Is Avery Bradley the Offensive Boon the Detroit Pistons Need to Make the Playoffs?
It’s important to remember the Detroit Pistons were bad last season.
It’s important to remember the Pistons were one of the worst offenses in the league last year.
It’s important to remember the team can’t shoot.
Avery Bradley is not a superstar, but he should be able to flip each and every one of these negatives on its head next season—so much so that the Pistons will be a force in the Eastern Conference.
Bradley was officially traded to Motor City back in mid-July for Marcus Morris and a 2019 second-round pick. The move sealed the end of the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope era and opened the door for the 2-guard to start anew after seven seasons with the Boston Celtics.
Getting into the warts and question marks peppered throughout the Pistons’ long-term arc is completely fair, and a necessary exercise at some point. But right here, right now, this is about the 2017-18 season and how Bradley’s contributions can catapult the Pistons into respectability, ensuring they avoid the same 37-45 fate from last year.
Since the day head coach Stan Van Gundy got the job with Detroit in 2014, his offensive constructs have been compared to his years helming the Orlando Magic, when he used a heavy dose of pick-and-roll action for Dwight Howard. The shooting inside his four-out lineups back then, in some ways, reflected the changing of the guard. His current version of Howard, in Andre Drummond, doesn’t pull off the role quite as well. He focuses more on destroying the glass and posting up rather than being a dominant pick-and-roll threat. Drummond’s total rebounding percentage last year once again led the league (25.2), but his efficiency dropped just a tick on his rolls to the rim, from 62.3 percent shooting in 2015-16, to 58 percent during 2016-17.
At least part of that dip can be attributed to the change in his partner. After suffering through knee soreness in training camp, Reggie Jackson turned to a platelet-rich injection to heal his tendinitis. It took him 21 games to get back on the court, and when he did, he played like a shell of himself. The 27-year-old lacked the quick first step that had made him an electric jitterbug—someone who would dance through the lane for easy layups. The lack of explosion hampered his effectiveness at the rim; he shot only 50.3 percent on those attempts versus 58.2 a year ago. It became clear he didn’t have confidence in his legs. After taking 29.4 percent of his looks at the iron in 2015-16, just 23.4 percent of his scoring opportunities came around the basket last season.
Jackson’s struggles epitomized a constant problem for the Pistons: They took the wrong shots. Settling for two-point looks without any elite mid-range marksmen is a quick way to suffocate an offense. Failing to reach the free-throw line and shooting poorly from three only furthered the circling of the drain, as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann showed:
Working on playoff previews, but Pistons' drop in good-shot % is rather staggering. pic.twitter.com/op1WKbT8zX
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 13, 2017
Counting on Jackson to regain 2015-16 form is both an interesting storyline and a terrifying reality for the Pistons. His improvement alone gives them a chance to field an average offense.
Bradley’s addition, next to a healthy Jackson, can take it to the next level.
It’ll have to start with him improving the lives of his teammates. The Pistons scored 104 points per 100 possessions during the time Jackson spent on the court last year, compared to the 108.9 offensive rating when he played during the 2015-16 season. That stark divide is the difference between being a decent offense and a terrible one.
“It been pretty true all year for us,” Van Gundy said in March, per Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. “When we’ve shot the ball even decently from [three-point range], then we’ve been really hard to beat. I just think that’s the way the league’s going. When you can stand in the paint on people…it’s hard right now, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s hard if you’re not a three-point shooting team.”
You’re not wrong, Stan! The team went 18-6 when it shot 37 percent or better on three-pointers. Getting more games in which it can knock down treys at an above-average rate will go a long way toward putting the Pistons back in the playoff picture.
With a lack of creators on the roster, they have to rely heavily on catch-and-shoot opportunities. They ranked 27th with a 34.9 percentage on those looks, which is a far cry from the 36.9 percent from the year before. They ranked 11th in attempts on those looks in that 2015-16 season—something the team should strive for after dropping all the way to 26th this year.
Bradley steps in and immediately helps out in this regard. He took five three-pointers per game last season and hit them at a 39 percent clip, which only 12 other guards were able to do. His range not only gives the Pistons a legitimate outside weapon, but a player who commands attention when taking that shot.
Caldwell-Pope is only 24, which in itself is a reason to believe he will continue improving. But Bradley is the better fit and player right now. He excels in spots where Caldwell-Pope dragged and provides a skill they desperately need going forward: spot-up shooting:
With the Pistons eyeing an improvement in this category, it was essential they get a player like Bradley. He shot 44.4 percent on his spot-up attempts, which placed him in the 86th percentile of catch-and-shoot efficiency. Caldwell-Pope, meanwhile, struggled on this shot, hitting only 35.4 percent of his takes (45th percentile).
Identifying KCP as the problem isn’t really fair,. He was third on the team in three-point percentage, still jacked up a fair amount of attempts and canned more than 40 percent of his three-balls before suffering a shoulder injury in January. But what Bradley provides as a cutter and shooter are invaluable to a team that is trying to space out the floor and become more efficient from deep.
Addressing this is very clearly a point of emphasis for the Pistons. Signing Langston Galloway on July 1st raised some eyebrows, but it follows the same direction. He hit 42.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities last season with the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. The Pistons drafted Luke Kennard with their 12th pick after he nailed 43.8 percent of his treys with Duke. They turned the bi-annual exception into Anthony Tolliver, a stretch big who hit 39.7 percent of his spot-up attempts in 2016-17.
Maybes exist with all teams—well, except for a certain reigning NBA champion. But a lot of what the Pistons hope to play for rests on them improving their efficiency. This infusion of players with better shooting profiles who take smarter shots should help make a dent in their goal to get away from being a bottom five offense.
Bradley playing elite defense on the opposing team’s best guard won’t solve everything on the perimeter, but it at least affords Jackson the luxury of covering the least taxing option. That should give him more energy to slash into the lane and kick out to shooters on the outside.
No, Bradley is not, and cannot be, the end-all, be-all for Detroit. He’s more of a marker for what the team wants to become next year as it tries to move forward as a high-functioning, contemporary offense. The Pistons know the first step is to get guys who take those shots.
Now it’s time for them to hit some.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @Trende19.