Pistons learn to share the ball without their stars – who are inching closer to return

Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has been cleared for basketball-related activity and is considered day to day after missing the first 9 games of the Pistons season.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The last time the Pistons had five players record five or more assists in the same game was two homes and three NBA championships ago.

It was Nov. 12, 1983 at the Pontiac Silverdome. The opponent was the Kansas City Kings, before their relocation to Sacramento. The starting lineup consisted of Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Kelly Tripucka, John Long and Cliff Levingston. Thomas, Tripucka and Long all recorded five assists, as did Walker D. Russell off the bench. Vinnie Johnson, in his sixth-man role, led the Pistons with six assists in their 131-106 win over the Kings.

The Pistons racked up 33 assists on 49 baskets that night, during which they took just two 3-point shots – and made zero.

It’s a radically different game today, but the 37 assists on 44 baskets the Pistons recorded in Wednesday’s 122-102 win over the Knicks were remarkable given the fact that they played without all three point guards – Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier – plus last season’s team leader in assists, Blake Griffin.

The shared playmaking is a trait Dwane Casey would like to see the Pistons maintain even when their injured players return – and good news on that front, so keep reading.

“Even when everybody comes back, we want to play that way and it helps us be a 3-point shooting team,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s a rhythm of the game that we have to play in 2019 to be able to get up the threes. We’re a good 3-point shooting team, but to do that it’s got to be rhythm. It’s got to be a drive-kick-swing mentality, guys kicking the ball out, pass expectation, shot expectation.”

Andre Drummond and Luke Kennard led the Pistons with seven assists each, Bruce Brown and Langston Galloway added six apiece and Markieff Morris chalked up five. All nine players Casey used recorded at least one assist in the first half.

The rate of assisted baskets, 84 percent, is one the Pistons haven’t achieved since Feb. 23, 2013 when they picked up 31 assists on 36 baskets in a 92-91 win over the Charlotte Bobcats. Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey led them with eight assists each.

The Pistons came into the game 18th in the NBA in their rate of field-goals made that were assisted at 57.9 percent and came out of it 10th at 61.1 percent.

Casey has been banging the drum of ball movement to the Pistons as they learn to cope without their point guards and Griffin, through whom the offense is funneled predominantly when he’s available. One of his tenets is the “point-five” mentality – upon taking possession of the ball, make a decision on whether to shoot, drive or pass within a half-second.

“That was much better last night,” he said. “We still had incidences where we held it a little bit too long, but for the most part we did a good job of point-five mentality – getting off of it, driving it, shooting it or moving it, whatever the situation called for.”

The experience Pistons other than Griffin, Rose, Jackson and Frazier are amassing in having the ball in decision-making moments should pay dividends down the road as players like Kennard and Brown grow more comfortable as playmakers and Drummond gets more repetitions in dribble handoffs and other playmaking roles.

But they’ll obviously benefit from the return of their premier playmakers and Thursday afternoon it was announced that Griffin has been cleared for participation in all basketball-related activities. He’s now considered day to day, as are Rose and Frazier.

“When guys do come back, the guys that were in there are going to have a great amount of experience,” Casey said. “They’ve faced adversity. They understand what they’re supposed to do in their role and it’s just going to help the team.”

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