Defensive Doldrums

In Drummond’s absence, Pistons defense gives back big gains

The Pistons' defense has suffered with the absence of Andre Drummond.
B. Sevald/Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
When the Pistons scout upcoming opponents, they look at the most relevant information – which is the most recent information. They look, specifically, at the last five games to gauge lineup combinations, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses.

They hold themselves up against the same standard – the last five games.

Lawrence Frank isn’t going to like what he sees when that report hits his desk.

The Pistons gave up 112 points a game on their 0-4 West Coast road trip last week when opponents shot 55 percent and only Portland, which scored 112 on the nose, made fewer than half of its shots. The Palace proved no elixir upon their return, either, as Brooklyn started a stretch of eight consecutive road games on the right foot by dropping 119 points on the Pistons and shooting 54 percent.

The Pistons ranked near the bottom of the NBA in most key defensive metrics when they started the season 0-8, then marched steadily up the rankings over the remainder of the season’s first 50 or so games. They pushed into the top five in defensive field-goal percentage for a time and ranked in the top 10 for several weeks. Now they’re down to 17th, which helps explain their nine-game losing streak.

“Anything they wanted, they got,” Frank lamented after Brooklyn’s lopsided win Monday, his first game back with the team after two weeks while his wife, Susan, underwent and recuperated from major surgery. “You give up basically 120 points on your home court, you go down 43 points … this is our fifth game like that since the (All-Star) break.”

Since the break, the Pistons have lost by 32 at Indiana, 39 at San Antonio and 32 at the Los Angeles Clippers before Monday’s 37-point loss to Brooklyn.

“I think our intent to start the game is right,” Frank said. “And then stuff happens, whatever that stuff is – get a little fatigued, things don’t start to go your way and then you don’t give the maximum-type intensity that’s required. Then other things happen. But that’s the game. Sometimes we fight, sometimes we don’t. But you can’t pick and choose – and especially when you’re a little shorthanded. That’s not an excuse. All that means is you have to fight a little bit harder, more, together.”

The Pistons were more than a little shorthanded against the Nets, down Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond to start the game and then going without Jose Calderon, hampered by flu-like symptoms, after just eight minutes. Drummond’s absence has been the constant, roughly coinciding with the plunge in defensive standing.

No one among coaches or players is suggesting that Drummond was the sole reason for the defensive improvement the Pistons exhibited through the mid-point of the season, but the numbers are fairly compelling. After giving up 100 or more points in five of their first six games during the 0-8 start to the season, the Pistons then gave up 100-plus in only 14 of the next 44 games – the point where Drummond was sidelined with a stress fracture to the fifth lumbar vertabra.

In the 19 games Drummond has missed, the Pistons have given up 100-plus 13 times.

“None of us can run from it,” Frank said. “We’re all part of it. To not be able to sustain the intensity, the effort level that’s required … we’ve shown we’re capable of doing a whole lot better.”

Will Bynum didn’t try to downplay the impact of Drummond’s absence while emphasizing the need for stingier defense without him after Monday’s setback.

“We still can play better, but Andre’s a big piece of what we’re trying to do here,” he said.

Getting him back before the season’s April 17 finale remains the hope and Lawrence Frank saw reason for optimism as he watched Drummond during Monday’s morning shootaround, his first glimpse of Drummond in two weeks.

“I think he’s made progress,” he said. “For the first time, he was able to do some team-related activities. He got up and down a little bit, went through shootaround. Any time you try to reintegrate a guy with his team, that’s always a positive thing. I think he’s definitely on the right track. We’ve been very conservative with this for very intelligent reasons. We’ll just continue to take it up.”

For Drummond’s peace of mind foremost, Frank said the ideal is to get some games under his belt before the season ends.

“If you can control it, you’d like him to be able to play. You wouldn’t like his last game is (Feb. 6) and then go into an entire off-season and then Summer League being the first time he’s playing,” Frank said. “Now, if that’s what it turns out to be, then that’s what it turns out to be. But in an ideal world, if Andre can get healthy and the doctors give him the thumbs up and everyone’s comfortable with it, you’d love to get him back on the floor.”

And get the Pistons moving in the right direction again in the NBA’s defensive rankings.