SVG’s new offense hums as Pistons blend new players with sacrifices of holdovers

Tobias Harris is tied for 9th in the NBA with 57 made 3-point baskets in the first 20 games as the Pistons are on course to shatter a franchise record
Brian Sevald (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Who had the Pistons as a top-10 offense a quarter of the way into the season?

In fact, they’re sitting with the No. 7 offense – No. 7 with a bullet. They scored 118 points against Boston, which came into Monday’s game with the No. 1 defense, and followed up with 131 against Phoenix.

The fact that the season is 20 games old is meaningful for a few reasons, both of which should be encouraging. Twenty games is at once a significant sample size – enough to make you think there’s some permanence – but hardly enough to make a new offense second nature. And it’s worth pointing out that the Pistons are all of 20 games into running the new offense Stan Van Gundy implemented in training camp.

If anything, familiarity with the nuances of the new offense and how individual players can implements its tools to their maximum benefit should increase efficiencies over the season’s final 62 games.

Van Gundy talked earlier this week about how Reggie Jackson has grown more comfortable with the new system after having virtual carte blanche in the old pick-and-roll heavy scheme he operated his first 2½ seasons with the Pistons. Over his last five games, in which the Pistons have gone 4-1, Jackson is averaging 16.2 points on 58 percent shooting and taking just 10 shots a game. Even with the ball in his hands less often in the motion-heavy offense with shared ballhandling and playmaking responsibilities, he’s averaging six assists in 26 minutes a game.

“I think we’re doing well,” Jackson said after the rout of Phoenix. “We’re just trying to progress. The more that we continue to hang out a little off the court, the more we work together on the court, we’re in constant communication about what we see, about spots that we could choose and be effective. I think (Andre Drummond) is still getting better distributing the ball. Guys are getting better at handling it, and I think we have so many options when we’re moving the way we’re moving. The ball doesn’t stick.”

The Pistons recorded 31 assists against Phoenix, making it 14 straight games with at least 20 – the longest such streak since the 2005-06 season.

Drummond is averaging a career-best 3.7 assists – four times his career average – and is becoming an even better playmaker. Over that same five-game stretch, he’s second to Jackson in assists at 4.6. Like Jackson, his field-goal attempts are down, averaging just 11.6 shots a game, yet his efficiency is also way up, making 61 percent of his shots as he’s cut out the low-percentage deep hook shots and become much more of a facilitator from the high post with dribble handoffs and back-door feeds to cutters like Jackson, Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris.

“We’ve been able to get some good shots and high-quality looks,” Harris said. “We’re sticking to the formula that really works and that’s shooting the three ball, getting to the free-throw line and getting layups. That’s been huge for us.”

“What’s happened is we’ve had a couple of guys make sacrifices in some ways and Reggie’s a perfect example,” Van Gundy said. “The number of pick and rolls we run is way down from when he first got here. His number of shot attempts is the lowest it’s been since he’s been here but his efficiency is way up. Andre’s field-goal attempts are the lowest since I’ve been here but his efficiency is way up.

“On the other side of it, we’ve got Tobias and Avery who are both career high in field-goal attempts, career high in scoring. But they’ve both been efficient. So we’ve got some guys who’ve made sacrifices and we’ve got other guys that are getting more of an opportunity and – at least so far – it’s just been about winning.”

Harris is averaging 19.1 points on 15.3 shots a game, Bradley 16.8 on 14.1 shots.

On top of the fundamental change in how the offense runs, it helps that the ball is finding the net more often – especially from the 3-point arc. The Pistons are up to No. 3 in 3-point percentage at .391 and are on pace to shatter the franchise record for triples in a season. At their current clip, the Pistons will make 924 triples, nearly 200 more than the 740 they made in their 44-win 2015-16 season.

Some of it is the offense, but Van Gundy attributes most of it to adding Bradley, Langston Galloway, Anthony Tolliver and Luke Kennard and then benefiting from the dramatic improvement Harris has made, both in volume of 3-point attempts and accuracy. Harris is tied with C.J. McCollum for 3-pointers made with 57 and he’s making 46.7 percent of his attempts. Bradley is right behind him at 44.1 percent and three others – Galloway, Kennard and Jackson – are making 39 percent or better.

“We’ve played well and we’ve played better,” Van Gundy said. “The thing I’m always wary of is things can change very, very quickly in this league. It can go from good to bad and it can go from bad to good. You’ve just got to stay on top of it and be vigilant about the way you play and execution and paying attention to detail and playing with good pace and energy. All of those things that we talk about that our guys have done a good job of. But there’s got to be a focus every day. If you just show up out there and think it’s going to happen, then you’ll be in trouble.”