Pistons need to patch holes in defense

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

It was an exhibition, so the score didn’t matter.

What did matter after Thursday’s 101-94 loss to the Nets was the biggest area of concern for the Pistons: defense.

Some of the numbers, however, were ugly: 24 turnovers, 23 percent on 3-pointers, and 21 points in 17 minutes for Nets point guard Jeremy Lin.

More than the numbers, though, the Pistons didn’t pass the eye test in their 2016-17 debut.

Here are some observations:

■ After announcing Reggie Jackson “is going to be out for a while” because of left knee tendinitis, coach Stan Van Gundy tabbed Ish Smith as the temporary starter. Smith struggled to find a rhythm with the starting group, finishing with four points and three assists in 27 minutes. He shot 2-for-7 and had three turnovers and four fouls. He gets a temporary pass as he establishes chemistry with the starters, but he’ll have to be have better offensive production.

■ Van Gundy has been harping about defense all offseason, but it’s got to be frustrating to see the likes of Lin (7-for-11), Justin Hamilton (3-for-5) and Jorge Gutierrez (3-for-4) get good shots, seemingly without much of a challenge. Communication is a critical concept, and the Pistons still are working on improving. The good news is there are still a couple weeks left before the regular season begins.

■ Drummond had 17 points and 21 rebounds, and started 5-for-7 — the misses came on missed tips. His first half resembled his start to last season, when he was regularly putting up 20 points and 20 rebounds. When he’s in rhythm, he’s one of the top three or four centers in the NBA, especially on offense. The second half wasn’t as good, as he rushed his shots and was farther from the rim on his attempts.

■ Marcus Morris (17 points) and Tobias Harris (15 points) picked up where they left off last season, as potent frontcourt scorers who could baffle defenders with their range and versatility. They combined to go 5-for-8 on 3-pointers and 12-for-21 overall. They could be one of the best forward combinations in the league, but the telltale sign will be their defense against power forwards.

■ Van Gundy cautioned against reading anything into whether Ray McCallum or Lorenzo Brown got the nod as the backup behind Smith. It happened to be McCallum, who finished with five points, four rebounds, four assists and two turnovers in 21 minutes. It was a good debut, but he left Lin open a couple times and got back late to contest 3-pointers.

■ Jon Leuer was one of the biggest surprises, chipping in 12 points (6-for-10). He looked comfortable from the perimeter, though he missed his only two 3-pointers. His other jumpers were in rhythm and he added a nice baseline drive for a dunk. The fact he’s not a one-trick pony will turn out to be a benefit. The only question may be his perimeter defense against other perimeter bigs (Anthony Davis and Kevin Love).

■ Van Gundy only planned to use 10 players but went 12 deep, getting solid contributions from Boban Marjanovic (five points in eight minutes) and rookie Henry Ellenson (two points in six minutes). The bench additions brought quality depth — and Darrun Hilliard, Lorenzo Brown and rookie Michael Gbinije didn’t get any playing time.

■ It’s too early to glean anything about Drummond’s free throws after he went 1-for-3. The talk has been he’s using virtual reality to watch himself making free throws, using the proper form. From the looks of it, he hasn’t changed much mechanically — his first attempt went to the right and barely grazed the rim.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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