That is a good win, and the template for how the Pistons will need to play to get wins until Jackson returns. First and most important is playing great defense, which the Pistons absolutely did, no matter what sort of noise is around it if you only allow 79 points you played some defense. Secondly, hope that Ish Smith can have at least one stretch of the game where he gets to run and become a transition terror. Third, give Tobias Harris the ball plenty and hope that he makes some tough plays (tonight often with his passing!!!). Lastly, and the most important guy, is for Andre Drummond to continue to be a grown man on the floor who holds everything together on both ends. It won't usually work this well, and it will never be pretty, but this is how the Pistons need to play to keep themselves afloat.
So far, so good for Ish Smith in his intern as the starter. He continues to pile on points with decent efficiency (especially by his standards) with 18 points on 18 equivalents with 4 assists against just 1 turnover in 30 minutes of play. One nice thing to see was that he got 6 free throw attempts which is generally a gaping hole in his game. Smith hit just enough shots in the half-court to come close to a net-neutral in that area, and had one stretch where the Spurs had a lapse in concentration which allowed him to get out and run early in the game that gave the Pistons some breathing room that they would never relinquish.
Once again, it isn't going to be pretty, there were a couple of possessions where a flurry of ball movement found an open shooter only for it to be for naught as the open shooter was Ish, but if he keeps hitting shots at a fairly acceptable rate they can work with it. It should be mentioned how nice it is to have a guy like Ish who even though he is lacking in many areas, you know that he is at least good enough to not ruin it as the starter.
I TOLD YOU HE WAS GOOD. I ALWAYS KNEW IT. Seriously, I figured that Bullock would go to the Spurs this offseason, and Pop would eventually unleash him as the awesome complimentary role player that he has shown flashes of. To everyones surprise he ended up sticking around, and now the Pistons are unleashing him as that player. Bullock scored 22 points on just 14 shots and I don't think a single shot he took was forced, he plays the absolute right way. Also, judging by the pull up three he hit in the opening moments of the game, he has really gotten confidence in his shot which is great to see. In the end though, we all kind of knew that Bullock could play offense if he ever got the chance, the real surprise has been on the other end.
I know that Kawhi Leonard is not all the way back yet, and he hasn't exactly gone through a murders row. But since Avery Bradley has been out while Bullock is starting, Bullock has been the primary defender on Victor Oladipo twice, and got Kawhi Leonard tonight (while Tobias Harris mainly went with Danny Green which was goofy and actually pretty effective) and he is 3 for 3 in doing a really good job on talented offensive players. Bullock has always played hard defensively which is obviously half the battle, but he has really gotten visibly stronger and smarter with the way he plays. If he keeps playing defense like this then he could end up being an absolute steal at his price tag and be a borderline savior for this Pistons team.
12 points on 14 equivalents with 6 rebounds and 5 assists against 2 turnovers in 35 minutes of play is nothing to laugh at when you remember that he was being guarded by Kawhi Leonard for most of the night. Kawhi obviously made it very difficult for Harris to get clean looks for most of the night, but he found a few spots and hit them, and played a very unselfish game. Tobias will never be a good passer, but I'm starting to gain some hope that he may be taking the first steps towards being a serviceable one. He has absolutely gained confidence in hitting Drummond with lobs lately and he is looking for it more, and is generally more comfortable making passes on the move instead of outright resets. These are not big things, but it is big for Tobias. His passing has been a detriment to his game in a similar way to free throws for Drummond. Even though it is just one thing, it is such a glaring weakness that teams can zero in on it to really take him out of games, the Sixers did this most effectively of anyone in their first meeting this year by throwing hard double teams at Harris every possessions and letting him throw slow passes out to the perimeter which gave them plenty of time to make rotations back into place. Even if it is simply improving to serviceable, it would be big for Harris' offensive game.
On the defensive end he played better than the last game as well, as he spent a lot of the night guarding Danny Green which although not an especially challenging assignment, it is not very often that Tobias, who is a power forward nearly full time these days, is guarding a shooting guard so credit where credit is due there.
