Five surprising numbers for the Pistons in 2016

Nothing about the 2016 portion of the Detroit Pistons’ 2016-17 season has been predictable. That goes for the numbers, too.

The most surprising number for the Detroit Pistons this season is clearly the one in the loss column. Here are five more that have defined the first two months of the Pistons’ season.

98.0

I didn’t believe it when it appeared on Friday night’s broadcast against the Atlanta Hawks. But I looked it up, and it’s true: With a defensive rating of 98.0, the Pistons have the best fourth quarter defense in the NBA.

In fact, the Pistons are slightly better on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter. Here’s the breakdown, per NBA.com:

Offensive Rating

Entire Game — 102.2 (No. 21 in NBA)

Fourth Quarter — 105.0 (No. 18 in NBA)

Defensive Rating

Entire Game — 103. 2 (No. 7 in NBA)

Fourth Quarter — 98.0 (No. 1 in NBA)

What’s the deal with that? Well, it’s not just garbage time stat padding. Though many of Detroit’s backup and third-string lineups have decent plus-minus numbers, the Pistons have been much worse defensively in the fourth quarter the last ten games. Over that ugly 2-8 span, they’ve put up a defensive rating of 104.8 in the final period, No. 11 in the league.

No, I’d attribute it more to the team sleepwalking through first halves (105.5 defensive ranking, No. 19 in the NBA; 49.5 points, No. 26 in the NBA) and waking up some time around the end of the third quarter. Detroit’s most recent loss to Atlanta is a great example. Though the numbers were pretty bad all around, the fourth quarter is the only quarter the Pistons won, 36-31. You get the sense that if the game had been five minutes longer (or if Detroit had started their run five minutes earlier), the final result might have been different.

How much yelling does Stan Van Gundy have to do to get his guys playing with energy and focus on the defensive end? About 36 minutes worth.

10

Maybe some people had high expectations for Jon Leuer. I, however, was quietly mourning the loss of 3-point specialist Anthony Tolliver and questioning the redundancy of the Leuer signing with the drafting of Henry Ellenson.

But Leuer has been outstanding. So outstanding, in fact, that the Pistons’ best 10 lineups (in net points, with at least 25 possessions) featured him as a key cog.

He’s played himself into Detroit’s starting lineup, averaging a career high 11.4 points and 6.3 rebounds. Leuer has also been solid on the defensive end and a decent fit in a starting lineup filled with players who, unlike him, need to the ball to be effective.

45.5

I didn’t have high expectations for Andre Drummond’s free throw percentage this year. Anywhere around 50 percent, I thought, would make him much less of a liability. And after he shot a historically bad 35.5 percent in 2015-16, any improvement was welcome.

Through 34 games, Drummond looks more comfortable and consistent at the line. The airballs and wide right/wide left misses are, at least, fewer and farther between.

Is it a bit pathetic that I’m so happy to see our franchise cornerstone shoot 45.5 percent at the free throw stripe? Probably! But hey, look at it this way. In 2016-17, he’s shooting a better percentage than fellow centers Willie Cauley-Stein, Joakim Noah, Clint Capela, Kosta Koufos and Andrew Bogut. Hooray for marginal improvement!

19

In the past three games, point guards Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith have played 19 minutes together. In those 19 minutes, they’ve shot 40 percent from the floor and 26.7 percent from 3-point range. Their plus/minus: -2.

Jackson and Smith were a -5 in nine minutes vs. Atlanta on Friday, but a +4 in six minutes vs. Milwaukee on Wednesday. In that blowout loss, the lineup of Jackson / Smith / Harris / Leuer / Drummon led the team with a +6 rating.

True, Van Gundy hinted before the season that the two point guards could see playing time together. But it’s unnerving to watch for several reasons.

First, aesthetics. Like when Van Gundy played Drummond and Aron Baynes together at times last season, it just looks really weird to see these two dudes play together. Jackson is 6-foot-3, while Smith is listed at a generous 6 feet. Their playing styles are…at odds, to say the least. And that’s the second major concern. Jackson is most effective when he’s attacking the rim, and Smith isn’t scaring any opposing defenses with his 3-point range. So who’s handling the ball, and who’s spotting up?

Watching Jackson and Smith play together also highlights a flaw in this team’s roster construction. Stanley Johnson at shooting guard is a no-go, and Darrun Hilliard, who showed flashes of offensive competency earlier this season, isn’t an option either. That leaves Van Gundy with a depressing dearth of options to spell Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

38.5

Speaking of KC3, the fourth-year guard is shooting 38.5 percent from the 3-point line. That’s a huge improvement from last year, when he shot only 30.9 percent. Pistons fans have to be hoping that Caldwell-Pope’s numbers this year a) hold up for the entire season, and b) are more indicative of his potential than the 32.4 percent he shot from distance his first three years in the NBA.

KCP has been one of Detroit’s lone bright spots this season. His scoring numbers are about the same as last season, but he’s averaging more assists and shooting better from distance in three fewer minutes per game than 2015-16. He’s also been good, but not great, on defense as his offensive role has slightly expanded.

Pistons fans can only hope his career year carries over and becomes contagious in 2017.

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