Detroit Pistons Offensive Breakdown
Halfway through the season, the find themselves Pistons at 18-23 in what many would say to be a disappointing year so far. Having brought in Blake Griffin and Dwane Casey within the last year, expectations were higher for the team’s performance. Casey coached top offenses in Toronto and has yet to bring that to Detroit, even with the vast differences in roster.
Still, running the offense through Griffin has brought out a lot in the 29 year old big man who has transformed his game over the course of his career. I’m going to break down how the Pistons run the majority of their offense, both with and without Griffin at the helm.
When you think of the Pistons, you may not immediately think of fast-paced transition play (they are currently 21st in Pace), but all teams have some go-to team principles of transition offense.
A “Drag Screen” is a ball screen in transition. A Double Drag is when the ball handler gets two screens in transition instead of the usual one. The PNR is already tough enough to guard, but bring in a third offensive player, and it just creates another component that the defense has to account for.
Typically since you have two screeners, you can have one roll and one pop to really stretch out the defense. That’s exactly what the Pistons often do. Here are some clips of them running it:
Notice how in both examples, you have Drummond rolling to the hoop while the other big pops and a typical PNR is executed.
“Chicago” is a pretty generic term used to denote a pindown (down screen) into a dribble handoff. Note that it can go by several other names—and does go by many other names—Chicago is just how I learned it and how I will apply it.
It’s an action that again involves two players screening for a player who is coming to receive the ball, therefore it requires a lot of defensive communication as they have to navigate the different screens.
As you can see it basically evolves into a PNR with the new ball handler and the second screener (the one who handed the ball off). If the defense goes under, he has the perimeter shot. If they go over, he can drive to score or look for the lob, as the Pistons often do with Drummond.
This really goes to show how you can work your way into basic plays that may be initially masked as more complicated actions.
Of course, all teams still have sets and concepts that they’ll look towards in the halfcourt, especially with the Pistons using a big man like Blake as an initiator.
A “Pitch” is a term I’ve heard and now use to mean a quick swing pass right out of high ball screen. With how teams have to defend the PNR and shift help to the middle of the floor, often times that leaves shooters open on the wings. The Pistons do a good job of attacking this by catching the help off guard and pitching directly out of a PNR.
Note that the defense rotating over isn’t them being out of position—in fact that’s likely where they’re schemed to be. With the lethality of a Drummond roll in mind, the Pistons know that their shooters are more likely to be left in order to help.
As covered above, PNRs can be very difficult to defend with a lot of moving parts. But when you put two bigs in the PNR, it becomes an entirely new beast.
Bigs are accustomed to guarding the screener on the PNR—they know how to drop and hedge and contain the ball handler and roller. But place them on the ball, fighting through screens, and you put them in unfamiliar and unique situations. It’s not that they can’t do this, it’s just that they’ve likely rarely been asked to defend this way, and thus, the probability of a defensive lapse is much greater.
Not only do the Pistons have Griffin as a PNR initiator, opening up a ton of options for them, but they have him paired with Drummond, making for a enormous and talented frontcourt. I am aware that Pistons fans have their gripes with Drummond, but at least in theory, this is something that could really work.
The Rockets infamously attack switches aggressively, and with this mind, the Pistons work to yield the matchups they want. Not unlike how the Rockets themselves manipulate the defense, namely against the Warriors.
Assorted Horns Sets
Another aspect of having a talented frontcourt is running Horns sets through them. “Horns” is a common setup in basketball with the ball handler up top, bigs at the elbows, and wings in the corners. It allows for optimal spacing and has literal hundreds of play calls to run.
A great set they ran a lot last year is “45,” with both elbow bigs setting a screen for the ball handler. Similar to the Double Drag above, one big can roll and one can pop. Here’s an example of them running it this season.
This is a pretty simple play that is likely more of an off-ball principle that the Pistons have. Nonetheless, it’s a nice quick hitter for a shooter. Coming off a pindown, a player can pull up from the perimeter or take it all the way to the basket.
They bring Galloway off a pindown here, and note how much the defense collapses. He attracts three defenders and ultimately draws the foul, but had other options should he have chosen to kick it out.
Overall, Casey is a great coach and the Pistons at least have the top-end talent to perhaps make some noise in the East. With the trade deadline about a month away, they could look to shuffle the deck a little in hopes of making a playoff push.