Without the starting point guard, things aren’t going to look the same. Without one of the most versatile players, the offense is going to suffer a bit.
The Pistons still are struggling without Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin in the preseason — and it showed in their 117-93 loss at the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at AT&T Center.
To be clear, the Pistons are being cautious with both Jackson and Griffin, looking to ensure that they’re ready for the start of the regular season rather than risking their health in preseason play.
Rookie Bruce Brown started for Jackson and Henry Ellenson started again for Griffin. The Pistons also were without Zaza Pachulia (personal reasons).
Andre Drummond had 18 points and 10 rebounds, Ellenson added 11 points and six rebounds, and Stanley Johnson scored 11 for the Pistons, who are 1-1 in preseason play.
The Pistons had a 20-19 lead in the first quarter after a three-point play by Ellenson and a 3-pointer by Luke Kennard with 3:52 left.
The Spurs scored the next 14 points to build a double-digit lead and didn’t trail the rest of the way, holding a 61-49 margin at halftime and 86-68 after three quarters.
Here are some observations from the second preseason matchup:
1. Can't tell yet: There aren’t any sweeping pronouncements to make about the Pistons’ offense after the first two games. Coach Dwane Casey’s philosophy of taking open 3-pointers or shots in the paint seems to be reaching the players, but they’re still taking some mid-range jumpers outside the preferred areas. Nonetheless, it’s preseason — and it looked that way throughout Friday’s game.
It would be silly to try to gauge the Pistons based on games without their starting point guard and one of their leading scorers, so I won’t. What can be judged is the philosophy, which will be better with a regular rotation and a full complement of players. It may take until the final preseason game — or even the regular-season opener — to get a clear sign of what the offense will look like.
2. Smith not starting: Casey is making it clear from the start of the preseason that his intention is to keep Smith with the reserve group and try out some different scenarios in Jackson’s place. This time, it was Brown’s turn and he finished with five points and three rebounds in 14 minutes. Known for his defense, Brown didn’t look smooth and collected in his court time, but there may have been some nerves there as well. In the opener, Jose Calderon started, so giving Brown his first start was a good opportunity.
Smith didn’t really get going with the second unit, either, but notched three points and six assists, and went 1-for-8 from the field, including just 1-of-5 on 3-pointers. He’s looked more aggressive in seeking his shot, but defenses aren’t going to respect it if he’s not going to hit at a higher percentage.
3. Zach attack: He’s only getting spot minutes, but rookie Zach Lofton is making an impression. He scored eight points Friday and opened some eyes in Summer League. He could make some noise with the Grand Rapids Drive throughout the season, but the Pistons already have their two-way players, in Reggie Hearn and Keenan Evans. That means Lofton can be signed by any team during the season, if they make a roster spot for him.
4. Still tinkering: Johnson had an impressive opener and followed up with more good play. He’s been focusing on adjusting his 3-point form and improving his shot selection. It’s been mixed results, but he’s retained his aggressiveness in driving to the rim, which has helped. With Griffin and Jackson out, Johnson probably is taking more shots than he will in the regular season, but the initial signs are okay with the way Johnson is hunting for his shot.
5. Not falling: The Pistons hit only 28 percent from 3-point range but were 21-for-28 on free throws. They’re still looking for their stroke on the perimeter and they’ll likely make strides when they have the full roster available, with a pair of good 3-point shooters in Griffin and Jackson. The spacing hasn’t created excellent looks from deep so far, but it should improve with more video to analyze.