So I am about to start on all the individual player previews for next season, and so I am going to do this bit here as a closing of the book on the previous season so to speak, as well as proof positive that I am not owned by the man and am fully capable of doing normal posts as before. I thought about doing this as a podcast but it didn't fit very well.
Regardless, one of the benefits of my gig with hashtag basketball is that I have access to synergy sports now, so this is just sort of a list of things that I've seen in synergy that may be of some interest to people looking back on last year. They are in no particular order. Also I am fairly new to synergy so if someone see's that I misread/interpreted a number then I apologize.
The Pistons gave up way too many spot up looks last year:
This is not really a huge revelation, but it was really eye opening. 21.9% of opponent possessions ended in a spot up look last year, which is a pretty large number. For instance the Lakers allowed fewer spot up looks last year, with 19.1% of possessions. Opponents also didn't shoot an incredible mark on those spot up looks, it was just the number of good looks the Pistons gave up.
Obviously Reggie Jackson gets a fair amount of blame here, and you didn't need synergy to tell you that if you watched the games. But more than anything else really, defending against spot up 3 pointers is a team effort, it starts with poor defense at the point of attack from really all the guards, (even the non-Reggie Jackson ones), continues with Andre often not doing a good enough job of containing ball handlers, and ends with poor close outs by the wings. The Pistons actually faired pretty well overall on defense last year, and they were anchored by Andre's rebounding on that end, but this should be a point of emphasis going into next year and is the most obvious place of improvement for next year. They were effective in other areas, with the only other problem being isolation scorers (which is more a matter of having better 1 on 1 defenders which isn't really a scheme/coaching thing) and were really effective at keeping ball handlers in the pick and roll from scoring. If they can clean it up around the arc, they could well make the jump from “Solid defense” to “Elite defense”. Hopefully a healthy Reggie Jackson, adding Avery Bradley and Galloway, and higher minutes for Stanley Johnson can help with that. Regardless, how many spot up looks they are allowing will be something to watch next year.
Shooting really was a huge problem for this team
Once again, you didn't really need synergy to know this, but Stan Van Gundy's blatant desire to add more shooting looks a lot more justified after seeing the numbers here. Last year there was a big part of me that figured that a big reason the Pistons shot so poorly from deep was largely because of their poor point guard play, and while shooters did fair a bit better when Ish Smith was passing the ball than Reggie Jackson, (largely because Jackson wasn't getting into the paint at all, but more on that in a bit) even there it was bad. And here is the thing, overall on spot up looks the Pistons got just .916 points per possession (ppp from here on), which was 29th in the NBA, but the real problem is that they averaged just 1.03ppp on unguarded catch and shoot opportunities, which was 28th in the NBA. So even when they were getting good looks, they were miserable. So guys simply shooting better from deep may well be huge for the Pistons regardless of point guard play. (as an interesting side note, Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris where by far the best spot up guys on the team last year, and the only ones who clocked in at above average, and no one else was particularly close)
The point guard play may not have been as bad as we thought.
This ties in with the last point. But a lot of people (me especially) put a lot of emphasis on how poor the point guard play was from the Pistons last year, Reggie Jackson was gimpy and Ish Smith is one of the most inefficient scorers in the NBA so no one was afraid of them which caused issues for the entire offense. But upon further review, it actually may have been more the guys around them than those two. As stated above, even when good looks where created, guys couldn't hit them.
