Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Weekly Preview: 12/21/14

* Things have slowed down enough now that I expect to have a chance to post more regularly, therefore this blog will now focus on the games as well as the big-picture future and the draft.  Nightly game previews are nearly impossible the way I'd like to do them, so a week's games will be covered in one fell swoop.  Normally, this will appear on Sundays.  Expect a weekly recap on Saturdays as well, when possible.

Record: 5-23 | Streak: Lost four | Off. Efficiency: 100.7 (28th)| Def. Efficiency: 107.9 (23rd)

Detroit will return from a four day holiday break on Friday night, fresh off of the release of Josh Smith.  They also enter a stretch where change is likely to be the only constant.  Stan Van Gundy has promised to make changes to the rotation and the offensive scheme.  Younger players, specifically Spencer Dinwiddie, can expect to see more minutes on the floor.  Other relatively inexperienced players, such as Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can expect to see a bigger role in the offense.  There's also the variable of who will eat the 32 minutes and 14 field goal attempts per game that had been going to Josh Smith.  The minutes will likely be balanced between Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, with Jerebko seeing the biggest increase.  Smith's role in the offense will likely be portioned out evenly between Monroe, Drummond and a bevy of wing players.  That should mean good things for a Pistons offense that has struggled to shoot the ball, behind Smith's ugly 41.7 TS%.

Click "Read More" for a preview of Detroit's games this week...

Friday, December 26, 7:30 p.m. | Indiana Pacers (9-19) @ Detroit Pistons | Fox Sports Detroit

The Pacers entered Tuesday night's home contest with New Orleans having lost 10 of their last 12.  Indiana has clearly missed the services of Paul George and George Hill, who had missed significant time with an injury.  Hill made his season debut in Tuesday night's match-up with New Orleans, coming back from a torn quad.  The league's second-worst offense will take all the help it can get, as the roster is devoid of any type of shot creator with Paul George out for the year.  The Pacers are the league's third-worst shooting team in the league inside the arc and sixth-worst beyond it.  Making matters worse, Indy doesn't get to the free throw line, ranking 26th in the NBA in Free Throw Rate (FTr).

On the other end of the floor, the Pacers are much more proficient, ranking 8th in the league in Defensive Efficiency.  The Pacers are in the top-10 in the league at defending shots inside and outside the three-point line.  Indiana's three-point defense is no fluke, as the Pacers are also a top-10 outfit at limiting opponent looks from beyond the arc.  Where the defense really shines, is finishing out possessions, as evidenced by their stellar Def. Rebounding Rate (78.5 DReb%), which ranks 2nd in the NBA.  The Pistons are a top-10 offensive rebounding team, so the glass could be where the game is won for either team.

There are two areas where the Pacers struggle on defense: defending without fouling and forcing turnovers.  Indiana is in the middle-of-the-pack with a .207 FTr, although the Pistons, who don't generally make a habit of getting to the line, may not be suited to take advantage of this weakness.  The Pacers' inability to create turnovers, however, is something that the Pistons can take advantage of.  Detroit has done a good job taking care of the ball this season, ranking 8th in the NBA in Turnover Percentage.  Smart, reliable play from Augustin, Jennings, and possibly Dinwiddie, will need to set the pace for the Piston offense.  Unforced errors are free gifts to a team that struggles to produce forced errors.

Personnel-wise, the Pacers are a shell of what they have been in recent years.  With Lance Stephenson taking his heady shot creation to Charlotte and Paul George on the bench, the Pacers perimeter options are Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles until George Hill is back to full speed.  In ten games played, A.J. Price is the Pacers' third-highest usage player behind Stuckey and Miles.  This should be one of the few teams in the league that offers the Pistons an advantage on the perimeter.  The key to not relinquishing that advantage will be the shooting of Brandon Jennings and D.J. Augustin.  Jennings has struggled after injuring his thumb, and Augustin has not been the shooter he was in prior years.  If those two come out cold, the perimeter match-up could easily become a wash.

