The Detroit Pistons have rebuilt their team in a model similar to the Memphis Grizzlies of last season with two strong bigs, a strong defender at the three and a young point guard. While the personnel is not identical, the similarities are clearly there.
Last season, Memphis was actually worse offensively than the lowly Pistons. The Grizzlies, however, finished the regular season with 56 wins and a trip to the Western Conference finals. Detroit barely had half as many wins, 29, and finished nine games back of the Milwaukee Bucks and the right to be swept by the Miami Heat.
Despite scoring 1.5 points per game less than Detroit, Memphis was still the far superior team. This is, of course, was due to their work on defense. Memphis had the NBA‘s third-best defense based upon opponent field-goal percentage and allowed their opponents to score the fewest points per game in all of the league, 89.3.
If Detroit hopes to take the next step next season and make the playoffs, defensive improvements are necessary. Last season’s team allowed opponents to net 98.8 points per game, good for 19th in the NBA. Only five of the 16 playoffs teams were worse than this: Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets. Looking at it from opponent’s field-goal percentage, Detroit’s defense drops to 21st in the league.
Detroit can make these improvements. A full season of Andre Drummond patrolling the paint will help all on its own. With his elite shot-blocking ability, Drummond will not only throw away shots at the rim but also serve as a deterrent to driving opponents. Much like Roy Hibbert has done for the Indiana Pacers, opponents will take notice of Drummond and prefer to avoid him. This will, ideally, keep Pistons opponents thinking more about floaters and mid-range shots, less efficient shots than right at the rim.
Josh Smith is another player who can change the game on the defensive end. Last season he posted a defensive rating of 101, per basketball-reference.com. The year before is was 96. Only 23 players in the NBA last season were able to post a rating of 101 or lower and qualify for the league’s minutes played per game leaderboard. Drummond didn’t qualify, though he posted a rating of 99.
In the playoffs, Smith improved his defense even more, posting a rating of 99. His 93 rating from the 2011-12 playoffs would have been best in the league last season.
For all the excitement of a potential Midwest Lob-City in Detroit, if the Pistons really want to vault themselves back toward contender status, the work must be done on the defensive end.