It’s Easter 2018, and yet, here I am writing about the NBA for the first time since the Gordon Hayward injury. It’s been a tumultuous, but fascinating season, unless you play for Detroit. The Pistons were expected to make the playoffs this year with an upgraded core, but half of them were replaced by Blake Griffin at the trade deadline, and the team is five games behind the Heat for the eighth seed with only six games left, as of this writing. They play the Nets at six today, but the effort will be futile. After two straight seasons of missed playoffs, the rising anger towards the man at the helm has finally come to a culmination; relieved of his duties as head coach and President of Basketball Operations, Stan Van Gundy is out of a job1.
The relationship between Stan and Dwight Howard should be examined more closely, because I’m unsure how he was unable to improve on his Orlando play-calling with a similar athletic big in Andre Drummond. Drummond isn’t the paint defender or shot blocker that Howard was, but he’s in the same ballpark athletically, and was unable to match Howard’s production, despite being the focal point of the offense. Instead of trading Tobias Harris, a productive floor stretcher with post up potential, why not relieve yourself of someone that’s actually a burden on your offense? Great picks aside, Drummond contributes very little offensively besides dunks and put-backs. It’s not Harris’ fault that Stan Van Gundy was unable to utilize Avery Bradley as well as Brad Stevens did, so why punish the entire team?
Reggie Jackson’s return has sparked the entire team to a five-game winning streak, but as I stated above, playoff aspirations are futile. Calls for Van Gundy’s head have grown louder as each season progresses, and with the Pistons out of contention, it was the right move by ownership to start anew. Now we’re left with a mess.
This team isn’t talented enough to actually do anything noteworthy. Delaying a Drummond trade, as well as trading some decent pieces for Blake Griffin, a big name and nothing else, has put this team in a bad position. You’re not even good enough to make the playoffs, but you’re going to trade valuable assets for an athletically-declining four who doesn’t space the floor well? Jackson’s return has helped the spacing, but if we had this lineup for 82 games, I doubt the results would be much different. After 50 games, the Pistons were 24-26, good enough for a 48% win percentage. That’s not very good, however, since the trade, the team has gone 12-14, good enough for a 46% win percentage; even worse. Considering five of those games came during this win streak, the team was performing much worse without Jackson than ever before.
In a year where results were expected, we were given nothing to be excited about. They moved up two spots in pace, but only improving by 1.2 possessions. Keeping things in the half court allows defensive-minded teams to grind out a win, and with a defensive rating of 107.2, 10th in the NBA, teams certainly can accomplish that, with the right personnel. It’s obvious they don’t have that, due to the losing record, as well as the fact they never score enough points, as their offensive rating is only at 103.2, 25th in the NBA, which is still the best they’ve done under Stan Van Gundy. Do you see how comfortability builds content?
For comparison’s sake, I’ve attached four images from the first quarter of the March 13th, 2018, 110-79 drubbing at the hands of the Jazz. This past off season, Utah lost their best player to the Celtics, and lost even more pieces during the trade deadline by trading Rodney Hood away to the Cavs. They’ve responded by clinging onto the seventh seed in a very tough Western Conference. Notice how their defensive anchor has plenty of space down low for easy dunks, the shooters on the wings have a defender on them, but an easy pass from Rubio, as well as unintelligent roaming by Griffin, left Favors wide open for an easy corner three. The images are strictly from the first quarter, but considering the Pistons were ran off the court, 21-42, in just the opening quarter, I think it serves as a microcosm of the season the Pistons have had. Worse yet, this Jazz squad wasn’t even expected to make the playoffs this year, only further fueling the disappointment of this season.
Compounding that frustration is Stan Van Gundy himself. Once regarded as a prodigious coach, his play-calling in Detroit has certainly been met with questions. Notice the Drummond isolation play above, who the fuck would actually call that when you’re already down three with just two minutes off the game clock? Drummond peaked at 16 points per game during their lone playoff year under Van Gundy, what the fuck makes him think this guy is a franchise centerpiece? I understand team basketball operates differently than superstar basketball, but when your “best player” cannot put up 20 a game, it really makes everything much more difficult in today’s NBA.
I suppose that’s why he made the Blake Griffin trade. In addition to adding someone who should be able to put up an easy 20 points a night, it packs in bandwagon fans who recognize the name. It was when he made that trade I realized just how obtuse one can be when attempting to keep their job. Unable to see the direction this franchise needed to go, Van Gundy decided to gamble on a not-talented enough core, traded the incorrect pieces, and then add an injury-riddled, uninspired Blake Griffin. That adds octane to the offense how exactly?
The Jazz are second in defensive rating, meaning their paltry 103.4 offensive rating can only take them to a seventh seed in the West. What if they were in the East? Would they be a fourth seed or higher? One can speculate, but the facts are this team is a more-talented version of what Utah is trying to be, or at least, should be, and yet, the results are not there. The rebuild began in 2013, when Dumars drafted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who they let walk last off season, an actual smart move by the front office, and yet, they’ve developed nothing with this core that was drafted by Dumars and then molded into what they have now with Van Gundy. Much like life itself, it’s time to start anew. Spring cleaning is right on schedule, but will the Pistons make the necessary adjustments to change a losing culture?