Analyzing Detroit’s Offense; Details Matter

March 6, 2017

By Steve Shea (@SteveShea33)

The Game: Portland at Detroit (February 28, 2017)

We analyze 9 plays from the first half, pointing out the details that led to a quality shot or the problems that prevented one.

Play 1: Q1, 10:13 on the clock

Let’s start with a positive example.  In the following image, Jackson is using a screen from Drummond, who will then roll to the hoop.  Detroit has shooters properly spaced around the perimeter to dissuade defenders from helping on Drummond’s roll.


Portland switches the screen.  This is exactly what Detroit wants.  They now have a smaller Lillard responsible for dropping on Drummond’s roll.  Drummond would destroy this matchup and Morris’s defender is forced to help from the weak side.


Morris moves above the break to create a passing lane for Jackson.  Jackson hits Morris, who generates 1.10 points per catch-and-shoot 3.  This is a well-executed play that optimizes the skills of the personnel involved and results in an efficient look.


Play 2: Q1, 8:56 on the clock

Drummond holds the ball at the top of the key as Detroit double stacks near the blocks.  KCP comes off a screen from Morris while Leuer and Jackson wait.


KCP comes off the screen on the block and then takes a dribble-hand-off from Drummond.  As Drummond rolls, there are 2 problems.  First Morris doesn’t hustle to a dangerous spot on the 3-point line.  This means that he’s not providing a quality option for KCP to pass to and he’s making it easier for his defender to help on Drummond.  On the other side, Leuer and Jackson still haven’t done anything.  Their current locations are a detriment to this offensive set.  They are close to each other and in mid-range, not providing an option for KCP to kick to.  In addition, like Morris, they are allowing their defenders to stay close to the lane, making it more difficult for KCP to drive or Drummond to roll.

Instead, we’d like to see Morris dart to the 3-point line.  On the other side, we’d like to see Jackson come off the screen from Leuer to the 3-point line and to arrive there just as KCP is coming off the Drummond screen.  After Leuer sets the screen for Jackson, he should pop to the corner.  If KCP swings to Jackson, Leuer should be arriving in the corner just in time for the extra pass.  This type of off-the-ball action and timing has become a hallmark of Golden State’s offense and big reason why they can get open shots on the perimeter for their great shooters.


Morris does eventually make it to the 3-point line, but only arrives as KCP is committing to a dump to Drummond.


Drummond receives the pass, but is immediately met by Leuer’s man helping, which forces a miss. It would have been much more difficult for Leuer’s man to help in our preferred action design above.


Play 3: Q1, 8:35 on the clock

Morris takes a screen from Drummond at the top of the key.  This again forces a switch and creates a mismatch for Drummond on the roll.  Meanwhile, Detroit’s other players are properly spaced on the 3-point line.  The most deadly weapon is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is generating 1.52 points per corner attempt this season.


Morris swings the ball to Jackson as Leuer’s man has to help on Drummond (who is still guarded by a smaller defender).  KCP stays in the corner where his defender has to stay attached.


Jackson swings to the open Leuer as Leuer’s man recovers to challenge the corner 3.  Meanwhile, Drummond successfully seals the small defender on his back.  Everything about this play so far is great.


Nurkic has dropped 20 feet off of Morris on the perimeter and arrives to challenge Drummond just as Drummond receives the pass from Leuer.  The appropriate play here is to kick out to Morris, who generates 1.10 points per catch-and-shoot 3.  Drummond doesn’t always find the open man, but complicating the pass is Jackson’s bizarre cut directly through the passing lane.  Jackson is blocking the kick out, crowding the paint, and taking himself out of position to play transition defense.  Nurkic blocks Drummond.


Play 4: Q1, 6:20 on the clock

KCP uses the screen from Leuer.


After setting the screen, Leuer drifts to just inside the 3-point line and receives a pass from KCP.  Morris’s defender makes the bad choice to help on Leuer, which leaves Morris open on the perimeter.  Leuer also has the option of going to Drummond on the block.  Here, Leuer makes the wrong decision.  Detroit feeds Drummond on the block too often.  He’s only generating 0.72 points per post up.  In this situation, he’s guarded by Nurkic.  There isn’t a mismatch to exploit.


