You can be forgiven if you tuned out for any part of the Detroit Pistons’ 2019-20 campaign. They were a losing team early in the season, holding out hope only for their resurgence when Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson would eventually return from their injuries.
They were mostly worse with Griffin, and Jackson returned just in time to audition for a playoff run with the LA Clippers. As we know now, Griffin got shut down for the season before the New Year, and the Pistons were dreadful all season when Jackson was off the floor (somehow they were actually half-decent when he was playing).
If you stopped watching as the season went on, it’s fine. Nobody blames you for utilizing your time elsewhere. If that’s your situation, we’ll get you caught up on some of the most interesting things about the 2019-20 Detroit Pistons that not only you missed, but most people missed.
These won’t just be anecdotal, but they will also hopefully be things that can inform some of the organization’s decisions going forward from a strategic team-building perspective.
1. The Top Starting Lineup Was Outstanding
The Detroit Pistons basically never had their projected starting lineup on the floor together, with Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson missing huge swaths of the season, but their most-used lineup actually got the job done. The lineup of Griffin, Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Andre Drummond and Tony Snell was their biggest minutes-getter with a mere 117 minutes total (outside the top 150 five-man units in minutes played) and had a +19.6 net rating.
Of course, that’s a menial total of minutes, but the fact that it shined in limited use is promising, especially since four of those five players will likely return next season. The fact that their most-used lineup barely broke 100 minutes also really tells the story of the Pistons’ season.
2. The Pistons Were The NBA’s Worst Clutch Team
There are a handful of areas where the Pistons were the league’s worst or close to it, but the clear leader in their dismal season is in their clutch performance. They didn’t have the fewest wins in clutch play (defined by the NBA as plus or minus five points with five minutes or less remaining), or the most losses, nor were they even the most games below .500, but their -23.8 clutch net rating boggles the mind.
That means they allowed 23.8 more points than they scored per 100 possessions, and they were a cumulative -73 points in their 30 clutch games. The Pistons had a 10-20 record in those games. Without most of their best players all season and some befuddling late-game decisions from Derrick Rose, it’s not a big surprise that they should struggle in these situations, but things can’t help but look up next season with an improved roster and maybe a little bit of luck here and there.
3. Not Quite Morey-Ball, But Close
Nobody will accuse the Detroit Pistons of being a cutting edge, ultra-modern offense, but they do a much better job of picking their spots now for head coach Dwane Casey than they did under Stan Van Gundy. While Van Gundy wasn’t a big believer in policing shot locations, Casey has clearly imparted a more efficient path towards better and easier offense.
While Van Gundy’s Pistons often settled for mid-range jumpers, Casey’s squad looks for better options. This season they took the 10th-most shots in the restricted area at 32.6 attempts per game, the seventh-fewest shots from 10-to-14 feet at 5.4 per game, the seventh fewest from 15-to-19 feet at 4.0 per game, the third-most left-corner 3-pointers and the third-most right-corner 3-pointers.
Shot selection matters, and plugging the right personnel into place next season could be a serious boost in the right direction.
4. Defensive Shot Selection
Shot selection is a two-way street in the NBA. You work for the shots you want, and you try to keep your opponents from taking high-value shots. For a bad team, the 2019-20 Detroit Pistons did a fairly reasonable job of doing this.
They were middle of the pack in the restricted area, allowing the 14th-most field goal attempts at 29.1 per game, but they’re giving up the eighth-most mid-range shots at 12.5 attempts per game. It’s too many restricted area shots, but the more you can get your opponents to shoot from the low-expectation mid-range, the better.
The Pistons are holding their opponents’ corner threes down. They’re giving up the sixth-fewest left-corner threes at 3.5 per game, and the eighth-fewest right corner threes at 4.1 per game. Best of all, they’re allowing a league-low 22.6 3-point attempts per game from above the break.
It’s worth examining just how this low total works in a holistic strategy considering the Milwaukee Bucks have a spectacular defense and allow a league-high 30.3 above-the-break attempts per game, but when you’re just trying to hold on to the rope as an undermanned squad, limiting your opposition’s 3-pointers is a good result overall.
5. Guns ‘N Roses Really Lived Up To The Name
We forget this because they only got a short time to play together, but the Guns ‘N Roses backcourt duo of Derrick Rose and Luke Kennard was electrifying when they were featured. Defensively they were a disaster, but in their 612 possessions together the Pistons scored 117.3 points per 100 possessions.
This is in spite of a roster wracked by injuries and an unsteady guard rotation hierarchy, so with some health and some consistency with the players around them, maybe Rose and Kennard can surpass this performance next season.