How New-Look Detroit Pistons Can Build the NBA's Next Big 3
The Big Three isn't going out of fashion anytime soon, and the Detroit Pistons could very well boast the next trio that takes the league by storm.
After a flurry of offseason activity netted the Pistons both Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, the team has a four-man core that can hang with almost any squad in the talent department. Now it's all about putting the right system together and making sure that Detroit is better at the whole chemistry thing than most college freshmen.
Smith has already gone on record as saying that he's excited about his decision, per Pistons.com's Keith Langlois:
I feel great about my choice. Our team, our roster, is very impressive to me. We have a lot of hard workers who’ve been in here, getting it in, getting to know each other. I’m real excited. We have rookies that are sponges. They just want to get better. We have young fellas that play hard and everybody wants to get better and everybody wants to do it together. Whenever you are able to be a part of something like that, it’s special.
What Smoove doesn't mention is that potential Big Three. It's one of the most exciting parts of Detroit's future, and it's not going to be all that complicated to build.
In fact, it requires just a few steps.
Decide Who's In the Big Three
I can't help but have a Marlo Stanfield quote from "The Wire" ringing through my ears here: "Sounds like one of them good problems."
The Pistons have four upper-echelon players, and a Big Three inherently consists of only three players. Not four. So eventually, the team will have to decide which player is going to be left out.
No disrespect meant to Greg Monroe, who remains one of the more promising young big men in basketball, but he's the odd man out given the upside of Jennings, Smith and Andre Drummond, and it would be redundant to have two true centers in the Big Three.
All successful trios have been formed around a big man and a guard, and the third player can usually be any non-overlapping position. Take the three most famous trios of the modern era as examples.
The San Antonio Spurs made do with Tim Duncan (power forward/center), Tony Parker (point guard) and Manu Ginobili (shooting guard).
In each situation, teams have had a healthy mix of big guys and small guys.
Detroit is going to use Drummond and J-Smoove, guaranteed. But that already makes two big men, as Smith is a natural power forward and Drummond a true center. So when choosing between Jennings and Monroe, the guard is the natural choice.
Now the Pistons just have to hope that they find more success with the solution to their problem than Marlo found with his.
Develop Pick-and-Roll Chemistry
The fundamental building block of all NBA offenses has become the pick-and-roll.
Whether a system operates almost solely on PnR sets (see: Houston Rockets) or builds upon them with more complicated action (see: Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs), most elite offenses let big men screen and roll to the hoop with quite a bit of frequency.
Fortunately, this Big Three is set up to thrive in that type of set as well.
Not only is Jennings an underrated passer, but he's also a fantastic scorer while running the PnR. According to Synergy Sports, he put up 0.84 points per possession, the No. 47 mark in the entire NBA. While he shot only 40.1 percent from the field, he completed a handful of and-1s and shot 39.8 percent from behind the arc, which both helped boost that overall rate rather significantly.
It's the three-point shooting that is key.
While Jennings isn't a great, consistent shooter from the outside, he's confident enough off the dribble that opponents have to respect his shot, as you can see in this play against the New York Knicks.
Jennings uses Ersan Ilyasova's screen to work to his stronger side, and it's pretty clear that Carmelo Anthony is going to stay with him in a switching scenario.
As Jennings moves over to the top of the key, 'Melo doesn't really respect the jumper.
Look at the space he leaves for the southpaw. Even if Anthony suddenly transformed into a hybrid of LeBron James, Serge Ibaka and Larry Sanders, he still wouldn't be able to block Jennings' ensuing attempt.
Bottoms. The shot isn't heavily contested and Jennings drills it.
It's the threat of this jumper—especially if it becomes even more efficient—that makes everything go. And it only helps that both Drummond and Smith are great finishers when rolling to the basket.
According to Synergy, the Connecticut product was one of the best in all of basketball, and it was easily his most successful offensive situation. Drummond scored 1.18 points per possession as a roll man, the No. 24 mark in the Association.
And as for Smith, he wasn't too far behind with his 1.01 points per possession (good for No. 59). But what makes the former Atlanta Hawk even more deadly is that he also possesses the offensive versatility necessary to run the show as a ball-handler, teaming up with Drummond to form a massive and successful two-man game.
Ensure Each Showcases Distinct Skills
The true key to making a Big Three work is ensuring that players have a distinct set of skills. Redundancy is not an option. To show you what I mean, let's focus on the aforementioned trios one more time.
San Antonio's triumvirate of talent featured a great shooter and individual shot-creator (Ginobili), a ball-handler who made everything happen on offense (Parker) and a dominant post player and defender (Duncan).
Miami's features the league's best do-everything player (LeBron), a floor-spacing big man (Bosh) and a more athletic version of Ginobili (Wade).
The trio in Boston utilized a spot-up shooter (Allen), isolation genius and underrated defender (Pierce) and a defensive ace who also thrived as a mid-range/post scorer (Garnett).
There's no redundancy for the most successful trios, and there can't be in the Motor City.
Jennings has to continue developing as a shot-creator. He has a fantastic knack for passing when he so desires, as you can see in this compilation of his 19 assists against the Toronto Raptors.
Now he'll just have to focus on passing even more and looking off contested shots for chances at creating easier opportunities for his teammates.
For Smith, it's all about becoming a poor man's version of LeBron.
The versatile forward is fully capable of doing exactly that if he devotes more of his attention to showcasing his athleticism rather than his ability to dent rims with ill-advised jumpers. Smith has always been a defensive ace, a player capable of swatting away shots with the best of them while still guarding perimeter players. But how many big forwards can do this?
Smith gets the ball at the top of the key against the Indiana Pacers, and he immediately starts moving to his left. Speaking of which, isn't it a shame that Drummond isn't a lefty? Because then we'd have the all-lefty Big Three.
If you have any idea what's going to happen from here (before scrolling down and seeing the next screenshot, of course), then you should be working in an NBA front office.
It doesn't look like anything is open. Not even remotely.
Right now, it appears as though driving is J-Smoove's best option.
But Smith possesses incredible court vision and the passing skills to boot. He rockets a pass to the cutting Al Horford, creating an easy, uncontested slam for his teammate.
This high-low game between the two Hawks big men was a staple of Larry Drew's offense, and the Pistons must make sure that Smith and Drummond find themselves on similar pages. The former Atlanta standout's passing is too good to waste.
As for Drummond, he must continue being an athletic specimen who thrives at finishing plays around the basket and corralling rebounds. But his primary focus needs to lie on the defensive end of the court.
Synergy shows the big man was already a standout defender, even as a young rookie. He allowed 0.82 points per possession, the 87th-best mark in the Association, and showcased all sorts of tools.
Drummond thrived guarding situations that required mobility (No. 37 against roll men), but he also showed discipline and instincts when in the post (No. 86 against post-up players). All the signs are there for his developing into a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Hell, I'll go so far as saying that he'll become a future DPOY favorite.
The final key for the trio developing into the NBA's next Big Three is simply more consistent shooting.
For Jennings and Smith, they have to hit mid-range jumpers with more frequency or stop taking them. Meanwhile, Drummond has to be able to hit free throws at least as well as Dwight Howard, and ideally a lot better.
Do the Pistons have the next Big Three?
If all that happens, this Pistons trio is going to be very dangerous for a very long time.
I've said for a while that Smith has MVP-candidate potential if he's put in the right situation, and both Drummond and Jennings are young enough that potential is just oozing out of them. The southpaw floor general is only 23 years old, and Drummond can't even get into a bar yet.
As long as they focus on the right parts of their development, they're going to become the next Big Three.
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