Gameday: Pistons @ Raptors, March 12

A quick rebound before another pair of tough tests.

The 35-27 Toronto Raptors return home on Wednesday to host the 24-39 Detroit Pistons at 7 p.m. on TSN2. It’s the first of three at the ACC before the team heads back on the road next week for another back-to-back situation, so it’s a chance to settle in before another tough set. It won’t be easy, of course, with Memphis and Phoenix on the way, but it starts with an eminently winnable game.

The Pistons suck. That’s about the easiest way to put it. To be more verbose, they’re horribly constructed, undisciplined and terrible to watch, though they at least have two of the league’s more likeable players in Andre Drummond and Josh “Jorts” Harrellson.

They can rebound and stuff a stat sheet as individuals, but the pieces fit poorly. You can break down each individual matchup and talk your way to a wash or disadvantage at each spot except the two-guard, but really you’d be ignoring the larger picture: this team is bad, full stop.

Back on Jan. 8, the Raptors hammered the Pistons in Toronto to the tune of 112-91, holding the visitors to 39.5 percent shooting and just four triples. It helped that Detroit vomited whenever it got to the line (19-of-35), but even a perfect night at the stripe would have saw the Raptors win. Perhaps most impressively, the Raptors utilized gang rebounding to steal the advantage on the boards, with six players grabbing at least five rebounds. That’s the way to do it, especially in Detroit’s end, where they’re susceptible to second chance opportunities. Plus, y’kno, Toronto is just a far better team right now.

Anyway, we can’t just say “Raptors good, Pistons bad,” as much as I’d like to.

To help me break things down, I enlisted the help of Tim Thielke of Piston Powered, who believe it or not survives without a twitter account. He does, however, have email, and was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

1) I recently suggested that Andre Drummond may be the league’s best rebounder. With Drummond and strong rebounders in Monroe and Smith (both top-30 in rebounds per game), Detroit is the league’s 8th-best rebounding team and second in second-chance points, yet they don’t do well on their own glass. Is the disparity between offensive and defensive rebounding a personnel issue or part of a designed system?

Detroit is the best offensive rebounding team in the league and it isn’t close. 2nd place Portland’s offensive rebounding rate is closer to 15th place Milwaukee than to 1st place Detroit. But somehow they’re just 20th on defensive rebounding. You don’t get that huge of a disparity without multiple factors. But the biggest one is Drummond.

Drummond’s just not very good at boxing people out. He specializes in going around opponents at the last moment for prime positioning and jumping twice in the time that they do once–a skill set better suited to grabbing your own teammates’ misses than the other team’s. And yet, he’s the league’s best rebounder. If he learns how to box out, there is Rodman-esque potential there.

2) Is Drummond the most fun player in the league and, if not, where does he rank?

Drummond is easily the most fun Piston, but probably not the most fun player in the league. The majority of really exhilarating plays involve ball handling. Drummond is actually shockingly good at that for a young big man, but he rarely touches the ball because he doesn’t want to get sent to the stripe. If you prefer Noah, Love, or Davis, I’ll understand, but I’ll rank Drummond as the most fun big man.

3) In games where Brandon Jennings has recorded 10 assists or more, he’s shot just 33.8 percent. Which is preferable for a defense, having Jennings get hot shooting or hot as a facilitator, and what can they do to encourage one or the other?

Jennings’ play helps the Pistons to win most when he is shooting well from long range. When he piles up assists, it’s mostly symptomatic of the Detroit bigs shooting quickly instead of having to work for a shot. When he shoots a relatively good percentage, it’s usually symptomatic of fast break forays into the paint. Scoring in the paint is Detroit’s strength regardless of which players are getting the stats. They need spacing.

The Pistons are 14-11 when Jennings hits over 35% from downtown compared to 9-27 when he shoots below 35% from deep. A smart defense will guard against his shot even if it means giving up the penetration. With all the big men in the paint, he’s got nowhere to go anyway and Jennings doesn’t have Bynum’s gift for throwing lobs to Drummond.

4) What’s the Jorts experience been like?

Early on, Harrellson was a major surprise contributor, mostly because he defended reasonably well and he actually spaced the floor. Apart from Tony Mitchell’s 1-1, Harrellson still leads the Pistons in three point percentage for the year. He is certainly not as talented as Smith, Monroe, or Drummond. But the Pistons played better with him just because he was so much more compatible.

5) Do you consider the Pistons “out of it” at this point? If so, will there style of play change, experimentally, down the stretch? If not, should we expect a “different” Pistons team in any way as they have their backs to the wall?

The Pistons have had their backs to the wall for quite some time. If there was a do-or-die moment for them, it was their back-to-back against Charlotte in mid-February. They lost both and are now extreme long shots to make the postseason.

I would not be surprised to see them finish ahead of any of Cleveland, New York, or Atlanta (the other teams in position to vie for the 8th seed in the East). But I don’t expect the Pistons to beat out all three. Whichever team does get that last playoff spot won’t deserve it. This year, someone could very well make it with under 35 wins. Meanwhile, the 9th seed out West has a better record than the 3rd seed in the East.

Vegas says: Raptors by 9.5 with the action split evenly; 60 percent coming in on the over at 207, which seems a bit high given that this one could be played at a slower pace.
Hollinger says: Raptors by 10.5
Kid Rock says: They say I’m cocky, and I say ‘what?’ It ain’t bragging, good friend, if you back it up

Blake says: This one has to be a win, right? The Pistons are a mess, rumors have swirled that Josh Smith could be on an incredibly short leash due to his laughable shot selection, and even a strong post presence and the potential for strong point guard play can hardly inspire fear. Coming off a narrow loss and with two tough games on the horizon, this could be a trap game but I’ll side with optimism and suggest the team sees this as a necessary win following the Brooklyn loss.

Raptors by 15. Sorry ‘Dre and Roscoe.

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