Well, it was not always pretty but the Pistons closed out the Nets with a pretty decent win. And despite all that has happened, until Reggie Jackson comes back I'm not going to be overly critical of any win regardless of how ugly. A win is a win. Also, how much freaking fun are Griffin and Drummond?
It wasn't a great game from Ish but it was certainly rock solid. 15 points on 16 equivalents with 6 rebounds and 4 assists in 29 minutes of play. The reason why it was just a solid game instead of a really good one (which his numbers mostly showed) is the things that did not come up in the stats. First off, the Nets became the first team to try to really stifle the Pistons by totally ignoring the non-shooters and Ish is obviously always going to be a huge negative there. He did some nice stuff to make up for it, including a really smart cut in crunch time off a Blake post up, but his inability to shoot is a big reason why this game was so ugly for the Pistons.
The other thing was his defensive play. The Pistons spent most of the night having Stanley Johnson guard Spencer Dinwiddie, this often put Ish Smith on Allen Crabbe which ended very poorly. Obviously it is not all Ish's fault that Crabbe destroyed the Pistons, but Crabbe got open way too often and even when Ish stuck with him Crabbe just shot over him. Both of the problems are things that are not really Ish's fault, he is in over his head as a starter and everyone knows and it isn't his fault he is short. But they are still realities of Smith being on the floor.
Reggie Bullock continues to be an absolute god-send. He only scored 9 points on 7 shots with 2 rebounds and 1 assist, but teams are now officially terrified of what he can do as a spot up shooter. Without him being such a threat I don't know if the Pistons could run out the starting lineup that they are. I also really like the way that the Pistons are squeezing every last advantage out of him that they can. Using him in a two man game with Blake down the stretch was fun, and they are running him all over the floor. He didn't put up big numbers, but Bullock had a big impact tonight. Also worth noting on the down side that he certainly gets some blame for Allen Crabbe's night.
Stanley Johnson is close to becoming a super interesting case study. Johnson had another great game, scoring 19 points on 15 shots with 2 rebounds, an assist, and 3 steals in 38 minutes of work. Johnson has fully figured out that he can put the ball on the floor and bash his way to the hoop all the time and that he should run in transition every time he can. Combine that with his usual stellar defensive effort and you've got a guy that is super effective. The reason why he is suddenly a super interesting case study is that he can't shoot, and he is not good enough to be anything higher than the 3rd offensive option once Reggie Jackson comes back. The question is that, can a tertiary guy be a positive offensive force without being able to shoot? I'm super intrigued to see how it goes and mostly I'm thrilled to see Stanley thriving like he has.
Shades of Reggie Jackson right here. Griffin was having a rough night. The Nets were ignoring his teammates with regularity and sagging way off him to wall off the paint, he couldn't get a foul call, and both him and his teammates were missing jumpers. While Blake started to play better in the 3rd quarter, this really turned from a rough night to a really good one in the closing moments of the 4th. The Pistons basically decided that the Nets couldn't guard Griffin so they just posted him up time and time again and Griffin delivered in a big way. He had a couple of empty possessions but he was mostly brilliant. Following his big finish, Griffin finished with 25 points on 22 equivalents with 3 rebounds and 7 assists in 33 minutes. Dude was simply feeling it at the end of the game and it was just plain fun. I also continue to be impressed by his defensive play, he isn't great but he's been largely pretty good and he really communicates which I like. Regardless, this is why they got him. Excellent game for Griffin.
I'm kind of thought this a little bit and in order to push the narrative I'll put it out publicly now while not mentioning it on nights where there is a worse argument lol. I think Andre Drummond may still be the best player on this team. He needs someone to go get buckets obviously, but this dude does everything else. He finished the night with 17 points on 20 equivalents (which isn't great obviously) with a NBA season high 26 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks, and a +9 in 35 minutes of work. I agree with Stan Van Gundy that he was a little bit out of sorts defending the pick and roll tonight but he was still mostly good defensively, even when he isn't consistently crisp he still makes enough plays (he forced a couple turnovers beyond the steals) to be a net positive. I think that he may remain the glue that holds this team together, no matter how many clutch buckets Blake Griffin scores, but we will keep an eye on that going forwards. Regardless, Drummond had a monster game against a team that he should have a monster game against.
Tolly had a pretty good night. 9 points on 7 equivalents with a pair of rebounds. He is like Bullock lite in that his shooting is extra important when he is on the floor now, but he doesn't move off ball in the same way so he doesn't have quite the same impact. The one thing that is worth mentioning is that if the Pistons stick with their current plan of staggering Blake and Andre to keep one on the floor all the time while playing Blake at the backup center spot, it is going to put Tolliver in a much bigger role. The only time that he starts to look kind of old is when he gets worn down by too many minutes, and I'm also not so sure how I feel about how vital Tolliver suddenly is to the Pistons. For now though, he continues to play really well.
Kennard finished with 8 points on 6 shots including a filthy move on Nik Stauskas. He mostly just sort of did his thing off the bench. One thing to monitor is that he appears to have gained some good chemistry with Andre Drummond for dribble handoffs as the Pistons got really good looks on the (I think) three times they ran that. Given that Kennard is actually a good enough shooter to be worthwhile in the mid-range I like the potential there. Nice to see him back.
Galloway got the backup point guard minutes and played well. 13 points on 10 shots with 3 rebounds and a pair of assists with a team high +11 in his 18 minutes. It is still mixed results with Galloway at the point, there have been times where his lack of penetration has killed the team in that role. That said, if Griffin is going to continue to be out there with bench mobs it makes Galloway much more viable.
More teams will start to ignore the Pistons non-shooters to strangle the inside scoring of the big men, but I suppose the Pistons might continue to just bull their way through it by sheer force of will and playmaking. I also am not sure how I feel about a eight man rotation? That said, there should be some real credit going to the coaching staff right now. They didn't take time to decide that having one of Drummond or Griffin on the floor is a good idea, they are maximizing Bullock as the only shooter in the starting lineup, and have been able to get Griffin inserted with few hiccups.
The one thing strategy-wise that I'm a bit split on is the aggressive defensive style that the Pistons have played most of the year. On one hand, the eye test says that other than Drummond (who gets so many steals and deflections that he pretty much has full allowance to go out and trap whenever he feels like it) the Pistons are not fast enough with their rotations when they play super aggressive and give up too many open threes as a result. On the other hand though, the Pistons have pretty much been inside the top ten in defensive efficiency all season and while that isn't great, when you look at the quality of defenders on the roster a top ten defense is not bad. I don't know, I feel like they would maybe do well to tone it down just a bit, but if they keep winning then who am I to argue?
What do you think? Can Drummond keep up this level of play? Is this the real Stanley Johnson?