Thursday, February 17, 2011

Great win in OT over the Pacers

Great win last night! Remember the times when games against Indiana were pretty much the highlights of the season. I hated their guts, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O'Neal, Ugh....! They were a tough squad with good players, but they entered the stands and caused the infamous Palace Brawl. Of course no fan needs to throw a beer on some player's head, but in soccer certain players get thrown at with worse things and are similarly crazy in their minds. Don't believe??? Here's another example !

Alright, enough with crazy soccer footage. The Pacers have pretty much traded in the likes of Artest, Jackson and O'neal for a crazy high-flying white guy (Josh McRoberts) a crazy Eminem look-alike and a softer Center (Roy Hibbert). Summing this up, you cannot hate this team anymore, they are kind of likable actually.

Nonetheless, it feels pretty good to win again. After the Pistons last two disastrous performances they had a lot of bright spots in this game going into the All-Star break. I will especially look at Greg Monroe's improved helpside defense and great execution by Detroit down the stretch. They almost surrendered two leads at the end of the game, but the Pistons did a good job of protecting the paint and creating good shots, plus they kept their cool.

Greg Monroe's quick rotation

Last time, as some of you might recall, I blamed Greg Monroe for missing defensive rotations occasionally. It happens to rookies and it was not meant to degrade him or anything. Well, his learning curve is stellar and you will see it in this example.

This is a similar set-up to last time against the TrailBlazers. The Pacers' Darren Collison is holding the ball on the left wing and his center is coming over to set a screen. Ben Wallace decides to show, but Collison goes away from the screen straight towards the basket. Will Bynum does not realize in time what is happening and gets blown by. It happens to the best of us and Collison is a great player.

The area shown in red is marking the space Monroe has to cover when he realizes he has to come over.

Monroe's thinking process is rapidly becoming quicker, so his quick thinking enables him to come over in time to block the shot.

Of course, Darren Collison is not exactly Lamarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is way bigger! Collison is quicker though and I believe the space recovered by GM10 is enough that he could have taken a charge if he had wanted to. Great play by a great player. I like his abilities a lot already. If he continues to progress the way he does and inserting Jonas Jerebko next season, this could be an exciting starting line-up for the Pistons, featuring Jerebko and Monroe at Power Forward and Center!

Great defense does not equal great results

I thought about doing a frame-by-frame analysis on this one. I think this sequence is too long and I have two more coming, so you have to look at the video!

Let me walk you through this. The Pacers start out on the right wing. Collison gets a screen from Granger who sets a screen for McRoberts who receives the ball from Collison. So far it is just movement to make the defense tired. McRoberts (J-Mac) hands the ball off back to Granger who is supposed to be the primary option I would think. McRoberts sets a side screen and immediately rolls down to the basket. Ben Wallace, the great defender that he is, rotates perfectly and J-Mac cannot use his supreme athleticism to get a dunk.

Meanwhile, Ben Gordon does a great job of fighting the way bigger Roy Hibbert for position down low. He might not get perfect position, but then again he gives up well over 9 inches. He disturbs Hibbert enough so J-Mac does not think he has a window to pass and he the pass is denied. I personally think he could have hit the target, in a split-second situation of a game-deciding play, as a coach I would forgive him for wanting to make the best pass and not the first pass.

J-Mac instead throws the ball to the opposite side of the court into the hands of Collison. Collision makes the right decision and immediately starts penetrating blowing past Rodney Stuckey. But look who rotates over perfectly yet again! GREG MONROE! He blocks the shot with both and hands. Great defense so far by the Pistons! There is a loose ball and it touches several hands before it reaches Danny Granger's hands on the three-point line. Granger hits a heavily contested jumper going to the bank! Wanna how contested? Look at this screenshot!

If you would want your opponent to have a look, wouldn't it be this exact look? A contested, long three with the shot clock winding down and a hand right in his face?! Unfortunately, a great player hit a tough shot!

Detroit had an answer: Ben Gordon

What I especially liked last night and why I broke this down in more detail than usual is that Detroit kept its poise. They could have broken together after this possession. The usual events would have played out like this: Stuckey gets the ball, Stuckey runs a one-on-five fastbreak, Stuckey takes a highly contested lay-up, Stuckey misses, Indiana hits another three, Indiana wins.

This time the Pistons kept their cool and executed. Ben Gordon played during crunch time (oh what a rarity!) and it paid dividends. Stuckey dribbled the ball to the right wing.

He gets an on-ball screen set by Tay, he uses it. At the same time Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe set off-ball screens for Ben Gordon. Gordon curls off of the two screens and Stuckey does a great job of hitting him right in stride. Gordon takes the wide open jumper and it is Swish-City!