But one of the most interesting numbers synergy has given me is the Pistons ball handlers ability to score. Overall the Pistons got .894ppp from ball handlers shooting out of the pick and roll, goof for 14th in the NBA, which is obviously mediocre as a team. HOWEVA, Reggie Jackson scored .889ppp good for a solid 71st percentile, and actually a slight uptick from the previous season where he scored .876ppp out of the pick and roll. (although that was the 77th percentile that year, but both numbers were ranked as “very good” by synergy) Ish Smith also put up decent numbers with .851ppp good for 64th percentile and a “good” ranking from synergy. And do you want to have your mind blown even a little bit further? Reggie Jackson was still an awesome isolation scorer last year, scoring 1.027ppp and coming in the 87th percentile and an “excellent” rating from synergy, and was a HUGE increase from .863ppp the previous year. Even Ish Smith got a “Good” rating from synergy in isolations with .885ppp. (On a side note Marcus Morris was in the 90th percentile in isolation scoring, they will miss that)
Now this comes with a grain of salt of course, because anyone with a pair of eyes can tell you that Reggie Jackson looked off, and this doesn't even go into his defensive woes. But the previous point about the shooting combined with this one perhaps paints a slightly different picture of last year's offensive woes. The Pistons point guards and ball handlers actually did their jobs as far as getting the ball into the hoop, it was more often than not their spotting up comrades who were failing. And as much as it was clear that Jackson was a bit slower than previously and that hampered his ability to get into the lane, a clogged lane due to un-threatening shooters may have had more impact on it than previously thought.
Once again, point guard play was still a big problem last year and this is not me trying to get Jackson (and Ish) off the hook for the Pistons offensive woes, but the numbers would certainly suggest that there was plenty of blame to go around beyond just the ball handlers.
Tobias Harris needs more pick and roll touches
Harris scored .985ppp as a ball handler in the pick and roll, good for 87th percentile and an “Excellent” rating, but he was 6th(!!??!!) on the team in pick and roll touches on the season last year despite this efficiency. This does come with the caveat of course that Tobias' poor passing keeps him from being a viable heavy usage player in the pick and roll, but he can't come in 6th again. 4 of the guys in front of him are no longer on the team, and 2 of them (KCP and Marcus Morris) are guys he regularly shared the floor with. So I would really hope that most of those two's pick and roll chances go to Tobias, even with his passing problems, give him more touches in the pick and roll. Also while we are talking about Tobias, he is almost comically efficient as a scorer. Scrolling through the hundreds of categories that synergy tracks, there are very few that are not rated as “Very Good” or “Excellent”, there is still questions about whether he could hold up that efficiency with higher volume or not, but I'm game to find out.
Avery Bradley is not a ball handler.
Following my post on Bradley and appearing as a guest on a Celtics podcast I was told repeatedly by Celtics people that they thought I was overestimating Bradley's ball handling capabilities a bit. The combination of synergy and also just some good ole eye test of re-watching games from last year says that they were correct. Without getting into all of the numbers, Bradley handled the ball less than KCP did last year in pretty much every way, and was a little bit worse doing it in pretty much every way. The good news however is that Bradley was MUCH better in pretty much every off-ball category than KCP was. In theory this should be fine as KCP wasn't actually much good as a ball handler and hopefully means more touches for Tobias while Bradley is much better off ball. But this is either news that should make you hopeful or worried heading into next year depending on how you look at it, since the Pistons specifically cited Bradley's ability as a secondary/tertiary ball handler as something they liked about him. With that in mind, there are really two options: OPTION 1, Bradley is actually capable of doing a lot more ball handling duties than he took on in Boston and he could legitimately be in for a break out year this season. OPTION 2, The Pistons miscast him in their assessment and hopefully don't try to force him to do stuff he isn't capable of.
Jon Leuer can be a good player even if he shoots like crap.
This should be clear even without synergy. Even with the terrible outside shooting he had a TS% of 55.1 last year which is quite good. But from synergy, Jon Leuer was really good posting up people (which was often when he got switched onto smaller guys) where he averaged exactly 1ppp good for 83rd percentile and an “Excellent” rating. He also was an awesome cutter (93rd percentile), and on put backs (92nd percentile) which would suggest that in theory if the Pistons just stopped having him spot up beyond the 3 point line and brought him closer to the hoop more often he could still be a super effective offensive player. Obviously the best case scenario is that Leuer finds his shot back, but even if he doesn't, there is a very real role he can play. The biggest problem is that it becomes harder to play him at the 4 spot instead of the 5, especially with the Piston starters.
What do you think? Got any other things you wonder about that Synergy may be able to answer? Let me know!