2016/2017 Season Recap/Notes: Ish Smith.

This is the 7th season recap, the starters and Jon Leuer have all been done.

 

Follow along with relevant statistics. 

 

The Good:

The best thing, and this is on a similar note if not quite the same as Leuer, but is that Ish Smith is fully capable of being a rock solid backup point guard in the NBA. Smith has a longer track record than Leuer did, but most of his success came with the 76ers and the reality is that it isn't hard to look better than you are when you play for such a bad team. So there was at least some amount of worry that when playing major minutes for a team that was actually trying to win games he would struggle, and that was not at all the case.

The driving force behind his effectiveness was the way he took care of the ball. His assist to turnover ratio of 3.73 was one of the best marks in the league, and is not far behind Chris Paul. Simply put, Ish knows how to pass the ball. He often made best of it when on the fast break, which is unquestionably where he is at his best. His speed with the ball in his hands in pretty remarkable and is trying to get out onto the break at every opportunity.

The last thing that was a very pleasant surprise was his defense, and something that I guess I kind of dropped the ball on before the season. I remember in my season preview for Ish saying that he wasn't terrible but not much good either, and while he isn't Gary Payton or anything, he was quite solid on the defensive end. He plays defense with the same frenzied speed that he does on offense, and while that does often result in him being out of position, it also results in some nice plays as well. Obviously his size is something that will always be an issue defensively, but when he ended up against bigger guys he would dig deep and at least try to make their lives difficult. My favorite thing from Ish on defense though, has to be his blocks. Ish averaged .4 blocks per game, which doesn't seem all that impressive, but among players standing less than 6'4, he was 4th in the NBA in blocks per game. Just the idea of this tiny water bug guy coming out of no where to block the hell out of someone was one of the nice little joys of watching the Pistons this year.

Lastly, is that it just has to be said, Ish was fun to watch this year. The Pistons had a lot of problems and were not always fun to watch, (and part of that is because Ish can't shoot but we will get to that in a moment) but Ish blazing out into the open court off of made free throws was always entertaining, and despite his inefficiencies scoring the ball, he would occasionally have games where suddenly he was hitting the wide open jumpers opposing teams would give him, and suddenly the Pistons would be damn near unstoppable. In the end, I want my basketball to be fun, and Ish was definitely fun.

 

The Bad:

The shooting, and scoring in general. Ish did put up a career best in TS% with a 47.7% mark, but that is still very much not good. Guys who are below 50% are generally either young dudes who are not supposed to be good yet, (Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ingram) or defensive specialists. (Tony Allen, Andre Roberson) And the reality is that it was a problem for the Pistons. It isn't really Ish's fault, because he wasn't signed on to play as many minutes as he ended up playing, and the Pistons knew coming in that he was a bad scorer, but the fact remains, the Pistons were already on the tipping point of not having enough shooting, and when Ish was on the floor they went over that point and no longer had a functional half court offense.

The reality is though, that other than his inability to put the ball in the hoop, there is not a lot bad to say about Ish. Defensively he is a bit too wild but he was better than I thought he would be, his passing was brilliant, he played hard, and even his bad scoring was better than expected. The problem was more of a team problem than an Ish problem, any team looking to Ish as a late game solution has problems which Ish can't control. As long as the Pistons have a proper starting point guard next year (whether it is a healthy Reggie Jackson or someone else) I have full confidence in Ish Smith as a really good backup.

 

Biggest Answer:

I said it right at the start, dude can play. He was put into a bigger role than he should be in, but he still performed better than expected. And he is still young enough that there isn't much worry about him falling off on his current contract. 

 

Biggest Question:

I don't think there really are any questions with Ish. The Pistons pretty much knew what they were getting in him, and that is what he was but even better. I guess the only question with him will probably be whether or not they keep him for his entire contract. Obviously they won't be looking to move him, but he is on a very cheap contract and there are likely to be plenty of contenders that would love to have him, so if, for instance, the Pistons ended up with a point guard in the draft that they really liked or something like that, they could move Ish very easily. But once again, they would only move Ish if there were teams calling them, the Pistons are not likely to be making many calls to other teams about him.

 

What do you think? Was Ish fun this year? Could you build a functional half court offense with Ish as the point guard?