Play 5: Q1, 3:35 on the clock

In this play, Smith and Baynes hustle up the court and get right into a pick and roll early in the shot clock.  Detroit has 3 shooters who intelligently stay spaced on the weak side.


With Baynes’s defender playing deep under the hoop, Smith is able to attack and get into the paint, where he is more of a threat than on the perimeter.  KCP slightly overruns his position and actually isn’t set up for a kick out.  However, Morris and Harris move to dangerous spots.  Harris moves to the corner where he is generating 1.08 points per attempt.  Smith makes the right decision and kicks to the wide-open Morris.


Play 6: Q1, 1:33 on the clock

This excellent play requires only one image.  Detroit’s lineup hustles down the floor and everyone goes where they are successful.  KCP, Morris and Harris move to dangerous locations on the 3-point line, pulling their defenders away from the paint. Smith immediately pushes within the 3-point line, putting pressure on the defense and forcing attention from his man. Baynes hustles down and gets deep position on Leonard.  Smith feeds the ball to Baynes who gets the bucket and the foul.


Play 7: Q2, 11:27 on the clock

As Smith dribbles the ball on the wing, Stanley Johnson runs off a screen from Baynes and then from Leuer.


But this play is more for Leuer than Johnson.  After Baynes sets the screen on Johnson, he turns to screen for Leuer.  Leuer sets the screen for Johnson and then uses the screen from Baynes.  This works because Leuer’s defender is screened while worrying about Johnson coming off of Leuer’s screen.


Unfortunately, Leuer breaks to mid-range.  He’s only generating 0.87 points per mid-range jumper.  In addition, his location allows Leonard an extra fraction of a second on Baynes before coming out to challenge. This makes a dump to Baynes difficult.  Leuer has struggled on a limited sample of corner shots this season, but he’s a capable enough shooter to add that shot to his skill set.  He should come off the screen and break to the corner and get his feet set to fire.


Play 8: Q2, 10:41 on the clock

As Baynes holds the ball near the top of the key, Johnson uses a screen from Smith on the wing.  On the weak side, Leuer appears to be moving to screen for KCP.


Unfortunately, this play encounters the same problem as Play 2 described above. Johnson comes off the screen from Smith and then takes a dribble hand off from Baynes. But the action on the other side never materializes.  KCP and Leuer linger next to each other in mid-range, not opening themselves as options for a pass from Johnson and not pulling help defenders out of the lane.  Johnson pulls up from mid-range, a shot where he only generates 0.78 points per attempt.


Play 9: Q2, 4:33 on the clock

We end on a positive note. KCP and Drummond run a pick and roll while Detroit’s other players stay reasonably space on the perimeter.


As the play develops, the shooters stay properly spaced.  Drummond is generating 1.08 points per roll.  Morris is generating 1.10 points per catch-and-shoot 3.  This set from Detroit creates both options and forces Morris’s defender to choose which one he’ll contest.  Morris’s defender drops to help on the roll and KCP makes the right decision and kicks to Morris.


Final Thoughts

Detroit has a number of strengths.  Drummond is a beast to handle on rolls.  The team has quality catch-and-shoot options to space on the perimeter.  Even though their point guards aren’t the most-feared perimeter threats, they can do a good job attacking defenses and drawing attention as Smith did in above examples.  When Detroit leverages these strengths they generate very efficient options.

Detroit also has weaknesses.  Drummond is not a quality post player (in part because he’s such a poor free-throw shooter).  The team also at times lacks proper action and timing off the ball.  When they force the ball to Drummond on the post, or do not execute and space properly off the ball, they often end up with inefficient shots.

Detroit has the pieces to generate efficient offense, but too often they don’t optimize their sets. Seemingly small details can undermine an otherwise well-designed play.

Leave a comment


  1. Ben

     /  March 6, 2017


    I love these posts and the level of detail you provide.

    May I ask, did you use data from SportsVU to make these diagrams, and did you use a sports diagramming software?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.