Why have the Pistons fallen so far off?

The Pistons have fallen off hard since Reggie Jackson's injury. What exactly went wrong?

The Pistons are officially in free-fall. They will need to pick things up if they are going to save the season (and that's even if Reggie Jackson comes storming back as good as ever in a few weeks). As such, the question stands: What happened? The obvious answer is that Reggie Jackson got hurt, but the goal here is to determine what exactly Jackson's injury did to cause the Pistons to begin spinning out of control.

Everything offense

Yeah. We are going to narrow this down in just a bit, but a "TL;DR" here would be that the offense has totally fallen apart. Over the 13 games that Jackson has missed, the Pistons have an offensive efficiency rating of 101.3 points scored per 100 possessions. That places them at 26th in the NBA over this stretch; if it was over the course of the entire season, it would be second to last, only ahead of the lowly Sacramento Kings. The Pistons' offense has totally fallen apart, and that is the reason they have suddenly begun to lose.

Defensively the Pistons have been just fine. Actually, they've improved slightly. The Pistons have the 7th best defensive efficiency in the NBA this season, allowing 104.4 points per 100 possessions; over the last 13 games, they are at 104.1 per 100 possessions. Once again, a small improvement, but still an improvement. The defense has not been the problem, so we are not going to talk about that at all really. Instead, let's go deeper into the offense.

Tobias Harris has officially begun to regress

Yep, it was likely going to happen at some point, even with Jackson around. But losing Jackson appears to have done serious damage to Tobias Harris' long ball. In the 13 games since Jackson sprained his ankle, Harris is shooting just 27.9% from deep, and despite this drop-off, he is still at 41% from deep for the season. I would not blame all of that on Jackson's injury -- Tobias was likely to regress with his long-ball at some point -- but Jackson's injury makes Harris's regression a lot more painful. The ball is in Harris's hands a lot more, meaning fewer open looks are being generated for him, which has killed his three-point shooting. Additionally, his true shooting percentage has dropped to 52.4% over this stretch, which is way below his normal marks. He currently sits at 56.6% on the season, but that still is a very poor mark. Maybe his long ball problems have a lot to do with it, but he just isn't getting buckets like they need him to.

Avery Bradley leads rotation players in usage rate at 24.7%

Oh wait, maybe this isn't a Reggie Jackson thing. Bradley's usage rate hasn't even gone up by a full percentage point since Jackson went down. It may not be completely fair to use usage, but given that Bradley has played terribly since Jackson went down, it is still worth mentioning. Over this stretch, Avery Bradley has shot just 37.3% from the floor and 33.3% from deep. Yes, that is right. The Pistons most used player -- Bradley is only a tenth of a percentage point ahead of Tobias Harris in this regard -- has a true shooting percentage of 43.2% in these 13 games. Throw in the facts that he doesn't get a lot of assists, and he turns the ball over almost as frequently as he dishes out an assist, and has been a bonafide train wreck offensively since returning from his own injury.

I still believe in Avery Bradley -- on the season, his numbers as a spot up guy are still very good. The problem seems pretty clear: he simply is not capable of having the ball in his hands as much as he has this season. I can understand that the Pistons are short on options with Jackson out, and they could live with some Bradley's deficiencies (just as you do with Tobias) if he managed to get some tough buckets, but this is too much. The ball must be taken out of Avery Bradley's hands. Even though the Pistons have few better options, they certainly can't have many worse ones.

The Pistons are not generating enough three-pointers

The Pistons are shooting 26.3 long guns per game since Jackson's injury, down by about 4 per game from before. Combine that with the fact that their percentage has dropped (they still rank 10th at 36.8% in this stretch, so that isn't a huge deal), and the Pistons are hitting just over one fewer three per game. Want to know how many points per 100 possessions the Pistons dropped since Jackson got injured? A little over three. Obviously, the Pistons play at a pace that does not quite get them to 100 possessions per game, so there are other things involved. But their three-point drop-off is the biggest factor. That is how small the margin of error is in the NBA. Over the course of the entire game, the Pistons are hitting about one fewer three per game, and in the NBA, that could be the difference between a stable, if not great, offense and an absolute bottom dweller.

You may be asking, "But what if they keep playing Kennard more? I've heard that his advanced number have been really good!"

Yeah, don't count on that. Kennard is really good for a rookie; I've been seriously impressed with him. And this isn't even to say that Kennard should not be getting more minutes (because he probably should), or that the Pistons shouldn't be taking a long and hard look at trading Bradley to start Kennard. That said, Kennard's plus-minus success over this stretch is due to a great defensive rating. Since Jackson's injury, Kennard has an offensive efficiency 99.2 points per 100 possessions and a defensive efficiency of 98 points per 100 possessions. The only other guys to produce net positives during this time? Dwight Buycks, Stanley Johnson, and Eric Moreland. All three of them have the same story for their scores: great defense. Luke is better defensively than anyone anticipated he would be this early, but he is certainly not anchoring the defense. The good news is that over the course of the whole season his offensive efficiency is much better, which paints a better picture for him. That said, a lot of his statistical success comes from the fact that the Pistons' defense has been great with him on the floor, and that isn't really because of him.

Once again, there is certainly something to those numbers. Kennard is behind only Langston Galloway in net rating (among regular rotation guys) on the season, and no other regulars are even close. In fact, Anthony Tolliver is the only other one who even has a net positive rating. But I wouldn't get too excited yet; there is a lot of very loud noise around those numbers. 

Is there any good news?

Yeah, there is some. Unlike last year, where Reggie Jackson's injury took a huge toll on Andre Drummond's game, Drummond has thrived since Jackson's injury this season. Drummond is putting up a line of 16.3 points, 16.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists (against just 2.5 turnovers), 2.1 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game in 35.2 minutes, with great shooting efficiency. Drummond continues to be one of the biggest bright spots this season. He is not fully where the Pistons need him to be, but he is a legit franchise player, which gives this season's woes at least a slightly more optimistic feeling than last year.

We must remember that a lot of teams go through stretches where nothing works. For example, guess who is 2 spots behind the Pistons in offensive ineptitude over the last 13 games? The Boston Celtics. And the team that is two spots ahead of the Pistons? The Spurs. Three spots ahead? The Cavs. The Spurs and Celtics play such good defense that their records have not suffered as much as the Pistons. But if a couple of plays at the end of games go differently, then the Pistons outlook would not be quite so drab right now.

What do you think? Is there anything else that you see? What would you do to try to get back on track?

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