He laid an egg on offense again as he scored 1 point on 5 equivalents by going 0-4 from the field with 7 rebounds and a single assist in 27 minutes of play. HOWEVA, he started tonight to guard LaMarcus Aldridge, and he was able to replicate his defensive domination of Aldridge once again. Aldridge finished the night with 15 points on 17 eqiuvalents with just 1 assist in 33 minutes of play, and most of his points were on put backs and plays where Tolly was elsewhere. The only area that Tolly struggled with was keeping Aldridge off the glass when Drummond was pulled out of the paint by Gasol. Obviously he needs to start hitting some shots again, but when he can lock down as talented a scorer as Aldridge he more than makes up for an off night shooting.
It's funny because it is almost commonplace, which is the best sign that Drummond has made a major step towards being a legit franchise player. 14 points on 13 equivalents, 21 rebounds, 6 assists (no turnovers), 3 steals, and a +16 in 38 minutes of play for Drummond. Drummond was, almost quietly, the best player on the floor the entire night by dominating the glass, and owning the paint. The only nitpick with his night is that there were a few possessions where he was too willing to just sort of loiter around the perimeter on defense, which is not a huge deal because he is right to be wary of Gasol and Aldridge's shooting, but he was not always quite as active in staying engaged as you would like.
Other than that he was brilliant, he made some good plays, while at the same time doing all of the little things that help you win basketball games. Given Embiid's internet popularity it will be difficult for Drummond to be a starter, but my guess is that if the coaches were choosing he would be starting at center for the East, because he has been the best center.
Kennard has been remarkably poised and confident for most of the year considering that he is a 21 year old rookie trying hard to carve out a role on a winning team that will not give him unearned minutes. It is a cliché but he has not looked much like a rookie most of the year. Last game against the Magic was the exception as he put in probably his worst game as a pro. He bounced back tonight by playing probably his best game as a pro, putting up 20 points on 13 equivalents (4-5 from deep) with an assist and 3 steals in 30 minutes. His +19 on the night was only topped by Tobias Harris' +20 as well. He was poised and looked back like his normal self which is great given that it is never a sure thing that rookies will bounce back after bad games. The shooting that the Pistons wanted so badly was well on display as several of his shots were tough pull-up looks with defenders in his grill, and he continues to impress with his defensive awareness. Great game from Kennard.
Buycks got his first real action as a Piston tonight as he got the normal backup point guard duties and he looked mostly competent, which given that he is a guy on a two way contract who is only being pressed into service due to injuries is perfectly acceptable. In 18 minutes he scored 4 points on 5 shots and had 3 assists with 3 turnovers. He did a fine job of getting the ball up the court and initiating the offense, and he looked fairly confident in trying to make some plays by driving into the paint. Buycks looked great with the Drive, but that is never a for sure thing to translate, and I don't know how Buycks will do if he continues to get minutes. The offense was not good at times while he was out there, but it also looked pretty good on some possessions and he really competes on defense. If he ends up being a serviceable player while Jackson is out then he would join Moreland as a nice feather in SVG and the front office's cap as bargain bin finds that end up contributing this year.
Put back into his normal role of being an off the bench chucker didn't seem to help his shot. He went 0-4 from the field and didn't do anything of note in his 16 minutes. I'm not worried because profesional shooters off the bench always have ups and downs, but if he could get back on an up that would be very helpful.
Got the backup minutes in the second half and seemed to do fine. He had 2 rebounds in 4 minutes of play.
Got the backup minutes in the first half. Got a bucket on 2 attempts and drew a non-shooting foul in 4 minutes. Nice to see him get on the floor in meaningful minutes, and although I'm not sure exactly what the matchups were that caused SVG to want Boban in the first half and Moreland in the second, I'm all in favor of trying to work Boban in even if it is just for a single 4 minute stretch like that.
Played a minutes of garbage time. They didn't do anything.
This is the best version of it, but this is how the Pistons need to play to win until Jackson comes back. And if you want to go back the last couple of weeks with Bradley out and swapping the starting lineup up, and also remember that a summer league pickup has been the backup center for a long time now, if the Pistons continue to stay afloat while shorthanded it will look better and better for SVG and the job he is doing as coach this year. It also will continue to make Andre Drummond more and more impressive as he holds together a roster that is almost crumbling around him. With good teams, real good teams, as long as your star is around you should be able to keep things together behind your star and good coaching and the Pistons have done that. Hopefully they can keep it up.
What do you think? Can Buycks last as the backup? Can Drummond hold this together?