10 games into the season the Pistons best three players are showing some great trends. This is a look at those trends and what they mean for the team.
The Pistons are 10 games into the season, which is still early but it is far enough in to identify trends that may or may not continue. All three of the Pistons big three are trending the right way in big ways that are central to the Pistons success so far and for continued success.
Andre Drummond's 75% From the Line
This is bizarre. If you are watching basketball for the first time it would be unimaginable that this guy is literally the worst free throw shooter in history. Everything about this says that it is something that is sustainable, he looks like a fully capable free throw shooter, the only thing that makes it unbelievable is that it is crazy to think that someone could improve that drastically in anything.
If it keeps up though, it is borderline revolutionary for Andre and the Pistons as a team. A lot of people immediately focus on how this means that opposing teams cannot foul Andre to take him out of games at the end, but although that is nice it isn't the biggest improvement.
The most basic improvement is that from a simple numbers perspective, there will no longer be several possessions per game lit on fire by the Pistons per game. Drummond's true shooting percentage has already made a huge jump from last year, 59% this year compared to just 51.8% last year, and it is largely based on his free throw improvements.
The biggest improvement beyond the basic numbers is that Andre can start to play offense around the hoop with a ton more confidence, the game against the Bucks was a perfect example of it. Andre had become so terrified of shooting free throws that he was terrified of getting fouled which resulted in him doing things that no guy his size should really be doing in the paint. He took those awful, fading, hooks in the post, he took floaters in the paint, and generally tried to avoid contact and/or playing too physical in an effort to keep from shooting free throws. Simply put, when you have a guy who is as big and strong as Andre, it is hugely detrimental to his game when he is afraid to use his strength.
Against the Bucks, he was going up strong and even welcomed contact at the hoop while he went through defenders instead of around them. When he does that he suddenly is trading floaters, tough layups, and hooks, for dunks which force opponents the choice between allowing an open dunk or sending him to the line. It will not happen overnight, it takes time to get rid of bad habits, but as the season goes on and he continues to gain confidence in himself at the line he will welcome more and more contact which means going right to the hoop more which makes him much more difficult to guard.
Tobias Harris as a legitimate three-point threat
Tobias Harris is not going to keep up his current pace of 45.6% from deep on the season on 6.1 attempts, but there is definitely something there that wasn't there before from Tobias. Harris, a career 33.9% three-point shooter, has always been a guy who can shoot some threes, but not really a three-point shooter. This is particularly problematic with the current Pistons team, where drawing power forwards out of the paint is integral in opening up the paint for Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond to get the juiciest actions out of the pick and roll. Tobias is still a very good player, but there was a bit of a fit issue between him and the Pistons other two best players. Tobias has never been the sort to make his teammates better, and he isn't a good enough ball handler or passer to be as high volume a ball handler as Reggie Jackson. In essence, it meant that on plays that didn't focus on Tobias getting looks in the midrange or into the paint, it was probably better to just have a guy like Anthony Tolliver out there because he spaced the floor better.
So far this season though, it seems apparent that there was a real emphasis on making Harris a full-on threat from deep. He is shooting career-high attempts by a huge margin and he is taking tons more pull-up shots and shots with guys in his grill.
He will regress, but if he can shoot in the upper thirties while keeping up this sort of volume and difficulty he suddenly eliminates the biggest problem he had as a player, instead of being a skilled player who is a tough fit with his teammates, he is a great fit who can do all of the efficient scoring inside the arc that he has his whole career, but even when the offense isn't running specifically to get him looks he is spacing the floor and canning threes created by others. Throw in Stanley Johnson shooting very well from deep since his 0-13 opener, and there is a chance that the Pistons finally have found the true "4 out" offense that made Stan Van Gundy famous in Orlando.
Reggie Jackson getting back into the paint, and facilitating
The first part of this is the important one. Have a quick gander at his shot chart so far this year. And then last year.
The difference in shot distribution is pretty stark. Last year Jackson was hurt, and it was fairly plain to see in his game. He took the lowest amount of shots at the rim and in the paint as he ever had before in his career while taking tons of mid-range shots from all over the court. He is still not getting all the way to the hoop very much, and still struggling to finish when he does, but he is back to getting into the paint consistently which is where he thrives even when he isn't effective all the way at the rim.
Jackson boasts a killer array of floaters and runner that he can leverage his size to get off from all sorts of goofy angles in the paint, per synergy he is in the 95th percentile of the entire NBA with his effective runner.
He can also use his size to view the entire floor from the paint while probing to create space for shooters and he is passing incredibly well. Hopefully, as he gets himself back into game shape and gets some more touch back he is able to get to the hoop more and finish when he gets there, but being in the paint so consistently is a good sign that he has regained much of his athleticism.
The second part of this is the passing. He currently boasts an assist to turnover ratio of just over 3 assists per turnover, well above his career average of just over 2. He has re-committed himself to taking care of the basketball and creating for teammates and it has worked in a huge way. He has eliminated a lot of his worst ball hogging tendencies by trading away a lot of tough mid-range jump shots for more time in the paint and more passes out of it.
For as tough a year last year was, right now it looks like it may have done good things for Jackson's game in the end. Losing his athleticism exposed the weaknesses in his game in a big way, and he was forced to take a hard look at himself to fix them. So far this year he looks like a totally different player, and a better player, than the one who the Pistons originally traded for.
What do you think? Can the Pistons big three keep it up? What do you think of their play?