With Pistons offense in a rut, SVG tinkers but urges ‘get your mind on defense’

Andre Drummond and the Pistons hope to snap their 7-game losing streak at Atlanta.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy waved his phone, the vessel through which the well meaning attempted to offer solace and support to the coach of a team enduring a losing streak.

“I had three people – and now I just got a fourth one – with, ‘Hey, it’ll get better,’ ” he said after a practice day between consecutive loss No. 7 and tonight’s attempt to prevent it from stretching to eight at Atlanta. “Why do you expect that it’s going to? No, you have to make it better. It’s not going to magically get better. It’s the old chicken-or-the-egg question. I had three people say to me, ‘All we need is one win.’ OK, but how do you get that?”

The easy answer is to revert to how they were playing not so very long ago. Van Gundy shook his head as he noted that it was a mere two weeks ago that the Pistons were coming off of what he called the “two best offensive games of the year. Boston and Phoenix.

“Fourteen and six and we’re great. Now, two weeks later, we stink. We’re the worst team in the league and you’ve got to change the lineup and make trades. Two weeks. Two weeks. I just have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that in two weeks we went from being a good team to being awful. We’re playing awful; I’ll give you that.”

No exaggeration, that assessment, at least on the offensive end. And the turnaround is baffling. After scoring 118 against Boston, the No. 1 defense, and 131 against Phoenix, the Pistons stood as the No. 7 offense in the NBA with an efficiency rating of 106.8. They’ve been so bad since that seven games have plummeted their offensive rating 10 spots.

Over those seven games, the Pistons have the worst offense in the NBA with a 95.1 rating. They also are 30th in field-goal percentage (.401) after ranking 10th (.464) prior to December and 25th in 3-point shooting (.330) after ranking third (.391) before the last seven games.

After scoring a combined 249 points in the two games that led to the seven-game losing streak, the Pistons have combined to score 165 in their past two losses. Thirteen days after putting up 118 at Boston, the same team against the same opponent scored 37 fewer points at Little Caesars Arena.

So … how to change it?

Well, watch what the Pistons do tonight at Atlanta, where Van Gundy says there will be a different look to the offense.

“I’ve got some firm ideas offensively,” he said. “We didn’t come out here and put in a new offense, but we will shift our priorities a little bit in terms of play calling. Run some things more, run some things less. Not run some things. I think that our offensive approach hasn’t been as good as it could be to help these guys. So you’ll see a difference there.”

The Pistons have slipped somewhat defensively since November, too, but the drop isn’t nearly as dramatic and, in large part, is probably a reflection of poor offense more than anything. Turnovers and missed shots are opportunities to generate transition offense and, especially in the 21-turnover loss to Denver on Tuesday, that’s been an issue, too. The Pistons were 12th in defensive efficiency through their first 20 games and 18th since, 14th for the season.

“Defensively, we just have to play it harder and better. We’ve been playing good defense until (Denver),” Van Gundy said. “Even the first 18 minutes, we played pretty good defense. We came to the game with still a defensive mentality.”

Van Gundy put the Pistons through their most physically demanding practice of the past few weeks on Wednesday despite it coming amid a stretch of schedule with no more than one day between games over a period that started – perhaps not coincidentally – with the first Boston game and doesn’t end until next week. It was a decision driven by his instinct that his players needed to do, not watch.

And he reiterated his message from the Denver postgame: The Pistons four best players – Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson – need to play better and set their frustrations over offensive struggles and errant shooting aside.

He’s got a theory how that gets done, too.

“I’ve always thought and said to guys – back to when I was an assistant – when you’re struggling offensively, really get your mind on defense. Effort, defend, rebound, run – all the things you can really count on. That frees up your mind. When your mind stays on your shooting, then you’re screwed up at everything else.”

Van Gundy knows his text messengers have his best interests at heart. He doesn’t deny their message, that getting one win could prove a tonic. But how to get that one win?

“You’ve got to play harder, more unselfishly, all of that to get the one win. So what comes first? The chicken or the egg? Do we have to play better and then win or do we have to win. Because if the winning has to come first, I don’t know how we get there. We’re just waiting for a miracle, like somebody has to play so bad that we can’t possibly lose? That’s not going to happen. So you’ve got to fight through it.”

The Pistons take the fight to Atlanta tonight – quite literally, they hope.