Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Preseason Game 1 Snap Reactions

Bulls 109 - Pistons 111 (OT)

Let us take a minute to rejoice that the NBA season is finally back. The past year in sports has been traumatic, so it's nice to have some on-court gameplay to absorb. Last night's overtime win against the division rival Bulls was an encouraging glimpse into what the future could hold with Stan Van Gundy. The team was as advertised: a coherent, spacing-centered offense featuring Andre Drummond in the middle and a consistent defensive scheme that will only improve as players get more time in the system. Not everything went swimmingly, but it's hard to picture a more promising start to the '14-'15 season. Without further ado, snap reactions with grossly oversimplified conclusions!


  • Van Gundy opened the game with a lineup of Jennings-Meeks-Butler-Smith-Drummond, choosing to bring Greg Monroe off the bench. SVG eschewed the mistake that the Pistons' coaches made last year by allowing Smith to play his natural position at power forward. The Pistons started fast and aggressive, getting out in transition, spacing the floor, and finding Drummond inside without any defenders in sight. 
  • Josh Smith was somewhere between Josh Smith and Josh Smith+. There were moments of clarity for Smith in this game. He opened with two long jumpers that both went in, but followed that up with miss after miss from the same, inefficient spot. On the first offensive possession of the second half, Smith received the ball just inside the three point line and, rather than throwing up a late-contested jumper, he dished the ball inside to Drummond who was able to lay it in through traffic. It seemed that someone on the coaching staff had a word with Smith during halftime about his shot selection, but after this moment of foresight, Smith went back to unparalleled heaver, ending the game 4-11 from the field for 9 points.
  • Jodie Meeks and DJ Augustin are hard to defend. Off-ball movement was rarely seen last year but is crucial in SVG's offensive system. Meeks and Augustin were constantly running off of pin down screens and flashing into the lane. Both showed quickness off the ball and were able to get to open spots, both in the lane and on the three-point line. This will stress defenses throughout the season and is one reason why Drummond found so many open looks inside.
  • Drummond's post play needs a lot of work. Dwight Howard was the focal point of SVG's most effective offense. Defenses had to commit at least 1.5 defenders to Howard on the post, allowing shooters to find openings. Though Howard's post proficiency never reached elite levels, he was still able to manipulate defenses and find open shooters because of what he had the potential to do. Drummond is a long way from becoming a dominant force inside. His post moves consist of backing his defender down and throwing up a contested baby hook. It rarely ended well in this game, but it's clearly an element of the offense that will be stressed throughout the season. Drummond will need to show significant improvement for this to become an effective dimension.
  • The Pistons took a lot of three pointers. The current wisdom states that three-point defense is not about limiting 3FG%, which is a number that is highly variable and difficult to control. Effective three-point defense is about limiting the number of 3FG attempts a team takes. The same goes for a team's offensive strategy. In recent years, NBA teams have designed offenses around corner three-point attempts (the Spurs most notably), while last year's Pistons averaged only 19.3 outside shots per game. In the first half of yesterday's win, the Pistons attempted 17 three pointers, ending the game with 32 attempts and connecting on 11 of them. The team's effective field goal percentage was still a shallow 47.3%, but don't expect Singler, Butler, and Meeks to go a combined 3-14 from outside every game. What's important is that the offense generated three pointers at a high rate.
  • One bright spot from the behind the arc was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. KCP went 4-8 from outside, connecting on shots off the bounce and in catch-and-shoot situations. KCP struggled with consistency last year, stemming from mechanics in his shooting motion. Often, his shots would miss wildly left or right, a sign that the player's form was off. In this game, KCP's misses were uniformly off the front iron but on line. Most promisingly, he was able to catch and rise up over defenders to make a few of his threes. If he can continue that success, in combination with his defense which was on full display against Jimmy Butler, KCP could quickly surpass Meeks as the starting shooting guard.
  • Greg Monroe is the same guy as last year. Despite coming off the bench, Monroe evoked the full range of emotions. When he and Jonas Jerebko entered the game in the first quarter, the Pistons immediately went on a skid, spearheaded by Monroe's lazy defense and rebounding. (Watching Derrick Rose come from out of bounds to tip an offensive rebound to himself as Monroe stood idly by was especially egregious.) He olĂ©'d his defensive assignment multiple times and was summarily beaten by Pau Gasol on both ends of the floor. But his box score is filled: 24 points on 9-14 shooting, 9 rebounds (5 offensive), 2 assists, and 1 steal. This performance epitomizes my problem with Monroe's game. On a play-to-play basis, Monroe is lazy and dismissive, but his stat sheet is usually filled with above-average numbers. It will be interesting to see if SVG's defensive focus can help Monroe develop into a more complete, every-possession kind of player.
  • Brandon Jennings is still fun. Jennings got a bad rep last season as a score-first point guard without much regard for moving the ball. Much of that was warranted, but he made a career of being a low turnover, flashy distributor. Jennings finished with 10 assists and 0 turnovers by finding the Pistons bigs inside and properly moving the ball around the offense. Though he still finished 3-12 from the field for 10 points, his ability to run the offense and stress the defense was something that the Pistons will need this season if the shooting bogs down.

The team also did some interesting things schematically in this game that I'll talk about in the coming days. What you need to know is that SVG is the real deal. Adjust expectations accordingly, but fringe playoff team that gets blown out by the Cavs in the first round is definitely within reach. We made it, you guys.

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