The defense Casey hoped would carry Pistons through early stages needs a jolt

Josh Jackson
Josh Jackson, who’s missed the past 2 games with an ankle injury, would be a welcome addition if he’s able to return in time for Friday’s game with Phoenix
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The defensive metrics for any team that’s played 25 percent of its games, as the Pistons have, against the Milwaukee Bucks – leading the NBA in scoring at 125 points a game and No. 1 in offensive rating – are going to be skewed.

That caveat out of the way, Dwane Casey will be quick to admit the Pistons defense isn’t living up to what he’d hoped it would represent: a lifeline while his team of 11 newcomers and four holdovers could get its own offense in sync.

“I don’t think we came out with the right disposition,” Casey said of the most recent game, Wednesday’s 130-115 loss to the Bucks on the heels of Monday’s 125-115 Milwaukee win. “We came out with an offensive mentality – you score, I score. We can’t win that way.”

Through eight games, the Pistons rank 26th in defense and 19th in offense. The Pistons ranked No. 1 in preseason defensive efficiency and Casey felt their defense had the potential to be a top-10 unit and carry the Pistons until the offense found its rhythm. Among all those newcomers were a core of lanky, versatile defenders like Jerami Grant, Josh Jackson and rookie draft pick Saddiq Bey. The Pistons had more size, especially on the wing, and athleticism than they’ve had in years.

But so far, they rank 30th in opponent field-goal percentage at .507 and 26th in points per game at 119.1. Opponents are taking 33.2 percent of all shots attempted against the Pistons within 3 feet of the rim, 29th in the NBA.

“One game,” Casey said, “they shot 82 percent at the rim. That tells me it’s like a layup line. We can’t have that.”

“It’s little things, but they go a long way,” said Grant, who’s powered the offense at 24.0 points a game while averaging 1.3 blocks and nearly a steal per game. “Communication, just get back in transition – things we can fix. But we’ve got to fix ’em.”

It hasn’t helped that Casey’s rotations have been thrown into disarray largely by injury. Blake Griffin missed 1½ games with a concussion and two others – both back to backs – for maintenance of his surgically repaired left knee. Josh Jackson has missed the past 2½ games after twisting his ankle in Sunday’s last-shot loss to Boston. Killian Hayes, an especially strong defender for a rookie, is now out for an undetermined time with a hip injury.

“But that’s the nature of our business,” Grant said. “You’ve got to be ready. You’ve got to be able to make adjustments on the fly. We’ve got to do better, regardless of the situation.”

It’s also easier to play through injuries and lineup upheaval for teams that didn’t have the year-over-year roster turnover the Pistons experienced.

“It’s nobody’s fault; it’s where we are right now,” Casey said. “We play one type of defense when certain lineups are in and another when another one is in. It’s hard to get continuity that way.”

Casey said Derrick Rose, who missed the second half of Wednesday’s game after bumping knees with Giannis Antetokounmpo, practiced Thursday and will be available for Friday’s game with Phoenix. Jackson could be a game-time decision, he said. And Jackson most certainly will help against Phoenix, where he’d be a likely candidate to guard high-scoring ex-teammate Devin Booker.

“We’ll wait to see where he is tomorrow night,” Casey said. “The length, size and defensive toughness is something we missed, even at the end of the Boston game. Really happy with the way he’s approaching everything – his professionalism, his defensive approach, his offensive approach. He’s been a bright spot for our team.”

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