First play in OT

So, one could understand if the Pistons had let this one go. After all they played pretty well down the stretch and the Pacers hit a couple of lucky shots and somehow managed to get into overtime.
Overtime is a curious thing. You basically are where you started, the score is 0-0 or 104-104 for that matter. You could call it a five-minute mini-basketballgame. Often it is important how you start out in OT. Either you miss a shot or you make it and I would like to see a stat how often the team which scored the first basket in overtime ends up winning the entire game.

The Pistons came out to play. They got the ball and ran a nice play for Ben Gordon. Basketball is all about utilizing your players' biggest strengths and minimizing the impact of their weaknesses, a system which has been perfectly working for the San Antonio Spurs and Greg Popovich.

Gordon dribbles the ball up the court. Tayshaun is posting up, Ben Wallace is in the high-post and Monroe and Stuckey look to get out of the way. It's a nice set-up and Gordon enters the ball into Tay who is a little too far out since he couldn't hold his position.

Ben Wallace then sets a screen on Brandon Rush who gets caught by surprise a little bit, because Ben sets it into his back. Monroe and Stuckey have spaced the floor so the free-throw line area is not occupied at all. Wallace does a great job of setting the screen, this is a very underrated skill in basketball and, quite frankly, not a lot of players set great screens anymore. Ben Wallace would not have become an All-Time great if he didn't have some trick up his sleeve on offense. It might not get him great stats, but it gives Gordon an open jumper. Tayshaun lobs the ball to Ben Gordon who gets another wide open look.

You don't win games with one or two plays, but Detroit executed very well against the Pacers. There are cases in basketball, when a few unlucky bounces cause you to lose a game that you were supposed to win. The Pistons almost lost this one. Instead of slipping they decided to keep the composure and executed as well as they did.

Have a great All-Star break! Go Greg Monroe!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Detroit's defense dooms them

The Detroit Pistons played well last night, for the most part, yet they still lost 105-100 to the Portland Trailblazers. A team with one of the finest big men in the league, Lamarcus Aldridge. To me he is one of the biggest All-Star snubs of recent NBA history! This man can flat-out play. He has postmoves, a great jumper and is not a liability on defense.

After a slow start to the game he really got going. He finished with 36 points on 12-of-17-shooting. He is not just another big men dominating Detroits big men, I have rarely seen a finesse player scoring on Ben Wallace this easily. He made it look easy and I don't there are a lot of better Power Forwards in the league right now.

The first play occurred with nine minutes to play in the third quarter. Detroit has had problems all year defending the pick and roll. It does not get much easier when the other team has players like Lamarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller. Miller is a master at the P&R and and LA is the prototype big man with a great 20-foot-range and the athletic ability to drive it to the hole.
The Blazers used a reverse swing play against a set Detroit zone defense. Miller swings it to the right wing, gets the ball back and swings it to the left wing. This is used to get the zone moving. The more a zone, the more holes are created to attack. Wanna beat a zone? Swing the ball!

Now it gets brilliant. Portland uses two high-post players! LA sets a screen and Dante Cunningham stands at the free-throw line. The defense needs to respect his jumpshot so Ben Wallace cannot sack all the way down into the zone. Cunningham receives a pin-point pass.

Simultaneously to the pass LA rolls to the basket. When Cunningham catches the ball he splits Wallace and Prince with a pin-point pass down-low. Greg Monroe needs to recognize this earlier so he can get in better help position. He is one of the smarter rookies when it comes to this and this is game speed and beautiful execution! But Monroe is still a rookie so he will have missed rotations. At least he goes in hard and saves the dunk!
As you can see, swinging the ball created the glaring hole in the middle and Detroit does a really bad job of moving the zone as a unit. Usually Stuckey would have to guard Cunningham in the high-post since he is not really guarding anyone!

The second play was partially already covered by Patrick Hayes! Allow me to break it down even more detailedly!
The play occured with :36 to play in the game with Detroit being down by one. Miller handles the ball on the left wing and Aldridge come up to set a screen to the middle of the court. This helps Portland, because instead of having two predictable options (pass or drive) this creates several options (pass to LA, Batum, Matthews or drive).

In order to deny the drive, Chris Wilcox shows really hard on the screen, way too hard in my opinion.

Then again, I'd rather have a play show too hard on a P&R then not at all like it happened so many times during the first two months of the season. Stuckey does not have the height to bother a wide open LA jumper and Daye is too far away. This is not Daye's fault, it's just a fact.
Miller realizes Wilcox is showing too hard and finds Lamarcus Aldridge who nails the jumper.