 

 

2016/2017 Season Recap/Notes: Jon Leuer.

This is the 6th season recap. The starting lineup is all done, now we are moving into the bench.

 

Follow along with all the statistics on basketball reference.

 

The Good:

I think the best thing to say about Leuer is that he more or less knew what his role is, and he more or less did it pretty well. (Other than his 3 point shooting) In a season where he averaged career highs in every single total number, and the first season where he was a major rotation member for the whole year, he was pretty successful. 10.2 points on aTS% of 55.1% is rock solid, tack on 5.4 boards and 1.5 assists in 25.9 minutes per game and the numbers tell a nice story for him. He shot very well inside the arc and at the line, which allowed him to be highly efficient despite the horrible shooting from deep.

 

Combine his ability to finish looks inside with slick interior passing and ball handling, and Leuer definitely provides a nice skill set for a guy as tall as he is. There are not a ton of dudes his size who can routinely make the passes he would on a fairly regular basis, in a lot of ways he is almost like Reggie Bullock in big man form. (once again, other than the horrible 3 point shooting) He was generally decisive on the floor, if he got the ball he didn't do a lot of standing to survey the floor or wait for a guard to come take it, he kept it moving, whether by passing, shooting, or driving. I am of the opinion that this is a very valuable skill on offense, even if it doesn't really show up in the box score.

 

Just in general, Leuer's combination of size, effort, and playmaking is a nice skill set and it was nice to have a guy like him on the team. Even if it didn't end up being the cleanest fit for various reasons, you can see why the Pistons like Leuer.

 

The Bad:

It starts with his shooting from deep, because it was awful. He shot just 29.3%, and since it was on just 2.2 attempts per game, you can't even make the KCP argument of that he takes a high volume and some of them end up being harder shots. His lack of shooting was a huge problem for the Pistons this year, and it was really exploited as the year went on and SVG tried Leuer as a starter. By the end of the year everyone knew Leuer was shooting poorly, and that it had made him gun shy from deep. The combination of his and Ish Smith's high minutes in so many games this year is a big reason why the Pistons offense, especially in the half court, (both of them are excellent on the break) was so miserable. The Pistons theoretical offense is running pick and rolls with Drummond surrounded by shooters, and the Pistons played a large amount of minutes with two guys who were not only miserable from deep, but also very unwilling to fire when they were open. Team's happily clogged the lane to keep any of the Pistons away from the hoop knowing that the Pistons often had only one or two guys on the floor that were likely to even shoot a 3 when open. (for all of my gripes with KCP, dude has never had any fear of firing away, and his simple willingness to shoot matters.) This all was made even more painful given that Anthony Tolliver, who signed with the Kings for a cheaper deal than Leuer, fired away at 39.1% from 3 this season. HOWEVA, there is some hope. Leuer has been better in his career from 3, and he still is at a small enough sample size that it may have just been bad luck.

 

The other problem with Leuer was that he just isn't really much of a defensive player. He has the stereotypical white guy stuff of being gritty and playing hard going for him, but he didn't even have the added “Always in the right place” defensive game down. It doesn't matter how hard you play if you get beaten off the dribble routinely and lose guys off the ball a lot. Leuer isn't a terrible defender, but he isn't all that good either, and once again, this is made more painful by the fact that Tolly was actually better at the stereotypical white guy defender stuff, while also having the added benefit of having some quicks and hops to actually make good on some of it.

 

Basically in the end, the biggest problem with Leuer is that he was worse than Anthony Tolliver was, which in a way is unfair to Leuer, but the reality is that the Pistons chose Leuer over Tolly. Tolliver was damn near a perfect fit for what the Pistons want as a guy who is a relentless 3 point chucker who never needs the ball in his hands, and his biggest problem on defense is lack of size which is something the Pistons can live with since they have Andre to cover for that. Once again though, it is early, Leuer will be 28 next year and Tolly will be 32. Leuer might figure out his shot and is most definitely a more complete, well rounded player than Tolly is.

 

Biggest Answer:

Jon Leuer is a competent rotation player. Given the fact that last year in Phoenix playing 18.7 minutes per game was his biggest body of work up to this point, he was a question mark in a lot of ways and it is always a risk to pay those guys. For all of his flaws and potentially not being a great fit, Leuer is a good player who is deserving of real NBA minutes.

