As Pistons fight their way out of slump, Harris & Bradley need to carry the scoring burden

Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley need to carry the Pistons scoring burden until Reggie Jackson returns from injury
Brian Sevald (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Two ugly offensive stretches for the Pistons – one in early December, one ongoing as January nears its end – have put what appeared a certain playoff drive in peril.

A seven-game losing streak resulted from the first offensive drought and a searing overtime loss to Utah on Wednesday stretched the Pistons current malaise to six games.

The Pistons woke up on Dec. 1 with the No. 7 offense in the NBA, then inexplicably plunged to the bottom – 30th – in offensive efficiency during their seven-game skid that saw a 14-6 start and the No. 2 seed in the East turn into a 14-13 record and clinging to a playoff berth.

The current offensive funk is a little easier to fathom given the absence of their catalyst, Reggie Jackson. The Pistons rank 26th in offense since the losing streak began at Chicago on Jan. 13.

The common link between the two skids: significant shooting woes from their two leading scorers, Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley.

Harris leads the Pistons with 18.0 points a game followed by Bradley at 15.3. In the two losing streaks comprising 13 games, Harris has averaged 15.3 points and shot .399 overall and .287 from the 3-point line on 1.77 made triples a game. Throw out those 13 games and Harris’ numbers are 19.0 points on .493 overall shooting and .464 from the 3-point arc on 2.55 made threes a game.

Bradley has averaged 13.3 points and shot .340 overall and .333 from the 3-point arc on 1.7 made triples during the 13 games over two losing streaks. Throw out those 13 games and Bradley’s numbers are 16.2 points on .445 overall shooting and .416 3-point accuracy on 2.0 made triples a game.

Give the Pistons the nearly seven points a game less they’re getting from Harris and Bradley during the 13 games comprising the losing streaks as opposed to all other games with them and they’d have gone 8-5 over those 13 losses. Their record, instead of 22-24, would be 30-16.

Yeah, that’s an inexact methodology, but no one would deny that the Pistons would be in far more favorable position with 36 games remaining than their current reality.

The depths of Stan Van Gundy’s dilemma reached its nadir during the overtime loss to Utah. As he openly wondered what else he might have done, who else he might have gone to in a game where the Pistons made nine shots all night – nine – in 47 attempts from outside the paint, he said this:

“The problem on the perimeter, quite honestly, nobody had it going. So there wasn’t anybody, ‘Well, he’s got it going offensively; let’s go with him.’ We just didn’t have anybody who had it going. (Reggie) Bullock was out. Dwight Buycks would’ve been the only other choice on the perimeter, maybe, to get it going.”

Buycks less than two weeks ago was on a two-way contract. He’s spent the last three seasons in China. His is a great story, but an NBA team trying to salvage a playoff berth isn’t supposed to be in a position where its coach muses whether a guy who was supposed to be his G League team’s starting point guard might have cured its offensive maladies.

It can’t all be on the shoulders of Harris and Bradley, of course. Van Gundy tried to inject more offense into the rotation by using Boban Marjanovic instead of Eric Moreland with the second unit and add Langston Galloway’s shooting to the starting unit on Wednesday.

But Harris and Bradley, as Anthony Tolliver admitted after the devastating loss, have to be out in front of a reversal of fortunes. They have to score – consistently and efficiently – if the Pistons are going to survive for however long Jackson needs to rehabilitate his grade 3 ankle sprain.

“That’s part of their responsibility and they know it,” he said. “They know they have a lot on their shoulders and we depend on them every night.”

Jackson’s presence gave them more and better scoring chances, of course. Teams don’t play the pick and roll with Smith and Andre Drummond the same way as with Jackson and Drummond. Smith’s defender goes under screens and gums up the middle, which also allows the wing defenders to cheat another step toward the 3-point arc. Galloway’s a better shooter, but not the penetration threat.

There aren’t any obvious answers other than this: Harris and Bradley need to come closer to their averages in all those other games outside the 13 losses comprising the two painful losing streaks. Saturday against Oklahoma City would be a good place to start.