Quite honestly, it is puzzling to me Coach Kuester didn't sub in Tayshaun Prince at some point. Prince is the only player on the roster who has the speed and length to bother Aldridge's shot and still stay in front of him. You don't have to worry about Miller's shot all that much since he is not known for a great midrange game. Instead of subbing in Stuckey Kuester should have gone with Tay and we would have had a combination of length and athleticism, a combination much harder to beat off pick and roll plays which involves a finesse Power Forward.

Detroit is in a lot of games, but we come up short a lot of times. We just don't have the talent. Bynum can be great and at the same time overly aggressive. He had great plays last night and then screwed it all up with three unnecessary drives late in the game which led to transition buckets for Portland. I don't know if our Pistons were tired, but they looked slow getting back on D.

Ben Gordon did a terrific job keeping the balance of driving and shooting. He was very aggressive penetrating when given the chance and knocking down jumpers when defenders left him a little space. The Pistons could have and probably should have won this game. Maybe the players will get older (that's for sure) and wiser (fingy's crossed) and make better decisions down the stretch on a more frequent basis!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pistons make S-Jax look like MJ and lose 87-97 to the Bobcats

It was just one of those nights! At the beginning of the second half I thought the Pistons had a real shot at winning this. They started with an 11-2 run playing great defense and executing on offense. Ben Gordon was curling around screens, like, uhm, Rip in his better days and McGrady ran the offense smoothly near perfection.

The Pistons then decided to play less defense and play sluggish offense, considering the game was over with an 8-point lead in the third quarter. Surprisingly, the Bobcats hustled back with great defense and fast-breaks and within a minute the game was tied by a Stephen Jackson three-pointer.

Stephen Jackson had a stellar performance scoring 39 points on 14 of 26 shooting. Detroit did their part to make sure he did not cool off until later in the fourth. He first had to hit 8 of his first ten shots before things changed. Daye fouled Captain Jack on a three-point attempt, but at least he hustled and tried to compensate for his mistakte. Not so good that he tripped and fouled, well, it happens.
Jackson made 15 of his 17 first half points against McGrady. Kuester decided to switch Prince onto him which left McGrady guarding Gerald Wallace. The ice-cold Wallace (7 points per game over his last three games) scored six points in the third quarter. Prince did not guard Jackson a lot better either.

Speaking of Prince, the entire game he looked kind of moody to me. I know he usually looks a little bit irritated, but last night he appeared especially mad to me. He played a good game, going for 16 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists, yet I cannot shake the feeling something was wrong. Maybe it was the referees who did not call fouls on Wallace when Prince tried to score. Prince is a veteran though, he should not be all that bothered by a couple of calls not going his way. I hope he will regain his mental stability by the next game, maybe it was just a fluke.
I also did not understand why Kuester let so many plays get run through Prince in the third quarter when we desperately needed a score. Prince was covered by Wallace, one of the best and most athletic defenders on the forward position, and Prince did not get any clean look from the isos. I would have liked Ben Gordon get more shots, because he was stroking it well.

When Detroit was down by five, Kuester subbed T-Mac out and brought in Bynum. Bynum has the ability to get Detroit up again or increases the deficit with poor decision making and sloppy defense, last night it was the latter. Using Bynum often appears like a do or die decision to me. I was skeptical, to say the least, when Bynum came in. Charlotte is a good defensive squad with athletic guards and good team defense, a system in which even Kwame Brown is not a liability anymore (kudos to Paul Silas, making Brown a good NBA player should win him coach of the year honors). Bynum executed poorly, especially on passes, which were off by two to three feet at times, because he was either off-balance or off focus. He missed a wide open Daye who had to move away from his spot to catch a pass thrown by Will. The pass was not hard to make, just poorly thrown. Bynum finished a team-low -14 for the game in 19 minutes of action!!! According to the Pistons play 1.3 points better with Bynum on the court. Then again, Bynum usually plays in the second unit which is one of the best in the NBA. When he gets to play with the starters, he usually destroys the flow of the game. I love to watch him play, but he has got to get smarter and become less of a scorer and more of a playmaker.

Detroit is now 4-6 during their last ten games. I'm curious to see if letting Rip sit and winning more games was coincidental. I don't mean totally incidental, but the effect (5-3 at one point) was just too big. Detroit usually won 38% of their games without Rip and 31% of their games with him over the past two years. So going from a 30ish winning percentage to 60ish winning percentage appeared kind of big. I don't think it makes that much of a difference if Rip sits or if he plays. I would rather see him play or get traded.

Next game is on Friday against New Jersey. We should be very well rested. We don't have any must-win games this season so let's just hope we play well!

I will do video analysis again soon. Bare with me but I got a math and economics exam coming up next week and I don't have time for a lot of writing right now!