 

Biggest Question:

Do the Pistons want to hold onto him for next year? Once again, he is not really the cleanest fit, and there is a theoretical replacement for him readily available in Ellenson. Combine that with that the Pistons are likely to move someone this Summer whether to dodge the luxury tax after signing KCP, to open up some space after letting KCP walk, or just trying to net a shooter of some sort in return regardless of what happens with KCP, and Leuer's 11 million per year, and there is a decent chance he is the one/one of the guys who gets moved. Obviously the readiness of Ellenson is also a big question around how comfortable you would be in moving Leuer, but if they don't think he is going to shoot better then it is something they have to be considering.

 

 

What do you think? Should the Pistons hold onto Leuer this Summer? Can he find his shot back?

2016/2017 Season Recap/Notes: Andre Drummond

This is the 5th season recap, previously there was Reggie Jackson, KCP, Marcus Morris, and Tobias Harris.

 

Follow along with all the stats on basketball reference.

 

 

The Good:

Andre Drummond was both the best rebounder in basketball yet again, and beat his previous career best, which made this past season the new best rebounding season ever by someone who wasn't named “Rodman” with a total rebounding percentage of 25.3%, which was best in the NBA by over a full percentage point over #2 DeAndre Jordan. He was the best defensive rebounder by a full point over Hassan Whiteside with a defensive rebounding percentage of 36.3%, and barely beat out Dwight Howard for best offensive rebounder with an offensive percentage of 15.1%. (Dwight was at 15%, but it should be noted that a big drop off after him to Enes Kanter at 14.1%) He even beat out Jordan by 2 rebounds for the total rebound title on the season. Simply put, Andre Drummond is very likely the 2nd greatest rebounder ever to step on the floor, which is a definite positive.

 

Andre also posted a career high in assists per game (while turning the ball over slightly more) and just by watching it is clear that he is actually pretty comfortable with the ball in his hands, and as long as he can just not try and do any of those stupid flashy passes he occasionally would try, he should continue to improve on that front. He is far from being a Gasol, but he is very capable of making any and all big man ball handling duties, and is actually pretty good at it. He is especially adept at dribble handoffs, being confident and capable enough that he can dribble a couple times to get an essential running start into the handoff which allows him to set really tough screens since he is coming faster instead of just waiting for the defender, which allowed him to be 6th in the NBA in screen assists.

 

On the defensive end Andre did not make the leap that a lot of us hoped that he would, but he did continue to improve. He spent less time jumping for blocks he had no chance at (which was partially responsible for his improved defensive rebounding), and spent more time on the perimeter than previously in his career and he ended up faring pretty well for the most part. He still gets heaps of steals and deflections, especially for a big.

 

Offensively, Andre also managed to improve his overall scoring efficiency over the previous year, even though he was without his best/main partner in crime in the pick and roll for most of the year. (When Reggie played he was obviously not good.)

 

Lastly, he remains super durable, playing in 81 games for the 2nd consecutive year. Over the last 4 seasons he has missed just 3 games, which is obviously an excellent mark, being healthy is a skill, and Andre has got that down.

 

The Bad:

First off is obviously the free throw shooting. He did make a slight improvement from 35.5% to 38.6%, but that is still so bad that it isn't anything to celebrate about. One thing that should be noted, is that for most of the year he was actually in the mid 40s, but then for a stretch right after the all star break he completely tanked. One thing that changed in that time was that he stopped getting off the line and going for that walk out to the half court line. I don't know for sure if he stopped because he got a memo from the league saying that he was taking too long at the line (Giannis had gotten one the previous year) or if he made the decision totally on his own, but one he went back to taking a little walk he improved again. I don't know, it is still bad, but I'm just trying to find something positive.

 

Despite the fact that he improved his defensive play, he did not make the improvement that the Pistons really needed him to make. I've mentioned this before, but the Pistons best chance to become an elite defensive team, as they are currently assembled at least, was for Andre to become a defensive player of the year candidate and KCP to become an All-NBA defender. Neither of those things happened. Andre does a lot of really good things on defense and he makes you better, but he needs to get to the point that he can single handedly anchor the defense. He still reaches too often instead of moving his feet, he wasn't always as willing as he should've been to chase ball handlers away from the hoop, and still does not have a very good feel for timing his block attempts. There is positivity in the fact that he continued to improve, but with every year that passes and he hasn't made the proverbial “leap” it becomes less likely that he makes it at all.

