One of general manager Troy Weaver’s primary goals over the offseason was to build a roster filled with athletic, long-armed defenders. And Weaver was aggressive in finding players who fit that mold, and moving on from players who did not.
The Detroit Pistons’ 97-86 preseason win against the Washington Wizards, their second-straight, was a first glimpse of what a defensively-sound Weaver team looks like. The Wizards struggled to get clean shots off all night, as the Pistons used their size to close off lanes and hound players into 24 turnovers.
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There are some caveats here. The Wizards played without three of their best players — newly-acquired superstar Russell Westbrook, sharpshooter Davis Bertans and 2019 first-rounder Rui Hachimura.
It’s also preseason, and the Pistons and Wizards, like the rest of the NBA, are playing after less than two weeks of training camp as the regular season begins next week.
Still, the Pistons had their best defensive performance yet. Washington shot just 39.7% overall, and 26.5% from the 3-point line. There were timely rotations, solid close-outs on perimeter shooters and limited penetration.
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“That’s what Troy was going for when he put this team together,” Jerami Grant, who scored 15 points, said. ”I think we have a lot of potential on the defensive end and also on the offensive end. I definitely think that’s where we’re going to hang our hats, on defense. First couple preseason games, we kinda got that going in the first. Different team, new team, new coaching staff and everything. I think everybody’s getting used to each other, and we have room to grow and we’ll continue to get there.”
The Pistons have size at every position. Killian Hayes and Delon Wright are both 6-foot-5 guards, Josh Jackson can play both wing positions at 6-8, Sekou Doumbouya (6-8) has added strength and is holding his own against bigger players, and the 6-8 Grant can switch onto every position as a forward.
At the end of the second quarter, head coach Dwane Casey stuck with four of his starters — Hayes, Grant, 6-9 Griffin and 6-11 Plumlee — and put in 6-8 rookie Saddiq Bey at shooting guard. The massive lineup helped the Pistons close the first half on a strong note. Washington shot 5-of-19 in the second quarter.
Casey acknowledged that at this point, the Pistons are better defensively than on offense.
“That’s how we want to play,” Casey said. “We want to have that as our identity, being a defensive team first. Our offense right now, we’re scoring but we’re scoring a lot off our defense. Got to make sure we continue to be a defensive team until we get a rhythm offensively and find out our role, get our rotation down pat.”
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The Pistons started Thursday’s game strong offensively, but couldn’t maintain that momentum. In the first half, Detroit shot 53.5% overall and 44.4% from 3, collecting 11 assists opposite nine turnovers. In the second half, Detroit committed 15 turnovers opposite nine assists, and shot 44.4% overall and 33.3% from 3.
Part of the reason for the sputtering is because some of the Pistons’ key offensive players haven’t found a groove yet. Griffin is shooting 8 for 22 through three games, and Hayes is 6 for 24. But Griffin is healthy and taking shots he normally hits, and Hayes is a rookie with less than two weeks with his teammates.
Detroit also just hasn’t had much time to gel, with only four players returning from last season. The first half provided a blueprint that could help the Pistons succeed without any one player carrying the offense — forcing turnovers, playing fast and attacking the rim.
“I liked a lot what I saw tonight but there’s also a lot that we have to learn from and draw from, especially our organization offensively, doing what we’re supposed to be, our spacing, our timing, understanding not playing in the crowds,” Casey said. “But our defense is ahead of our offense right now, and that’s where we want it to be.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons give glimpse of defensive plan in preseason win