Auburn Hills — It’s a simple proposition in basketball: Find open shots, take them and make them. In the first eight games, it hasn’t been quite that simple for the Pistons.
They’ve gotten the open shots, but making them has proven to be much harder than just hoisting them up. Blake Griffin is their only regular player who is shooting at least 50 percent from the field and one of only two regulars who is hitting above 35 percent on 3-pointers.
The old adage is that it’s a make-or-miss league — and the Pistons are landing on the wrong side of that saying.
Making shots is the easy answer to many of the Pistons’ woes, as they’re in the midst of a four-game losing streak.
“That’s simplistic and everybody wants this big formula," coach Dwane Casey said Sunday, “but that’s what it comes down to.”
The Pistons have struggled in the starts of games and their offense has been in a slumber through the first eight games. It doesn’t help that two of their best 3-point shooters, Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) and Luke Kennard (sprained shoulder) are injured, but it’s also imperative that some of the other shooters start making their shots.
They rank 27th in the league at 43 percent on field goals and 28th in 3-point percentage (31 percent). So far, the Pistons are getting to the free-throw line more, ranking eighth at 28.5 attempts.
The answer, simply put, is making their shots.
“We just have to trust it; we have guys capable of hitting shots and we haven’t had a game where we’ve all shot the ball well or really even decently yet,” Griffin said.
The Monday Drive takes a look at the Pistons’ struggles through their four-game losing streak and the week ahead, with four games, all against Eastern Conference teams with records at .500 or below.
1. Mix it up
The shooting struggles continue, but the remedy may not be staying the course; instead, the Pistons will need to look at which shots they’re taking. Sure the 3-pointer is becoming a larger piece of their offensive structure, but without Kennard and Bullock, they’re not going to be as effective. Seeing Ish Smith shooting 41 percent from 3-point range doesn’t seem sustainable, nor is Griffin’s 46 percent. They have to vary the offense more and create other actions for other players, such as some additional pick-and-roll plays with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. It’s worked in the past and they’re running too few of those plays. The benefit: It keeps both Jackson and Drummond in a rhythm and engaged in the game.
2. Returning to form
Jon Leuer had his most significant playing time Saturday since missing 74 games last season because of several injuries. He’s another option in the frontcourt and had a good return against the Sixers on Saturday, with six points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes. His 3-point stroke could return as well and he provides a different option than Zaza Pachulia, who has been productive in his minutes as backup center. It doesn’t mean supplanting the big man, but it’s another option.
3. Advantage, Embiid
The back-and-forth between Sixers big man Joel Embiid and Drummond is becoming very one-sided. Embiid has dominated on the court and also in social media — and there’s not much that Drummond can say about it. It’s clear that Embiid is the better player. That doesn’t automatically mean that Drummond is a terrible player; rather, it means that Embiid is a bad matchup for him. There are plenty of mismatches around the league, but this seems to be one that Embiid relishes and has had an advantage, but Drummond has to figure out a better way to defend Embiid without getting into foul trouble with touchy calls.
4. Grand Rapids grind
Henry Ellenson and Khyri Thomas had encouraging performances in their two games with the Grand Rapids Drive in the development league over the weekend. Casey said that doesn’t directly correlate to more minutes with the Pistons, though. It’s more an effort to keep them in playing shape and ready to go in case they’re needed. Ellenson had 29 points and 15 rebounds, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise, considering his past stints with the Drive. He has to work toward more consistent minutes and steadier defense when he does see playing time with the Pistons. Bruce Brown has moved ahead of Thomas in the rotation, but that’s not to say that Thomas won’t see some time, especially if Kennard’s absence stretches for a few more weeks.
5. A chance to rebound
The Pistons have a home matchup Monday against the Heat (3-5), road games at the Magic (2-6) and Hawks (3-6) on Wednesday and Friday, respectively, and host the Hornets (5-5) on Sunday afternoon. It’s a chance for them to regroup and get back above .500 against similar competition. The Pistons are just 1-3 on the road, so a win or two this week could get them back on the right track.
Pistons vs. Heat
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: After a hot start, the Pistons (4-4) have lost four straight; Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) is questionable. The Heat (3-5) have lost three straight, including Saturday at Atlanta.