 

The other big complaint about his game is obviously his post ups, which people have made a big deal about how they are even less efficient than his free throw shooting. His post ups are a tricky problem though, because his problems in the post are basically totally reliant on his bad free throw shooting for various reasons. First off, the main end goal of posting up is to draw double teams so you can pass out for open 3s, and when presented the opportunity Andre has actually showed pretty good vision out of the post. The problem is that no one double teams him, not because he isn't good enough in the post, but because you don't have to be a good defender to just foul the hell out of him. The scouting report for Andre in the post was clear, simple, and effective. Don't worry about it being a crappy defender, don't double, and if he makes a good move just foul the hell out of him, he will miss free throws, get worried about getting fouled, and start taking those fadeaway hooks which generally suck. Think about playing pickup ball without free throws, if there is one guy who is clearly better than everyone else, every time he beats you, you just foul the crap out of him. So the only way he scores if if he absolutely cooks you so bad that you can't foul him, or at least not hard enough to keep him from scoring, that is essentially what teams did with Andre because they know that any time he goes to the line it is a win for them.

 

Lastly, is the simple fact that regardless of the many reasons that can explain away why it isn't really Andre's fault, the simple fact of the matter is that Andre is the Pistons best player on a max contract, and the team was not very good, and his personal on/off numbers were bad this year. Once again, there are a lot of good reasons to explain why this happened with the main one being that, the Pistons starters generally sucked this year. HOWEVA, at some point the buck stops with Andre, and even though I've still got a ton of faith in him and the team seems to feel the same way about him, anyone who's faith in Andre as the long term center piece wasn't at least a bit shaken this year is either lying or blind.

 

 

Biggest Answer:

Andre Drummond is in fact an all timer rebounder, last year was probably not any sort of anomaly. In his two years without another awesome rebounder playing alongside him (Greg Monroe) Andre has put up the best two non-Rodman seasons in history, and his rebounding was basically the only thing that kept the Pistons afloat since they basically knew they would have more shots than their opponent every single night.

 

Biggest Question:

It's the free throws. It is boring to talk about because there isn't any strategy ideas to propose or anything. But the reality is that he has progressed enough in every other area of his game that I am pretty sure the only thing standing between him and a hall of fame career is his free throw shooting. He will either figure it out or he won't, but it is definitely his biggest question.

 

 

What do you think? Can he make a defensive leap? Will he ever figure out his free throw shooting?

2016/2017 Season Recap/Notes: Tobias Harris.

This is the 4th season recap. Previously was Reggie Jackson, KCP, and Marcus Morris.

 

Follow along with any stats on basketball reference.

 

 

The Good:

Tobias Harris can get buckets. With Reggie Jackson hurt Tobias Harris was the Pistons most effective offensive player this year, scoring 16.1 points per game on a TS% of 56.8%, which is very impressive by any measure, but especially when you consider the difficult diet of shots Tobias takes. The Pistons offense was very regularly aimless in the half court this year without the tent pole of the Jackson/Drummond pick and roll, and Tobias Harris was often there to bail them out.

 

Tobias’ defensive effort was also a very nice spot for the Pistons this year. It is hard to quantify his defensive improvement in any way other than the proverbial “eye test” since none of his defensive statistics made any sort of meaningful change (in either direction), the only improvement worth noting was probably a career high in defensive win shares, but that was mostly achieved with the help of playing in all 82 games this year, a career first. (with his previous high being 76 last year) Tobias still has some very real flaws on defense, he still too often finds himself flat footed and getting blown by ball handlers, and is too willing to give up on plays, but there were far fewer times where he made outright and obvious gaffs on the defensive end this year. While on the other side, there were quite a few instances of him making a key defensive play down the stretch of close games, often in the form of making an impressive block. There is still some question as to how good he actually is on either end of the floor, but for the first time in his career, he was routinely making “winning” plays on both ends, and that is a big step in the right direction. Many people have complained about SVG’s player development (and not without reason), but Tobias Harris’ defensive play this year is a nice positive to point to in that department. Coaches have been trying to get him to play a lick of defense his whole career, and this past year is the first time he actually did with consistency.

