The defensive end of the floor might not as “sexy” as seeing a high-functioning, free-flowing offense, but I get as much enjoyment in breaking it down. I chose to analyze the Detroit Pistons in the 76ers and Nets games for this breakdown for a couple of reasons. First, the 76ers have one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA, and they also have Joel Embiid, a player who must be doubled in the post. Having a player like Embiid forces a team to run extra defenders at him and thus puts them in rotation situations, which is something I love watching and analyzing. Second, the Nets (even without Kyrie) boast two of the most skilled individual players in the game and thus pose their own threats and issues for a defense.
I went into the film with no preconceived biases or ideas what the “focus” of my breakdown was going to be. I simply wanted to see what positives, negatives and themes I could find about the Pistons defense from these two games. Four major aspects stood out: Defensive rotations (the good and the bad), overhelping on known shooters, a source of the rebounding issues, and possessions given away because of poor communication or recognition.
Disclaimer: This should not be viewed as a definitive look at all the areas the defense needs to improve. Detroit’s defense is actually far ahead of its offense. While some fans may wonder why I am being so “negative” toward the defense, as I rewatched games and focused solely on this side of the ball this was where the film took me. Maybe my expectations are too high, maybe I am being nit picky but I do think the Pistons defense can be BETTER than what we have seen.
The Good and The Bad of Defensive Rotations
In all honesty, if there was one theme I was anticipating would come from this breakdown it would be about Detroit’s rotations. I knew that playing the likes of Embiid, James Harden and Kevin Durant was going to lead to plenty of possessions where I could see how the Pistons personnel was able to execute a double team and rotate on the backside. It was a mixed bag in these two games. We saw possessions of “clinic tape” execution and then we saw breakdowns on slow rotations and closeouts. I’m honestly excited for the next matchup the Pistons have where we see them in the situations more and how well they are able to execute.
Some of the rebounding issues in these two games can be directly linked to the rotations by the defense and then not making that “final effort” to get a box out and secure a rebound. The funny thing about the defensive rebounding … the Pistons are actually sixth in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage. So, in fairness, I should probably highlight a few more clips of the team successfully finishing off the possession, but I couldn’t help but feel like the offensive rebounds we gave up in these games were really ones that changed momentum.
Over-helping on SHOOTERS
This one is pretty easy and straightforward and thus I only provide a few highlights, but I do think it is a “small” thing that can be easily fixed and would be an important improvement. If you go back to my breakdown of Josh Jackson, I talk about how impressed I was watching him matched up with a guy like Zach LaVine, and his ability to stay disciplined and connected to him off the ball.
Lack of Communication and Focus
As I just gave Josh Jackson some love for his defense, I hate to bring up that he is definitely one of the culprits that tends to have at least one possession a game where he loses focus off the ball (as is Cade Cunningham). Again, maybe I am just being nit-picky, but I would love to see the Pistons eliminate these “fixable” communication, recognition and focus lapses on the defensive end that could make them even better.
When your offense is struggling as bad as the Pistons offense is right now, every possession on defense is magnified that much more and makes a huge difference in the possible outcome of the game. I guess that’s why I was so “tough” or “negative” in my breakdown. While the defense has been fine, I think it can be much better and that’s something this team needs while the offense still figures things out.