The Detroit Pistons were one of those "gimme" games on the schedule many a Pelican fan was looking forward to in January. On December 22nd, they were 5-23 with a few days off before restarting after Christmas Day. Stan Van Gundy shocked the NBA world, and nearly broke the internet, by waiving Josh Smith. Considering the amount of years and money still owed, it was a complete shock. Let me allow the good folks at Detroit Bad Boys to break down just how much money we're talking about.
Today, there is a 13-year-old middle schooler working on his handle and practicing his jumper. Eventually, he'll be a superstar. When his name gets called first overall on draft night in 2020, the Detroit Pistons will still be paying Josh Smith not to play for them.
In the ten games since, Detroit is 9-1. In the beginning, some could point to an easy schedule as the Pistons defeated the Pacers, Cavs (free falling version), Magic, Knicks, and Kings. Then they went on the road and beat the Spurs and Mavs on back to back nights. A painful late game loss to the surging Atlanta Hawks at home followed. Would they come back to earth? No. Beating the Nets is not something to write home about. Beating Toronto? On the road? Ok then.
Any thought of "look at team's record, this should be a win" should be extinguished in Pelican fan minds by now. In the past couple of weeks, we have been treated to convincing wins over Houston and Memphis, both contenders in the Western Conference. Also, there has been a (relatively) explainable loss to the Washington Wizards and two confounding losses to the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics. Will the real New Orleans Pelicans please stand up?
Stats of Note
Remember when I was telling you that the Pistons are really good right now? In their last ten games only the Golden State Warriors have been better. Detroit owns the glass on both ends, collecting 52.2% of all available rebounds. No team has taken better care of the ball than Van Gundy's squad, posting a measly 12.4% turnover rate. Both their offense (110.1 ORtg) and defense (97.0) rank second in the same span.
You may, also notice, that the Pelicans are 12th in the league during the same span. That is roughly in line with their production all season long. New Orleans also posts an excellent rebound rate, snagging 52.0% of all available boards.
The one area that has failed them is an increase in turnovers. More passes have led to an increase in risks taken, fewer scoring opportunities, and has pulled their offensive performance down. In the past 10 games the Pelicans have turned the ball over on 15.4% of all possessions, 23rd in the league. Prior to this increase in passing, the Pelicans turned it over on just 12.7% possessions, 5th in the NBA. Not coincidentally New Orleans was 6th in the league in offensive rating in the first 27 games and 16th in the last 10.
Keys to Victory
Cherish the Ball: In the losses to Boston (18) and Charlotte (14), the Pels did not take care of the basketball. In the win over Memphis (10), they did. I don't believe Monty Williams is drawing up transition plays that are supposed to result in Jrue Holiday or Ryan Anderson throwing the ball into the stands. In the Boston game especially, the number of unforced errors or impossible pass attempts was egregious. Every player on the floor is an NBA player, you can't win by giving the ball away.
Make Shots: Ryan Anderson shot 4-16 combined in losses to Charlotte and Boston. Ryno was 3-8 on uncontested shots according to NBA Stats. Anthony Davis posted a slightly better 7-18 on open looks; still well below his lofty standards. 38% on open shots from a position of strength (PF) is not going to cut it against Detroit. I have no idea what to do with players missing shots they make at home, in practice, and at shootaround. If the Pels want to win, they have to put the ball through the basket when a defender isn't present.
Eat Glass: Stan Van Gundy has gone to playing just one of his big men at a time most of the game, although both Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond will likely start. Despite the lack of size, the Pistons maul opponents on the glass at both ends. It has to be a total effort to secure each and every defensive rebound. This is going to be especially key when the Pelicans play Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis together.
What: Pelicans at Pistons
Where: The Palace of Auburn Hills
When: January 14th, 6:30 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, League Pass