 

Lastly, it cannot be ignored that Tobias was, simply put, he was regularly a member of some of the Pistons more successful lineups this year, and his play was fun to watch which was nice on a team that was often times lacking in the “fun” department.

 

The Bad:

It has to start with his shooting from deep. He finished the year at 34.7% on 3.8 attempts (a career high) per game from deep. That is not a terrible mark obviously, it is just a bit below league average, and he has a fluid and quick release which allows him to fire away with confidence when he has a good look. The trouble is that his 3 point shooting is still just not much a threat beyond “yeah he can shoot some 3s.” And to be clear, this is generally a problem with the entire team as it is currently constructed, not just a Tobias problem, if there were a couple other ace shooters on the roster then his shooting wouldn’t be as big a deal. Essentially, he falls into a similar boat as KCP does, improved shooting was one of the main theoretical improvements that could happen to his game, and it just didn’t really happen. He did fine from deep, but there is little reason to look at this year and conclude that he really has improved much. He is a career 33.2% shooter from deep, which means he was barely a full point up on his career mark and on a similar number of attempts, essentially meaning that it is very likely an improvement that is fully within the range of randomness.

 

Although I had a lot of very nice things to say about Tobias’ defensive play this year, it is still worth noting that he has work to do on that end. Him maybe being a slight plus on defense is a great improvement for him, but in the grand scheme of things he remains a guy who overall is just good enough to not hurt your defense much, and if he is to be a long term piece for a winning Pistons team, they will likely need him to make more improvements.

 

Lastly, is a somewhat divisive topic around Tobias, is his volume of scoring on the offensive end. Despite his impressive efficiency numbers he still scored just 16.1 points per game. This has been a hot topic around Tobias for his entire career, he is clearly a very gifted scorer, and yet he has never been a high volume scorer. If there was ever a season for him to really take reigns and become the proverbial guy, this was it. Some of the blame can fall with SVG, but how many coaches and teams does he have to go through before he is just simply missing the skill or mentality to be a real number one option? He might be super efficient because he doesn’t take lots of shots, I don’t know for sure. The good news is that in theory he isn’t the Pistons number 1 option and Reggie will come back in full force next year so Tobias can be a really good secondary option. (which is where I think he fits best)

 

Biggest Answer:

Tobias Harris is still getting better. There were more than a few people who were of the opinion that he was what he was at this point, which is one reason he didn’t get a huge contract, and yet he just finished up his best defensive season while also posting a career best in true shooting percentage. SVG regularly raves about Tobias’ work ethic, and he clearly has great talent to go with it. If you look at his career trajectory at this point, there is a chance that Tobias is a “slow and steady” type. He won’t make some huge leap one year, but you will look up and he will be 27, in his prime, and an all star caliber player. The best current example of this is probably DeAndre Jordan or Paul Millsap. It wasn’t like they just became awesome one year, they just kept chipping away.

 

Biggest Question:

Can he keep improving on his shooting or his defense in a major way? As he currently is, he is not the cleanest fit with any roster. For him to really reach his peak for this Pistons team (and also to ensure that he is the right long term piece) he needs to become better in roles that are “complimentary” if that makes sense. If he could become a good shooter (like 38% from 3 maybe?) or become a really good defender, then he would be pretty close to the perfect guy for the team.

 

 

What do you think? Do you think it is him or the coaching? Can he continue to improve?

2016/2017 Season Recap/Notes: Marcus Morris.

This is the 3rd recap post for the offseason. ICYMI

Reggie Jackson.

KCP.

 

Follow along with any and all stats on basketball reference.

 

The Good:

Admittedly, this post is going to be more straight forwards than the other two, which is perfectly fine by me. Marcus Morris is a pretty straightforward player who is a known commodity on a great contract, and the best thing is that he more or less continued to be that. He was a fairly reliable isolation scorer when called upon, and when he wasn’t going iso then he was just a really solid complementary veteran player.

 

Probably his best contributions of this year were on the defensive end of the floor, he was, once again, a guy who gave consistent effort on the defensive end, and kept up his almost uncanny ability to play very physical defense while usually avoiding foul trouble. His defensive play can be described with a lot of the stereotypical white guy stuff to be totally honest. He doesn’t have the goods to be an elite defender, but with smarts, toughness, and effort he remains a reliable defender. This does result in times where he would get roasted by guys that were clearly out of his league, but other than that he did everything you could hope for on the defensive end.

