In the age of advanced stats, take your pick to underscore the stretches of stagnancy afflicting the Pistons offensively over the first 10 games. This one’s as good as any: The Pistons are last in the NBA in assists-to-turnovers ratio at 1.07 – essentially, they’re turning it over almost as often as they’re racking up assists.
And while their turnovers might be too high for Stan Van Gundy’s comfort level – they’re 18th in the league at 15.3 per game, almost halfway between the high (Philadelphia, 18.0) and the low (Charlotte, 11.7) – it’s the assists numbers that are most telling. The Pistons rank last in the league with only 16.4 assists per game, well behind the 29th place team, Utah (18.7).
Not surprisingly, the Pistons also rank last by a comfortable margin in percentage of baskets that come via assists at 44.9, well behind 29th-place Phoenix (49.5).
Last in assists, last in ratio, last in percentage of assisted baskets.
If that’s troubling – and it is – it’s also a reflection of the potential of a team that’s fashioned a 5-5 record in the face of those dreary offensive numbers. Breaking even despite a tough schedule – seven of 10 games on the road, three back-to-backs all against teams that hadn’t played the previous night – suggests the Pistons are poised for a breakthrough … if only they can get their offense right.
“There’s two things. Number one, we’re not passing the ball well or enough,” Stan Van Gundy said after Tuesday’s shootaround, where the road-weary Pistons – fresh off a six-game road trip that delivered them back from Los Angeles at about 6 a.m. Monday – prepared for tonight’s game against LeBron James and the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers. “But we’re also missing shots. You can’t get assists when the ball doesn’t go in the basket.”
The Pistons put a lot on Reggie Jackson’s shoulders. That comes with being a point guard, naturally, but the Pistons don’t really have a secondary ballhandler in the starting unit or a player like James or Paul George to share the burden of playmaking.
Jackson this year is averaging 5.0 assists and 4.0 turnovers a game. With the Pistons last season over 27 games, those numbers were 9.2 and 3.5. There were even better over the final 16 games – a stretch that began when Greg Monroe missed 11 games and the Pistons, by necessity, went with the four-out, one-in offense they’re using for 48 minutes this season – when he averaged 10.9 assists against 3.7 turnovers.
“We went back and looked at some film from last year,” Van Gundy said. “He and I will sit down and look at some of that. I think he’s got to make quicker decisions and he’s got to more willing to give the ball up and be on the attack but not as much just standing and dribbling with it and probing. He’s got to either attack or get off the ball and make a pass.”
Anthony Tolliver, an important voice in the locker room, sees Jackson pressing but also knows it comes from a place that ultimately speaks to his competitiveness.
“That’s part of it. Every time you have different players or new personalities around, it’s always an adjustment,” he said. “But he’ll get back to making plays and making great decisions. We all have great confidence in him. He really, really wants to win and so sometimes he does try a little too hard instead of just letting it come to him. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though. He’s a guy that really wants to win and at the end of the day, once he gets into his rhythm we know what he can do.”