By the Numbers

Golden State presents stiff test for beleaguered Pistons defense

Greg Monroe
The Pistons look to step up their defense with a fortified frontline.
Cameron Browne (NBAE/Getty)
Even before Maurice Cheeks knew the composition of his roster, he said he wanted a team that forced turnovers and got easy points in transition. Then the Pistons signed Josh Smith to play small forward next to Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, giving them one of the NBA’s most powerful frontcourts, and Cheeks naturally anticipated an offense that would do much of its damage near the rim.

That part of the blueprint couldn’t be hewing to form with much more accuracy. The Pistons lead the NBA in steals (10.2) per game, they’re No. 5 at forcing turnovers (18.2), No. 2 in fast-break points (18.2) and No. 1 at scoring in the paint (52.0).

But Cheeks also figured the big and athletic frontcourt would make the Pistons a formidable defensive team. And there’s still ample reason to believe that will be the case. They’ve only played six games and their four losses are to teams with a cumulative 21-7 record. Yet the numbers that show promise in their ability to create turnovers, score in transition and near the rim also paint a bleak picture of their defense so far.

The Pistons are last in opposition shooting efficiency (1.135), 29th in shooting percentage (.476), 23rd in 3-point percentage (.375), 26th in 2-point percentage (.512) and 28th in free throws attempted per game (21.3). In other words, teams are scoring inside and outside the 3-point arc and at the free-throw line with too much ease and frequency.

“I think we still have a long way to go, definitely,” Greg Monroe said after Monday’s 109-103 loss at Portland, where the Trail Blazers shot 51 percent and made nearly half of their 3-pointers (11 of 23) despite losing the battle of turnovers (17 to Detroit’s 9 with the Pistons outscoring the Blazers 21-9 in points off turnovers) and points in the paint (60-36) decisively.

“The flow of (recent games) has kind of been the same. We just have to find a way to change that flow. We have to make our runs earlier, put a little more emphasis on getting stops.”

Their battered defense couldn’t face a much more severe test that what it will face tonight. The Golden State Warriors are one of the league’s most dynamic offensive teams, led by shooters Steph Curry and Klay Thompson with plenty of help from Harrison Barnes and its big free-agent addition, Andre Iguodala.

And the Warriors are especially lethal at home, where they average 111.5 points a game. Overall, they score 102.6, not much different than the 102 average the Pistons carry into the game. Golden State is No. 3 in the league in shooting percentage (.480), No. 4 in 3-point shooting (.432) and No. 3 in shooting efficiency (1.117). They’re second in 3-pointers per game (11.3) and No. 3 in attempts (26.3).

“If we thought this team shot a lot of threes,” Brandon Jennings said after Portland’s 23 triple attempts on Monday, “wait ’til tomorrow.”

Curry (eight) and Thompson combine to average 15 3-point shots a game, while Iguodala tries four and Toney Douglas comes off the bench to take nearly four a game. In home games, Curry (54 percent) and Thompson (53 percent) both make more than half of their 3-point tries and the Warriors as a team have made 48 percent of their 3-pointers.

Portland’s early 3-point success – the Blazers made 6 of 10 in the first quarter alone – eventually caused the Pistons to expand their floor coverage and make other areas of their defense vulnerable.

“You have to adjust,” Monroe said. “As much as you want to protect the rim, when guys are making shots at that rate you have to get out on them. When a team comes out that hot, it kind of affects our normal defensive principles.”

They’re being tested early and often so far this season, overwhelming the positive results their offense has generated in the face of skepticism about their own lack of perimeter shooting. Golden State presents perhaps the stiffest challenge yet.