offense. Monroe’s midrange jump shot has to improve, or else defenses will be able to stop Drummond by simply collapsing around the basket. Caldwell-Pope, Datome, and Kyle Singler will also need to shoot reliably to provide floor spacing. Fortunately, with Monroe and Smith operating down low, the few shooters that the Pistons have will be bolstered by two of the best passers out of the post in the NBA.
But in order to become more efficient in converting scoring opportunities, the Pistons must utilize their size and athleticism in the post, particularly with Smith on board, to get over the top of defenses for easy points. Jennings will need to increase his pick-and-roll efficiency, an area where he has consistently improved over the past three seasons 10, to enable this offense to be successful.
Still, defensively, these Pistons match up well with almost any playoff team in the Eastern Conference, particularly as Josh Smith gives them someone who can guard all-star caliber forwards like LeBron James, Paul George or Carmelo Anthony 11. Adding a simple page from the Clippers’ playbook could make this team absolutely deadly in the years to come.4159 Oranges Squeezed
- 4 years, $54 million ↩
- 3 years, $24 million ↩
- via Italy ↩
- with the eighth pick in the draft ↩
- The Monstars, led by Pound and Bupkus (Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing), shot 34-35 (97%) from the field, and were a perfect 9-9 from three, according to Harvard Sports Analysis. Shawn Bradley himself was just as useless in toon-land as he was in the real NBA, with goose eggs across the board. ↩
- according to NBA.com ↩
- In salary terms, Smith underperformed his contract by at least $6.9 million last year. ↩
- This was an aberration for Detroit. The 2004 NBA Champions were average on offense, boasting an ORtg of 102 (18th in the NBA), and shot threes at a .344 clip (15th in the NBA). Their #2 ranked defense (95.4 DRtg) allowed them to handle the Lakers in five. ↩
- Monroe actually shot 44% off of the left block and 61.5% on the left wing in 2011-12, according to NBA.com. For the Georgetown product, developing a solid midrange game is not out of the question. ↩
- adding a stop-and-start action to blow past defenders ↩
- Smith drew the primary assignment on George in the Hawks first round matchup with the Pacers, and limited his man to 33-79 (41%) from the field. ↩