 

The last good thing for Marcus is something that I doubt anyone would’ve really thought would be in this section when the Pistons acquired him from the Suns. Marcus has great intangibles. To go along with the obvious stuff of him playing hard, he was pretty clearly a leader on the team. Whether by the stories that talked about his willingness to occasionally get vocal with teammates, or by the countless scoring droughts that ended with Marcus hitting a tough bucket. He is the sort of dude who anyone would go to war with, I don’t have any stats to back this up, but there were a bunch of times at the end of close games where Marcus would battle his tail off for offensive rebounds, especially when Andre was at the free throw line. There was never any question at all whether Marcus wanted to win.

 

The Bad:

First off with the smaller thing, is the basic fact of that despite him being a good overall defender, his limitations were, at times, glaring. It isn’t his fault really, but he got toasted a few times.

 

The real problem though was his offense, as he had, by almost any measure, one of his worst offensive seasons since his rookie year. (when he only played 17 games) He shot just 33.1% from 3 on a career high 4.5 attempts per game, and had a TS% of just 50.8%, all while having his assists drop off from a career best last year as well. A pretty big chunk of his inefficiency was simply a down shooting year from deep, and given that his career averages from 3 go: 36.9%, 38.1%, 35.8%, 36.2%, and 33.1%, it is fair to say that this year was likely nothing more than a down year which was perhaps made worse by the Pistons just being miserable at creating good looks from deep.

 

One big difference in his shooting from this year to last is that he got close to the hoop with a lot less regularity, he took 3s at a higher rate than last year, which is actually good, but he also took long 2s at a higher rate than ever before in his career, while getting into the hoop less than last year. Once again, part of this is that the Pistons offense had some real spacing issues so there was less room for him to get inside, while also his share of pick and roll duties went way down this year (mostly in favor of KCP), and his lack of attacking the hoop can also explain his downtick in assists this year.

 

Whatever the reasons though, his efficiency went down in a way that it can’t for him. As much as I love Marcus, this season has to be an outlier in terms of his offensive efficiency, at least if he is to remain playing as heavy minutes as he has in Detroit.

 

Biggest Answer:

I don’t know, there were not many questions about Marcus coming into the season. I guess the main one is that last year was not just an anomaly, he really is a great guy to have on your team who plays the right way.

 

Biggest Question:

There are not really about his play I don’t think. Marcus is a known commodity at this point, given that he has enough of a history to say this year is likely just a downward outlier in terms of his offense. The main question around Marcus is probably whether or not he is actually good enough to hold onto his starting spot long term. Essentially, Marcus is right on that average line, where he is good enough to start/play heavy minutes, but you should have an eye out to get someone better if you can.

 

 

2016-17 Season Recap/Notes: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

This is the 2nd season recap. Previously was Reggie Jackson. I am all done with the semester, so posts should be coming fast now. I’m going to try and get one out each day, so make sure you keep checking in. If you want to know when a new post is up but don’t want to bother checking the sub all the time you can follow me on twitter, since it’s the offseason I’ll link any post there.

 

Follow along with any stats on basketball reference.

 

ICYMI: Reggie Jackson.

 

Side note before starting:

KCP is a pretty hot topic among Pistons fans right now, especially around how much he will be paid this offseason. I mean, the vast majority of the comments on Reggie Jackson’s season recap were people arguing about KCP. As such I would like to make one reminder and one request. As a reminder, remember to not be mean to each other, argue all you want, but don’t make personal attacks. As a request, try not to make this whole comment section about how much to pay KCP. There will be a separate post for that argument, try to keep this about the season that just happened and where he will be going. Obviously that blends into his contract, but I guess I just don’t want the sub to get saturated with nothing but KCP contract talk. There is a reason I tried to avoid his contract situation in this post. But in the end, what ya’ll talk about is up to you.

