Beard: Pistons’ offensive angst carries over to defense

Rod Beard
Marcus Morris

Auburn Hills — It’s a daunting three-word combination that generally signals something is wrong.

In many ways, it’s the sports equivalent of the four-word relationship shaker, “We need to talk.”

It’s a harbinger of some uneasiness and self-reflection — and sometimes more than that.

It’s the vaunted players-only meeting.

The Pistons had their own version of a team-only sit down after Saturday night’s 105-90 loss to the Indiana Pacers at The Palace. Coach Stan Van Gundy took an extended time before he addressed the media and reporters had to wait a few extra minutes outside the locker room as the players concluded their meeting.

“We put a lot of stuff on the table and everybody cleared their mind of what they needed to say,” forward Marcus Morris said. “It wasn’t a suggestion; Aron Baynes felt we needed to clear the air.”

With players-only meetings the full content of the conversation rarely comes out to the media, but the gist seemed to be around complaints about not getting enough touches on offense and the distribution of shots.

Van Gundy said the frustrations about shot distribution stretched to the defensive end, where some players are letting the woes from the other end of the court impact their overall play.

And that’s a problem.

“The offense has not been moving the way it should and the ball is not moving. I’ve got to look at play calls, and the whole thing,” Van Gundy said. “Part of it is we’ve got guys upset they’re not touching the ball, so they’re not as engaged in the game on the defensive end of the floor.

“There’s all kinds of things that have to go into the game and the ball has to move. There has to be an unselfish offense and a committed defense — and the last two nights, there have been neither.”

Some of the focus has to fall to Jackson. The point guard distributes the ball and determines the flow of the offense. It’s an eight-game sample size — about 10 percent of the season — for Jackson, who is averaging 14.3 points and 4.8 assists since missing the first 21 games because of knee tendinitis.

Jackson’s burst to the basket — an essential part of making the pick-and-roll truly effective — isn’t there yet and he’s yet to reestablish the chemistry he had with Andre Drummond last season. He’s not the problem, but he — along with Van Gundy — has to be part of the solution.

“I don’t call the plays. Plays are called, we run them and I attack in pick-and-roll situations,” Jackson said. “Where the play says the ball is going, that’s where I pass it.”

That sounds a lot like Jackson deflecting the criticism that he’s shooting too much. He was 6-of-15 from the field for 19 points Saturday and is averaging more than 13 field goals a game since his return. As the primary ball-handler in a heavy pick-and-roll offense, that’s to be expected, and it’s less than last season, when he posted a career-high 15.7 attempts.

But Van Gundy cautions against putting the blame squarely on Jackson. There were plenty of issues in the 21 games he was out. The offense started to hum in the final games with Ish Smith as the starting point guard.

Smith isn’t the volume shooter that Jackson is, but players have spoken glowingly about liking playing with Smith and his ability to distribute the ball.

“Sometimes it does get frustrating when guys don’t touch the ball. It’s just a natural fact,” Morris said. “Sometimes as a team, we get immature and if we don’t touch the ball, we don’t play as well defensively as we can.”

Decision time

Van Gundy hinted that he is considering making changes to the starting lineup, because the lack of offensive flow hasn’t been limited to the last eight games. That could entail moving power forward Jon Leuer — by far the Pistons’ best reserve this season, with 10.8 points and 6.4 rebounds — to the starting lineup to replace Tobias Harris or Morris.

It could mean calibrating the playing time between Jackson and Smith or some other combination.

But something needs to be done to shake things up — and it’s not all on Van Gundy or Jackson or any individual player. They’ll have to do it themselves, not just in a closed-door meeting, but on the court.

“Like I said at the end of the meeting — I did a lot of the talking — we have to make a decision,” Morris said. “Everybody go home tonight and decide what you want to do: Do we want to be a winning team or just continue to get embarrassed?

“Are you going to play for the next man beside or just play for yourself? If you want to play for yourself, this is what it’s going to be.”

They have 53 games to figure out the answer.

Pistons at Bulls

Tipoff: Monday, 8 p.m.,United Center, Chicago

TV / radio: FSD / WMGC

Notes: The Pistons have lost two straight and are 3-5 since Reggie Jackson's return. The Bulls (13-13) have dropped six of eight, including a 102-91 loss to the Pistons on Dec. 6.

Twitter @detnewsRodBeard