The optimism that came with a new coach, some new players and the thought of a franchise forging a new identity after several years of on- and off-court strife is pretty much exhausted now. What is in its place with the Detroit Pistons is somewhere between the same malaise the fan base has have and the calm of knowing it’s still early yet.
But after another loss, a 96-89 defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks at the Palace of Auburn Hills Friday night, the Pistons are 4-8. The season is 15 percent done and what looked to be a supremely big and athletic team is having trouble making even the most rudimentary stops.
Detroit isn’t getting burned by exotic offensive schemes, because teams don’t have to resort to anything exotic. The Pistons are getting torched on the pick and roll, a play the Hawks used to great efficiency and effect in their wins Wednesday in Atlanta and Friday in Auburn Hills.
Despite having a rim protector in Andre Drummond, the Pistons are giving up 65.4 percent of the shots opponents are taking from inside of five feet—the third-worst mark in the league, better than only the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards.
They’re in the middle of the pack when it comes to defending the 3-point line. Detroit’s opponents are hitting 36.7 percent of their 3s, ranked just 17th-best in the NBA. Overall, the Pistons are the worst field-goal percentage defense in basketball at 48.1 percent.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way with a pair of big, athletic players in Drummond and Josh Smith up front.
But even though Drummond is swatting his share of shots—1.5 a game—his defensive rating is a sub-par 106.2. Smith D-rating is 104.2 (defensive rating measures the points a player surrenders per 100 possessions).
Power forward Greg Monroe, not renowned for his athletic gifts, has a D-rating of 107.1
And now it appears that some of the drama between the coaching staff and the players, a show many hoped would be gone.
Smith was benched for much of the second half of a loss to the Golden State Warriors last week and on Friday night, he was held out of the starting lineup after missing a Thursday morning practice.
Smith stayed behind in Atlanta after the Pistons played there Wednesday night. Detroit had also played on Tuesday and NBA teams rarely practice the day after a back-to-back, particularly not one with travel.
But on the flight back from Atlanta on the back end of the back-to-backs, coach Maurice Cheeks informed the team there would be a practice Thursday morning—problem being, Smith wasn’t on the flight.
Smith’s first two games against his former team, the Hawks, were forgettable—5-for-22 shooting, 13 rebounds, five blocks, 11 points.
Smith wasn’t available to the press after Friday’s loss, so it remains to be seen if the Friday benching was one of those things that happen from time-to-time or if there is already strain between player and coach.
In any event, the new era for the Pistons is looking suspiciously like the old era, a disappointment to be sure.