 

The Good:

The biggest good thing for KCP this year was definitely his passing, The basic numbers are not that eye popping, but still impressive as he increased his assists per game from 1.8 last year to 2.6 this year, while lowering his turnovers from 1.4 to 1.1. The increase is more impressive when you go by per 36 minutes as he played a little over 3 minutes less per game this year than last year. Per 36 he went from 1.8 to 2.8, with the same decrease in turnovers. But even beyond just the basic numbers, just watching the games you could see that he was making the right passes more regularly, and was making them quicker. It was a big time improvement for him, and one that I certainly did not see coming. He may not be a brilliant passer, but he went from “very bad passer” to “fairly capable passer” and that is a hard improvement to make in any area.

The next good thing was his outside shooting, even though it isn’t that impressive (I’ll touch on that more in a bit) but after shooting just 30.9% from 3 last year, there was real worry that he might just be a bad shooter. KCP finished the year shooting 35% from deep while tying a career high in attempts per game at 6.2. While it is not the jump that many were hoping for, 35% is very average, he now has 4 years under his belt and he shot: 31.9% (in a rookie year where the team was kind of a mess), 34.5%, 30.9%, and 35%. Throw in the high number of attempts, and it is quite likely that last year was a outlier in the downwards direction and that he will be a fairly reliable shooter going forwards.

Lastly, even though the numbers don’t really back it up, I absolutely believe that KCP was overall a better offensive player in the half court. His high number of fast break points from last year (and a slight decline in them this year) screw with some efficiency numbers to become misleading. He was more willing to go to the hoop (though still very hesitant) and could actually make good passes when he did, and generally showed some shot creation that he didn’t have last year. Admittedly, he had set a very low bar before as his idea of shot creation was “pull up for a contested 3 over the defender” but progress is progress. Last year he was right on the border of hurting your offense in the half court, this year he definitively put himself onto the good side of that border.

 

 

The Bad:

His defense. And I feel a little bit bad about putting this under “bad” because the reality is that he was still good defensively, but he still got noticeably worse at it. Last year he was at a level that could’ve earned him an All Defense selection and no one would’ve complained, as they shouldn’t have. His relentless pursuit of opposing point guards was incredible to watch night in and night out, and ranked among one of the most fun things about the team last year, this year it just wasn’t there. He still plays his tail off, gets some steals, and is generally good, but there was no talk about him for an All Defense team, and rightfully so. It’s honestly one of the more bizarre things I’ve seen, a guy taking that big a step back on defense when they are 23. And FWIW, I don’t really buy the “He was saving his legs a bit for offense” argument, because if he was, then he should’ve gotten better offensive results than he did last year. His biggest improvement offensively was his passing and that has nothing to do with effort, and even though he was better shooting from the outside, it is within the range of randomness from last year to this. In fact, his True Shooting Percentage went down this year from last. Which brings me to the next point on the bad spectrum.

Even though I do firmly believe that his half court offense was better this year, his efficiency was still very mediocre. His overall field goal percentage dropped from 42% to 39.9%, but we are not cave men so we don’t care about that. (Seriously, people using FG% instead of TS% and Rebounds per game instead of Rebounding% are my two biggest pet peeves with stats. The year the Pistons won the title Chauncey Billups had a FG% of just 39.4%, but because he took a ton of 3s and FTs his TS% was 55%, which would’ve put him behind only Tobias on this years team. Andre Drummond was 2nd in the NBA in rebounds per game this year to Hassan Whiteside, but was more than a full percentage point better rebounder. The Heat just played faster. Rant over.) But KCP’s TS% dropped slightly as well, from 52.1%, to 51.9%. That is a tiny drop off, the problem is that improving that number was one of the biggest things he needed to do this year, and he didn’t. Once again, a decent amount of this was that he didn’t get as many buckets in transition, and also pulled up for a ton of 3s in transition which resulted in less freebies at the rim, and the presence of Ish Smith explains some of that given that Ish pushes the ball by himself a lot more than Reggie Jackson. (Reggie is much more likely to just pass it off to KCP and let him go) Essentially, the bad of KCP’s offense is that there we are 4 years into his career, and there isn’t anything he does that is really noteworthy, especially on the offensive end. There is 3 seasons worth of heavy attempts that say he is an average shooter from deep, he doesn’t draw fouls, he doesn’t really go to the rim, and he can pass a bit now but it still isn’t anything incredible. Defensively there is obviously hope that he could maybe get back to being as great as he was last year, but this year was super discouraging on that end.

