The numbers tell an ugly story. Rebounding is becoming one of the biggest concerns for the Pistons in the preseason.
Getting on the boards definitely is not as big an issue as the myriad injuries the Pistons are facing — with three projected starters missing Wednesday’s third preseason game against the New York Knicks — but it’s certainly a number worth noting.
The Pistons were outrebounded, 111-78, in their first two preseason games, including 34-13 on the offensive end. Against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, the margin was 54-37, which is understandable because the Grizzlies have a formidable frontcourt, with center Steven Adams and forward Jaren Jackson Jr., who combined for 17 rebounds. More concerning are De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke and Kyle Anderson combining for another 18 boards.
It was a predictable problem for the Pistons, who traded center Mason Plumlee, their leading rebounder from last season at 9.3 rebounds, and added Kelly Olynyk, who posted a career-best average of seven rebounds with the Heat and Rockets last season.
With only a small sample size of two games, it’s not a blanket proclamation for how the season will go, but it’s an early concern for coach Dwane Casey.
“On the defensive glass, you’ve got to get in and find a body. Our issue has been the 50-50 balls. A lot of it is that we’re in there but we’re not reading and our first step to go get it is late,” Casey said. “Everything we did (Monday) was reactive instead of proactive, and just being on our toes, ready for long rebounds, long shots, long rebounds, and reading the rim, to see where the ball is coming off.”
Casey had noted that they’ll have to do more as a team to make up for the rebounding deficiency with a group mentality. Moving Isaiah Stewart to the starting lineup in place of Plumlee will help on the boards, but at 6-foot-8, Stewart is going to have some nights where he has has unfavorable matchups and will need help.
It’s not solely on Stewart to clear the rebounds, but as the projected starting center, much of the focus will go to him after he averaged 6.7 rebounds last season as a rookie.
“Whenever coach mentions that (rebounding issue), I definitely take that personally because it’s what I do,” Stewart said. “He’s right. We definitely have to do better and it’s something that I’m going to get better at.”
The rest of the team has to compensate as well. Last season, the Pistons ranked 25th in the league in rebounding, at 42.7 per game. The preseason hasn’t provided a good answer to the rebounding problems, with the Spurs enjoying a 21-7 margin on the offensive glass in the exhibition opener.
The rebounding is turning into a red flag for the shorthanded Pistons, who have been without Cade Cunningham, a good rebounding guard, so far. In the short term, part of the solution could be having the guards help out more on the defensive end.
“Everybody expects Isaiah to get (rebounds), but he was wrestling a bear with Steven Adams,” Casey joked. “Everybody else has got to come in there, find their niche, and find a body to hit. We’ve got to have a gang-rebounding mentality, and it has to be Jerami (Grant) and it has to be Trey (Lyles). Whoever else is on the floor, other than our (center), part of their job is to be a rebounder.”
Casey previously had pointed to Grant as another big contributor on the boards, but he has only three total rebounds in the first two preseason games. Part of the difficulty for Grant is that he’s on different parts of the floor at different times, depending on where he is offensively and whether he took the shot.
As one of the team’s top defenders, he’s also sometimes close to the opposing team’s best player, which could take him away from the rim on the defensive glass as well.
“Defensively is mainly where we want him. If he’s spaced out on the floor, it’s tough to come out from the 3-point line if he stays out on the opposite end to go to the offensive boards, and we don’t allow that,” Casey said. “Defensively, everybody has to rebound — not just Jerami. We’ve got to get Trey Lyles, we have to have Killian Hayes. Everybody’s got to come in and gang-rebound.”