In the frontcourt, little has changed for the Pacers from recent years, at least from a names standpoint.  David West and Roy Hibbert still man the starting PF and C spots, but their production simply isn't enough to carry the Pacers with such little help from the wings.  David West, now 34 years old, has seen his efficiency take a significant hit in 2014.  If he can't manage an improvement from the field or in his ability to get to the line, this season will be the first since his second in the league that West has failed to produce a TS% above 50.  Roy Hibbert is still Roy Hibbert, for better or for worse.  He's still the same defensive anchor he's always been, but his offense is also every bit as atrocious as it's always been.  Despite being 7'2, Hibbert only attempts 17.2% of his shots from within three feet of the basket, partially influenced by his poor offensive rebounding.  Ensuring that Hibbert doesn't get more easy buckets than usual should be task #1 for Drummond and Monroe.

These are two of the slower teams in the league, each averaging an estimated 92.7 possessions per 48 minutes.  Combine that with both teams' horrendous offensive units and Indiana's 8th-ranked defense and this figures to be a low-scoring affair.  Detroit's only 2-13 at home, and The Palace is a joke, so home-court advantage doesn't play.  I'll take the Pistons in a close, ugly one as the offense looks somewhat more respectable without Josh Smith.

Prediction: Pistons 93 Pacers 88


Sunday, December 28, 4:30 p.m. | Detroit Pistons @ Cleveland Cavaliers (16-10) | FSD

I don't think a lot of people watch the Pistons to begin with, but I would love to see the Fox Sports Detroit ratings for this game, which tips around the time that the Lions-Packers game kicks off.  On top of the game overlapping with the de facto NFC North championship game, this is very likely to be an ugly Pistons loss.  Maybe it's for the best that viewership will be low in Detroit.  The Cavs feature three players better than anybody on Detroit's roster, and are starting to figure things out after a poor start to the season.  Cleveland has won 11 of its last 14 games, carried by one of the best offenses in basketball.  With LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, your options for stopping the Cavs are minimal, unless one or two of the trio has an off night.  Sunday's match-up will be the first of the season between the two "rivals".

Cleveland's offense ranks fourth in the league in efficiency, which should come as little surprise.  LeBron James hasn't been his MVP-caliber self this year, but he really hasn't had to be.  With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in tow, LeBron is posting the third-highest AST% of his career, trailing only two years in Cleveland where the team didn't really have a PG ('08-'09 & '09-'10).  The Cavaliers rank 6th in the league and 2P% and a surprising 13th in 3P%, despite the easy perimeter looks that LeBron James tends to generate.  There isn't one area on offense where the Cavs struggle, as they're an above average group when it comes to offensive rebounding and drawing fouls as well.

Defensively, the Cavs aren't a much better team than the Pistons.  Cleveland lacks a true stopper on the perimeter and only five teams had blocked less shots entering play on Tuesday night.  Cleveland's opponent 2P% (51.3%) is the third-highest in the league.  Cleveland is right around league-average at defending the three-point line, which can be seen in their 14th-ranked opp. 3PA Rate and 11th-ranked opp.3P%.  They're similarly average at creating turnovers and defensive rebounding.  These two areas should offer the Pistons an advantage and will need to be exploited if Detroit wants to keep the game close.

There are few teams that the Pistons match up with worse than the Cavaliers, who feature stars at SF, which is Detroit's weakest position, and PG, where Brandon Jennings struggles to defend.  To top that off, Kevin Love will pose a serious challenge for Greg Monroe, who does not match up well with PFs who have perimeter skills.  The Cavs and Pistons both feature some instability at SG, as neither team has seen one player outperform the others at the position.  Detroit should have a significant advantage at C, should Andre Drummond stay out of foul trouble.  Anderson Varejao has been serviceable this year, but may struggle to stick with the younger, more athletic Drummond.

Cleveland plays at one of the slowest paces in the league, averaging 91.9 possessions per 48 minutes.  If you're digging for hope, the slow pace could help the Pistons keep it close, as there will likely be fewer possessions for Cleveland to flex its superior talent level.  Nonetheless, I'm expecting the Cavaliers to dispatch the Pistons fairly easily, with the score likely looking closer than it should if the Pistons outplay the Cavs in garbage time.

Prediction: Cavaliers 101 Pistons 90


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