 

Biggest answer:

His outside shooting, this year was going to be somewhat of a rubber match of whether he was a decent shooter or a bad one, and this year put him rather emphatically into “decent” which is much better than last year obviously.

 

Biggest question:

Can he get back to an elite level defensively? After this year there is very little reason to think that he is going to become any sort of an offensive dynamo, but if he could keep up this year’s offensive game with last year’s defensive game then it would be a lot easier to justify a big contract for him. Because even if his offense would be very replaceable, it isn’t easy to find guys who defend at an elite level and are competent offensive players. The trouble is that we don’t know for sure if KCP is capable of doing both of those at the same time.

 

Side note that is purely speculation:

There is something that has bothered me about KCP for a while that no one else seems to have said anything about, so I figured I’d bring it up. To be clear, this is total speculation so take it with a huge grain of salt.

Going back to Zach Lowe’s article on the Pistons just before the all star break. Right at the beginning he notes that “The fact that KCP was guarding Lowry at all is a sore spot. KCP chases opposing point guards because Reggie Jackson, alleged franchise player at that spot, hasn’t been able to since recovering from a knee injury. The Pistons usually hide Jackson on the least-threatening wing player, a reprieve that draws shade from teammates – including during an infamous players-only meeting in December, when a few guys hammered Jackson for his desultory play.” That was honestly the thing that stood out to me in that article more than anything else. To be clear up front, it is not unfair for teammates to be upset by Jackson’s defense, even last year before he was hurt, he straight up did not try hard enough consistently on defense, and we all knew it because late in close games he would often lock in and be pretty good. But when you combine the idea with that it apparently is a “sore spot” with KCP’s fall in defensive play, it makes me worry a little about him. The reason being that, even last year, when Reggie was fully capable (if not always willing to play hard enough for it) of guarding opposing point guards, KCP took the job. KCP’s ability to dominate point guards, and Reggie’s size allowing him to go onto bigger wings without dying was seen as KCP’s greatest value, and something that made them a good backcourt pairing. Even when Reggie was locked in and trying his hardest, (aka, when he was actually pretty decent defensively) they would usually have KCP on point guards because he was so good at it. Combine this idea of it being a sore spot with KCP’s decline defensively, and it is a good sign that KCP made a willing decision to not be as good a defender as last year, and that bothers me, especially since the team was partially built around the idea of him being able to do just that. What if Andre started bitching and moaning about having to run tons of pick and rolls, and having to go to the offensive glass every possession because it tired him out since he had to run hard every play to get back on defense, or that he was sick of having to be the only guy to clean the defensive glass every play because it limited his opportunities to run in transition? People would hammer him for it, and rightfully so.

To be clear, these are not unfair things to say. KCP does have a bit of a beef about Reggie’s defensive effort, just as Andre could have a theoretical beef about having to carry an absurd load on both ends of the floor. But if it is affecting (effect? I always screw that up lol) your play it becomes a problem to me. I don’t know for sure what to think about it I guess. But when you have a guy who everyone says is just a great dude that works his tail off every day and is a great locker room guy, and then you hear that he complained about doing the thing that he was best at, was likely a major part of the locker room problems the Pistons experienced this year, had a drunk driving thing this year, and remember that he was apparently best friends with Josh Smith, (the last one is mostly a joke) it puts some question in your mind about him. And admittedly, one of the main reasons it bothers me is because the bar had been set so high for him in that department. I don’t know, just food for thought, KCP is probably not as much of an angel as I thought before this year.

 

The verdict for this year and beyond:

What happens this offseason with KCP is going to be fascinating to watch. But whether it is with the Pistons or someone else, KCP has pretty well entrenched himself as being a guy who is fully capable of being a solid starter who is the number 4 or 5 guy on a good team, and his game is the sort that it should fit in easily with just about any team. It is possible that there will be some unseen leap in him yet, just because that does happen sometimes, (the most recent example being Jimmy Butler) but he is most likely going to be a very nice, average, shooting guard. Like Marcus Morris is a small forward. As long as he is you 4th or 5th guy there isn’t anything to complain about there.

 

What about his contract?

That is such a big and complex question that it deserves it’s own post.

 

What do you think? What was the thing that impressed you the most about KCP this year? Anything that disappointed you?