Film Don’t Lie: Marvin Bagley runs the floor and Cade Cunningham attacks the rim — a closer look at Pistons’ transition offense

Detroit Bad Boys

Over the past few weeks, I have taken a look at different aspects of the Detroit Pistons offense including ball screen situations and what sets they are using ATO, to start quarters and BLOB/SLOB. For this article, I wanted to take a look at what they were getting in transition situations.

This breakdown is from a three-game stretch last week that included games vs the Blazers, Hawks, and Wizards. I came away with over 40 clips between those three games with a large chunk of them coming from the game vs the Hawks (a surprising W for the Pistons) and the second half of the game vs the Wizards. The Hawks game should come as no surprise as they are one of the bottom teams in the league in terms of transition defense. The Blazers rank a little more “middle of the pack” with the Wizards actually being one of the better transition teams, statistically speaking. If you were curious about the Pistons, they are bottom 10 in PPP and score frequency.

I decided to break those 40 clips (I do not include all of them) into four different categories for this breakdown. The 3-point attempts the Pistons were generating, ability to put pressure on the rim, what they are getting from their “bigs” (mostly, Stew and MBIII), and what turnovers were happening based on this pace of play.

Attack the Rim

It’s no surprise Cade Cunningham is really good in transition with the ball in his hands. What does continue to be a surprise is how well he gets to the rim and puts pressure on the defense, in transition and in the half court. You can see him playing through contact for tough finishes as well as use his subtle movements to create wide open opportunities AND generate open looks for his teammates.

I also think transition is an area that would play really well for Killian Hayes to attack the rim more. I highlight one possession where he looks a little unsure followed by a possession where he just makes up his mind that he is going to score. I also used this breakdown to highlight how much the Pistons were looking to kick the ball ahead after misses….and even after makes/deadballs.

3-Pointers Generated

So, NOBODY loves shooting 3s more than me, BUT I couldn’t help but walk away from this three-game sample and feel like the 3-point attempts that were generated were more often than not a result of poor execution. I am all about getting a 3-pointer in transition because you have executed the possession to perfection, collapsed the defense and kicked to a ready shooter. I am not saying that none of the 3-pointers I tracked were of that variety, I am not anti-transition 3, all I am saying is more often than not I found myself asking “could they have got a better shot on that possession?”

Keeping the “BIGS” Involved

I think we all know that Stew and MBIII are completely different types of players and because of that they bring something completely different in transition. Bagley III has provided a lob threat that makes for a great end of play finisher and allows the Pistons to put pressure on the defense in the lane. Isaiah gets his production via a little bit more of the “dirty work”. He is going to out run you for a bucket OR catch you sleeping not boxing out OR get early post position, all things that can provide some value on these positions. I also sneak in an aspect of Cade Cunningham’s “post” game that I have loved seeing him go to over the past couple of weeks.


The final breakdown has the fewest clips but highlights some of the drawbacks that could come with playing in transition. The first thing is this team has to figure out the spacing in these possessions, which is something I highlighted in a couple of the other videos. It is also VITAL that you understand your teammates in transition and who is able to catch and make decisions on the move and who is not. Finally, turnovers are simply going to happen when you are this aggressive. Poor decisions will be made and poor passes will be made. You just have to hope all of these things can be kept to a minimum as the roster, eventually, builds more chemistry and gets more reps playing together in these situations.

I fully understand the argument that this team has to learn to play in the half court to have long term sustainable success come playoff time. With that said, next year being a year where they absolutely need to win more, I would not hate to see them play more in transition. I think they have a young group of players who can find success in these possessions from Cade and Killian to Saddiq to MBI and Stew. Of course, it will have its downfall in terms of turnovers and quick shots that put pressure on the Pistons defense but in general, I would love to see Coach Casey (and staff) let these guys be a top 10 PACE team next year (#15 at time of the article).

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