The Detroit Pistons made quite the splash this offseason, signing Josh Smith to a big contract and then acquiring Brandon Jennings from the Milwaukee Bucks. There were major questions about fit, but there was no doubting the fact that the Pistons amassed a significant amount of talent on the roster heading into this year.
Two weeks into the season, things aren't looking good for Detroit. The Pistons fell to 2-5 on the year after a 113-95 thumping at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. Making matters even worse, Smith was benched for a good portion of the loss, sitting from the 1:39 mark in the first quarter to the 5:25 mark in the third quarter.
New Pistons coach Mo Cheeks was adamant that the benching wasn't intended as a message to Smith, according to David Mayo of MLive.com.
"Not at all," Cheeks said, when asked if benching the Pistons' biggest offseason acquisition in the season's seventh game was a message. "Like I said, we were just trying to change some things up. It wasn't about sending a message."
Smith was a good sport about it, saying he's not going to focus on the benching and will just continue to play his game:
"You can't really focus on the decisions that people make, higher than you," Smith said. "You just have to be able to adjust around it. As long as I've been in this league, that's what I've been willing to do."
Smith's game has been a bit of an issue for the Pistons, however, as he's shooting just 41.6 percent overall and just 27.5 percent from three while shooting 5.7 threes a game. The forward has always been ridiculed for his poor shot selection, and he's not really helping his cause by jacking up so many threes.
Jennings has been just as bad if not worse, shooting 39.1 percent overall and 26.9 percent from three. But despite these shooting woes from two of the Pistons' high usage players, the offense really hasn't been the big problem. Detroit is ninth in the league in offensive rating, with a monster offensive rebound rate and low turnover rate making up for the poor shooting.
The real culprit for the poor start has been the woeful defense. The Pistons are currently dead last in the league in defensive rating, giving up 107.6 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com's stats page. The defensive deficiencies were on full display in the loss to the Warriors, as Detroit allowed Golden State to shoot 60.0 percent overall and 8-of-16 from three.
So what's the problem? Grantland's Zach Lowe noted that the combination of Jennings and Andre Drummond was especially bad against the Warriors, with communication breakdowns all over the place. Those two have played 104 minutes together this year, posting an awful defensive rating of 118.2, per NBA.com's stats page.
But it's not like it's just those two that are the issue. Mix-and-match most of the key Pistons players, and the result is an ugly defensive rating. Furthermore, Detroit's primary starting lineup has played 56 minutes together this season, and they have a monster defensive rating of 131.1, according to NBA.com's stats page.
The sample size is still very small and the Pistons have plenty of time to fix it. The Eastern Conference is a mess of mediocre at the moment, so it will be hard to fall out of the playoff race unless things really go south. There seems to be too much talent in place for this thing to miserably fail, but the defense must see some vast improvement if Detroit wants to contend for a playoff spot.