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Preview: Thunder to examine Reggie Jackson's sizzling Pistons

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We investigate Detroit's late season surge.

Yippie ki yay, Reggie!
Yippie ki yay, Reggie!
W. Bennett Berry

The Detroit Pistons are in season 2 of Stan Van Gundy, and the roster is finally starting to look fearsome. Gone is the log jam of big men, replaced with a team built around Andre Drummond and a bunch of talented scoring wings. It very much resembles the team Van Gundy was able to build down in Orlando a couple of years back.

There have been growing pains, though. With so many moves in such a short amount of time, the Pistons have had some trouble getting a consistent lineup together. But the moves have ultimately paid off, as Detroit is extremely hot heading out of the All-Star break. Here's a nice description of where the Pistons are at, courtesy of Hypnowheel at Detroit Bad Boys:

But when I remember this is a team that's gone 11-5 with Tobias Harris in the starting lineup, a team that's beaten Cleveland (on the road), Toronto, Portland and Dallas (on the road) during that stretch, a team whose only losses at home since the All-Star break have come against the Hacking Hawks and THE UNSTOPPABLE VIDEO GAME VERSION OF ANTHONY DAVIS... well, I think anything is possible.

There are no unwinnable games on the Pistons' remaining schedule. None I'd be quick to call a loss.

Don't get me wrong. There's no amount of Kool-Aid that will make me forget those losses to the Knicks and Wizards. I'm well aware that the Mr. Hyde version of this team can show up at any time, and I'd be surprised if it didn't show up and blow a game or two down the stretch.

But anything is possible. They can beat anyone. They could even run the table.

In other words, this Detroit team could be great, or they could just be pretty good. Regardless, with the Pistons in a tight battle for a lower seed in the Eastern Conference, every game counts for them.

Harris, Caldwell-Pope, and Johnson all add something to the Pistons

The addition of Tobias Harris was certainly a boon for Detroit. The Pistons only had to give up Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. Harris immediately filled in at small forward, allowing Marcus Morris to slide over to power forward. This only made the Pistons more athletic and versatile. Since joining the Pistons, Harris has averaged 16 points on 47% shooting. Ilyasova was able to provide shooting, but Harris is a much more effective scorer from inside the arc. Furthermore, Harris is a superior rebounder, defender, and passer.

But the Pistons improvement hasn't just come from trades. Stanley Johnson, a rookie this year, is averaging 8.4 points per game. Johnson isn't efficient, but there's more to him than meets the eye. From Steve Hinson, for Detroit Bad Boys:

Johnson has struggled with his efficiency on the offensive end, posting a 47 percent true shooting percentage and 14 percent turnover percentage. But this is to be expected for a young rookie. He's been aggressive with his shot, taking the fourth most shots per 36 minutes on the team, and struggled at times with his shot selection. He's also struggled with his footwork and fundamentals, with only 30 percent of his turnovers coming on bad passes. Both of those things will improve with experience.

Johnson has particularly had trouble with his shot inside the arc, shooting just 43 percent on two point attempts. Hopefully learning the savvy to earn more trips to the line will help in this area, as he currently takes just .166 free throws for every field goal attempt.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Johnson has been his ability to step up during crunch time. Throughout the season, the refrain has been that Stanley doesn't look like a 19-year-old rookie. That's particularly been the case in fourth quarters, when Johnson is posting a 44 / 41 / 79 shooting line. His fourth quarter performances were instrumental in wins against the Knicks on February 4, the 76ers on January 27, and the four overtime game against the Bulls.

If Stanley Johnson will regularly appear in crunch time, perhaps it's best for the Thunder to run Andre Roberson late in the game. Roberson should be skilled enough to keep Johnson in front of him and defend without fouling. Roberson will also be important for wrapping up second year player Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Caldwell-Pope is another all or nothing type of player that can heat up on certain nights. From Steve Hinson of DBB:

KCP is such an extremely aggressive player and not all of his skills have caught up with his aggressiveness. At times, that produces some ugly shooting lines. He's had three 5-15 shooting lines this season. He's gone 1-10, 1-11, 2-15. Went 3-13 on Saturday night.

It's easy to see those nights and label him as an inconsistent player. But KCP has actually been one of the team's most consistent. Check out his monthly split numbers, particularly the true shooting percentage. For the most part, you've been able to set your watch to Caldwell-Pope as a 51-52 percent true shooting percentage guy.

Now, 52 percent isn't something to write home about. It's about average for shooting guards. But the important thing about this is that he's been able to put up an average shooting efficiency while not being able to hit his three point shot. In the past, his efficiency has been completely reliant on knocking down three pointers at least 36 percent of the time. If he didn't hit that mark, his TS was ugly.

This year, Caldwell-Pope hasn't hit 36 percent from three once over the course of a month this season. That's not a good thing, of course, but the fact that he's been able to improve his efficiency while struggling from three is a very good thing.

With how efficient the Pistons are from inside the two point arc, it will be incredibly important for the Thunder to protect the rim and try to create a little bit of pressure. The Pistons are the league's eighth worst team when it comes to three point percentage, and they would probably be a couple spots lower with their current roster.

How it went last time

Here's how the Thunder dealt with the Pistons back on November 27th. Those were very different times, but it was still an easy victory. From my recap:

Overall, it was a very solid game for the Thunder's interior defense. Andre Drummond, who came into the game averaging 18 ppg with 50% shooting, finished tonight with 15 points on 43% shooting. In general, Ibaka, Adams, And Kanter did a good job of getting behind Drummond and getting physical with him, preventing him from getting to the rim. Furthermore, Drummond had only 7 rebounds compared to his season average of 17. Credit KD and Adams, who combined for a whopping 26 rebounds themselves.

Reggie Jackson also particularly struggled during that game, going 2 of 13 from the floor during the second half. It was an emotional night for Jackson. Jackson took shots at the Thunder during pre-game press conferences and appeared visibly frustrated during the game. The Thunder's paint defense was just too much for Reggie's athleticism, and his shot wasn't falling.

But, as I pointed out earlier, wing defense will be essential as well. The Thunder put in their superior wing defenders during the second half, and were able to mount several runs. The Pistons were missing their threes, and the offense just collapsed.

How it'll go this time

The Thunder are coming off of an insanely high powered win in Toronto. Russell Westbrook had yet another triple-double. Moreover, Westbrook had no problem regularly getting to the rim against the weak Toronto interior defense. Durant struggled a little bit shooting the ball, but redeemed himself with hustle and intelligent play. Despite the fact that the Thunder won by 19, Durant and Westbrook were forced to play their normal slate of minutes. So the same rule of a tough back to back will apply here.

Cameron Payne was in a boot prior to last night's game in Toronto, and only played 3 minutes. Payne will likely get limited minutes again tonight, leaving the Thunder to rely on their wings to run the point guard position. I'm hoping that Kanter will get ample opportunities without a point guard in the game. There was good news out of Toronto, though. Dion Waiters was an efficient 3 of 4 beyond the arc, and Anthony Morrow hit a three while playing spot minutes. If those guys are hitting, it's really hard for the Thunder offense to be stopped.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 114, Detroit Pistons 109.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2015-16 NBA Season Game 75
(Won 8)

(Lost 1)
March 28th, 2016
The Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, Michigan
6:30 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Detroit Plus
Injury Report: Jodie Meeks (Out), Cameron Payne (Probable)
This Season's Matchups: Nov 27 (W 103-87)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Reggie Jackson
Andre Roberson SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kevin Durant SF Marcus Morris
Serge Ibaka PF Tobias Harris
Steven Adams C Andre Drummond